MR. BEGIN, in accordance with his pledges at Camp David, has now submitted to his cabinet a plan for Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. It reflects faithfully the great reluctance of the majority of Israelis to start down any autonomy road that might lead to a Palestinian state. It is faithful, too, to the notion of a minority of Israelis, including Mr. Begin personally, that the Bible is a real-estate deed assigning perpetual spiritual title to "Samaria" and "Judea" to the Jews. If he were drafting the West Bank plank in a Likud reelection platform, this plan would cost his coalition votes on the far right, which disdains any autonomy plan, but would otherwise serve well.
The larger truth is, of course, that the features of the plan that make it acceptable to the Israeli public in its current mood are precisely those likely to make it unacceptable to those Arabs who must be drawn into the negotiations in the next phase if those negotiations are to succeed. The Israeli military would have a more discreet presence than it does now but would still be in charge. The Palestinians would have administrative powers of the sweep-the-streets sort but no legislative powers. The Israelis would be the guarantors of local security: It would be their soldiers who would go in after the youth who stoned the jeep when the Palestinian police looked the other way. The Israelis would control the valuable "public lands." They would have the final word on every well and every pipeline-crucial in view of the growing dependence of Israel proper on West Bank water. They would retain the right of Jewish settlement while continuing to control Arab settlement.
Plainly, from the viewpoint of Palestinian self-determination, this plan is fraud. The Begin government may protest the use of that particular word but since its strategy, or one of its strategies, is to make sure that nothing gets started on the West Bank that Israel cannot control, it will not shed many tears if Palestians reject the plans even as a basis for negotiations. That would leave a West Bank status quo that many Israelis, in their fear and their myopia, would prefer to any conceivable change. Mr. Begin would then try to convince the United States that Israel had done its bit by submitting a plan. And he would have half a point: To the complaint that the plan had been designed with an eye to discouraging Palestinian expressions of interest, he could reply that Israel would be foolish to offer anything other than a tough opening position as long as no Palestinian responds.
So get ready. Everdybody predicted it would be hard to get the Israelis and the Palestinians out of the trenches. Mr. Begin's views on autonomy should not be taken as his, or Israel's, last statement. The Israeli position on Sinai was changed by events, and the Israeli position can be changed, too: by debate within Israel, by the thawing effects of peace with Egypt, by American persuation and by modification in the words and especially the deeds of Palestinians. The PLO, for instance, has been vigorously sponsoring and claiming credit for terror since the Egyptian-Israeli treaty was signed-its guerrillas do very well against small children. Terro has subverted the prospect of negotiations from the Palestinian side just as rigidity has subverted it from the Israeli side. The two go together. They can be eased together. But the process is going to be rough.