Two new major actors are on the scene in Middle Eastern negotiations, dormant since the Sinai II troop disengagement agreement of September 1975. Jimmy Carter, a political newcomer inexperienced in international politics, is President of the United States, and the ancient militant, Menachem Begin, who never expected to become Israel's Prime Minister, is exactly that. While the President's mind is not set as yet on an American strategy for the Middle East, the Prime Minister's preconceptions were formed four decades ago. For nearly 40 years, Menachem Begin has not changed his essential position, modified his beliefs, or wavered in his commitment and dedication to the cause of Eretz Yisrael (land of Israel). The two leaders could not be more different in personality and style nor come from more widely differing political orientations. They do have in common a moral, principled, even puritanical stance and commitment, but there the similarity ends.

Since Jimmy Carter assumed office, he has committed his Administration to a Middle Eastern conflict resolution. Carter began his on-the-job training by inviting the leaders of Israel and the confrontation states to Washington. This process began as early as January 1977 and ended with Begin's visit at the end of July. My aim here is not to examine Carter's Middle East policy, orientation and tribulations but to analyze the Begin-Dayan style and its implications for the Carter strategy. This is important because the key to a peaceful solution lies in Israel's hands. Israel occupies Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian territory. Israel, and only Israel, can relinquish its rule over the West Bank and Gaza and begin the process of Palestinian self-determination. This does not mean that Israel dictates the political procedure for a Middle East peace. In fact the contrary is true. The initiative and the will to grant Israel its cherished peace lie solely with the Arabs. Nor is Israel in a position to dictate the nature and structure of the peace; this again is in the hands of the Arabs. But neither Israel nor the Arabs can really imagine conflict settlement without a serious, consistent and imaginative American involvement.

So, once more, we are on the negotiation track. This time, however, Kissinger's step-by-step approach is no longer considered useful or necessary by Israel or the Arabs, and the Carter Administration appears to concur. The step-by-step approach was originally an Israeli idea supported by Egypt and subsequently embraced by Kissinger, who brought an end to the 1973 war by means of troop disengagement agreements. Four years without war between Israel and the Arabs ensued. Now the Carter Administration has embraced the principle of a Geneva conference as an American strategy of mediation to produce an overall settlement. Here again, the design for the negotiating process originated with both Egypt and Israel.

The idea of Geneva is dear to the hearts of the leading Arab confrontation states and especially to Egypt's Sadat, who favors such a substantive overall conference in hopes of securing Israeli withdrawal and righting the wrongs against the Palestinians. Sadat has had considerable influence on the Carter strategy. Israel, on the other hand, actually prefers another form of Arab-Israeli mediation than Geneva, one that is mainly concerned with procedural and functional-substantive aspects, or the "nature of the peace." The Israelis do not believe the time is ripe now for an overall settlement. Thus we have seen the emergence of the Israeli-American proposal for a "two-tiered" Geneva in which negotiations would proceed on several levels and with a double purpose: (1) the achievement of overall settlement, perhaps in a "grand Geneva," involving the participation of all parties to the conflict; and (2) the construction of a sturdy, unit-oriented process for negotiations dealing with discrete issues, with the hope of eventually making everything fit together in a satisfactory pattern. The goal would be overall settlement, but the emphasis would be on process.

In considering the prospects for such an arrangement it is necessary to understand the sources of the conduct of Israeli foreign policy - the Begin style, and the strategy of Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan. While Menachem Begin will supervise the road to a possible Geneva for Israel, his chief foreign policy advisor, Dayan, will act as Begin's chief negotiator and idea man on the procedure rather than the substance of Israel's bargaining position.


Menachem Begin is the last Mohican of the grand old Zionist generation born in the diaspora. Confounding some expectations, he assumed office as if he were born more to the statesman's manner than to the guerrilla's. His authoritative political style, coupled with strict regard for the forms of legal and constitutional process, has not been seen in Israel since Ben Gurion retired in 1963. Like Ben-Gurion, he is autocratic, patriarchal and charismatic, the leader of both his Herut Party and the coalition government composed of the right-wing bloc, Likud; the National Religious Party (NRP); Yigael Yadin's center reformist party, the Democratic movement for change (DMC); and assorted Orthodox parties. On a personal level he is more relaxed, less tense than Ben-Gurion, and is courteous, pleasant and open where Ben-Gurion was not.

