Nine months after a diplomatic debacle, the United States is in danger of making matters worse. The Bush administration, which is relentlessly and sometimes obnoxiously eager to underscore the obvious--that it is not the Reagan administration--may well pick up where the Reagan administration left off in appeasing the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The question is: What will happen if Yasser Arafat requests a visa to visit his kindred spirits, of which there are all too many, at the United Nations?
Late last autumn, to enable it to do what it had long wanted to do--deal directly with the PLO--the State Department became Arafat's lyricist, coaxing him to sing the right (well, the State Department's idea of the right) words. The three U.S. conditions were recognition of Israel, acceptance of U.N. Resolution 242 and renunciation of terrorism. The PLO did none of the three, but feigned agonies of surrender, so State ruled that it had done all three.
The PLO slightly softened its rhetoric of implacable hostility toward Israel, hostility still enshrined in the PLO covenant, which declares Palestine `indivisible' and vows `elimination of Zionism in Palestine.' The PLO `accepted' Resolution 242 (as the PLO misconstrues it to require complete withdrawal to the 1967 borders).
But the PLO accepted 242 in the context of `relevant' U.N. resolutions. These--`Zionism is racism' and the rest--have the cumulative meaning of mandating Israel's destruction.
Today, as 10 months ago, the PLO, speaking to its constituencies, reassures them that its diplomatic maneuvers are merely part of a phased approach to the liquidation of Israel. The two-stage, two-state strategy is to reduce Israel to indefensible borders by means of a PLO satrapy on the West Bank, and then use violence.
Regarding terrorism, the PLO said: We never have used it, we promise to stop using it, and attacks against Israelis are not terrorism. Since then, the PLO has increased terrorism in three ways. There have been more attacks across the border, including squads from the Fatah faction. PLO radio from Baghdad incites and praises terrorism within pre-1967 Israel, such as the act of plunging an Israeli bus into a ravine. And there has been a sharp increase in murders of moderate Palestinians--89 so far--on the West Bank.
Israel has serious plans for accommodating its security needs and Palestinian political aspirations. Israelis cite as a possible model Spain's concessions to Catalan cultural and political autonomy. (Implicit in that analogy is Israeli annexation of the West Bank.) Refugee camps could be replaced by towns for $2 billion--if, say, 10 European nations would put their money (a mere $40 million each for just five years) where their mouths incessantly are. But what moderate Palestinians will come forward to negotiate? They see other moderates murdered, and the United States is worse than merely mute, it is absolving the `umbrella organization.'
Concerning whether the PLO is a terrorist organization, State's position is: it cannot be such an organization because we are talking with it, and we are not allowed to talk with terrorists. State also says the PLO is an `umbrella organization' and the Fatah is one faction bound by Arafat's supposed renunciation of terrorism. How does State verify compliance? The point of the PLO `umbrella' structure is to allow appeasement-minded Westerners to say they cannot trace a thread of responsibility for Palestinian terrorism.
Six months ago, Arafat reaffirmed the PLO goal of `the complete liberation of the Palestinian soil and the establishment of a Palestinian state over every part of it.' Five months ago the head of the PLO's political department said: `The recovery of but a part of our soil will not cause us to forsake our Palestinian land. . . . We shall pitch our tent in those places which our bullets can reach. . . . This tent shall then form the base from which we shall later pursue the next phase.'
Three months ago, the leader of the PLO's second largest faction said: `The establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza will be the beginning of the downfall of the Zionist enterprise. . . . [Our goal] is the complete liberation of the national Palestinian soil.' Last month the Fatah conference in Tunis reaffirmed that the 1948 partition of Palestine was a `crime.'
The Bush admiminstration, which prides itself on believing that all differences are splitable, cannot imagine implacability and therefore cannot recognize it in the PLO. Or so say critics, who hope they are not proven correct by a visa for Arafat.