Most Americans approach the problems of the Middle East with a pro-Israeli bias - and rightly so. The desire of a dispersed people for a homeland cannot help but enlist the sympathy even of those with no Jewish roots, nor can any sensitive man or woman fail to be moved by the countless tales of valor and self-sacrifice in the years both preceding and following the creation of Israel. The brave Beauharnais with its desperate human cargo challenging the British destroyers, the poignant sage of the Exodus-47 - these and many similar incidents must recall for all Americans proud chapters from our own earlier history. Set against the grim background of the Holocaust, the story of Israel is a continuing chronicle of grit and enterprise, in which the Entebbe foray is only the most recent footnote. Yet the wonder of it all is that, while engaged in a seemingly endless struggle, the Israelis have managed to turn a desert into a garden.

Not only must Americans admire Israel, there can be no doubt that we have an interest in, and special responsibility for, that valiant nation. The first country to recognize the new state, we have been her champion over the intervening nearly three decades. Out of our national budget we have provided huge economic and military assistance, while many of our private citizens have donated their personal savings on a scale of generosity without precedent in history. The question is no longer whether the United States should contribute to assuring Israel's survival and prosperity; that goes without saying. It is rather how we Americans, in approaching the problems of the Middle East, can best fulfill our responsibilities not only to Israel and to ourselves but also to peoples all over the world whose well-being could be seriously endangered by further conflict.

Unfortunately, for a subject deserving our most critical attention, civilized forthright debate has so far been meager. Because many articulate Americans are passionately committed to Israel, the slightest challenge to any aspect of current Israeli policy is likely to provoke a shrill ad hominem response. To suggest that America should take a stronger and more assertive line in the search for Middle East peace is to risk being attacked as a servant either of Arab interests or of the oil companies, or being denounced as anti-Israel, or, by a careless confusion of language, even condemned as anti-Semitic.

Yet, if fear of such a reaction discourages the Carter Administration from utilizing its full leverage to bring about a Middle East settlement - as it has discouraged other Administrations during the past 20 years - peace in the area will not be achieved. To be sure, once both sides have indulged in the customary ritualistic shadow-boxing, we shall, by expending substantial effort and political capital, probably be able to improvise formulae to dispose of the technical impediments to a reconvened Geneva Conference, principally the question of representation for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Thus, sometime after the Israeli elections in May - which probably means by next fall - Arabs and Israelis will sit down around a green baize table or tables in Geneva with the United States and the Soviet Union as Co-Chairmen.

Yet, unless we are prepared to act with more incisiveness than we have shown in the past, that conference will be the prelude to disaster. If, hobbled by the constraints of domestic politics, our government seeks merely partial tactical gains, as was the case with the Sinai Agreement - gains that do not touch the vital center of the major substantive problems - or if it seeks to achieve a comprehensive settlement merely by trying to nudge or bribe the contending nations to move toward some undefined middle ground, the conference will deadlock and ultimately fail. In spite of the optimistic noises of American campaign oratory and the euphoria encouraged by Arab propaganda, neither side has altered its formal positions in any significant way. The Arab nations are still demanding that Israel withdraw from all territory she occupied in the 1967 War, while not offering unequivocal assurances of full recognition of Israel should the Israelis comply.1 Israeli leaders, on their part, are insisting that the retention of substantial areas of their post-1967 territories is essential to their security. Since neither side is prepared to make the first move, one is reminded of a statute on the books of one of our Western states in early railroad days, which required that, if two trains should meet at an intersection, neither should go forward until the other had proceeded.


The critical significance of this stalemate cannot be overemphasized; a breakdown of the conference would set in motion ominous forces. Bitterness from the frustration of current expectations is likely to show first in the radicalization of the governments of the Arab front-line states. In Egypt, Sadat has staked his political future on the belief that the United States holds the key to peace and is prepared to turn it. But, with the fragility of his position already demonstrated by the January riots in Cairo, backlash from a failure at Geneva could well mean his replacement by a demagogic leader impelled to call for the destruction of Israel to divert attention from the lamentable condition of the home front. Most likely, an Egyptian coup would be led by disgruntled military leaders, who, outraged by our refusal to supply them with arms to match the sophisticated weapons we are pouring into Israel, would reluctantly renew dependence on the Soviet Union.

