|A Limited Palestinian State|
By Benjamin Netanyahu
Friday, June 20, 2003; Page A25
JERUSALEM -- In our quest for peace with the Palestinians, three imperatives unite Israelis: Terror must end, our borders must be secure, and the Palestinians must abandon the goal of destroying Israel. That is why we insist that the terror organizations be dismantled, that we not return to the indefensible 1967 lines and that the Palestinians give up their claim to a "right of return" -- a euphemism for destroying the Jewish state by flooding it with millions of Palestinians.
Genuine Palestinian peace partners will accept these elementary conditions for peace. But what will happen when Israel finds such partners? What kind of agreement can we reach?
We are told that Israel is faced with only two options: either continue to rule over millions of Palestinians or cede them full sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Yet both options are unacceptable.
Israel does not want to rule the Palestinians. The only reason our forces are deployed in Palestinian cities and towns is to prevent the savage terror attacks being launched from these places against us. As the terror subsides, we will be able to gradually withdraw those forces.
As for ceding full sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and Gaza, this is doubly wrong. First, most of Judea and Samaria is barren and empty. The combined Palestinian and Jewish populations live on less than one-third of this territory. But the empty swaths of disputed land, comprising the heart of the Jewish ancestral homeland, are vital for Israel's security.
Second, full Palestinian sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and Gaza would so weaken Israel that it would tempt the Palestinians to roll back the peace and use the strategically placed territory as a base for even more lethal terror attacks on the shrunken Jewish state. Every time Israel was forced to cross the border to root out terror, it would be accused by the United Nations of invading a foreign country and threatened with sanctions. Thus, neither Israeli control over the Palestinian population nor full Palestinian control over Judea, Samaria and Gaza is acceptable.
But there is a third option, one that offers hope for a realistic and responsible solution for Israelis and Palestinians. The guiding principle is this: The Palestinians would be given all the powers needed to govern themselves but none of the powers that could threaten Israel. Put simply, the solution is full self-government for the Palestinians with vital security powers retained by Israel.
For example, the Palestinians would have internal security and police forces but not an army. They would be able to establish diplomatic relations with other countries but not to forge military pacts. They could import goods and merchandise but not weapons and armaments. Control over Palestinian daily life would be in the hands of the Palestinians alone, but security control over borders, ports and airspace would remain in Israel's hands. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressed these ideas last year, and most Israelis support him. Indeed, those Israelis who support a Palestinian state are in effect calling for limited Palestinian sovereignty with Israel retaining control of vital security powers.
The greatest danger to peace and security in the world today is the notion of unlimited sovereignty applied indiscriminately. In many flash points around the world, the right to self-government must not include unlimited security powers. Otherwise, every ethnic group with a grievance will seek to establish its own army, its own weaponry and eventually its own weapons of mass destruction.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the dangers posed by unlimited sovereignty applied indiscriminately are becoming better understood. People increasingly recognize that in the 21st century, resolving conflicts in many trouble spots will require modifications in the concept of sovereignty. Stability in the Middle East and elsewhere will depend on our ability to free ourselves from the mistaken assumption that we must either rule over hostile populations or grant those populations unlimited sovereignty. There is another way.
Do those in the free world calling for a Palestinian state really want unlimited sovereignty for the Palestinians? Do they really want to have a Palestinian state with its own army, free to dispatch suicide bombers all over the world? Certainly not.
But unlimited sovereignty will produce just that: a fanatical, dictatorial, armed terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East. This state will threaten Israel, America and the entire free world. It will become a university for suicide bombers with departments for every terror organization imaginable -- from Hamas to Hezbollah to al Qaeda.
After toppling terrorist regimes in Afghanistan and in Iraq, America surely does not want a new terrorist state to emerge. I believe all those who seek a durable peace will support the safeguards I have outlined here. By insisting on these safeguards, we will not be thwarting peace but enabling the emergence of a genuine peace that is stable, secure and ultimately successful.
The writer is a former prime minister and the current finance minister of Israel.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company