Begin, again like Ben-Gurion, is a Herzlian Zionist. Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, was a nineteenth-century Viennese writer, dreamer and Don Quixote, but with a realist's view of politics. He regarded Zionism as essentially a political movement for territorial settlement of the Jews and considered the Zionist Congress organized by him in 1897 as the instrument to proclaim the Jewish aim of establishing a state (in Uganda or Zion, Herzl was indifferent). This political solution to the Jewish problem required that the great powers bestow on the Jews a political charter over a territory destined to become their independent state. This political Zionism - diplomacy with the great powers over the establishment of a Jewish state - was the Herzlian legacy that held overwhelming appeal for both Ben-Gurion and Begin.

Here the similarity between Ben-Gurion and Begin ends. The real chasm between the two is wide. They were deeply divided on the strategy to achieve Jewish political and territorial independence. Ben-Gurion represented the mainstream of political Zionist thought. Both he and former President Chaim Weizmann aspired to establish a state populated, if possible, only by Jews. Thus, although Ben-Gurion was a territorialist, for him practical Zionism meant the settlement - urban and rural - by Jews of those mandated areas of Palestine that were either sparsely or not at all populated by Arabs. In the case of the two major Jewish urban centers, Jerusalem and Haifa, where a mixed Arab-Jewish population existed, Jewish numerical, social, economic, and political hegemony over the Arabs was tenable.

The model of the practical Zionists was actually Tel Aviv, a new and strictly Jewish city, and the agricultural collective and cooperative settlements. Ben-Gurion and the socialist Zionists conceived of these agricultural settlements as being exclusively Jewish. Their idea was the "conquest of the soil," i.e., of empty or sparsely populated areas of land, by settlement, and the creation of an autonomous Jewish working force in the Jewish sector of Palestine. Population and sovereignty were seen as related variables. Jewish hegemony would be established over territory that was not occupied by Arabs, and was therefore suitable for Jewish settlement; a Jewish autonomous state would be carved out of historical and mandated Palestine that was now settled by Jews. Therefore, Ben-Gurion adhered to the concept of the partition of Palestine (he supported three British partition proposals) into distinct and separate Jewish and Arab states. Ben-Gurion, proclaiming the Jewish Commonwealth in 1942, clearly accepted the idea of the divisibility of Palestine.

Menachem Begin, the most dedicated disciple of Ze'ev Jabotinsky's Revisionist Zionism, conceives of the future and the structure of the Jewish state in different strategic, ideological and political terms. For Begin, following the dogma of Revisionist Zionism, the territorial and political integrity of Palestine is indivisible. Jabotinsky himself tolerated British rule over Palestine only as long as the latter did not subscribe to the partition of Palestine; his Revisionist Zionism had as its goal the eventual political domination of Zionism over the whole of mandatory Palestine, which at the time included Transjordan, today's Jordan. Revisionism in fact was born when Transjordan was eliminated from the original British Palestine mandate.

For Begin, the problem of the composition of the population in the Jewish state is secondary to a concern with its territory. For his part, Begin would prefer a Jewish majority over all of formerly western Palestine. In its absence, however, he claims the political indivisibility of the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; its settlement by Jews; and the eventual establishment of Jewish hegemony and political domination over those parts of western Palestine truncated by the 1947 U. N. Partition into separate Jewish and Arab states.

The political implications for conflict resolution on Begin's terms are profound. When Begin or his government speaks of Jewish settlement on the West Bank, it is in conformity with his vision of an independent Jewish sovereign polity destined to dominate historical Palestine. The matter of settlement for Begin is not just tactical but strategic and fundamental. In approaching the issue of the West Bank, the reality of the present irredentist claims to Judea and Samaria on the part of the Israeli government must be understood: these preclude the formation of a Palestinian state.


Apart from these fundamental ideological differences, Begin's approach to the mechanics of government is similar to that of Ben-Gurion. The common characteristics include: (1) almost total domination of their respective movements and political parties; (2) a manipulative skill that excludes the lower forms of infighting; (3) the granting of considerable leverage and influence to political subordinates; coupled with (4) restrictions on the roles of Cabinet officers and advisors. The reluctance to depend on advisors is particularly noteworthy in Begin's case; there are no éminences grises around him as there were for Ben-Gurion.