Nor is Assad much less vulnerable in Syria; his position also will be undermined if Geneva fails. If not displaced by a pan-Arab leader, he will at least be compelled to adopt a more belligerent posture toward Israel. Even the Saudi Arabian regime, though currently the most effective force for Arab moderation, will be compelled by the dynamics of regional politics to take a harder line toward Israel and Israel's friend, the United States. As Sheikh Yamani made clear when Saudi Arabia held out for only limited oil price increases at the turn of the year, his country's continued restraint is explicitly dependent on our performance in promoting an Arab-Israeli settlement; thus our failure to produce a settlement might well mean not merely higher prices but a more direct and devastating use of the oil instrument. Since, with its tiny population, Saudi Arabia dares not get too far out of line with the far more activist Arab States, it has only a limited margin for maneuver; in the event of resumed warfare it will have no choice but to impose an oil embargo. Indeed, if the Geneva Conference disintegrates, it may even have to use its oil weapon before hostilities begin.

So nothing could be more reckless than to regard the projected Geneva Conference as merely another episode in the long-playing Middle East movie serial. It will be a high-risk venture with success or failure propelling the principle participants toward either relative stability or almost inevitable war. If it ends with a whimper - as it will in the absence of a decisive American initiative - it will be followed by a bang. The leaders of the front-line Arab states - probably this time even including Saudi Arabia - will then settle down, as the Egyptians and Syrians did after 1967, to build fighting forces to attack Israel as soon as they can achieve anything approaching military parity. Faced with that prospect the beleaguered Israelis may well jump off first.

However it begins, another Arab-Israeli war will be immensely more destructive than any in the past. Because both sides now possess surface-to-surface missiles, cities and civilian populations will almost certainly be targets, and the carnage will far exceed that of past wars. The Arabs have learned the tactical benefits of attrition and, even if they lose the war, can impose a shattering disaster on the tiny country of Israel, where the death of even a few thousand means the loss of a cousin, if not a son, for almost every Israeli family. Moreover, the prospect for superpower involvement will be far greater than in past conflicts.

The element in the present situation that infects this gloomy scenario with the inevitability of a Greek tragedy is that the leaders of governments in all the key capitals are captives of domestic political forces and hence have little freedom of decision or action. In Israel an unparalleled concentration of industrious, talented, educated and individualistic men and women is a mixed blessing; though enriching Israeli culture and technical competence, it leads to factionalism, with the tendency to political fragmentation compounded by proportional representation. The evanescent coalitions that emerge can reflect little more than the lowest common denominator of opinion. Meanwhile, because Israel is not solely a nation but a concept freighted with history, religion and passion, many in Israel, as well as many pro-Israeli supporters in the United States and around the world, are inhibited by the constraints of their environment from expressing their inner concerns as to the desperate need for peace. Nor do the Arab leaders possess any greater freedom of action. No matter how much they may wish to be rid of the costly incubus of the Arab-Israeli quarrel, they are still vulnerable to the slogans and demagogic incitements of their more fanatical Arab brethren.

We come, thus, to an inescapable conclusion: that the relatively impotent governments in the key Arab countries and in Israel will never by themselves be able to devise a compromise solution. Nevertheless, it is the conventional wisdom to reject any suggestion that the United States should lay out proposed terms of a settlement. Instead we must let the parties find their way by palaver to some common meeting ground somewhere near the center of a no-man's-land studded with land mines of hatred, religion, vested interests and rigid doctrines of military necessity. For those who believe such a feat of diplomatic navigation is feasible, I would only recall the famous comment of the Duke of Wellington when a stranger approached him on the street with the greeting, "Mr. Robinson, I believe," to which the Duke replied, "If you believe that, Sir, you can believe anything."

Many who oppose the injection of an American plan of settlement appear to regard negotiation as a mystical process that automatically grinds out solutions. Yet experience has shown again and again that effective negotiation requires at least four preconditions, none of which now exists with respect to the Arab-Israeli struggle. First, there must be a desire on each side to find a solution. Second, both sides must be convinced that negotiation is not a zero-sum game - that, in other words, the offer of a concession is not merely an advantage to the other side but a benefit to both. Third, the leaders of the negotiating nations must be sufficiently secure in their personal political positions to risk making the concessions needed for a settlement. Finally, the parties must start from positions sufficiently close if they are, by their own efforts, to find the middle ground.

Unhappily, there is by no means a unanimous desire for peace on either the Arab or Israeli side. Although weakened by recent events in Lebanon, the Rejectionist Front still has an influence in Arab politics. In Israel some politicians wish to avoid any negotiation in the wistful hope that Israel will be able to hang on permanently to the territories she seized in 1967, consolidating her hold by establishing permanent settlements - or, as it is cynically put, "creating new facts"; others shun a negotiation that would require them to take unpopular decisions.

Nor are either the Israelis or their Arab neighbors in a mood to believe that their side can gain as much as the other side by a major concession. People generally both in Israel and Egypt, for example, now regard the Sinai arrangements as a catastrophe for their side. What is lacking, of course, is even a miniscule quantum of mutual trust; without it, each side necessarily views its own concessions in the narrow focus of the other's gains. This only reinforces the immobilism produced by the political weakness of both Arab and Israeli leaders - a weakness that disables them from defending concessions when attacked for having sold out their country's interests.

