An independent Palestinian state would pose well-known dangers to Israel and the United States, but a close look shows that if such a state ever came into existence the biggest losers would be the Arabs. The citizens of this state would suffer human rights abuses, and Arab states in the neighborhood would be threatened by a whole range of new dangers.
We must assume that a Palestinian state would be run by the Palestine Liberation Organization, for no other Palestinian group now or in the near future can compete with it. In addition to the P.L.O.'s symbolic power, it controls a network of well-established institutions and funds estimated in the billions of dollars, enjoys wide international recognition—and it has the guns. Together, these make it the only serious Palestinian claimant to power.
We have a very good idea what Palestine Liberation Organization rule would mean, for the record since its founding in 1964 has consistently been one of an avaricious, self-serving leadership living by a non-democratic ethos.
Ignore for the moment the many atrocities against Israelis and the citizens of other countries, including the United States. Just recall the contempt that the P.L.O. has shown for the lives of non-P.L.O. Palestinians in Jordan, the West Bank, and elsewhere.
The closest the P.L.O. has come to a state was in southern Lebanon between 1975 and 1982. There it enjoyed nearly sovereign authority. For seven years, P.L.O. members ran amok, grabbing possessions and women as they wished, dealing in drugs and operating protection rackets. Their insolence was so great that many Palestinians, not to speak of terrorized Lebanese, actually welcomed the P.L.O.'s removal by Israeli troops.
Given the P.L.O.'s long record of indifference and brutality, there is no reason to expect this pattern of behavior to change were Yasir Arafat to achieve power in a Palestinian state.
As for its impact on Middle Eastern countries, the creation of a P.L.O. polity would foment instability for years to come, for those with trouble on their minds would flock to it. President Hafez al-Assad of Syria could be counted on to goad the new state against Israel as a way to keep his hand in the Arab-Israeli conflict and assure his position at home. Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya would try to make the new state an instrument of his power. And would the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who has just founded his own Palestinian group, be far behind?
Imagine, if the P.L.O. wielded the powers of a state, how much more effectively it would extort money and favors from the rich but weak countries of the Persian Gulf. But it would be the frail monarchy of Jordan that, as ever, would be most exposed to this new menace.
In 1970, when the P.L.O. was only an irredentist movement, it almost overturned King Hussein. It would threaten him even more once it controlled real territory and real resources.
Behind closed doors, Arab leaders recognize these dangers, and they worry. As President Jimmy Carter so indiscreetly revealed in 1979, "I have never met an Arab leader that in private professed the desire for an independent Palestinian state."
Even if a P.L.O. state poses fewer dangers for Israel than for the Arab countries, it offers Israel no advantages. Through 70 years of Arab-Zionist conflict, the Palestinian leadership has consistently taken the most extreme, violent stands, preventing a resolution of that conflict.
Empowering the P.L.O. simply would boost the worst Palestinian elements and create new obstacles to peace. Certainly, no one should expect a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza to end the Arab-Israeli conflict: it would merely move it to a new stage.
Finally, a P.L.O. state would harm United States interests, for it would offer Moscow a new outpost of influence strategically wedged between two important friends of America. Recognizing its value, Moscow would surely pour agents and arms into the new state. For the Kremlin, a P.L.O. state between Israel and Jordan would offer almost as many opportunities as moving East Germany to the English Channel.The Palestinian Liberation Organization embodies many ironies. It is, for example, a weak institution with a worldwide presence as well as a terrorist organization whose only success lies in diplomacy. But the greatest irony of all is that its rise to statehood would hurt Arabs far more than Israelis.