We have been living nearly 15 years under Israeli occupation. Israel has applied a policy of harrassing Arab people and imposing collective punishment. Our economy has been absorbed into its economy. Tens of thousands of Arabs go to work every day in Israel to build Jewish settlements or to do menial work. In the political field, we have achieved very little.

I believe the present stalemate has had adverse effects on Arab interests. There can be no military solution for the Arab-Israeli crisis ever. I feel with great sorrow that public opinion in Europe, America and elsewhere favors Israel. Foreigners think of Israel as the victim of Arab aggression whereas in reality we, the Palestinian Arabs, are the victims of Israeli aggression.

The United States repeats often that it will not talk to the PLO until and unless the PLO recognizes the right of Israel to exist. As long as we rule out the military option, then we have to look into the political option. I firmly believe a political option might yield good results. Therefore, I say that we Palestinians should challenge Israel for peace and not for war.

We would gain immensely if we were to say we would recognize the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign and independent state within defined and internationally recognized borders on a reciprocal, mutual and simultaneous basis. That would improve the image of the Palestinian Arabs in general and the PLO in particular and test whether the Americans would honor their statements and begin a political dialogue with the PLO.

The reaction of Israel might be total rejection in the beginning, but ultimately public opinion would force Israel to begin a political dialogue with the Palestinian people, who are represented by the PLO.

With every day, Israel establishes more settlements, enlarging existing ones and consolidating its presence in the occupied territories. Our Arab people are being squeezed into small ghettos or enclaves. At this rate, within 10 years the Israelis will succeed in "Judaizing" the West Bank. I want our Arab friends to realize that Israeli settlements are cutting the body of the Arab West Bank to pieces.

It is the destiny of the Holy Land that two peoples should be living within its boundaries. In as much as the Jews have a state, the Palestinian Arabs, the original inhabitants of the Holy Land, are fully entitled to a state. The two states should live together in peace as good and equal neighbors. We cannot continue to live with hatred in our hearts, because violence will only breed violence.

For the last 50 years, the Arabs have not tried the challenge of political dialogue with Israel. We have been failing. We should admit that we have been failing for the last 50 years, until we lost every inch in Palestine. It is worthwhile now for the Arab governments, for the Arab people and the PLO to initiate a new peace initiative. Instead of the Saudi initiative, let it be called a Palestinian peace initiative. Let the world know that the Palestinian people are willing to live as peaceful neighbors with the Israelis.

I hope the message I am sending from the holy city of Bethlehem will be received with good intention by the PLO and by all Arab governments. This is simply a personal suggestion, for it is up to the PLO to make the decision because the PLO is the official spokesman and representative of all Palestinian Arabs wherever they live, and I fully accept this. But as an Arab citizen, the elected mayor of Bethlehem, it is my duty to alarm them and this message is an SOS sent before we get sunk and before our land is taken.

Many people ask why the Arab inhabitants in the West Bank and Gaza do not accept the proposed autonomy. The Israeli plan for autonomy is not a plan at all. The Israelis are simply asking the inhabitants to accept the status quo as legal and permanent. They offer us nothing whatsoever more than we actually have now.

For example, they suggest that education, health and justice, the courts, agriculture and municipalities be maintained by Arab staff. These departments are already maintained by Arab staff and have been since 1967. The Israelis say that we inhabitants should have no rights whatsoever regarding water, land resources or sovereignty.

I want Americans to know that autonomy is traditionally given to a minority, but here we are not the minority. We are the actual owners and inhabitants and natives. This is our motherland, and what we want is just to be free and independent and to have the right to self-determination. If a proposal is made to give us our right to self-determination and to reach it in stages, that might be considered.

I stress that East Jerusalem is part and parcel of the West Bank and there could never be any Arab in his right mind who would agree to talk about anything that excluded East Jerusalem, the town and the people.

No one who lives in the occupied territories has the authority or power to negotiate the political destiny of the Palestinian case except the PLO, or with the full authority of the PLO. I have tried to explain this position to senior American representatives.

The autonomy is not the right solution for the Arab-Israeli crisis. What we want is an Israeli withdrawal, an end to the military occupation and administration and freedom for our people. We ask the American people to help us achieve freedom, liberty and self-determination.