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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Is Peace Possible?

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- To justify Israeli actions, two deliberate distortions of reality are being employed in Israel's war against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. First, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is treating the Palestinian Authority as a full-fledged state when it is nothing of the sort. Second, perhaps more significant for the international community, Israel blames the Palestinian Authority for its failure to provide security for Israel's pursuit of territorial objectives that are clearly illegal under international law.

The Palestinian Authority was established by agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization and granted powers that fall far short of those of a state. It was not given sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, under Article VIII of the Declaration of Principles, commonly referred to as the Oslo accords, the authority was allowed to establish "a strong police force," while Israel would continue to carry "the responsibility for overall security of Israelis for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order." The sharing of security responsibilities between Israel and the Palestinians has clearly not worked. When the Oslo accords were signed, they had the support of a majority of the Palestinian people in the territories. This was because Palestinians were promised by their leaders that those agreements would be the first step toward the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied since 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital. From the beginning, those who did not agree to the principle of the division of historical Palestine into two states, Israel and Palestine, were the mutual enemies of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

According to the declaration of principles, the negotiations on permanent status would lead to the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which affirmed the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and called on Israel to withdraw its forces "from territories occupied" in 1967. However, while the final status negotiations were being conducted, successive Israeli governments continued at a faster pace than ever with their policy, begun three decades earlier, of building Israeli settlements in the occupied lands. As a result, the number of Israeli settlers living in the territories almost doubled from 1993 to today. This development strengthened the political power of those among the Palestinians who had rejected the Oslo accords.

So long as Israel pursues a policy believed by Palestinians to be antithetical to the promise of the establishment of a state in all the territories occupied in 1967, it will not be possible to find a Palestinian partner to make and sustain peace. That is why there is now a retreat to the old relationship between Palestinians and Israelis, with Israel assuming full occupation of the territories and using its army to exercise direct control over a hostile population.

The Sharon government seems to believe that over time a more compliant Palestinian leadership will emerge, even without a change in its own policies. From the Palestinian perspective, however, only a quisling government would make peace with a country in full occupation of its land and which refuses to stop a colonizing program.

Arafat, in the Palestinian context, still represents the moderate national leadership. Imprisoning him at his headquarters in Ramallah has made his popularity soar. If Israelis seek a durable peace, they have to elect a government willing and able to take decisive action to protect its citizens living within its borders. But peace cannot be achieved with an Israeli government that is committed to pursuing expansionist policies aimed at depriving Palestinians of their legitimate claim under international law to a viable state in all the lands occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.

Raja Shehadeh, the author of "Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine," contributed this comment to The New York Times.