Commentary Magazine


Settling the Arab-Israeli Conflict

The future of the Arab-Israel conflict will be shaped by the course of events at three levels: first, that of relations between the state of Israel and the Arab states, more particularly those which are its neighbors; second, the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians; and third, the policies and actions of the great powers, and in particular of the United States and the Soviet Union. Much of the complexity and difficulty of the situation arises from the intermingling and interaction of these three. Yet, though connected, they are basically different, and affected by different factors. In each of them certain conditions are necessary if there is to be any chance of progress toward peace or even toward a settlement.

In recent years there have been some signs of significant change in the relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. In some of these, leaders have indicated a degree of willingness, even if expressed in carefully indirect terms and hedged with restrictions, to accept the existence of Israel as a state. Such an acceptance, if meant seriously and conveyed convincingly, could transform the Arab-Israeli conflict. It would not, of course, in itself solve the problem, but it would at least bring it within range of a solution by transforming it into a normal political dispute—that is to say a conflict in which the issue is not the existence of a state but a disagreement between existing states about territory, like, for example, the long struggle between France and Germany over Alsace-Lorraine or the current Greco-Turkish dispute about Cyprus. Merely to name these examples is to indicate that even after such a transformation, the problem would by no means be easy to solve. It would, however, be possible in that, at least, the issues would be such as can be formulated and discussed at the level of intergovernmental diplomatic negotiations. Such negotiation would no doubt be long and arduous. Without a normalization of the conflict, it cannot even begin.

Some Arab states still refuse to agree to any form of acceptance of the continued existence of Israel. Of these, the two most important are Iraq and Libya. Their importance is due to several circumstances—their espousal of radical causes, their possession of ample means to further these causes, their unfastidious political style, and their position on the far side of Israel’s eastern and western neighbors. While these states, lacking any frontier with Israel, are not directly involved in a military sense, they provide arms, money, and above all encouragement to some who are. In addition, their attitudes and activities create great problems for those Arab leaders who have agreed to compromise on some form of recognition. Their activities throw doubt on the validity and permanence of whatever recognition is given and renew the ever-present danger of a competition in extremism.

Far more important, however, than the refusal of the remoter Arab states is that of the Palestinians—the most concerned group, the most important, yet the most difficult to define, identify, and meet. Here a distinction must be made between the Palestine entity and the Palestinian people. The Palestine entity is an ideological program. The Palestinian people, however, by whatever name or names they may be designated, are a reality and their problem is a real and painful one which must be solved as part of any general settlement. There has in the past been some doubt as to who was entitled to speak for them—the Jordanian monarchy, the local leaders on the West Bank, or the militant organizations centered in Beirut and grouped under the auspices of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The claims of the third have now been formally accepted by the spokesmen of the first and, to an extent difficult to define with precision, by the second also.

In dealing with Israel, the Arabs have basically a choice between two objectives. One is to accept the existence of Israel as a fact and to try and reach a settlement on the best terms available to them. The other is to pursue the original objective, never yet renounced, of unraveling the past a bit at a time—first the 1973 war, then the 1967 war, then the 1948 war, and so ultimately to undo what they regard as the great injustice constituted by the very establishment and existence of Israel. Even for those willing to act according to the first objective, the option of the second is retained by the common use of open-ended formulas, notably the demand for “the restoration of the rights of the Palestinians”—a phrase capable of many interpretations.

The leaders of the PLO have, since the foundation of that body in January 1964, made no secret of their refusal to agree to any kind of compromise involving the continued existence of the state of Israel. Though they no longer speak of “driving the Jews into the sea,” their declared program of a secular Arab state of Palestine in which those Palestinian Jews who remain would find their place as a religious minority, would mean the end of both Israeli statehood and Jewish nationhood. Both of these concepts are indeed explicitly denied in the PLO Charter, first adopted in May 1964 and revised in July 1968. It has not been changed since and all attempts to modify it have failed. The following articles may be cited:

1.Palestine is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people; it is an indivisible part of the Arab homeland, and the Palestinian people are an integral part of the Arab nation.

2. Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.

5. The Palestinians are those Arab nationals who, until 1947, normally resided in Palestine regardless of whether they were evicted from it or have stayed there. Anyone born, after that date, of a Palestinian father—whether inside Palestine or outside it—is also a Palestinian.

6. The Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians.

13. Arab unity and the liberation of Palestine are two complementary objectives, the attainment of either of which facilitates the attainment of the other. Thus, Arab unity leads to the liberation of Palestine; the liberation of Palestine leads to Arab unity; and work toward the realization of one objective proceeds side by side with work toward the realization of the other.

19. The partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the state of Israel are entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time, because they were contrary to the will of the Palestinian people and to their natural right in their homeland, and inconsistent with the principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations, particularly the right to self-determination.

20. The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.

21. The Arab Palestinian people, expressing themselves by the armed Palestinian revolution, reject all solutions which are substitutes for the total liberation of Palestine and reject all proposals aiming at the liquidation of the Palestinian problem, or its internationalization.

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Of late, some of the Palestinian leaders have begun to hint rather less obliquely than in the past that they might be willing to accept part of Palestine as an interim arrangement without thereby relinquishing their claims to the remainder. At the meeting of the Palestine National Council held in Cairo in the first week of June 1974, there was a lively discussion of the attitude to be adopted by the PLO in view of the proposed negotiations in Geneva. Finally, a resolution was passed agreeing to set up a “patriotic, independent fighting people’s authority” in any part of Palestine which might be gained from Israel. The word state was carefully avoided in designating the Arab authority to be set up in such a piece of territory, and other articles in the resolution emphasized that there was to be no recognition of any kind of Israel and no acceptance of its existence. The points are clearly made in Resolutions 1, 3, and 4:

1. The PLO reaffirms its previous attitude concerning Security Council Resolution 242 which obliterates the patriotic and national rights of our people and treats our national cause as a refugee problem. It therefore refuses categorically any negotiations on the basis of this Resolution at any level of inter-Arab or international negotiation including the Geneva Conference.

3. The PLO will struggle against any proposal to set up a Palestine entity at the price of recognition, peace, and secure boundaries, giving up the historic right and depriving our people of its right to return and to self-determination on its national soil.

4. The PLO will consider any step toward liberation which is accomplished as a stage in the pursuit of its strategy for the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state, as laid down in the decisions of previous National Council meetings.

At the time, these resolutions, agreeing to set up a PLO authority in a part and not the whole of Palestine, were hailed as a triumph of the moderates. The point was made clearer in a decision adopted at the Rabat summit conference in October 1974. The text “affirms that any Palestinian land that is liberated through the pursuit of the struggle in its different forms will return to its lawful Palestinian owner, under the leadership of the PLO, and affirms the right to set up an independent national authority in the liberated land.” The same line of thought appears in various PLO and Ba’thist publications which speak of a “solution by stages,” of which the recovery of a part of Palestine would be first. The Arabic word hall, commonly used in this context, appositely combines the meanings of solution and dissolution.

More recently, after the military and political setbacks which the Palestinians have suffered in Lebanon, some of their leaders have began to indicate that they would be willing to go a step further, and use the word state to designate such an interim authority. At a meeting of the Palestine National Council held in Cairo in March 1977, after long and sometimes heated arguments, the delegates agreed to set up an “independent national state . . . on the national soil” in areas ceded by Israel. This was the only change made in the 1974 program. In a new fifteen-point declaration, the Council reaffirmed its rejection of UN Resolution 242 which, by implication, accepted the existence of Israel and treated the Palestinians purely as a refugee problem. The declaration also called for the escalation of the struggle, using all means “to defeat and liquidate the occupation”; it called for the restoration of the inalienable national rights of the Palestinians “without recognition of or reconciliation with the Zionist entity.” The last point of the declaration affirms the right of the PLO to participate in all conferences dealing with Palestine, as “an independent and equal party”—thus excluding the various possibilities, recently discussed, of a Palestinian presence in other Arab delegations. The meeting did not accept any amendment to the PLO Charter, which therefore stands unchanged. As Winston Churchill once remarked in another context, they showed their moderation by agreeing to eat their meal in successive courses instead of demanding that it all be served at once. This kind of moderation indeed represents some progress but hardly constitutes the basis even for discussion, let alone the basis for settlement.

