Courtesy Reuters

After Rabat: Middle East Risks and American Roles

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), long an amorphous but powerful force present in the wings, has emerged from October's Arab summit conference at Rabat as a leading formal actor in the tangled relationships of the Middle East, a role reinforced by the PLO's reception at the United Nations in November. In one sense, this is a desirable development. Ever since the basic configuration of Middle Eastern international politics was set in the aftermath of World War II the Palestinians have been deprived not only of statehood, but also (and concomitantly) of the physical and moral resources which come with formal authority. In an era when in some parts of the world statehood is increasingly becoming an empty shell, the nation-state is alive and vigorous in the Middle East and elsewhere in the developing world. In this sense, therefore, the Palestinians deserve their place in the sun.

In another sense, these developments may forebode disaster. They make the chances of the outbreak of yet another round of Arab-Israeli warfare-this time potentially a catastrophic round-very much greater. The purpose of this article is to conjecture why the risks of war may now be so much greater, and to suggest what the United States might do to prevent new major warfare from occurring. Its purpose, also, is to ask what interests the United States has in the relationship between the Israelis and their Arab enemies, and to ask what U.S. policies might further those interests.


Less gloomy forecasts might also be made. For instance, one could argue that the accession of the PLO to formal authority not only is desirable as a means of giving due acknowledgment to a Palestinian identity, but is desirable as well because-provided it is met with an enlightened and creative response on the part of the Israelis-it suddenly makes possible a radical departure from the past structure of Arab-Israeli relationships. At the end of this line of argument lies a vision of a Palestinian state side by

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