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Israel and the Middle East

Options and Strategies for Israel/Arab Peace Today

Daniel J. Elazar

The volatility and the unpredictability of the Middle East are not only legendary but have become cliches -- till we are reminded just how true these cliches are. The Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait and the chain of events it set in motion is the most recent such reminder of how rapidly things change in that part of the world.

Barely seven months ago Israel had a national unity government whose premier and deputy premier were fighting over who's the boss, about to fall in part because of subtle and not so subtle American intervention on behalf of Shimon Peres in an effort to bring Israel to accept negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization defacto.

Five months ago United States was forced to break off talks with the PLO in the wake of an unambiguous terrorist attack on Israel's coast masterminded by one of the principal PLO leaders.

Today, the preoccupation of the United States and the world elsewhere in the region while Israel waits to see what Sadam Hussein may have in store for it. The PLO and the Palestinians have embraced the Iraqi tyrant, reenforcing the views of Yitzhak Shamir and his Likud party, that Yasser Arafat and his cohorts cannot be realistic partners for any kind of peace short of Israel's surrender, while Israeli government still seeks to find "kosher" Palestinians with whom to negotiate.

Under these circumstances, it is hard to talk about options and possibilities for Israel/Palestinian or Israel/Arab peace. We do so from a new understanding of the threat to Israel and Israel's security needs. Nevertheless, we who are interested in such a peace, like the Israeli government itself, must continue to pursue the possibility relentlessly, guided only by the realities of timing and by a realistic assessment of our situation and our adversaries.

In doing so, we face certain imponderables. We still do not know just how serious the now-ended PLO peace offensive was. Some of the PLO leadership, who worked so hard to advocate it may have been sincere in their efforts to change their organization's stance as well as the stance of the Israeli government. Others clearly, carefully at times, even brilliantly, used the peace offense as a smoke screen to pursue what have been called the salami tactics of getting Israel to weaken itself through a series of withdrawals to earlier borders.

For all their presumed acceptance of the existence of the State of Israel, the PLO spokesmen were careful never to recognize the Jews as a people with the right of self-determination, a claim they make unabashedly for themselves -- this despite the thirty five hundred year long history of the Jews as a people.

It is far clearer how the Arab states, other than Egypt, made no concrete efforts to show their support for the PLO initiative, continuing their opposition to Israel on every plane everyway as in the past, lending credence to Prime Minister Shamir's rejection of the whole business as a ploy had they made even a symbolic gesture -- for example, by abandoning their attempt to expell Israel from the U.N. -- in support of peace, perhaps things might have been different. But the matter does not end there, whatever the final judgement of history or at least of historians about these matters, it remains clear to most Israelis that some settlement has to be made with the Palestinian Arabs, at least with those in the territories, that will provide sufficient mutual satisfaction to bring about the cessation of hostilities if not "real peace". The persistence of the intifada alone tells us that -- Even though principal success of the intifada has been in its public relations, convincing the media -- the true arbiters of opinion in the world today -- that the Palestinians are oppressed underdogs and thereby encouraging them to emphasize a seperate Palestinian identity for those Arabs west of the Jordon river, something that "plays" better than their older Arab identity.

I do not mean to sound cavalier about the real pain and the real aspirations of the Palestinians, quite to the contrary. They do need some reasonable kind of political self-expression. But, as long as they continue to make bad choices as they have at every opportunity since 1917 including in the present crisis, others cannot save them from themselves. Once again it seems clear that Israel cannot make the kind of concessions that even the United States was pressing for it to make a few months ago. I must confess that up until the PLO resumption of terrorism and the embrace of the Iraqi adventure I was beginning to doubt that anything less than a "two-state solution" that actually means a three-state solution with Israel, a Palestinian state and Jordon all in historical Eretz Israel/Palestine was becoming unavoidable. It is widely known that my way out of the dilemma was through sound principles of federal management. Even my hopes and efforts to encourage federal arrangements to link the Palestinians and Jordan within one state and to link that state to Israel in limited but critical ways and to be obsolete as the proposal that Israel could simply annex the territory west of the Jordon river without regard to the political aspirations of the Arabs living within that territory.

Today that is not so clear. Hussein is caught in a vise between his Arab neighbor to the northeast and his American patron, not to speak of Israel's interest in the separate existence of Jordon as a buffer state. Erroneous forecasts of Hussein's imminent downfall have resounded for nearly forty years so I will make no such forecast, but his situation looks more difficult than it has at least since the days of Nasser. There is every possibility that Jordon will become a Palestinian state either through internal revolution or through an Israel - Iraqi war which would lead to Israel's invasion of Jordon in self-defence, in an effort to stop the Iraqis before they reached Israel's lines. In either case, the King is likely to fall and a Palestinian-dominated government to be installed.

That would change the situation dramatically. The issue would become one of where to draw the border between Israel and "Palestine", not whether there should be a Palestine and where, in the process of drawing that border, to determine what should be working in relations between the two states. In that case there would be some flexibility. Conceivably there could be maximum seperation between the two states and their peoples. Although, there would undoubtly continue to be an Arab reality within Israel and at the very least, the two states would have mutual problems of control over resources, commerce and security, it might be necessary to work out permanent appropriate arrangements between the two states.

On the other hand, if Jordon does survive as something other than a "pure" Palestinian state, the problem of political satisfaction for the west bank Palestinians still will have to be accommodated in connection with the east bank. Israel is likely to be even more resolved to present Arab sovereignty west of the Jordon. Then we may need limited confederal connections of the kind pioneered by the European community as a means of linking polities that recognized certain necessities of cooperation but did not want to develop more ties than were necessary. While I believe that there will be a need for cooperation between Jews and Palestinians sharing the same land between the Mediterranean and the eastern desert, it is clear to me that neither people wants to be more linked than they need to be. Both want to develop their own separate personalities in their own ways. Indeed this is a laudable goal for both. Let us recall that federal arrangements were designed to enable continual separation as much as linkage. The alternative to that may not be separation but annexation by one side or the other. Let us recall that Palestinian nationalism is very much a part of the wider sense of being part of one Arab nation. If ever the independent Arab state, see themselves as part and parcel of the Arab nation, why should we treat the Palestinians any differently.

Basically we are still faced with the situation whereby Eretz Israel/Palestine is divided into three parts. One part is clearly Jewish; the second clearly Arab, and the third mixed. Both sides have important, legitimate and real claims. With the foregoing scenario, the mixed part can be divided up in the matter of a zero-sum game -- "I win, you lose" or vice versa. But it may still be much better to devise ways to share rather than divide that segment of the land and its population. To move in this direction at this point, would require a new Palestinian leadership that would recognize necessity. Once again, we may be standing at another point of stalemate in the Israel-Palestinian Israel-Arab relations or we may be at the beginning of a new chapter. In the Middle East it is folly to predict.

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