As these words are written, it is not clear whether the mediation of Mr. Henry Kissinger will recover from its March setback and produce a second "disengagement" agreement between Egypt and Israel, exchanging another area of the Sinai desert for necessarily uncertain assurances. But whether or not there is such an agreement, it is by now absolutely clear to everyone that the limits of that procedure have been reached. Furthermore, one must sadly admit that much time has been wasted in the effort. The truth probably is that the Secretary of State's aims have really been not to achieve peace but rather to ease tensions and in the process to extricate America from embarrassing or intolerable situations.

But to dodge the real issues, to disregard the stubborn realities of a given situation and to ignore the deep-seated causes of conflict are not conducive to peace. These only prolong the agonies of war and postpone for a while the explosions of hatred. The underlying tensions are not reduced, they only build further.

Having made these preliminary remarks, I should like to state at the outset that I believe that peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis is not only possible but also probable. I also think that peace is not only the best solution for both antagonists and their supporters-Arabs and Jews-but that the Israelis and the Palestinians are doomed to achieve it. However, the road to peace no longer runs along the Kissinger-Sadat-Rabin itinerary, if indeed it ever did. It is time, and more than time, to confront the issue in its true dimensions.

It has been endlessly repeated that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stems from the fact that both sides claim the same country. This defines the issue quite correctly. That is the heart of the matter. However, the subsequent wars have been waged predominantly between the Arab states and Israel. This is equally true. Then, there is still a wider dimension to the conflict, probably the most important one-one that actually may contain the solution-namely, the fact that the clash of interests is not limited to the Israelis and the Palestinians and not even to the Israelis and the Arabs, but that it is also a Jewish-Arab tug-of-war on a quasi-world scale. There is no doubt that this is so, because the Palestine problem involves, concerns and affects all Arabs from Agadir to Baghdad and all Jews from San Francisco to Leningrad.

Without the Jewish diaspora, Israel could never have existed-and could not continue to exist today. Without the total Arab commitment to reject Israel, we would have today neither Palestinians nor a Palestine problem. Wherever they happen to be-Jews and Arabs alike-whether poor or rich, intellectuals or blue collars, young or old, they all are participants-passive or active, in one way or another-in a conflict that affects each and every one of them.

The second overall dimension, largely unnoticed, is the duration of the conflict. It appears to be taking on a modern version of a Hundred Years War, whose antagonists are two peoples with deep-rooted historical attachments to the land. After all, the Balfour Declaration dates from 1917-when England promised Palestine to the Zionists (though it wasn't really hers to give). Even if we hark no further back than that, the conflict is as old as the U.S.S.R.

For 30 years Israel was faced with the Arab refusal to acknowledge that "might is right." It seems to me that it is time by now for the Jews to take stock of this refusal. But it is equally time for the Arabs-and it seems to me that they are intellectually and politically inclined to it-to envisage for Palestine a historic compromise with the Jews, thereby accepting on their part the Jewish determination to maintain an autonomous national home on solid foundations.

The Jews, and particularly the Israelis, have failed to understand that the Arabs could not negotiate such a compromise as long as they remained weak and defeated and as long as the Palestinians were regarded simply as refugees. To put it more precisely: before October 1973 the Arabs could not negotiate, while the Israelis would not. The new, perhaps decisive situation, arising from the October 1973 War, is that now the Arabs are in a position to negotiate; the Israelis are no longer in a position to refuse negotiations, and the Jews of the world have a great stake in such a negotiating process.

If this is the case, then why Kissinger? And above all, if one needs an intermediary at all, why only him? In my opinion, Sadat committed a strategic error by espousing Nasser's reasoning that it is only America that can pressure Israel into making concessions.

But this is sloppy reasoning and characteristic of the mentality that prevailed among the Arabs before the war of October 1973. Neither Sadat, nor for that matter, the other Arab leaders, have realized the change, in all its enormity, that has taken place since that October war; not only can the Arabs now negotiate (and no longer shrink from doing so) but, what is more, they no longer need either an intermediary or external pressure upon Israel. They themselves are the most effective instrument of pressure. It isn't true that the Arabs use Kissinger; it is Kissinger who uses the Arabs. Objectively speaking, his shuttle diplomacy is useless. True, he represents the United States. But America is only one of the two superpowers-the one that is allied with Israel and negates Palestine.

Those who wish to arrive at a just (or the least unjust possible) and lasting peace should proceed differently. Leaving aside anesthetics à la Kissinger they must face the problem rather than shirk it.


As we have seen, the two great antagonists are, on the one hand, the Jews, who, in their majority, want an Israel, and on the other hand, the Arabs, who cannot renounce the claim to a Palestine. The true problem to be solved is, therefore, the following: since in the wake of half a century of conflict and warfare one may reasonably come to the conclusion that neither side can do away with the other nor compel it to accept its terms, consequently a twofold question has to be answered. First, could there be an Israel sufficient for the Jews on the one hand, and acceptable to the Arabs, on the other? If the answer is yes, then what kind of Palestine acceptable to the Jews could also satisfy the Arabs, especially the Palestinians?