As to Ben-Gurion's party, Mapai, it was vital, highly functional and aggressive throughout his reign, strong enough, in the end, to oust him, after a struggle, in 1965. Begin's party, or bloc, dominated by his own Herut Party (actually a sectarian and rigid ideological group) has no resemblance to Mapai or the Labor Alignment during the regimes of Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Yitzchak Rabin. His General Zionist partners have dissolved into Likud. Thus Herut, representing only 15 percent of the vote, is the dominant group in the coalition government. One can note the decline of party government in Israel since the 1977 elections and argue that the Labor Alignment, now torn asunder, and the Labor Party are slowly disintegrating under the strain of their unexpected collapse, the momentum of loss of power, the bitter struggle between Rabin and Peres, and their own inadequacy, corruption, and decay. But the victory of Likud did not actually create for the Likud party a political and electoral basis for power, despite its alliance with Herut, the General Zionists and the right-wing Labor splinter party, the National Faction. Nor is the Likud's new ally, Yigael Yadin's DMC, a political party; it is, rather, a protest movement composed of Alignment dissidents and defectors. In fact, the only cohesive, coherent, and integrated party in Israel today is the NRP.

In the absence of a powerful coalition party, and with Likud lacking the broad spectrum of socioeconomic support that Labor enjoyed, the secondary sources of power in Israel are the key members of Begin's Cabinet, senior civil servants, and Begin's few personal and political advisors. It is therefore significant to identify the role Begin has assigned to these individuals, and their individual contributions to policy.

Unquestionably, like Ben-Gurion, Begin is the only person who decides on war and peace in Israel. He is Likud's ideologue (unlike Ben-Gurion) and supreme commander. Begin is a man of deep convictions. He will make few if any compromises in the realm of nationalist and Zionist ideology. His admiration for his mentor and leader Jabotinsky is second only to his admiration for Herzl. The two influenced Begin's concept of the new Jews - proud, magnanimous, and militant. This is his credo. He believes in Jewish hadar (majesty). This concept influenced his selection of three of Israel's most illustrious generals - Moshe Dayan, Ezer Weizmann, and Ariel Sharon - as his Cabinet officers. The three are among Israel's most notorious hawks, but Begin acts as their supreme commander (Mefaked Ellion). He has tamed them.

In contrast to the Rabin government, where a political novice lacking authority over his party and his Cabinet had to contend with the powerful Peres - who dominated his ministry as his fiefdom and who stalemated the Prime Minister. Begin's government is largely composed of dependent ministers.

This is particularly true in the case of the generals. Dayan no longer has the Alignment as his constituency and arena in which to maneuver. Sharon, who barely won two seats in parliament, and Weizmann, are almost completely dependent on the supreme commander. Thus accountability in the new government is clearly vertical. Begin exerts direct control over the three generals via the Cabinet structure. He is also very sensitive to any cliques or alignments between the generals or for that matter between any of his ministers. Each is accountable only to the Prime Minister. Begin is a strict adherent of the British Cabinet concept of collective responsibility and he is unquestionably more powerful than the British Prime Minister.

As for the generals' functions, Dayan has been cast in the role of Begin's chief foreign policy advisor and chief negotiator, with Weizmann serving as Begin's chief defense advisor. Sharon, as Minister of Agriculture, might be considered insignificant in the foreign policy area, but, as the most militant of all Begin's ministers, he is pushing for a policy of large-scale settlement in the West Bank. To say this is an issue with great disruptive potential is an understatement. With each day that goes by, and with each new settlement that is made, it becomes more difficult for the Begin government - or perhaps for any future government - to retreat or dismantle the settlements.

The Dayan-Begin relationship is of great importance in view of the fact that Dayan will eventually become Begin's key, and probably only, foreign policy advisor. Although a Ben-Gurion disciple, a product of Labor Zionism, Palmach, and the agricultural cooperative settlement, Dayan's hawkish pragmatism appeals to Begin, the ideological and historical militant. During the era of the National Unity Government (1967-1970), Dayan and Begin forged a special and enduring relationship, and even before the elections, Begin offered Dayan a key Cabinet position if he joined Likud. For Begin, Dayan's integration is a historic achievement. He now possesses Ben-Gurion's disciple, Labor's most brilliant and controversial figure, the Israeli with the greatest international reputation and, above all, his opposite - a tactician whose concept of security will not be challenged by Begin, the Likud government or the nation. Dayan also commands considerable support among the NRP young militants.