Finally, and most important - the positions of the parties are so far apart that they can never, by themselves, find their way to a compromise in the context of a total settlement; yet the time is long past when we can afford to waste time on anything less than a total settlement. Further tactical maneuvers like the Sinai Agreement, designed as it was to divide the Arab states, would only complicate an already tangled situation. To try to promote peripheral adjustments that do not touch the major substantive problems would be an exercise in futility and - worse than that - in disenchantment. Yet to try to bring the parties together primarily by the inducements of military and financial aid, as Secretary Kissinger did in the case of the Sinai Agreement, would exceed even our financial possibilities. In light of the hundreds of millions committed to Israel and Egypt for an agreement for Israel to withdraw from two oilfields and parts of two mountain passes, what would be the character and magnitude of the largesse needed to induce agreement on the relinquishment of the balance of the Sinai, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and to achieve a compromise solution in Jerusalem?


What this clearly suggests, of course, is that we cannot afford to try to purchase a total settlement even though we should be extremely generous in helping to meet the costs of the disruption and dislocations necessarily attendant on a withdrawal, as well as to provide economic assistance to the economy of Israel. Instead, agreement by both sides must be regarded as largely paid for by mutual concessions, together with the continuance of the help we are currently giving. The real advantages to be derived by both Israel and the Arab countries must, after all, come from the benefits of peace - the need no longer to maintain a posture of military alert, the ability to deflect resources and energies from military purposes to the development and enrichment of the economic and social life not only of the individual countries, but even of the whole area.

If the techniques that produced the Sinai Agreement are not adequate for a final settlement, neither is the fundamental approach. It is simply not feasible to try to achieve peace by little steps. An exchange of small concessions will satisfy neither side; there is no physical space for territorial trade-offs on the Golan Heights; Palestinian irredentism can never be neutralized by anything less than the creation of a Palestinian state occupying substantially all of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; and the problem of Jerusalem cannot be forever evaded. It does no good for either side to enmesh itself in such abstractions as sovereignty or to insist that its position on Jerusalem is non-negotiable; nothing can be non-negotiable when the stakes are as high as they are in the Middle East.

We come then to the unshatterable gneiss that lies at the subsurface of the problem. For her own security Israel can accept nothing less than an unequivocal Arab commitment to peace and full recognition together with adequate safeguards; yet in view of the primacy of the issue in Arab politics, leaders of the key Arab nations can give no such commitment without the assurance of an Israeli withdrawal from the territories she seized in 1967. Thus the parties will never come anywhere near agreement by the traditional processes of diplomatic haggling unless the United States first defines the terms of that agreement, relates them to established international principles, and makes clear that America's continued involvement in the area depends upon acceptance by both sides of the terms it prescribes.

To bring about a settlement, the missing preconditions to negotiation must either be provided or rendered unnecessary - and, under prevailing circumstances, that objective can be achieved only by an assertive United States diplomacy. Our country must make crystal clear to the more moderate Arab states - Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and Jordan - that it will use its leverage in the search for peace but not unless those states make clear their acceptance of Israel's sovereignty. At the same time, Israel must be made to understand that a continuance of the present stalemate is more dangerous than the concessions required for peace. Finally, America's indispensable role is to provide the means of relieving the political leaders on both sides of the need to make politically unpalatable decisions, by furnishing them the escape route of yielding reluctantly under the relentless pressure of outside forces. This means that our President must take the political heat from powerful and articulate pro-Israeli domestic groups. It means that as a nation we must be prepared to accept abuse and blame from both sides, permitting local politicians to save their own skins by attacking American arrogance and imperialism.

The leitmotiv of their attack will be that, in putting forth suggested peace terms, the United States is trying to "impose a settlement" - an opprobrious expression that sets everyone's teeth on edge. Redolent of gunboat diplomacy and colonial arrogance, it conjures up images of large nations oppressing small nations by imperiously dictating arrangements they should be left free to make with one another.

Of course, in the context of the Arab-Israeli quarrel no one is proposing to impose peace with gunboats. But preserving the peace by helping quarreling nations break free from a diplomatic stalemate is, under the circumstances, not merely an option but an imperative if the world is to be saved from a disaster that cannot be geographically limited in its consequences. We would be irresponsible indeed if we were deterred from doing what is essential to prevent another war in the Middle East merely by a slogan masquerading as a principle which is quite inapplicable to the kind of initiative proposed.2


What I am proposing is not that the United States lay down arbitrary terms of peace but that it insist that both sides carry out the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (affirmed in Resolution 338), which so far neither side has been willing to do. The trade-off envisaged by that Resolution is a straightforward one: the Arabs would give Israel full assurance that they would respect her integrity as a sovereign Jewish state within secure and recognized boundaries; in exchange the Israelis would withdraw from the territories they occupied in the 1967 War.