As between Israelis and Palestinians, several solutions are theoretically possible. One is that embodied in the Charter of the PLO and reemphasized in its most recent resolutions—the death of Israel and the rebirth of Palestine. Since no state—neither Israel nor any other—will voluntarily co-operate in its own demise, this solution can only be accomplished by force of arms. To outsiders, particularly to Westerners, such a contingency may seem remote; to the dominant generation of Israelis, still seared by the memory both of Nazi crimes and of Western acquiescence, it remains a fearsome possibility and one that overshadows both their political and strategic thinking. As close observers of the Arab media, relying on a knowledge of Arabic rather than on translators, they are more conscious than are most Westerners of the seething hatred which these convey. Here it may be recalled that about half the Israelis belong to families which fled from Arab countries and have painful memories of the circumstances of their departure. Their fears for their own future will not be allayed by the style of conflict even in purely Arab struggles such as in Jordan in 1970 and, more recently, in Lebanon. No assessment of Israeli attitudes and responses which fails to take account of these facts can be accurate.

A second theoretically possible solution is a bi-national state of Arabs and Jews. Here there are two main obstacles. The first is that there is no group of any importance, either among the Arabs or among the Jews, that desires such a solution. Its only supporters are some small Jewish left-wing groups and some Western interpreters of the PLO who either misunderstand or misrepresent its program.1 The PLO blueprint for the “secular, democratic republic of Palestine” never speaks of Arabs and Jews—only of Muslims, Christians, and Jews, emphasizing that Jews would appear only as a religious minority, not as a national group, and that the secular, democratic republic, while having no specific religion, would certainly have a nationality in that it would be an Arab state and ultimately part of a greater Arab union. But even if, by some miracle of diplomacy, a bi-national state were to be set up, its chances of success among peoples so disparate and divided would be slim.

A third possibility is a new and final partition of the territories placed under British Mandate after World War I and designated “Palestine,” and subsequently divided by British administrative action into Palestine and Transjordan. For such a new partition there are broadly two alternatives. One, now much under discussion, is the creation of a new Arab state to be called Palestine and consisting of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, its frontiers and its relations with both Israel and Jordan to be determined if possible by agreement, otherwise by force. The other solution, preferred by the Israelis, is to have not three but two states in the area. One of them would be Israel; the other would be an Arab state on both banks of the Jordan which its people might call either Palestine or Jordan or both, as they prefer.

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Left to themselves the Arabs and Israelis would probably, sooner or later, have arrived at some sort of modus vivendi. The Arabs are unable to conquer Israel by their own unaided efforts; the Israelis could not take on the Arab world as a whole, and even the most crushing victories over Israel’s immediate Arab neighbors would, in the long run, be inconclusive. Both sides are weary of endless and futile struggle, of the strains of permanent readiness for war, of the wasteful deflection to military purposes of scarce and much-needed human and material resources. Increasingly, both sides show signs of disillusionment with ideological mystiques and of doubt about the attainability or even the desirability of some of the aims which they have been pursuing. Without outside interference, this would in time have led to one of two results—either a compromise solution satisfactory to neither side but acceptable to both or, more probably, a smoldering minor local conflict, troublesome but not dangerous to those directly involved, and unimportant to the rest of the world. The Arab refugees would have been resettled without international aid or intervention, as were the incomparably greater numbers who fled or were driven from their homes in India, Pakistan, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the lost German territories, and Africa, when the world was reshaped in the aftermath of World War II.