Because he is a maximalist, Begin, not unlike his Arab rivals, prefers grand solutions to the intractable Arab-Israeli conflict. His strategy is basically two-pronged: (1) opposition to the Kissingerian step-by-step approach; and (2) opposition to the creation of any form of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank. Step-by-step withdrawal, Begin feels, is not the frame through which Israel should be viewed by the world. It is a mode that portrays Israel as intransigent and uncompromising. Above all, since U.S. leverage on Israel is greater than on the Arabs, this kind of diplomatic strategy creates unnecessary friction between Israel and the United States. Therefore Begin prefers that even a "grand Geneva" conference deal with the less prickly issue of procedures and forego substance.

Begin's concept of the role of the United States as a mediator, negotiator and partner is quite different from his predecessor's. The Labor government informally accepted the Kissingerian concept of American-Israeli "coordination," meaning no American decision concerning an Israeli concession to the Arabs would be negotiated as an imposed American solution or without some compensation from the Arabs unless Israel was partner to the arrangements. This policy of coordination also required an American commitment to the outcome of the negotiations, to remuneration for Israel with full military and economic support and, above all, an American guarantee of the success of every troop separation deal. Begin rejects this approach. For him, the Labor policy of an Israeli-American "coordination" means an American form of pre-negotiation, a subtle form of imposed solutions.

As Begin sees it, what the Arabs lose by war and violence they can gain from Israel through international extortion and the use of American leverage over Israel. This policy, according to Begin, leads Israel toward international isolation and unnecessary confrontation with the United States. The case of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is in his mind. In 1975, the Labor-Kissinger open understanding was that there would be no independent American negotiations with the PLO as long as the latter refused to change the paragraphs in its Charter calling for Israel's annihilation and as long as it refused to adhere to U.N. Resolution 242. In fact, according to both Begin and Dayan, the United States violated not only its oral understanding with Israel, but also the written, September 1975, second Sinai troop disengagement agreement inspired by Israeli-American "coordination." This clearly stipulated that if the PLO did not amend the Charter and accept Resolutions 242 and 338, the United States would not negotiate with the PLO. If negotiation should occur, then it would be only in "coordination" with Israel.

Neither the Nixon-Ford nor the Carter Administration has adhered to the "coordination" understandings, according to both Rabin and Begin. Rabin blames President Carter for violating the understanding by making - without consultation with Israel - public statements about a "Palestinian entity," a "Palestinian homeland," and for allowing American representatives to meet and negotiate continuously with the PLO.1 Begin and Dayan also consider independent U.S.-PLO dealings an attrition of the policy of coordination. They object to President Carter's "pre-negotiations." The President's abrupt proposals for border modifications, made without prior consultation with Israel, are interpreted as a blatant violation of the policy of "coordination."2 Thus Begin feels free to proclaim his adamant and uncompromising position on the PLO.

Here an insight into the Begin-Dayan relationship is crucial to understanding Israel's new strategy. Dayan recognizes Israel's security imperatives on the Jordan River rather than the historical claims of the Zionist Revisionist. He also knows, however, that he can differ only to a certain degree with Begin. Although there is no formal or informal, tacit or clandestine "deal" between Begin and Dayan as to who is the nice guy and who is not, there is mutual understanding that Dayan, as chief negotiator for Israel, must have some flexibility at his disposal. And he will use it, though stopping short of violating Begin's real commitments. Dayan is known to be loyal to his superiors. He is a soldier who precisely understands the nature of authority, as well as a politician who recognizes the limits of his political influence. Thus, Dayan has designed a fallback strategy both on procedure and substance by which he hopes to assure continuing momentum for negotiations even if Geneva fails, and that will lift any blame for stalling from Israel.

If Geneva does take place, however, the Begin-Dayan strategy will aim at achieving the best possible outcome despite conditions of duress, American political pressure, and Arab threats to resort to war. Because Dayan does not view as realistic the convening of a Geneva conference to achieve the final peace between Israel and the Arabs, his strategy is based on what he feels can be realistically achieved at this time. Dayan is more attuned to process than to a grand conference, and that is precisely how he envisions the construction of peace - as a long and arduous process. Neither Arabs nor Israelis, he believes, are ready to dismantle instantly several decades of hostility, mistrust and misperception. Dayan also doubts the political legitimacy of Arab regimes, their rulers' authority, and their political longevity. Thus, he prefers short-term arrangements.