To answer these questions is tantamount to sketching a durable solution to a conflict that has already lasted much too long. I cannot but insist that it is up to the Israelis and to the Palestinians, and perhaps even more so, to the Jews and to the Arabs (both of whom fortunately possess a variety of institutions and instruments to do it), to bring about an inner consensus as to the objective to be achieved, to formulate their ideas about the compromise they can endorse and to bring their vision into focus concerning their mutual relationship. (Let us not forget that since the oil price-hikes the Arabs, catching up with the Jews, have become an important financial power. Instead of exhausting each other by interminable fighting, it would redound to their mutual advantage to arrive at an understanding.)

Having done this, and each having tested the intentions (and goodwill) of the other party, they should-even while continuing to fight if they find it necessary, and while holding their trump cards as well as keeping their alliances-begin in earnest to negotiate: What kind of Israel? What kind of Palestine?

Negotiations without phony intermediaries, false masks, or make-believe-but rather under the auspices of the same United Nations that brought about Israel's existence in 1948 and welcomed Palestine in 1974. All the rest, including Kissinger's initiative, may prove quite irrelevant.

If what one tries to achieve is not just a respite; if one comes to realize that the issues, no less than the facts, are stubborn, and what is needed is not to shirk them but to resolve them, then what is to be done?

First of all one must make a strategic choice: either one strives for victory, that is to achieve all one's objectives and to prevent the adversary from achieving his-or one looks for a compromise. For the Jews, victory would mean to occupy all of Palestine, for all time to come, and to make the Arabs-and history-ratify this occupation. Such a victory seemed possible before 1973. Today nobody believes such a thing to be realizable, and the Israelis, too, deep inside, know it.

For the Arabs, victory would mean to recover the whole of Palestine after having dislodged the government that installed itself there by force in 1948, and to throw most of its Jewish inhabitants into the sea. Such a victory was never conceivable; but now one begins to perceive that it can conceivably be achieved by the Arabs, if they are willing to pay the price: one or two generations earmarked for that purpose at the expense of political progress and economic development, incredible sufferings to themselves as well as those inflicted on the enemy; great human and material losses and, on top of all this, the preservation of the dictatorial regimes in most of the Arab countries. In particular, the Arabs would risk the exhaustion of their oil assets in exchange for tanks, airplanes, missiles, etc., so that they would find themselves in the year 2000 without many resources and without much progress to speak of on the road toward economic independence.

If they are willing to pay such a price, the Arabs can hope-it is not a certainty-to regain all of Palestine. Today, however, there are an ever-increasing number of Arabs who instead of wishing to pay this kind of a price-and to make their children pay it too-would rather renounce "victory" if the problem were correctly presented to them.

I, therefore, believe that the great majority of both Arabs and Jews, even though they are not yet articulate about it, have nonetheless given up the idea of victory. That is, to defeat the other side: to force it to accept what it cannot accept. I, personally, feel some gratification in this fact, because for more than a decade I have been advocating a historic compromise between Palestinians and Israelis-and within a larger context-between Jews and Arabs. This is the least costly and the least evil solution, and humanly the most acceptable. What is necessary is that the forces of progress, in both camps, adopt it, and in particular the Jews (not just the Israelis) and the Arabs (not just the Palestinians) begin to champion a general historic compromise. For, in essence, the choice lies between such a compromise and an inconclusive Hundred Years War.

All that Rabin, Sadat and Kissinger have really been aiming for is a lame compromise which for the moment will keep things patched up, even though tomorrow the region may well blow up. What the front of the "nay sayers" (it exists on the Jewish side and is even present in the government of Israel, in the person of Defense Minister Shimon Peres, for example; as well as on the Arab side, though there it is already becoming only marginal) strive for is victory, regardless of the price to be paid, and the defeat of the other side, regardless of how long it may take. But realistically speaking these are mostly fantasies. What will prevail in the world of reality is a historic compromise. And it may happen fast, because its contours are already discernible.

It seems to me that there could be an Israel both sufficient to the Jews and acceptable to the Arabs. Of course it is not the kind of Israel wished for by arrogant Zionism, imposed by force, cultivating isolation from its neighbors, and nourished by animosity-an Israel in which the political leadership, as is still largely the case with Golda Meir's successors despite all the misleading appearances to the contrary dictated by more difficult times, aims at territorial and economic expansionism. Moreover, this leadership is often assured, whenever putting such aims into practice, of the blessing silence of those same "moral voices" of the West, Jew or Gentile, which never fail to lash out at the least of Palestinian excesses. Nor is it the de-Zionized, secular, multiconfessional state of which Mr. Arafat "dreams." The Jews are not interested in this kind of a state, because it does not fulfill the main function assigned by them to the State of Israel. Hence, it does not solve the problem.