To make progress possible at the Geneva Conference, the United States should translate these principles into a comprehensive plan of settlement. That plan should establish as a firm pre-condition that Israel's neighbors explicitly recognize her as a Jewish sovereign state, and that they commit themselves unequivocally to respect freedom of navigation in the waterways of the area for Israeli ships as well as cargos, permit free movement of peoples and trade, and take other specified measures to assure full political, economic and cultural intercourse.

In addition they must accept arrangements through leasehold or otherwise to provide Israel control over access to the Gulf of Aqaba by the maintenance of an adequate garrison at Sharm El Sheikh, accept the demilitarization of the Golan Heights, and agree to the injection of neutral forces into that area and into other appropriate buffer zones on a basis such that they cannot be withdrawn without the agreement of both sides. To mitigate the apprehensions of Israelis at the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, the front-line Arab states should commit themselves to discourage acts of violence or terrorism against Israel. Some formal link of Palestine to Jordan, as recently proposed by President Sadat, might go far to assure a responsible government.

The principal powers supporting the proposal - the United States, Great Britain, France and, one may hope, the Soviet Union - would guarantee to both sides the inviolability of the boundaries as finally determined. In addition, we should seek agreement with the other guaranteeing powers to limit the flow of arms to both sides.

If the Soviet Union appears on first soundings to be willing to cooperate, the United States might find it advantageous to submit the plan for the blessing of the United Nations Security Council. With four of the five permanent members already in agreement, it should be possible to achieve a majority of nine by obtaining the votes of an additional five (perhaps Canada, West Germany, Romania, Venezuela, and either Mauritius, Panama or India).

What leverage does the United States have to persuade the Arab leaders to accept such commitments? Obviously they will do so only if assured of regaining the territories they lost in 1967 and of Israel's acceptance of a Palestinian state. To be sure, there are still elements in the PLO who would resist any settlement, just as there are elements on the Israeli side who would prefer to try to preserve a fragile and dangerous status quo. But there is accumulating evidence that Arafat, and such elements of the PLO as he can control, are moving toward the acceptance of a partitioned Palestine and, as the price for the return of the West Bank, would agree to recognize the sovereignty of Israel within her pre-1967 borders.

Moreover, it seems clear that the current leaders of Saudi Arabia, as well as of Syria and Egypt, hope for a settlement to avoid the dangers of radicalization and the increase of Soviet influence in the area, as well as the high cost of maintaining Arab military might in an environment of hostility. The Saudis in particular recognize that their oil is an exhaustible resource and that they must get on quickly with the development of the area if the Arab world is not to retrogress to its nineteenth-century poverty and impotence. Since they will be the principal source of financing for a Palestinian state - whether it be totally independent, or tied to Jordan through some confederal or federal arrangement - they should be in a position to exercise considerable discipline over whatever regime administers that state and to restrict the development of its military capability.

Just what that regime may be is, of course, a matter for the Arabs to decide through some mechanism of self-determination. So long as the West Bank remains under occupation, one can well expect to see the PLO increase its political hold over an unhappy and restless people. At the same time, there is no doubt that King Hussein has recently gained support from the other Arab states. Thus, as the situation evolves, it is possible that the decision taken at Rabat in October 1974 to entrust the initial management of a Palestinian state to the PLO will be qualified, if not reversed.

But if we are to persuade the Arabs to accept the commitments I have outlined, we must insist categorically that Israel withdraw from the territories she occupied in 1967. That does not exclude the negotiation of minor border rectifications. But we must preserve the principle that there be no territorial aggrandizement by force.3

The most troublesome problem is, of course, the administrative control of Jerusalem - a subject which both sides wrap in abstractions such as sovereignty and contend is non-negotiable. There are many possible solutions ranging from internationalization, to a condominium, to various Vatican and cantonal-type solutions; yet I see no way in which the parties can ever by themselves agree to select one or another unless the United States first incorporates a specific proposal in a plan that is part of an entire package.

Some may contend that, while America will sooner or later have to put forth the terms of a settlement if any is to be achieved, it should not do so at the outset of the Geneva Conference but only after the two sides have proved to themselves and to the world that they cannot make progress by the normal processes of negotiation. But there are dangers in the latter course since even a few days or weeks of fruitless wrangling may seriously pollute the environment of compromise. Still, it is not a point to be rejected out of hand since, to some extent, America will have to adjust its diplomatic timing as the situation develops in order to seize the most propitious moment for action.

What I find less persuasive is the contention of some that an American settlement plan should not call for prompt compliance but should rather provide a schedule for achieving the objective by stages over a period of years. The underlying theory is that this will give each side a chance to test the good faith of the other before the next step is undertaken.

