President Arafat’s mention of a possible confederation with Jordan has stirred numerous comments. The president’s remarks, however, need to be understood in the context in which they were spoken.
At the time he made the reference, President Arafat was in Hebron, leading what can be considered a major effort in laying down the foundations of popular democracy. He was participating in a regional conference held by Fateh to elect its cadre for that area, in advance of the elections to be held locally for the village and municipal councils.
In a speech he delivered at the conference, President Arafat emphasized the right of the Palestinian people to declare a state on May 4, 1999, in accordance with international legal resolutions. The world has agreed on our right to self-determination — to our right to a state with Jerusalem as its capital.
President Arafat’s speech was the first he had delivered in Jordan after the death of King Hussein, and so it was quite natural to refer in it to the brotherly relations between the two peoples of Jordan and Palestine. In fact, an agreement to establish a confederation between the Jordanian and Palestinian states was first reached in 1985, a year after the Palestinian National Council (PNC) met in Amman. The possibility was reaffirmed in 1991, before the joint Jordanian/Palestinian delegation was chosen to attend the Madrid Conference.
The president’s remarks were interpreted by some, including some Jordanian officials, as an invitation to hold immediate consultations about a possible future confederation. These officials made it clear that they felt that such consultations would be premature.
In our view, the May 4 declaration will not qualify Palestine to be part of a confederation with Jordan, whose political and economic institutions are now coming of age. Palestine, in contrast, faces the formidable task of freeing the Occupied Territories in accordance with UN Resolution 181, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and in accordance, also, with UN Resolutions 242 and 338, which hold that lands occupied in 1967 are not lands in dispute, but rather, territories occupied by force, and therefore not the rightful property of the occupier. Palestinian insistence on actualizing the state has been paralleled by Netenyahu’s dogged efforts to portray our dream as delusion. “You can dream every night of a Palestinian state,” Netenyahu has boasted to us, “but when you wake up in the morning, you will discover that your state never existed, and that it never will”. When Netenyahu rejected the US initiative, it was clear that all issues relating to both interim and final-status negotiations were badly threatened. Since then, it has became painfully clear that the Oslo peace process has passed away. All that remains now is to bury the corpse, but Netenyahu, in a grotesque charade, insists on keeping the body above ground, leaving it to decompose, with all its attendant foul odors, as he persists with his rhetoric on “reciprocity”.
While confronting the difficulties resulting from Israeli intransigence, the Palestinian side has done its utmost to keep the terms of the Oslo Agreement. In this spirit, the Palestinian leadership agreed to the US initiative despite the pro-Israeli bias it involved. Then came the Wye River negotiations and the resulting Wye Memorandum, even as Palestinians continued to insist that May 4, as agreed in the Oslo Accords, must mark the end of the interim agreement.
All of these developments require that institutions which either played a role in or grew out of the Oslo Agreement have recourse to the PLO, whose existence, of course, preceded that of the Palestinian National Authority. The PNA, of course, was set up for the interim period only, with the understanding that it would be replaced at the end of that time by a sovereign national government. After May 4, then, the role of the PNA will be taken over by the PLO’s Executive Committee in conjunction with the Palestinian National Council, in order to prevent the occurrence of any power vacuum that might result from the declaration of the Palestinian state.
Both the Central Committee of Fateh and the Palestinian leadership emphasize the importance of May 4 as the date for our declaration of statehood. However, some colleagues, both in the PLO and outside it, view the decision to declare a state as no more than a PNA tactic for immediate political gain. This view is mistaken; the May 4 date has long been the date set for statehood, and our insistence on holding to that date was the reason it was mentioned in the Wye Memorandum as the date on which the interim negotiations were to end. The fact that the date was included in the Wye Memorandum was a victory for the Palestinian leadership, since it showed their critics, who had been trying to exploit the people’s frustration, that the Palestinian leadership was, in fact, acting with resolve and in good faith with the Palestinian people.
Any time a gap exists between an organization’s theoretical position and its readiness to transform a theoretical goal into reality, the opponents will benefit. Pointing to the gap between goal and reality, our accusers will call into question our resolve. Thus political slogans must be backed up by a clearly defined schedule of actions, if we are to demonstrate to our people that we are now engaged in constructing our state-to-be.
The Palestinian leadership has established a special committee consisting of President Arafat, as head of the PNC, and of members of the Executive Committee and the PNA. The aim behind the creation of this committee is to arrive at a consensus on the essence and form of the state to be declared at the end of the interim period on May 4.
In order to achieve our rights, we must undertake certain duties. Although serious efforts are being made to ensure the support of Arab and international parties, self-determination is a purely Palestinian affair and not to be negotiated, even through efforts by another party that may wish us well. We are fully aware of the kinds of pressure that are being brought to bear on the PNA by the USA, Israel, and other countries, both in this region and in Europe to delay the declaration of our state. But this pressure does not serve the cause of peace. Israel continues to oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state under any conditions; to surrender to the pressure being exerted on us now, would mean postponement of our state for the foreseeable future. Among the duties, then, that both the PNA and the PLO must carry out if we are to protect and realize our dream are the following:
- The Executive Committee of the PLO should meet at such a time and place as to allow all committee members to participate. The meeting should result in the establishment of the working program we will need to prepare for May 4.
- The Central Council should then be convened to list and prioritize all the tasks necessary to create to help create a Palestinian consensus.
- A national dialogue should take place in which we evaluate the experience of the past five years. This dialogue will help us to formulate a clear position vis-a-vis the interim and final-status issues. Our position will be based on all resolutions issued by the United Nations Security Council and UN General Assembly, including: 242 and 338 and the principle of trading for peace the land illegally occupied by military force; 194 and 234, granting Palestinians the right of return to their land; 446 and 452, which declare Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza to be obstacles to peace; and 181, which guarantees us the right to establish a Palestinian state.
- The PNA must provide for local elections before the expiration of the interim period. These elections will strengthen democracy and ensure increased public support as we forge our independence and create our national institutions.
- The PNA should gradually implement the civil service law and raise the funds necessary for doing so. It must assure our people that the legislative and executive branches will work together in complementary roles, so that people will not continue to live with the frustration created by inept administration.
- The PNA should release all political prisoners who have not acted against the law. Doing so will foster our national unity by reaffirming those principles which unite us. Doing so may also help to prevent those acts of anti-Israeli vengeance, which would work against our cause if they provided impetus for Netenyahu’s re-election.
- The PNA must address the deteriorating economic situation. Overspending and corruption must end, and those responsible must be held accountable. Only in this way can we ease the people’s frustration.
- More emphasis should be given to the creation and strengthening of our national institutions, both governmental and civil.
- We must prepare at all levels to respond to any moves Israel might make after our declaration of statehood on May 4.
Our declaration of statehood is not intended to be, as some fear, a declaration of war. Rather, it is the key to peace, a peace based on justice for all countries in the area. The world should know, however, that if our state should be attacked by an aggressor, we will be prepared to defend it.
Revolution until Victory!