The Arabs and Israelis will not, however, be left to themselves, and the final outcome of the dispute will be decided not only by the participants but also and, indeed, perhaps principally, by the great powers. In practice, this means the two superpowers. Lesser interested powers in Europe, Asia, and Africa, though much concerned and deeply affected by developments in the Middle East, are unlikely to look beyond their immediate and unenlightened self-interest. The United Nations, immobilized by the politics of its members and increasingly enslaved by its own professionalism, will incline, with this as with some other difficult problems, to conserve what it cannot resolve. More and more, the struggle in the Middle East has become a clash of interests and of wills between the United States and the USSR in which the Arab-Israeli dispute is only one of several issues.

A characteristic feature of this confrontation is its asymmetry. Russia is ruthless, determined, and consistent, but hampered by economic weakness, technological backwardness, defective information and judgment, and pervasive inefficiency. America is rich, well-informed, and efficient, but is crippled by divided counsels and purposes and hag-ridden by guilt. Russia’s friends need massive military and economic aid and can usually count on getting it; America’s friends need far less but can never be quite sure. As a Turkish general once remarked, the trouble with having the Americans as friends is that you can never be sure when they will turn around and stab themselves in the back. Russia exploits every opportunity, cynically if not always effectively, to extend its power. America seeks to limit that power but at times shows an alarming lack of firmness and of realism—as in its recurring inability to distinguish between friends and enemies, a necessary condition of survival. Russia’s advance into the Middle East is imperial in the traditional sense rather than imperialist in the modern sense. Its further progress is, however, by no means inevitable. The Middle East of today shows many parallels to the Balkan Peninsula of an earlier time where both Czarist and Soviet Russia attempted so much and achieved so little. But there are great differences, and with very few obvious exceptions, the local powers in the Middle East are unlikely to offer the same resistance as the Balkan peoples have done and are still doing: Barring changes within the Communist world, only the United States can save the Middle East from ultimate Soviet domination.

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The consequences of the war of October 1973 have been variously assessed. Three main political results appear to have followed from it.

The first of these is the belief of the Arabs, shared by many others, in their victory. Although the military results of the war are at least debatable, there can be no doubt that these results were translated, in part by American diplomacy, into a political victory for the Arabs. Rightly or wrongly, the belief that Israel was militarily unassailable, whether in the short or in the long run, is now open to question. This means that Israel’s survival is once again at issue, and awareness of this necessarily colors the perceptions and responses of Arabs and Israelis alike.

The second change, linked with this, is that full American support for Israel in an emergency is no longer regarded as axiomatic. For some crucial days in October 1973 that support was, or was believed to be, in doubt, and this inevitably led to the hope among the Arabs and the corresponding fear among Israelis that in a similar crisis, at some future date, the decision might go the other way. The only real possibility of the destruction of Israel would be in a situation where the Arabs enjoy Russian support and Israel does not get American support. Some Arabs feel that in these circumstances they could destroy Israel by military action; others that they could achieve the same result over a longer period without a military victory, by a process of economic and political attrition. The separation of the United States from Israel has naturally become a major objective of Arab policy, to which great efforts are directed. The more they are successful or believe themselves to be successful in achieving this objective, the less prospect there is of a peaceful settlement and, indeed, the less interest there is in seeking one.

A third lesson which the war and its diplomatic aftermath taught the Arabs was that striking the first blow brings considerable military advantages and no corresponding political disadvantages. The effects of this lesson on others have been seen in the Cyprus problem. They will certainly continue to affect both Israelis and Arabs—and probably others—in their judgments on war and peace.

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In considering the possible development of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the first question to be asked and answered is—what is the issue? Is it the existence of Israel or the size of Israel? If the issue is still, as it has for so long been, the existence of Israel, then obviously no settlement, no compromise, no discussion even can take place, since there is nothing to discuss. There is no compromise between existing and not existing; if that is the issue, each side will seek to secure the best position, diplomatic and above all military, for the inevitable conflict or conflicts that must ensue.

