Editorial: Partners at Last

The signature of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the accord reached at the Wye Plantation may surprise those pundits who thought he was out to scuttle the "peace process". Already in January 1997, however – when he signed the Hebron agreement – it was clear that he had accepted Oslo. Nor was there doubt that Arafat would sign any paper the Americans placed before him. Why then has it taken so long?

The 29 months that have passed since Netanyahu took office have been a period of mutual adjustment. To the Palestinian Authority (PA), the defeat of Shimon Peres came as a staggering blow, not because he had promised a lot – he hadn't – rather because he and his Labor Party had made it so much easier for Arafat to sell the surrender to his people. Statespersonlike and discreet, Peres gave out an aura of cooperation, not dictation. Shocked by his defeat, Arafat drew back and flexed his muscles. Together with Egypt's Husni Mubarak, he vilified the new Israeli PM at every international forum. But just as History condemned Netanyahu to signing a treaty with those he had demonized, so Arafat had to walk a long road, before he could accept the fact that his big surrender – the concessions he will make in the final-status talks – will go not to Labor, rather to Israel's right wing.

Wye was an achievement, nonetheless, for the PA leader. Unlike Oslo One and Two, an agreement with Bibi means agreement with the vast majority of Israelis: Labor's supporters and most of the Likud's. The extremist Jewish settlers have again been shunted off to the margins. And not only that: from the moment he redeploys in the West Bank, Netanyahu becomes dependent on Arafat to provide security. Oslo became Bibi's baby at Wye, and if the thing goes bust, he will be held responsible, as Rabin and Peres were.

Arafat's achievement, then, is not insignificant, but the pill that goes with it is bitterer still. To prepare the latter, pharmacist Netanyahu has taken all of 29 months – in order, he says, "to lower the level of Palestinian expectations." The Wye accord contains, implicitly, the general outlines of the final-status agreement. It has been almost a year since Israel's PM acceded to the American proposal for a 13% withdrawal. The subsequent difficulties stemmed from his insistence on an agreement in principle concerning the final status, before he would yield an inch of land. Meetings took place between Ariel Sharon and PA negotiator Abu Mazen. Sharon spread the maps. The Israelis made clear their position, long before the journey to Wye, that the Palestinians could not expect more than 40%. (At Wye the Israelis got the US to agree that it would not make a proposal concerning a third deployment.)

Today the Palestinians have full control (nominally, at least) over 3% of the West Bank (Area A) and merely civil control over 24% (Area B). After the new redeployment, Area A will include 18.2% of the territory and Area B, 21.8%. In the final arrangement, Area A will include all of what is now Area B, and the Palestinians will thus have full control over about 40%. The remainder will stay under Israeli sovereignty – and this time with Arafat's stamp of approval. But the "moment of truth" does not stop there. Arafat will not be in a position to protest against Israeli settlements, whose legality, even now, is no longer questioned. Nor has he provided for the 60% of the Palestinian people in exile. Nor for water. Nor for Jerusalem.

But all that we could have foreseen (and did). The special significance of the Wye agreement lies elsewhere: The Palestinian leadership, including Arafat, Abu Mazen, Abu Ala, Sa'eb Arikat, and the heads of security have all agreed to provide a new base for the CIA in the Middle East. Arafat surrendered the legitimate rights of his people in return for the position of America's new regional client.

To complete the picture, the Americans flew King Hussein in. No mere courtesy, this. The Hashemite monarchy is living on borrowed time. The king has joined Israel and Turkey in a military alliance. The point of the group picture at Wye was to send a message: "Whoever makes problems for Arafat will have to deal with us, and with America too." Within the context of this new constellation, Arafat too has a role: to keep things quiet on his end. This is no doubt the topic of a covert section in the security portion of the Wye agreement. It was hidden, writes Yerah Tal in Ha'aretz (Oct. 27, 1998) "in order not to shame Arafat before his people. It was Arafat who asked to keep the program secret."

In contrast with the Israelis, who "fought like lions" (quoth Netanyahu), the Palestinian delegation displayed a peculiar kind of calm, the sort which overtakes those who, in matters of morality, have passed the point of no return. For the first time in public, Arafat dubbed Bibi over and over "my partner". As the erstwhile freedom fighter joined the American puppet theater, however, the Palestinian people lost sight of a viable state. When the PA applies the prescriptions of the Shin Beth and the CIA, we can expect lots of arrests – of opponents, journalists, and human-rights workers. Yet there is also hope. If so many spies must band together, it means they expect real opposition. It won't be a peace of cake.

We support the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people for the ousting of the Jewish settlers, a full Israeli withdrawal, a viable state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the return of the refugees. It is sad that so many among the progressive forces in Israel, Jews and Arabs alike, have wasted two years in a misguided war against Netanyahu, when the enemy, all along, has been nothing less than the Oslo agreement itself.