That seems to me of doubtful wisdom. A substantial delay after each step would only provide the opportunity for dissident groups to build up resistance to the next step, either by obstructive tactics or by provocative acts of terror that would result in retaliation and a progressive deterioration in relations. Far better, it seems to me, that each side should have to face up to the full implications of its agreement from the beginning; experience has taught that it is often far easier for a country to take a large step that commits it irrevocably to a new situation than to try to move there in phases pulled back their troops.4


That the United States has failed for a decade to exert the influence needed to induce the parties to comply with Resolution 242 is highly regrettable. But there is no international doctrine of estoppel to deter us from now moving incisively - particularly when the chances of success and the dangers of failure are both far greater than ever before.

After all, we have acted effectively in the past. President Eisenhower upheld the authority of the United Nations in the Middle East when, at the time of the Suez affair 20 years ago, he was faced with the refusal of the Israeli government to withdraw from the Sinai territories, in defiance of the United Nations Security Council Resolution of February 16, 1957. His response was prompt and unambiguous. If the Israeli government did not comply, the United States would not merely suspend governmental assistance but would also eliminate essential tax credits and take other administrative action to restrict private assistance of cash gifts and bond purchases from American sources.

Although vociferously opposed by congressional leaders on both sides, Eisenhower refused to be deflected, and, in a television speech, stated: "If the United Nations once admits that international disputes can be settled by using force, then we will have destroyed the very foundation of the organization. . . . The United Nations has no choice but to exert pressure upon Israel to comply with the resolutions. . . . " Albeit grudgingly, the Israelis pulled back their troops.3

Israel today is more dependent on U.S. help than ever. Her dependence on U.S. public and private aid is shown by the fact that her GNP is only slightly larger than her budget. Last year, our public sector aid amounted to $2.34 billion, which means more than $600 for every man, woman and child in Israel, or, if one excludes the Arab population of that country, roughly $700 for every Jewish man, woman or child in the country. A similar amount is in view for the current fiscal year, and our contribution to a country of 3.2 million people will again be a very high percentage of our total foreign aid programs. Rarely before have so many done so much for so few. Yet the aid should not be begrudged if it works for the long-range interest of the Israeli people.

In view of these facts, the national decision Americans must make is quite clear: It is not whether we should try to force an unpalatable peace on the Israeli people, but rather how much longer we should continue to pour assistance into Israel to support policies that impede progress toward peace and thus accentuate the possibility of war, with all the dangers that that holds not only for Israel but for the United States and the other industrialized democracies of Western Europe and Japan. Put another way, how much longer should we go on subsidizing a stalemate that is manifestly untenable for all concerned?

The unhappy dilemma of Israel is that, so long as she refuses to give up the territorial gains from her 1967 conquest and thus prevents possible progress toward peace, she must continue as a ward of the United States. With her economy already overstretched, Israel could not maintain anything like her present level of military capability without the continued infusion of something approaching $2 billion a year from the American treasury, to say nothing of the vast amounts provided by the generosity of the American Jewish community under provisions in the American tax laws and regulations that facilitate such contributions. Even with that huge subsidy, there is a serious question as to how much longer her economy can continue as it is now going. Time is clearly not working on Israel's side; she cannot indefinitely withstand the internal strains and stresses endemic to a garrison state without irreparable harm to her social and economic fabric. With 36 percent of her GNP committed to defense - equivalent to a U.S. defense budget of $560 billion - with inflation running at 35 percent, with the rate of interest on bank loans ranging between 25 and 35 percent, and with very nearly the highest tax rates in the world, her economy has slowed to an annual real growth rate of only three percent a year, while in 1976 her balance of trade deficit amounted to more than $3 billion.

The uncertain future of an embattled Israel and the lack of economic security in a garrison state have meant that recently even some Sabras have been leaving the country, while last year total emigration exceeded immigration. The effect on national cohesion and morale is suggested by the datum that the number of work days lost by strikes has tripled since 1974. Beleaguered Israel is no longer the same land of bright promise it was a few years ago; in spite of strenuous efforts to encourage immigration, 60 percent of the Jews permitted to leave the Soviet Union for Israel last year never arrived there but moved by way of Vienna to such Western countries as the United States, Canada, and France.

But, in spite of these foreboding developments, Israeli diplomacy will not be easily pushed off dead center. One will hear much of the contention that America should not undertake to turn Resolution 242 into a full-fledged plan of settlement, since only the Israelis are competent to decide what they require for their own security and we have no right to interpose our own judgment. Yet the premise on which this argument is based seems to me faulty since it assumes that the Arab-Israeli conflict is merely a parochial affair engaging the interests of only the direct participants - as though, in other words, the area were hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world. The realities are unhappily quite different. If we permit war to erupt in the Middle East with the heightened intensity provided by sophisticated weapons, the dangers for America and for world prosperity and peace are appalling.

