Can Israel, Arafat stop Hamas terrorism: Its not just security

Two aspects of the debate over whether Israel should seal off the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the wake of repeated suicide bus bombings deserve serious consideration.

The first concerns terminology, but its implications go much deeper.

The word closure is a misnomer. Israel could impose a closure on the territories as long as these areas were under its military rule. But in the wake of the Oslo accords, it has become clear that the territories now under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority have a different status. Even though Israel retains overall security responsibility in a number of ways, these territories are no longer part of Israeli space.

When we refer to "closure" what we are really talking about is the nature of the border between Israel and the areas under the Palestinian Authority's control. And the issue isn't "closing off" territories under our military administration, it's what happens at those border crossings.

Like any sovereign nation, Israel has the right to determine the conditions of entry to and exit from its territory, according to security, political or economic considerations.

Second and more important: The issues involved in Israel's policies regarding its border crossings should not be considered purely under the rubric of security. Even Sunday's bus bombing in Jerusalem and Monday's in Tel Aviv should alert us to the fact that the issue transcends security.

The question goes to the heart of the nature of our relationship with the Palestinians.

Given so many decades of war and enmity, it is totally unrealistic to expect a swift transition to the kind of relations that exist among the Benelux countries. That is why any analogy with Western European countries is, for the moment, irrelevant.

The enormous economic gaps between Israel and the Palestinian territories make any attempt at economic integration equally meaningless unless one is thinking in terms of a Bantustan puppet state emerging on Israel's doorstep.

Surely this is not the shape of peace and reconciliation. Nor is unemployment the cause of terrorism.

The Palestinians need economic development. But making them the hewers of wood and drawers of water for a developed, modern Israeli economy isn't the way to go about it. It should be the responsibility of the Arab world, and of the Palestinian diaspora, to help the emerging Palestinian entity develop economically.

To put it bluntly: Despite the obvious interest of some Israeli employers in cheap, non-unionized Palestinian labor, there is no intrinsic Israeli interest in this. Nor does Israel owe the Palestinians a living.

So long as they were under Israeli occupation, we had that responsibility — but not any more. Once the Palestinians achieved self-rule, Israel's responsibility ceased.

This ought to be stated clearly and equivocally to Israeli employers, who parade their exploitative self-interest under the cloak of caring for unemployed Palestinians, and to Israeli and other civil rights advocates, who are (justly) concerned about economic conditions in the territories. They need to be told that the address for their complaints is not Israel.

Last but not least, it needs to be stated to the Palestinians themselves. They finally need to realize that responsibility goes with self-rule.

Their continuing gripes against Israel are a continuation of the dependency syndrome. They and those Israelis who would like to continue a relationship of hegemony toward the Palestinians, calling it "cooperation," now have to realize that we are at a crossroads toward a new kind of relationship between our two peoples.

Under difficult conditions, the Palestinians have achieved a measure of self-rule which will, hopefully, lead them toward complete emancipation from Israeli domination.

But economic dependency mustn't replace political and military occupation.

Palestinian self-reliance must be enlarged with the help of Arab solidarity, and Palestinian leaders, who for decades were able to mobilize the whole Arab world on their behalf in their fight against Israel, must now rely on that same Arab solidarity in their moment of hope.

Even under the present complicated conditions, ending Israeli rule over two million Palestinians was a necessary step, and a great achievement.

It was a two-fold emancipation, freeing Palestinians from Israeli rule, and freeing Israelis from the political and moral burden of ruling another nation against its will.

The more separation that can now be achieved between the two populations and the two economies, the better the chances for cooperation with equality and mutual self-respect in the future.