Concerning the PLO, Dayan's position complements Begin's. He totally rejects negotiating with the PLO even if it is willing to amend its Charter or accept U.N. Resolution 242. For Dayan, as for Begin, the PLO means the political and physical annihilation of Israel. His reason for refusing to negotiate with an independent PLO delegation is that the purpose of such negotiations would be to establish, eventually, a PLO state in the West Bank and Gaza, which Dayan will not accept on any condition.3 He does favor negotiating with Jordan on the future of the Palestinian population of the West Bank, so they may be granted greater social and economic autonomy. Like Begin, Dayan rejects absolutely the political autonomy or sovereignty of the Palestinians in the West Bank or elsewhere in western Palestine. He seems not to object to non-PLO, non-official Palestinian members in a Jordanian delegation, seeking in his way an Israeli-Jordanian functional solution for the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank. Strategically, however, the security of the West Bank will be strictly Israeli. The Jordan River will be Israel's security border.

Politically, then, Dayan somewhat modifies Begin's concept of total domination over western Palestine. The Foreign Minister conceives of territory as a strategic-security asset, not as the essence of political-ideological Revisionist Zionist dogma. He consequently disagrees with Agriculture Minister Sharon over settlement.

In light of Begin's dedication to territorial goals, his public claim that he is willing to negotiate on everything is open to question. When he calls for an overall settlement based on Resolution 242, and strict adherence to the resolution which refers to the Palestinians as refugees, he means that he will not surrender the ideological commitment to territorial Zionism - in other words, that he will not accept a Palestinian state. Compromise on this is ideologically and politically untenable for Begin and the Likud party. This would seem to rule out an overall settlement.

Does this mean that Begin is an unregenerate ideologue and dogmatist? It is important here to realize how meaningful it is that he does delegate tactical authority. Dayan will command the procedural strategy both in and outside of actual negotiations. The Foreign Minister will have considerable influence on the actual Israeli negotiations and Begin has given him some freedom of action. On procedure, then, the Israeli government will foster movement - but on substance no deviation from Begin's Revisionist Zionism can be predicted.


The Begin-Dayan plan - not a peace plan in the ordinary sense, but more a blueprint for building a peacemaking structure - was presented to President Carter in July and September 1977. It was an outline for (1) procedure and (2) the settlement of separate substantive issues. Geneva as Geneva is not germane. The format of the meetings, not the place, is the important thing. (Dayan has told friends privately that he would meet in a men's room, if necessary.) The form of negotiations could be variously a "grand Geneva," proximity talks, or foreign ministers' meetings (direct or indirect, as in the shuttle diplomacy school).

The plan (like the U.S.-Israeli working paper subsequently released) called for the creation of joint Arab-Israeli commissions presided over by U.S. officials. These would serve as working groups - permanent procedural units - on specific issues such as territories, compensation, and refugees, in an effort to defuse the Palestinian issue and create suitable conditions for Israeli military withdrawal from the Sinai and Golan. Here the plan addressed itself to the Administration's substantive proposals for peace in the Middle East, the Carter proposal being a nexus, composed of three indivisible (to use the Administration's language) parts: territories, the nature of peace, and the Palestinians.4

Dayan further proposed strict functional differentiation of issues, such as borders, troop separation agreement and withdrawal, demilitarized zones, greater autonomy for the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, to be negotiated individually with the separate Arab confrontation states. Egypt would negotiate the future of Sinai, Syria the future of the Golan Heights and Jordan the future of the West Bank and the Palestinian population. In addition, one all-Arab delegation would meet with Israel to deal with the Palestinian question. The key was to separate the explosive Palestinian problem from other territorial issues. Dayan felt that a combined Arab delegation or lack of clear division would create rigidity, rhetoric and inflexibility of the parties. He believes the Arab coalition exists, but its political capability is limited and its influence skewed.

The PLO, the weakest force in the coalition, can prevent Egypt, militarily the most powerful, from reaching a peaceful settlement with Israel, despite Egyptian readiness to do so. Egyptian helplessness is evident in its adamant position on PLO representation at Geneva. Flexibility is in order if it is to be taken seriously as a moderate force. This is a case, as the Israelis see it, of the extremist tails wagging the moderate dogs. The very perception of Arab "moderates," in fact, is an American dream in the eyes of some Likud Cabinet members.

One purpose of Dayan's visits to Washington in September and October 1977 was to dampen the Administration's optimism about Geneva. He wanted to separate the achievable (procedure) from the questionably attainable (substantive agreement - possible only if the procedure is stable). What Dayan tried to do was both to support a piecemeal approach without angering a "grand Geneva"-prone Administration, and return to a modified policy of Israeli-American coordination without upsetting Begin. He desired that the United States not pre-negotiate, but only "coordinate" with Israel, over American-Israeli strategy. His concession to the idea of an all-Arab delegation to Geneva was made to placate President's Carter's unflinching commitment to a comprehensive Geneva settlement.

