Palestinian autonomy without the Palestinians

By Jorgen Jensehaugen
Submitted to Session P4348 (Regimes for handling the Palestinians, 2016 Annual Meeting
Arab-Israeli Conflict;
LCD Projector without Audio;
While the PLO gradually moved towards accepting a two-state solution in the mid-1970s, particularly at the Palestinian National Council meetings in 1974 and 1977, and the Arab states had formally declared the PLO as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people”, the US continued to refuse to speak with the PLO. This refusal was rooted in a pledge made by Kissinger as part of the Sinai II negotiations. When Jimmy Carter became president, he aimed to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict in its entirety, including the Palestinian aspects of the conflict. Paradoxically, his decision to include the Palestinian question as a key issue in the negotiations did not alter the premise that the US would not speak with the PLO. While there were several attempts to create a situation in which the Palestinians could participate, all of these failed, and the PLO was excluded from negotiations between Egypt, Israel and the USA. This exclusion persisted despite the fact that a central element of those negotiations was to allow the Palestinians to decide their own future. Instead of negotiating with the Palestinians they negotiated about the Palestinians, conceptualizing a form of autonomy whereby a local Palestinian administration would rule the Palestinians inhabiting the West Bank and Gaza. This would not lead to a Palestinian state and the land would remain Israeli. Neither the PLO nor the local Palestinians accepted this premise, but Sadat and Carter insisted that this was the best the Palestinians could get. The autonomy negotiations never came to fruition, but it is important to understand how the autonomy concept was developed, because fifteen years later the idea resurfaced, forming the basis for the Oslo structure and the Palestinian Authority. This paper is based on recently declassified material from the Carter Library archive, shedding new light on an important period in US mediation in the Arab-Israeli conflict.