DevMode
The emergence of an independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel has been on the books for a long time. Delayed for decades by the stubborn refusal of Palestinians and Israelis to recognize each other's national rights and aspirations, it is now, at the end of the 20th century, finally in sight. Whilst support among the Palestinians for statehood is unanimous, polls show that over 60 percent of Israelis consider the establishment of a Palestinian state inevitable. The Labor party removed its opposition to it from its political platform on the eve of the May 1996 parliamentary elections.
Nevertheless, a majority of Israel's electorate chose for prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a man whose political credo totally rejects the creation of a Palestinian state.
Does that mean that, as long as Mr. Netanyahu remains in power, the Palestinians have to shelve all hope of independence?
Possibly, but not certainly.
Many Palestinian and non-Palestinian experts as well (see some of the articles in this issue) are of the opinion that a Palestinian state already exists. Though it still lacks some attributes of sovereignty - especially internationally recognized territory and borders - the Palestinian people have their own elected president and parliament, an administration, a police force and other state organs.
Mr. Netanyahu has pledged to respect all those acquisitions (born out of the Oslo agreements) and to continue negotiations with the Palestinian National Authority, including talks on the permanent settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Of course, negotiations can be drawn out for years and nothing guarantees a rapid implementation of clauses already agreed upon, as demonstrated by the procrastination of the previous Rabin-Peres Labor government.
This is why so many Palestinians and pro-peace Israelis have lately experienced disillusion and even despair. Is this despair justified? As the song goes, "It ain't necessarily so .... "
Though Prime Minister Netanyahuhas repeatedly stated that he, and he alone, will guide the Israeli ship of state, policies are not merely the outcome of a single man's decision. In practice, Netanyahu's policies are fashioned mainly by two contradictory forces. On the one hand, there is the Likud's ideology. Though more of a pragmatist than an ideologue, Israel's prime minister cannot ignore his party's program. Several members of his government and leading Likud ministers (Ariel Sharon, Benny Begin, Rafael Eitan, and others), have already criticized his "soft" stand towards the Palestinians and Arafat. Moreover, his main ally, the National Religious Party (NRP), patron of the Jewish settlers' movement, will not stand idly by if Netanyahu appears to give up on the ideal of a "Greater Israel," whose main champions are the religious settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Netanyahu is confronted by a concrete political reality, made up of Palestinian self-rule, the Arab states, the United States and Europe, who all favor the replacement of the unstable and dangerous status quo by a mutually accepted peace framework.
The latest Palestinian uprising against the opening of a controversial tunnel leading from the Western Wall to the Muslim Quarter has shown the strength of Palestinian opposition to unilateral Israeli acts in East Jerusalem. It has also engendered international support for Palestinian demands.
Public relations aside, Mr. Netanyahu must soon embark upon concrete steps in various areas of policy. He will have to decide between two alternatives: Either he gives in to the ultra-nationalist forces inside his government and Knesset, so that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will grind to a standstill, risking the outbreak of a Palestinian revolt with at' its dangerous implications. Or he embarks upon meaningful negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, progressing further on the road towards Palestinian statehood, risking a parliamentary revolt of the Likud and the NRP.
Nobody can say for sure what is in the cards. However, in many ways, Netanyahu's remaining in power is tied to Arafat's political survival and, therefore, to progress in the Israeli-Palestinian talks.

We regret this issue did not appear on time. We hope that, even so, our readers will as usual enjoy the contents of the Journal and continue to subscribe.

The Editors

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