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Commentary: Possible Political Solution for the Mideast

All Things Considered: June 10, 2002

Mideast Negotiations

DANIEL SCHORR:

At the summit they discussed Palestinian statehood and how to get from here to there, whether to deal with Yasser Arafat and whether his corrupt regime can be reformed.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

NPR News analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: On the ground, where the authority of the Palestinian Authority is fast disintegrating, the high-level talks must look like a charade. In the real world, Arab and Israeli are settling down to the prospect of physical separation and a long conflict. What influence Arafat still has he gets from being boxed in by Prime Minister Sharon.

In Ramallah, Palestinian demographer Khalil Shikaki's latest poll in May shows Arafat with a 35 percent approval rating and 83 percent of Palestinians believing there is corruption in his regime. Hamas and the other militant movements have spurned Arafat's invitation to join a restructured Cabinet. Arafat's governor of Jenin has not ventured into Jenin, which is under Hamas control. Conditions are ripe for an Arafat succession struggle, perhaps even a civil war among the Palestinians, says Shikaki.

Israelis hope to observe that struggle from behind a wall intended to limit the infiltration of suicide bombers. After much discussion and delay, Sharon has now approved the building of a 65-mile-long wall along the West Bank demarcation line at an estimated cost of $100 million. The last wall that I saw being erected was the Berlin Wall in 1961, a lump of concrete and barbed wire. This will be a state-of-the-art wall with electronic detection devices.

Initially, Israeli officials tell me, it will not be continuous, but will protect particularly vulnerable locations like Megiddo and Netanya. It remains to be seen whether good fences make good neighbors, as poet Robert Frost wrote. But the building of this wall seems to assume that there will be no political settlement for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, President Bush considers whether to make another speech outlining an American plan for Palestinian statehood. But on the ground, events are moving not towards final status but to freezing of the status quo. This is Daniel Schorr.



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