Dayan and his advisors felt it imperative that Begin's government, less threatened that Rabin's by American pressure but more subject to skeptical reception by the foreign press and world opinion, be more forthcoming in order to maintain its close ties with the United States. The Begin-Dayan peace plan, therefore, opened a channel closed since 1975. It was a strategy for maintaining the process of negotiations without surrendering Israel's vital commitments. Indeed, the very formulation of the plan may mean that Begin is no longer predictably a non-compromiser. He at least accepts the imperative of functional concessions as first steps to conflict resolution.


Israeli foreign policy strategy is anchored in its political culture - the decision-makers' perceptions of the motivations, intentions, and goals of Israel's chief ideological rival, pan-Arabism, and of Israeli fears of the Arab states and the politically organized Palestinians, the PLO. Fear is intuitive, but is nevertheless a perception of a serious danger posed by the possibility of hostile actions by others. Perception is a categorical and cognitive view of friend or foe based on information available. It is not a question of seeing rightly or wrongly. The following are summations of the most significant perceptions of Arab goals and Israeli fears influencing Israeli decision-makers:

1. The Arabs do not want to make real peace with Israel. They do not strive for an overall political settlement and political peacemaking. They aspire to eventually bring about Israel's annihilation. (When it comes to an overall settlement the Israelis make no distinction here between moderate and radical Arabs.) Since they cannot do it through wars, having failed four times, they expect to accomplish it now by diplomacy and political extortion. The Israeli perception - and in more extreme forms, Begin's - is that the Arabs now employ a two-tactic strategy: Egypt and Saudi Arabia will act as moderators, throwing dust into the eyes of U.S. decision-makers and deceiving international public opinion, such as the démarche Sadat made toward Israel by inviting himself to address the Israeli Parliament. The PLO, in the meantime, really represents the pan-Arabist goal of the destruction of Israel. This idea of deception (to which Dayan probably does not subscribe) motivates Begin to refuse any form of a Palestinian autonomous state. Palestinianism, as the Israelis perceive it, has become the euphemism for the old pan-Arabist goal of the annihilation of Israel. Thus, Israel cannot reconcile itself to the idea of an independent Palestinian state no matter what its regime. Israelis take the PLO Charter very seriously indeed.

2. According to important Israeli analysts and key political leaders, the Arab moderates will opt for a "liberal" annihilation of Israel by drowning the Jewish majority in the burgeoning Arab Palestinian population. The radicals, according to the Israelis, are more frank and believable: they simply seek Israel's physical annihilation.

3. To achieve this goal the major Arab international and inter-Arab efforts are now directed toward gaining international recognition and legitimization of a Palestinian state. The formation of a Palestinian state, according to PLO ideology, is also a two-stage strategy. First, the formation of a PLO-dominated mini-state in the West Bank and Gaza and second, the eventual elimination of its neighbors, Israel and Jordan, and creation of PLO domination over the whole of (mandated) Palestine.

In their movement toward the legitimization of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, probably headed by Yassir Arafat, the Arabs gained a concession from Dayan on an all-Arab delegation which would include Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank. These Palestinians, though not officials of the PLO, could nevertheless be PLO sympathizers. The Arabs may achieve additional concessions, even before Geneva, from among the following options:

(1) to amend U.N. Resolution 242 so that it will delete "refugees" and substitute no less than President Carter's Clinton statement on a "Palestinian homeland" and integrate it as part of an amended 242.

(2) to request a new U.N. Resolution on a Palestinian homeland and rights which could modify 242.

(3) to introduce a resolution like that of the U.S.-Soviet accord in the United Nations, automatically securing U.S. support. Should the PLO endorse it also, the United States might begin negotiating with the PLO, despite Resolution 242 and the PLO pledge to bury Israel.

(4) to insist that after the formal Geneva meeting, the American-sponsored Arab-Israeli negotiations will be continued with the presence of Palestinian Arabs and some PLO members. If Israel refused, it would be portrayed as the intransigent party.