What the Jews need is a state that would witness and demonstrate (first to themselves) their capability to organize themselves within a sovereign framework of their own, "like everybody else"; a state that could also serve as a haven, "just in case" . . . . This secular need became terribly acute, indeed almost irresistible, with the Holocaust in Europe, and, what is often overlooked, its poignance was once more made urgent by the Stalinist and post-Stalinist repressions of Jews in Russia. But in the Arab world one usually asks the question: Why should the Palestinians be required to resolve at their own expense a problem that was created and exacerbated in Europe? Indeed, why? On the other hand, why not, if it is feasible and if it is ordained by a common Jewish-Arab destiny from which there is no escape?


To solve the Jewish problem should essentially mean the acceptance of an armed State of Israel-according to its own evaluation of its defense needs and without any limitation-on the condition, however, that it solemnly proclaim that except for purposes of self-defense, it renounces war and territorial conquests. Such a declaration should be inscribed in its Constitution and approved by a referendum of its population, and this commitment, guaranteed by the Security Council of the United Nations, should suffice to reassure as completely as is humanly possible the Palestinians and Israel's Arab neighbors. To solve the Jewish problem also means to accept the unqualified principle of free Jewish immigration into the state of Israel (as well of course as the freedom to emigrate from it).

This state will remain for a long time essentially religious and predominantly Jewish, not unlike the Muslim and Catholic states of the past. It will evolve, like these others, in the same direction. By itself and from within it will undergo a process of freeing itself from Zionism and theocracy. A stranger in the region at the beginning (and after having attempted to be different and even hostile), Israel will preserve for a long time to come (perhaps forever) its originality while at the same time it will evolve toward integration. It will be like Switzerland in Europe: neutral, armed, different from the others and outside their regional groupings, yet as such quite well integrated.

This answers the question: What kind of Israel? But now: What kind of Palestine? In his heart of hearts, everyone now admits, even Mr. Kissinger, even Mr. Shimon Peres, that there is a Palestinian problem, and that it must be solved. Clearly it is necessary that a Palestinian state be established under the same conditions, with the same advantages and the same limitations, as those suggested for the State of Israel. This means, and one will do well to get accustomed to the idea: reparations by Israel and the Jews for the losses in human lives and suffering inflicted upon the Palestinians for nearly 30 years. But not by Israel and the Jews only: the burden of these reparations also lies upon the shoulders of the world community and the Arab countries. And finally, this also means that the Palestinian state will have to be able to enjoy the same various kinds of assistance that Israel has received for the last 25 years.

As for the Palestinians, those who so desire should have the right freely to emigrate wherever they wish-including Israel, the United States and the Arab world-with a view to settling and becoming citizens in the country of their choice. Israeli citizens from among the Arab minority, who so desire, would have the right to emigrate to the Palestinian state and thus become once more Palestinian. And the Jews who came to Israel from the Arab countries and settled there would have the right to return to the countries of their origin, and to recover their citizenship there.

The problem that inescapably arises and evidently is the most thorny is that of frontiers. What should be Israel's frontiers? What frontiers should the state of Palestine have? My answer is: frontiers to be negotiated from the starting point of the only legal basis which exists-the partition plan adopted by the United Nations in 1947. I emphasize: "negotiated" and "from a starting point." What this means is that one bars the frontiers established by force of arms; rather, one negotiates with a view of arriving at a new and sensible delimitation of the two states, both of which will have to be viable. Negotiated, hence accepted by both sides and their neighbors-in sum, "recognized and secure" frontiers that in most cases will be of no greater importance than moving in one direction or another a few square kilometers, mostly desert.


If, as I believe, Jews and Arabs are mature enough to accept a historic compromise as sketched in this essay, they will not need the assistance or the good offices of any third party to launch the negotiations. They will not need a useless intermediary who tries to avoid the heart of the matter. Direct negotiations between Israel, backed by representation of the Jews of the world, on the one hand, and Palestinians surrounded and assisted by the Arab states, on the other hand, should be undertaken. It can be done under the auspices of the Security Council of the United Nations and without any preconditions other than the goodwill expressed in advance to seek a just and durable solution.

It is my firm belief that once the main obstacle-the complicating factor of Kissinger's step-by-step negotiations-is removed, the great historic day of Jewish-Arab negotiations concerning a solution to the Palestine problem will not be far off. One more obstacle will have to be removed and this is the problem of "legitimacy": one will have to break out of the vicious circle, if ever there was one, in which the Israelis refuse recognition of the Palestinians in order not to "legitimize" them and, of course, vice-versa. Yet each of the protagonists exists by the determination to survive and by the fight for that existence. It is not the negotiation which will endow legitimacy-it is the end of the negotiation, the agreement.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now