May 2, 1999
WHOEVER is elected Israeli prime minister will face a new demand from
Yasser Arafat – to revive a 52-year-old U.N. plan for dividing Israel into
a larger Arab state and a shrunken Jewish one.
Nabil Shaat, one of Arafat’s chief negotiators and someone well known to
the State Department, has repeatedly said this is the Palestinian
president’s message during his recent travels to 50 states around the world.
The explosive demand has stunned and disappointed Arafat’s ardent
sympathizers among Jews affiliated with the Israeli left and the opposition
Arafat is no long asking for just the creation of a sovereign Palestinian
state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He is demanding control of regions
that include the Negev city of Beersheba and the western Galilee – and the
installation of an international regime under U.N. auspices in charge of
While the world’s attention was diverted last week to the Balkans, the
Palestinians presented their demand – and were backed by more than 40
countries – at a session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
Only Israel and the United States said no.
The call is for reaffirming General Assembly Resolution 181, dated November
29, 1947, which divided the land west of the Jordan into two states – one
Jewish, one Arab – to replace the British mandate.
Since it was adopted, a lot of blood has been spilled, beginning when
the Arabs rejected the partition and went to war with Israel in 1948 – and lost.
After that, Israel regarded Resolution 181 as dead. As David Ben-Gurion,
founder of the Jewish state, said:
“They started the war and they will pay for it.”
The Arabs began another war in 1967 but Israel gained full control of
Jerusalem as well as the West Bank and Gaza.
After that, the U.N. Security Council passed two resolutions, 242 and
338, which called for Israel to turn over the captured land in return for peace.
Those resolutions started to be respected after Israel completed its
turnover of the Sinai desert to Egypt in 1982 in return for peace and later
when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres agreed in principle to return the West
Bank and Gaza in the Oslo agreements of 1993.
Benjamin Netanyahu, then the Israeli opposition leader, rejected Oslo,
claiming Arafat was, using “salami tactics” to cut off one piece of Israel
at a time.
Nevertheless, when Netanyahu became prime minister in 1996, he accepted
Oslo, 242 and 338 and eventually agreed to turn over 80 percent of the holy
city of Hebron.
After he agreed at the Wye Plantation in Maryland last year to withdraw
from another 13 percent of the West Bank, his ruling coalition broke apart
and he had to call for new elections, 18 months before his term was up.
Meanwhile, the United States approved when Arafat announced last week that
he would not declare the creation of a Palestinian state May 4 but
would wait until after the Israeli elections.
But few noticed when Arafat was in Moscow on April 6 and made a more
“The right for a Palestinian state to exist is based
on Resolution 181 and not on the Oslo agreements.”
Therefore, Netanyahu called an emergency meeting of foreign ambassadors to
Jerusalem last week and told them plainly that 181 is “null and void.”
It will remain that way if Netanyahu is re-elected, either on the first
round of balloting May 17 or if, as expected, a runoff is needed June 1.
But if a rival wins, a 52-year-old skeleton might emerge from, the attic
and provide a new haunting challenge to the survival of Israel.