If, however, the issue is no longer the existence but the size of the state of Israel, then a first and important step has been taken toward the normalization of the conflict and thus, more distantly, toward its solution. One cannot negotiate over the existence of Israel; one can, however, negotiate over the size of Israel, and the best hope, indeed an essential prerequisite for progress toward peace, is a clear recognition by all interested parties that such a change has taken place.

Has it? There is some evidence in the form of Arab indications of readiness to recognize Israel. The Israelis, however, point out that these indications are usually for external consumption only and are given little if any prominence in domestic statements. These indeed generally tend to go in the other direction. Israeli suspicions were heightened by the espousal of the PLO and therefore of the PLO program for the solution of the Palestine problem by the Arab leaders in their summit conference in Rabat in October 1974. These suspicions find confirmation in the continued use of the formula “restoring the legitimate rights of the Palestinians,” an expression which for the PLO, and therefore presumably for those who support the PLO, means the liquidation of the Israeli state and society. Further proof of these intentions is seen in the stepped-up campaign of the Arab states against Israel at the United Nations and its various agencies, as well as by means of the boycott. The Arabs have been greatly encouraged and the Israelis correspondingly alarmed by the large measure of acquiescence and even support which the Arab states have received from other quarters in these campaigns against Israel. The exclusion of Israel from one body after another, the denunciation of Israel and of Zionism in one forum after another, are seen as stages in the delegitimization of the Jewish state, and thus as a step toward its ultimate destruction.

At first sight, there seems little reason why the Arab states should incline toward peace. They have scored some military and very considerable political successes. They have won respect and support internationally. They now dispose of immensely powerful weapons through oil and through the money which oil has brought them. They can always count on Soviet help against Israel, and have now found ways to mobilize the Afro-Asian bloc, previously divided, on their side. They have virtually broken European support for Israel and have made significant inroads into American support. Why then should they now be more disposed to recognize Israel and negotiate with it than they were at a time when they had none of these advantages?

The prospect for peace would thus seem to be very discouraging. Yet in spite of this, there are indications that at least Egypt and Jordan, and possibly also Syria, with Saudi encouragement, are ready for some kind of arrangement. Their main incentive for this would be a realization of the dangers which a continuation of the present state of war or tension holds for them, whether from internal social disruption or from Soviet penetration. The civil war in Lebanon in particular has been a warning to other Arab states.

The Arabs can, if they wish, continue the conflict and might eventually succeed in destroying Israel, since the Israelis are few and their friends are fickle or faraway or both. But to achieve this objective would require protracted struggle extending over decades or longer and involving a succession of wars. These wars would in themselves pose the gravest dangers to the Arabs as well as to the Israelis. The escalation of destructiveness was already clear in the war of October 1973 and would certainly continue at an accelerated pace in any future conflicts, possibly culminating in a nuclear holocaust. Even without this, such a process would wreck the economies of the Arab countries, poison their public life, delay or prevent their economic development, and, worst of all, expose them to a far greater danger than Israel could in any circumstances possibly offer—the danger that in trying to recover Palestine they might lose Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and the rest, and become vassals or subjects of the one great power that might be willing to encourage or help them in their aim. Even without any deliberate decision or action on the part of the Soviet Union, this would be the virtually inevitable result of a continuance of the struggle with Soviet support.

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Until the war in October 1973, there was no possibility of negotiation at all. Since that war, there have been signs that such a possibility exists, though it is by no means clear how such negotiations would be arranged—in what framework, about what issues, even with what participants. Whatever the pattern and procedure, however, negotiations must deal with three topics.