Let us suppose that in the next war Israel's arms prevail and an Israeli column is moving on Damascus. Will the Soviet Union once more accept the humiliation involved in the defeat of its clients and once again tractably write off a huge loss for the expensive armaments it has poured into the area? Or will it feel compelled to drop a paratroop division or two in Syria? Though the answer is by no means clear, the agonizing problems such an action would pose for the United States are plain enough. The security of the whole West would be gravely jeopardized by such Soviet intervention; not only would the Southern flank of its defenses be seriously menaced but the economic life of the whole non-Communist world could be imperiled were the Soviet Union to gain control of Arab oil supplies. Yet, in its present mood, would the United States respond by force? Merely having to face that question would tear the country apart - reawakening latent prejudices and creating bitter divisions.

Or, as a possible alternative, assume that Arab arms were prevailing and Israel was in imminent danger of invasion. Would the United States use its military might on Israel's behalf? It takes no great prescience to imagine the searing debate that issue would provoke. Nor can one ignore the possibility that, threatened with destruction, Israel might use, or at least threaten to use, nuclear weapons.

Yet, even if none of these fearsome developments occurred and the war ended either with an Israeli victory or in a stalemate, the non-Communist world would still suffer catastrophic losses. Not only would the Arab oil-producing states be required by the dynamics of Arab politics to impose another oil embargo, but this time it could, and almost certainly would, be far more destructive than the last - destructive not only because the major industrialized nations have become more than ever dependent on Arab oil, but also because the Arab oil-producing countries have gained the capacity to utilize the oil weapon selectively by increasing their ability to direct where the major companies will ship oil. Thus, the producing states are becoming increasingly capable of using their oil production to play one power off against the other - favoring France, for example, because of its pro-Arab policies, while penalizing the United States and other countries for their Israeli sympathies. Since nothing could more dangerously undermine the solidarity of the West than such a tactic, one must, it seems to me, conclude that the United States can no longer afford to support a situation so likely to lead to war.

Still, one cannot overlook the fact that many Israelis firmly believe that their country cannot be secure unless it continues to hold at least a large part of its post-1967 territories. Obviously, the possession of those territories is a defense advantage, since Israel's currently expanded borders provide her with the opportunity not only for defense in depth but for an early air alert, while her boundaries with the Arab world are now only half as long as they were before 1967. Yet the wishful assumption of many Israelis that, if Israel can only continue to occupy her post-1967 boundaries long enough, the Arabs will weary of their opposition and the world will accept the situation as a fait accompli is quite illusory, even assuming that American taxpayers will continue, year after year, to provide aid to Israel at anything like its present level - an assumption that should by no means be taken for granted.

It is hardly surprising that many Israelis believe they cannot, under any circumstances, trust their Arab neighbors, who, as they see it, hate Israel and are committed to her destruction. They cite inflammatory statements by the PLO and repeated examples of Arab terrorism to support this thesis. Because Jewish history since the Diaspora has been one of persecution, while the state of Israel in her brief life has endured a succession of crises with its Arab neighbors, one can well understand the fear that a Palestinian state on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip would menace Israeli security.

Yet this is a circular argument. Irredentism for the Palestinians is a compelling abstraction not dissimilar to the Jewish desire for a national home; the fact that many Palestinians have never seen Palestine only intensifies the romantic appeal of the idea. So long as there is no part of Palestine which Palestinians can call their own and to which they can, in principle, return - even though few might choose to stay there - so long, in other words, as they are denied the possibility of building their own nation in that part of old Palestine represented by the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, terrorism and excessive rhetoric are inevitable.5

Unhappily, Israel's relations with the Arab world are so distorted by history and hardship and the deep emotional commitment of her people to what is, at the same time, both a country and a spiritual concept, as to disable many Israelis and their American supporters from anything approaching objectivity. As a pro-Israeli friend said to me recently when I mentioned the apparent inability of the government in Jerusalem to face up to the hard realities of its own situation, "Don't you think they are entitled to their paranoia?"

It was not a flippant comment; instead, it reflected the fatalistic acceptance of a possibly grim evolution of events. When the centuries of agony of the Jewish people and their understandable yearning for a national home are viewed against the background of the Holocaust, can one wonder at the fierce tenacity with which they seek to maintain, and even to enlarge, their Israeli homeland, and the suspicion with which they regard their Arab neighbors who, they fear, threaten that very concept? In view of their experience with past deception on the part of presumably responsible governments, can one fail to understand their desire to shape their own decisions independently of others and to rely on their own valor in defending their hard-won territories?

