Published on Saturday, June 15, 2002 in the New York Times
Palestinians Critical of Bush's Plan for an Interim State
by James Bennet
JERUSALEM, June 14 — The Palestinian Authority reacted with concern today to reports that the Bush administration might call for creating an interim Palestinian state while leaving uncertain its final borders and the timetable for determining them.
Officials in Washington have said that President Bush intends to announce a proposal for Palestinian statehood in an effort to give hope to the Palestinian people and encourage them to lay down arms.
While the precise details of a Bush proposal are now yet known, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' chief negotiator, warned that such a step might only increase Palestinian frustration if it was not accompanied by a specific timeline for working out the final details for a state in the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip, the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.
"If we deviate from this to go to the psychology of thinking that the Palestinian problems and the frustration is because they want to change the name from a Palestinian Authority to a Palestinian state, I'm afraid that this will backfire," Mr. Erekat said.
He said that if Palestinians found, the day after such a state was declared, that Israeli forces still controlled checkpoints between Palestinian cities, "I'm afraid that you're gong to have a bigger explosion than you're having now."
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel has said he adamantly opposes agreements based on timelines, contending that they should be driven instead by measurable, benchmark achievements. Palestinians fear that such an approach would permit Israel to postpone territorial concessions indefinitely.
With the Bush administration exploring new diplomatic options, Shimon Peres, Israel's foreign minister, said today that he had resumed his contacts with Palestinian leaders, with Mr. Sharon's permission.
Calling these contacts "just initial probes," he told Israeli radio that he was not speaking to Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader. The two men share a Nobel Peace Prize for the Oslo peace accords of 1993.
Israeli forces continued today to raid what, under the negotiating process outlined in Oslo, is Palestinian-controlled territory. Before dawn, Israeli forces entered the West Bank city of Hebron, arresting three Palestinians whom Israel accused of being militants. Israeli troops arrested three more Palestinians during an incursion into Bir Zeit, a village near Ramallah.
The Israeli government reported that its forces had found a powerful bomb in the town of Qalqilya. Israeli sappers destroyed the bomb by detonating it, the government said.
For months, Mr. Peres has been promoting a peace plan based on the immediate creation of a Palestinian state in a limited part of the West Bank and Gaza, to be followed by negotiations over the final borders.
Mr. Sharon's position on this approach is unclear. Publicly, he has said there can be no negotiations until all violence halts, but he has privately suggested that he came up with the plan offered by Mr. Peres.
Palestinians have resisted Mr. Peres's approach because they fear that a declaration of even a limited state would ease international pressure for Israel's return to the 1967 borders, with some modifications.
That is a message Palestinian officials are sending clearly to their own people. In remarks published this week in the Palestinian newspaper Al Ayyam, Yasir Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian minister of information and culture, strongly criticized the idea of an interim state, which he said would serve only to reinforce "cantons" in Palestinian areas.
"As far as we are concerned the issue is not the declaration of a state," he was quoted as saying. "Our top priority is bringing about an end to the occupation."
He said that no international guarantees would persuade Palestinians that Israel would withdraw from the remaining territory after a state was declared. "We have had bitter and sufficient experience with the Israeli occupation," he said, "because their pledges happen to be a total illusion that serves as cover for keeping the occupation and expanding settlements."
Israel says its raids into Palestinian-controlled territory are necessary for its self-defense because Palestinian security forces are doing nothing to stop Palestinian violence. Muhammad Dahlan, who resigned 10 days ago as the commander of Palestinian preventive security in Gaza, said in an interview published today in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot that the leaders of such forces were in a quandary.
"Israel accuses you of not doing the job, our public accuses you of collaboration — everyone is against you," he said. "It's a losing proposition."
As Mr. Arafat reorganizes his government, Mr. Dahlan is seeking a job as a top adviser that would remove him from that political predicament while giving him a broader portfolio. He has been holding public meetings in Gaza in an effort to rebuild his support there, where he has been accused of corruption, and he has been giving interviews to Israeli reporters, apparently in an effort to restore his standing as a tractable Palestinian leader.
In the interview, Mr. Dahlan acknowledged "internal mistakes" by the Palestinian leadership, but warned that removing Mr. Arafat would result only in a more extreme Palestinian leadership.
"Whoever comes after him will seek legitimacy, and how can one get legitimacy from a people whose sons have been killed and their homes destroyed?" he said. "Only by making their political positions more extreme and by increasing actions against Israel."
Mr. Bush indicated in a meeting on Thursday with the Saudi foreign minister that he had made up his mind to support the creation of a Palestinian state. Such support is the latest surprising modification in policy on the subject. Until recently, it was the Palestinians who spoke of unilaterally declaring a state, and Bush officials who worked to prevent that.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company