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Recognition. The Arab refusal to recognize the Jewish state or meet with its representatives did not begin with the 1967 war and the consequent occupation of Arab territories. It dates back to the foundation of the state of Israel, and even beyond that to the period of the British Mandate, when the Palestinian Arab leadership refused at all times to enter into any kind of dialogue or discussion with the Jewish Agency, then representing the Jewish community in Palestine and the Zionist movement. This steadfast refusal of the Arab states to talk to the Israelis has been and remains the most important single cause of Israeli concern about Arab ultimate intentions. Paradoxically, it may also in a sense be regarded as encouraging in that it shows the importance which the Arabs attach to this matter. If they can be persuaded to overcome their reluctance to cross this psychological barrier and to grant recognition, then such recognition would have a real value. Clearly it is not a sufficient condition of peace, but it is a necessary one.

The question of recognition falls into two parts. The first of these—the minimum token of good faith—is an Arab willingness to enter into direct discussions with Israeli representatives. The second is agreement as to the nature of the ultimate objective—namely, a signed peace and the normalization of relations. It has been objected in the past that to expect Arab acceptance of such a program is unrealistic and utopian; President Sadat, the only Arab leader who has even alluded to such a possibility, has said this must be left for a future generation—whether political, biological, or eschatological is not clear. It would, however, be equally unrealistic and utopian to expect the Israelis to withdraw to less defensible borders without at least having some assurance that they will not be called upon to defend these borders in the short run against guerrilla warfare and terrorism, in the long run against a war of annihilation. Before the 1967 war, Jordanian territory reached to thirteen miles from Tel Aviv and eleven miles from the sea, and every inhabited place in Israel was in range of Arab artillery. No Israeli government in its senses is going to give up territories in order to facilitate immediate sabotage and ultimate destruction. This, after all, is what the conflict has been about since its inception. If the threat of annihilation is real, it must be countered; if false, it must be exorcised. A real peace with normalization of relations would involve concessions by both sides but would bring advantages to both sides. It would help to allay Israeli fears about Arab intentions. At the same time, it would also provide an answer to frequently expressed Arab fears concerning Israeli expansion. It would also make it possible to deal with the two other major problems within the context of serious negotiations and effective application.

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Borders. Apart from the larger question of recognition and peace, the major issue to be settled between Israel and its Arab neighbors is that of the borders. Although Israel has existed as a state since 1948, it has never had any internationally recognized frontiers, only cease-fire lines. Obviously any settlement between Israel and its Arab neighbors would have to involve agreement on the borders between them and the transformation of these into recognized international frontiers. Governments which hitherto have treated not only the Israeli-occupied territories but Israel itself as occupied Arab land would have some difficulty in accepting this view. It is, however, an essential ingredient of any peaceful settlement of the problem. The Rogers plan, echoed by subsequent American statements, envisages “minor” or “insubstantial” modifications of the 1949 cease-fire lines. President Carter has recently recognized that as long as there is no real peace, the defense of Israel against possible attack may require some form of presence beyond the frontiers, though in what form was left open. If territorial revision is explored, this could take place in several forms other than simple Soviet-style annexation or incorporation. The history of Europe and, more particularly, of the Americas provides several precedents of change by agreement. Among the possibilities are adjustment with compensation elsewhere; purchase; leases with time limits; base and/or patrol rights; demilitarized zones.

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The Palestinians. Discussion of the borders in the north and south would obviously have to take place between Israel and the interested states—namely, Syria in the north and Egypt in the south. The case in the east is less clear. At one time, it was assumed that any territory evacuated by Israel would be returned to the previous ruling authority—that is, Jordan—in the same way that former Syrian territory was returned to Syria and former Egyptian territory to Egypt. The question of a Palestinian state did not arise. Although envisaged by the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947, it was explicitly rejected by both the Palestinian Arab leadership and the Arab states at that time. After a brief Egyptian experiment in 1949 with a “government of all Palestine” based in Gaza, no attempt was made to constitute a Palestinian government or entity in those parts of Palestine which were under Arab rule between 1948 and 1967.