Yet, no matter how much we may sympathize with what my friend calls "Israeli paranoia," how far dare we let it determine American policy? How far, in other words, should we go in continuing to subsidize a policy shaped to accommodate understandable Israeli compulsions which do not accord with the best interests - as we see it - either of Israel or the United States, but are a threat to world peace?

The hard fact is that the national interests of the United States and of Israel cannot, in the nature of things, be precisely congruent: there will necessarily be situations in which United States policies must diverge from those of the Israeli government if our country is to be true to itself. Israel is a power with only regional interests, and the very intensity of her protracted struggle to survive has forced her to be excessively preoccupied with her own quite limited range of concerns - or, in other words, to view the world in short time spans and with severely limited horizons. Since she is too small and weak to exert much conscious and direct influence on events outside the Middle East, she therefore feels little responsibility for the wider repercussions of her policies.

America's view of the world and her responsibility for world developments are of a wholly different order. We must appraise the evolution of the Arab-Israeli dispute in a world setting, taking account not merely of what certain policies might do for, or to, Israel in the short run, but also of what consequences they might hold for other countries and for the peace and well-being of the world as a whole.


I have suggested that, prior to the reconvening of the Geneva Conference, we should seek quietly to obtain the agreement of our Western allies, France and Great Britain, as well as of the Soviet Union, to support a carefully developed settlement plan.

Soviet acquiescence, if not affirmative support, is desirable - perhaps even essential. Although the Soviets cannot by themselves bring about a settlement, they can probably frustrate any settlement by offering ample arms to the more activist Arab states, thus diminishing their perception of the need to reach agreement with Israel by holding out at least the theoretical possibility of a military solution. But would the Soviet Union go along with an American proposal to bring peace to the Middle East, even though the Kremlin is on record as having accepted the principles of Resolutions 242 and 338 and the proposed plan would merely put flesh on the bare skeleton provided by those resolutions?

The question is not totally one of first impression. On December 30, 1968, the Soviet Union proposed a cooperative initiative with the United States, calling for full implementation of the provisions of Resolution 242 according to a definite timetable, beginning with an affirmation by all the belligerents that they intended to carry out the Resolution. What the Soviet proposal contemplated was that each of the belligerents would then declare its intention to reach a peaceful settlement, while Israel would commit herself to withdraw at a fixed date. A system of guarantees would be worked out through the Security Council. This message was followed by talks between Washington and Moscow. But, unfortunately, before a joint initiative could be put forward, Israel escalated the air attack then in progress over the West Bank, and, with the humiliation of their client state, Egypt, the Soviets withdrew.

Today there is considerable reason to believe that if the Soviet Union had to choose between the maintenance of a half-peace in the Middle East - which entails a continuing vast expenditure for arming the Arab countries as well as the danger, at the end of the road, of a superpower confrontation - or cooperation in seeking a peaceful solution, it would elect to support - or, at least, not to sabotage - a peace proposal that accorded with Resolution 242, especially if it were given some recognition for its peacekeeping role. This is, at least, a reasonable hypothesis, and, although some may receive it with skepticism, it has not recently been tested.

To be sure, America once tried to make peace by expanding the principles of Resolution 242 in the so-called Rogers Plan. But there are a number of reasons why experience with that half-hearted American initiative should not be taken as a discouraging precedent. In October 1969, the United States sent notes to Israel, Egypt and Jordan outlining proposals for a settlement within the principles of Resolution 242, which were later set forth in a speech by Secretary Rogers on December 9, 1969. These proposals contemplated an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories in exchange for contractual peace from the Arabs, it being understood that "any changes in preexisting lines should not reflect the weight of conquest and should be confined to insubstantial alterations required for mutual security." Secretary Rogers' plan provided that the future status of Jerusalem should not be determined by unilateral action; Jerusalem should be unified and there should be roles for both Israel and Jordan in the civic, economic and religious life of the city. Finally, he made clear that there could "be no lasting peace without a just settlement of the problems of those Palestinians whom the wars of 1948 and 1967 have made homeless."

That these proposals did not prosper is hardly surprising since they could not have been floated at a less auspicious moment. Shortly before the proposals were put forward, the military situation in the area heated up substantially. In April 1969, Nasser had launched his War of Attrition, consisting principally of heavy bombardments across the Suez Canal that took an increasing number of Israeli lives. Israel then sent her air force into battle and by October 1969 had gained air superiority over the West Bank of the Canal and was heavily bombing Egyptian artillery positions. Egyptian casualties had reached high levels, Army morale had fallen to a new low point and over one million civilians had been evacuated from the Canal cities.

Thus, when Secretary Rogers launched his plan it was at a time when the Israeli government was rapidly escalating the air war and was enjoying the exhilaration of its military power. It felt in a strong position to impose its will, and in no mood to bargain. The Egyptians, on the other hand, were smarting at their deteriorating military position and quite unwilling to negotiate when their power and prestige were at such a low ebb.

