Ever since Palestinian misery in Gaza and the West Bank erupted in riot advice for Israel. On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council, backed by the Reagan administration, told Israel to desist from plans to deport the ringleaders. It is not clear what Israel is supposed to do with people committed to civil disorder, sometimes violently so, and who work actively to get others to join them. Prison is no deterrent. It is a finishing school for rock-throwers, where these senior radicals serve as faculty. Israel figures that expelling nine agitators is better policy than firing tear gas and bullets at the crowds they incite. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Herbert Okun, differs. He informed Israel that deportation is "unnecessary to maintain order." His solution: restraint.
The New York Times, too, had a suggestion, a small step to diffuse Palestinian anger: freeze or roll back Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. Twenty-five hundred Jews among 650,000 Arabs hardly constitute a threat, but fine: remove the irritant. And on the other side? "Arab countries could help by offering to absorb some of the refugees," suggests The Times.
There is an air of breezy unreality about this idea. Of course the Arab countries could offer to absorb some of the Palestinian refugees. But they do not. Take Gaza. During its 20-year rule of the Gaza Strip, Egypt not only refused to absorb Palestinian refugees, it kept them stateless and hopeless. They were denied passports. They were not even permitted to travel or work in Egypt. Even today, Egypt makes work and travel very difficult for the 1 percent of Palestinians who live on the Egyptian side of Gaza. Egypt certainly has no intention of absorbing them.
If the Arab countries had any interest in Palestinian refugees other than as a means to discomfit Israel, they would have absorbed them 40 years ago rather than let them sit in squalor and frustration. Of all the displaced peoples of the post- World War II partitions -- in India, Central Europe, Korea -- only the Palestinians have been so cynically manipulated by their fellow nationals and co-religionists.
How cynically? In the mid-1970s, Israel tried to give new housing to some of the Palestinian refugees living in the Gaza Strip. It moved them out of the camps into more livable houses nearby. Whereupon the U.N. General Assembly, urged on by the Arab states, passed Resolution 32/90 condemning Israel's relocation of these refugees and demanding their return "to the camps from which they were removed." The U.N., which offered that advice exactly 10 years before the current round of rioting in Gaza, has a large stake in Palestinian misery.
At least The Times' advice was earnest. Others have been merely fatuous. End the occupation, says Prof. Stanley Hoffmann of Harvard. Sure, but exactly how and to whom does one give the territories? Easy. To Yasser Arafat, says Hoffmann. Like most who demand of Israel that it redeem Palestinian history, Hoffmann poses as a friend. Not to push Israel to follow his advice "does Israel no favor," he says.
Now Israelis, whose sons are dodging gasoline bombs, are as sensitive to the dilemmas and agonies of occupation as are the residents of Cambridge, Mass. Most Israelis want to end the occupation but not to evacuate the territories unilaterally and thus allow Arafat and Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas to fill the vacuum. Israel is split about dealing away territory. About half the electorate is prepared to; half is not. But of the latter, many are wedded to the territories not by religion or history but by the conviction that the Arabs will take the territories and then continue their war against a gravely weakened Israel from there.
It is a conviction grounded in fact. Arafat and the PLO say explicitly that recovery of the West Bank is simply stage 1 of the struggle to liberate all of Palestine. Israelis were reminded of that fact by demonstrators in Nazareth, part of pre-'67 Israel, who chanted "death to the Jews" during last month's general strike. So long as the West Bank remains the Arab world's Sudetenland, any Israeli prepared to give it up is a fool. And any American advising Israel to do so is no friend.
One of the tensest days of this round of violence occurred on Jan. 1, which Palestinians celebrate as the anniversary of the first attack on Israel by Fatah, Arafat's leading faction of the PLO. It was 23 years ago that Fatah sent men to blow up the water works of Bet Shean. The anniversary was widely reported, but no one stopped to consider that 23 years ago was 1965. In 1965 there were no occupied territories. In 1965 Jordan ruled the West Bank, Egypt ruled Gaza and not a Jew disturbed Islam's third holiest site, Jordan having rendered the Old City of Jerusalem judenrein. None of the current pretexts for Palestinian violence even existed when Fatah began its war against Israel. The issue then, as now, was not Israel's occupation but Israel's existence.
Hence the air of unreality about the advice being offered Israel regarding Palestinian rioting. "End the occupation" amounts to an admonition to risk suicide in order to improve one's image abroad. Israel waits to sit down with Palestinians (and Jordanians) unequivocally prepared to coexist with Israel. If out of this generation of rock throwers a leadership eventually arises which is prepared to deal, rather than dream and demand, then some good may come out of the current agony. In the interim, the only advice worth offering Israel is better riot control.