The greater part of Mandatory Palestine not included in Israel was annexed by Jordan. Jordanian ownership of the West Bank was not, however, generally recognized either in the Arab world or elsewhere. Recently, the Jordanians themselves appear to have renounced, at least for the time being, their claim to direct sovereignty over this area. The problem here, therefore, is not merely, as in the north and south, a question of when and how and how far the Israelis should withdraw from the occupied territories. There are the further and more difficult questions—with whom do they negotiate the frontier, and to whom do they relinquish the territory on the other side of it?

Here again there are, broadly speaking, three possibilities. The first is the restoration of Jordanian sovereignty over the West Bank more or less as it existed before the 1967 war, as part of a unitary kingdom. This would seem to be virtually excluded in the present political configuration. Second is the attachment of the West Bank, possibly with the addition of the Gaza Strip, to the Jordanian monarchy, with some form of autonomy and separate legislative and other institutions. Such a Palestinian entity in loose association with Jordan might be ruled by the PLO or by some new force emerging from the local leadership. The third possibility is the creation of a new Palestinian state not linked with Jordan which would, almost inevitably, be governed by the PLO and with policies therefore determined by the PLO program. Such a state would have irredentist claims against Israel, the whole of which would be seen as occupied Palestine, to be liberated and incorporated in the Palestinian state. It would also have an irredentist and more particularly an ideological case against the Hashemite monarchy on the East Bank.

The position of the PLO was greatly weakened as a consequence of the Lebanese struggle. This was noticeable at the thirty-first session of the UN General Assembly, when the spokesmen of the European Economic Community and of France, Britain, and Germany all spoke on the Palestine question. While agreeing on the need to provide for the Palestinian people, all of them refrained from mentioning the PLO by name. Similar omissions were noted in the speeches of Kissinger and of Gromyko. As previously the power, so now the weakness, of the PLO received its due international recognition. Since then—as so often before—the play of inter-Arab politics has made it possible for the leaders of the PLO to recover some of their importance, and it may be that the PLO will again be able to play a role, if not in its own right, then as an instrument of the policy of one or another of the Arab states.

The claim of the PLO to “represent”—in any case a word of uncertain meaning in the Middle Eastern context—the Palestinian people has often been challenged, though apart from King Hussein no serious alternative candidate has appeared. It is clear that some provision must be made for Palestinian representation and participation in whatever discussions may take place, though it is uncertain what would be the most effective way to do this. The main point which should determine the choice is the purpose of the negotiation. If the purpose of negotiations is to reach agreement and achieve peace, then participation must be limited to those who, with whatever reservations, share these objectives—who have the desire to achieve a solution, and the ability to give it effect. Failure can be insured by including those for whom negotiation is not a path to peace but another battlefield in a war to the death.

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A peace settlement would involve risks for the signatories on both sides: for the Arabs that they would be swept aside by more radical leaders or, if the peace held, that they would be left to face the undivided and undeflected anger of their own peoples; for the Israelis, that they might make vital strategic concessions only to find that the Arab interlocutor has either changed his mind or been replaced.

Both the Israelis and the Arabs have their internal political problems; both will find it hard to make substantial political sacrifices which would be severely attacked at home in return for what at first must be hypothetical gains. It is here that the United States would best be able to play a role by insuring that the risk is not excessive and the counterpart adequate.


Footnotes

1 According to an article in the Reader's Digest of April 1977: “The Palestinians formerly were virtually united in wanting to destroy Israel by replacing it with a bi-national state of Arabs and Jews in Palestine. Now, however, the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the umbrella group of the Palestinians, seems to be moving toward acceptance of peaceful relations between a pre-1967 Israel and a Palestinian state comprising the West Bank and Gaza.” The author is mistaken in both the old and new positions which he ascribes to the PLO. They never proposed a bi-national state, but on the contrary explicitly rejected it; they have just reaffirmed their refusal of any form of peaceful relations with any Israel of any size.

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