NEW YORK (Aug. 18)
The unlikely inspiration for a Palestinian declaration of independence that has been circulating in Arab and Israeli hands for the past few weeks is a Jewish American professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland.
Jerome Segal, of the university’s Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, does not claim authorship of the plan uncovered during a search of Faisal al-Husseini’s Arab Studies Institute in East Jerusalem last month.
But in a telephone interview Thursday he acknowledged that “broad strokes” of a plan he outlined in an article in the East Jerusalem daily Al-Kuds are contained in the draft proposal.
The draft proposal, like Segal’s article, calls for a unilateral declaration of independence as the first step toward negotiations with the Israelis, and a provisional government made up of local Palestinians and exiled Palestine Liberation Organization leaders, including chairman Yasir Arafat. Segal’s plan was published in Arabic in April and reprinted in the English edition of the East Jerusalem daily Al-Fajr in June.
Segal said it presented Palestinians with an alternative to the strategy they had adopted since the onset of the uprising. Their original idea, he said, was to use the ongoing uprising to earn international sympathy for an international peace conference, at which the superpowers would pressure Israel into allowing a Palestinian state.
“I said, ‘look, as an alternative, look how Israel came into existence: they didn’t ask the Arab world for recognition,’ “said Segal, speaking from a relative’s home in New York’s Westchester County.
” ‘They declared statehood unilaterally, gained international recognition, and after the Arab armies attacked, they gained control of territory.’ “
In his articles and a book-length manuscript that he hopes to sell to an Israeli publisher, Segal argues that the Palestinians could mirror the Israeli tactic— with one key distinction.
LAUNCHING PEACE INITIATIVE
“They cannot force the Israelis out through arms,” he explained. “But, if they launch a major peace initiative at the same time as they declare a state, maybe the Israelis will negotiate.”
A “rich” peace initiative, as Segal termed it, must include recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the abandonment of the PLO covenant.
Segal said there are major differences between his propositions and the draft proposal, parts of which are presently at the center of intense debate within the PLO.
His plan, for instance, mentions only the West Bank and Gaza Strip; the proposal calls for a division of territory along the lines of the 1947 U.N. partition plan, which included placing much of the Galilee in the Arab state.
With all the dissonant voices being heard in the Middle East, why have Segal’s ideas gained cachet in Palestinian circles?
Even Segal said he can’t be sure. But his position as an outsider with an equal interest in Israel’s security and the Palestinian’s right to an independent state, he thinks, may infuse his ideas with a reality missing from an often one-sided debate.
Segal is a founder of the Jewish Committee for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which in addition to supporting Israel’s security needs and Palestinian self-determination, calls on the United States and Israel to negotiate with the PLO.
Segal, who has a doctorate in philosophy and a masters in public policy, worked as a legislative aide specializing in foreign affairs for Minnesota’s Donald Fraser, a former congressman who now serves as mayor of Minneapolis.
Segal said American and Arab newspapers publish his articles frequently, and he has contacts with PLO leaders abroad and with Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Segal met with Arafat a little over a year ago as part of a small delegation of Jews from American peace groups. He believes Arafat and the PLO leadership are receptive to what he calls “the most important thing: they are prepared to recognize Israel and make permanent peace.”
Segal will make a return trip to Israel next week, where he will try to meet with Israeli leaders to discuss his ideas.
“Israel is at a crossroads,” he said. “They can go one way, and have 50 more years of conflict. Or they can go another way, and have a real chance to get a permanent peace.”