That was eight years ago, and today the Arabs have largely regained their self-confidence and self-respect in the light of their military achievements in the early days of the October 1973 War. The developments in Lebanon have tended to reduce the authority of extreme Palestinian elements within the PLO. At the moment, there are responsible leaders in all the key Arab capitals, while Saudi Arabia, the central treasury for Araby, seems determined to move toward peace. Having already demonstrated the efficacy of their oil weapon, the Saudis have far more substantial leverage with the United States and other industrialized powers than ever in the past, while, at the same time, America enjoys Arab confidence to an unprecedented degree. That the balance of strength will ultimately shift to the Arab side seems almost inevitable, not merely because there are a hundred million Arabs, as opposed to 2.9 million Jewish Israelis, but because Arab financial resources and economic power have immeasurably increased since 1969 and are still increasing.

At the same time, Israel, though in the long term almost certain to lose ground because of her intractable economic problems, as well as the "logic of number", temporarily holds military superiority because of the influx of sophisticated U.S. weapons.

Thus the time is ripe for the United States to take a strong hand to save Israel from herself and in the process try to prevent a tragic war that could endanger the economies of the major non-Communist powers, separate the United States from its allies and precipitate enormous internal debate, and pose a serious danger of a clash with the Soviet Union.


To carry through such an initiative, President Carter must be prepared to accept formidable political opposition and to act with the same incisiveness President Eisenhower displayed in 1957. That will not be easy, for in the years since then Israeli supporters have greatly increased their political power in Washington. When, for example, the United Nations decided in December 1974 to admit the PLO to observer status, 71 Senators were induced to write President Ford denouncing that decision and referring to it as "appeasement." The following year, after Secretary Kissinger's efforts to achieve a second round of negotiations between Israel and Egypt had broken down due to what the Secretary believed was Israeli intransigence, he announced a "reassessment" of United States Middle East policy and, at the same time, temporarily delayed certain arms deliveries to Israel. Immediately, another letter was produced, this time signed by 76 Senators, admonishing the President to "be responsive to Israel's urgent military and economic needs" and to make clear "that the United States . . . stands firmly with Israel in the search for peace in future negotiations and that this premise is the basis of the current reassessment of U.S. policy in the Middle East."

There seems little doubt that the pro-Israeli strength demonstrated by this letter weakened Secretary Kissinger's hand in trying to move Israel toward acceptance of what later became the Sinai Agreement, and may have increased the amount of the subsidy America had to pay Israel in order to achieve that agreement. For three-fourths of the Senate to have joined in such an uncritical endorsement of one side, at a time when the Secretary of State was engaged in delicate negotiations with both, calls into some question the claim of Congress for a larger role in U.S. foreign policy.

Today the issues are sharply drawn and the omens auspicious for a major initiative - a conjunction that confronts the President with an acid test of political courage and decisiveness. If America should permit Israel to continue to reject inflexibly any suggestion of a return to earlier boundaries and the creation of a Palestinian state and to refuse even to negotiate about Jerusalem, we would be acquiescing in a policy hazardous not only for Israel but for America and the rest of the world.

That would not be responsible conduct for a great power.


3 Nor should we be deterred by the quibble that results from the absence of the definite article "the" before "occupied territories" in the English version (though not in the French or Spanish versions) of Resolution 242, which many Israelis cite to prove that Israel could comply with the Resolution without a full withdrawal. I have never understood how this could be squared with the broader principle implicit in the United Nations Charter that a nation should not be permitted to expand its territories through conquest.

4 In adducing the events of 1956-57, I am well aware that at the time of the 1957 withdrawal Israel was reassured by a private American commitment to preserve Israeli access through the Gulf of Aqaba, and that this commitment was at best waffled on during the May 1967 crisis. It is with this in mind that I have specified in my proposal that Israel should retain her own presence at Sharm El Sheikh for this purpose.

5 The point has nowhere been more vividly made than in Israel's own history that terror is at once a response and an incitement to oppression and that, so long as a foreign force remains in the occupation of another's land - no matter what legal basis may exist or how benign that occupation may be - indiscriminate outrages of terror are a natural reflex. It was, after all, Israeli extremists (the Stern Gang or the Irgun Zvai Leuni) who assassinated the United Nations peace envoy Prince Bernadotte, blew up the King David Hotel, and systematically ambushed British soldiers during the 1946-47 struggle.

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  • George W. Ball, currently a partner in Lehman Brothers, in New York, was U.S. Under Secretary of State, 1961-66, and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 1968. He is the author of The Discipline of Power and Diplomacy for a Crowded World.
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