Amidst the frightful confusions of the Arab-Israeli peace process there is a way to make policy. It stems from the language of the Oslo Accords, from the rights of the Palestinians, and from the behavior of the Palestinian Authority.
The Oslo Accords require the Palestinian Authority to protect the rights of the Palestinians. This is one motive of American support for the Accords. As witness to the Accords, our country has official station to comment upon the performance of the parties. So let us examine how the Palestinian Authority has handled its new powers.
On Sept. 6, the new government formed by the PLO, the "Palestinian Authority," conducted its first executions. Two brothers of the Abu Sultan family were shot by firing squad after what the New York Times called a "quick military trial," held under the influence of mob protests. The executed men were both members of Yasser Arafat's security forces and were personally close to him. In this case, the despotic arrogance of the security forces gave way to the rule of tribal justice. A mob demanded their heads. So their heads were delivered.
The Houston Chronicle reports that the Palestinian secret police is populated by many people formerly imprisoned for terrorism. Their numbers have increased beyond reason. They are limited by no law. Outside powers help pay their salaries. No independent judges decide the fate of the accused. No authority independent of Mr. Arafat and his friends exists to protect the rights of the innocent. And so those rights are not protected.
The Palestinian Authority controls the press. It has encouraged the murder of people who sell land to Jews (it is not illegal, inside Israel, to sell land to Arabs; Arabs vote in that country, and have a party in the Parliament). It is given to wholesale thievery. One method of this thievery, according to a human rights organization in East Jerusalem, is to arrest rich people, accuse them of tax evasion, and torture them for money. Some of the thieves were recently caught in an internationally conducted audit. Mr. Arafat reappointed them to the cabinet, provoking the resignation of one of its honest members. When questioned, the Palestinian Authority either says that it is young and will learn to do better, or it blames the Israelis.
The Oslo Accords won for the previously discredited PLO a powerful place. In exchange they agreed to remove from their covenant the intention to destroy Israel. They agreed to prosecute terror vigorously in cooperation with the Israelis. And they agreed to respect the rights of their own people. If they have not kept this last promise, how can they be trusted regarding the other items, where a similar story is there to be told?
We do not have to guess. Just go to the web site of Yasser Arafat's organization, Fatah. Oslo and peace are not mentioned. Fatah's goal is "Complete liberation of Palestine and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military, and cultural existence." This is to be achieved by armed struggle. Compare this with Article 22 of the Israel-PLO accord: "Israel and the [Palestinian Authority] shall seek to foster mutual understanding and tolerance and shall accordingly abstain from incitement, including hostile propaganda." Yet, according to the Palestinian Media Watch, summer camps for children are military training camps. A recent report quotes a young boy singing on Palestinian Authority television: "â€¦Your day is coming conqueror, then we will settle accounts. Our accounts are unending in stones and bullets."
We should base our policy on our own interests, our commitments to others, and the rights of all who are affected. So far we have pretended that we are supporting both peace and the rights of the Palestinians through the Oslo Accords. In fact, we are paving the way for a larger conflict, which the Palestinian Authority is actively working to prepare. And we are supporting a despotism that afflicts the people ruled by the Palestinian Authority. In this we serve no interest of ours, we fulfill no commitment to an ally, and we protect the rights of no one.
The Israelis are put at greatest risk by empowering the Palestinian Authority. The decision finally is theirs. Our advice matters, however, and it has helped to produce this morass. We should therefore give different advice. We should take the view that the behavior of the Palestinian Authority is a breach of the agreement. All else should cease until it does better — as measured by objective criteria over a time period that will prove the stability of its government. If the Palestinian Authority wishes to rule, then let it rule justly. If it cannot rule justly, trust it no further.
If the Palestinian Authority does not believe in basic human rights, then they have no ground to object to permanent Israeli rule. Nor should the threat of violence — that is after all what an intifada is — deter us or the Israelis. If, in the end, the Palestinian Authority intends to use violence to establish despotism, then it is better to confront that violence now, rather than later when it is stronger still.