These options have been part of the Arab political effort directed since the 1974 Rabat Conference at achieving international - but most important American - recognition of the legitimacy of the Palestinian homeland and, eventually, state. This is Begin's nightmare. He fears such an entity would become a Soviet-Cuban Trojan horse. Border incidents on the Israeli-Palestinian boundary, if such a state existed, would bring an immediate U.S.-U.S.S.R. confrontation in the Middle East.5 An alternative fear is of post-Vietnam American impotence to protect Israel against such a threat.6


Israeli and Arab leaders know they cannot achieve an everlasting peace in the Middle East by themselves. The asymmetry of their goals and aspirations is too pronounced. Neither has the political or military strength to impose a solution. Israel has welcomed, and so have the Arabs, American mediation. But they see the American role differently. The Arabs, the Israelis argue, welcome American mediation in the hope that their political-economic influence will persuade the United States to impose an Arab solution on Israel. Israelis fear they will surrender territory for nonsubstantive and vague Arab statements on nonbelligerency and an end to propaganda and boycotts against Israel.

Dayan made this point several times during his trip to Washington in September and October 1977. Israel's greatest fear is an imposed solution, a plan conceived either without consultation with Israel or in spite of it. Dayan can challenge the United States on this because of the U.S. "betrayal," on paper, of the 1975 Sinai II American commitment to Israel, for a policy of coordination.7

The fact that American leverage is greater on Israel than on the Arabs makes it more likely, from the Israeli point of view, that a distasteful formula for settlement can be imposed upon them. Israel's past experience has been that the United States either failed to consult with Israel on what it must concede to the Arabs or that, because of the absence of American leverage over the Arabs, the Israelis came out short in the bargain. Israel is highly dependent on American economic and military support, therefore a great deal more vulnerable than the Arabs to enforced unequal concessions. American mediation, if not benevolent or neutral, considerably modifies Israel's bargaining position. Israel fears that Arabs may be able to sit back and rake in the benefits of American--secured step-by-step concessions on Israel's part. So, although they welcome and, in fact, seek American mediation, Israelis are also suspicious of the mediator.

The contradiction is inherent in the situation. The U.S. role as Israel's staunch defender conflicts with the U.S. role as mediator in the Middle Eastern dilemma. Sincere interest in Israeli survival is constantly demonstrated through American military and economic aid and verbal presidential declarations. But this American goodwill, according to Dayan, is offset by American impotence where the Arabs are concerned. Because of this, the Arabs stand to gain more. Thus, the Israelis perceive that the Arab strategy is to secure Israeli concessions through American pressure, without having to make tangible and commensurate concessions of their own.

The Carter Administration's determination to achieve an overall settlement in the Middle East, coupled with far greater U.S. leverage over Israel vis-à-vis the Arabs, is seen as an intolerable threat to Israel's security and sovereignty. The danger here is increased by the fundamental differences we have discussed in the current U.S. and Israeli views on territorial issues. Thus, Dayan argues that while an accommodating Israel is necessary and respectable, an Israel that will "surrender" to unequal pressure is neither respectable nor possible. In order to avoid confrontation, and maintain respectable but tolerable relations with the United States, it will be necessary for Israel to insist that the substantive negotiations not be framed in an overall settlement procedure or a "grand Geneva" solution.

The Israeli proposal for a two-tier negotiation, then, is in part an effort to help resolve its differences with the United States. Clearly, however, Dayan suggested the convening of a formal plenary Geneva session only on the understanding that substantive negotiations, if they are to take place, should not contradict two major Israeli fundamentals: (1) that substantive settlements be made in separate parts before the overall settlement can be achieved (in or out of Geneva); and, (2) that no unilateral Arab--Israeli solution be sought.

I doubt if the Israelis will modify these two fundamental concepts. At best, they will pay lip service to a grandstand in Geneva. They are keenly aware that world public opinion will condemn whoever balks at Geneva. But they will refuse to turn this conference into an overall negotiation stage. They will continue to seek, unrelentingly, separate negotiations to Arab-Israeli problems. So far as the Israelis are concerned, this is the only way they can escape their inequality. This is why, in October, they bitterly rejected the U.S.-Soviet joint guidelines for Geneva. A U.S.-Soviet sponsored conference, they feel, will make Israel even more unequal. The U.S.S.R., as the solicitor of Arabs and Israel's foe, stands only to strengthen the Arab position in a situation already tipped, however inadvertently, toward the Arabs.

Furthermore, it is doubtful whether Israel will accept the idea of a Soviet-American Geneva as a permanent peacemaking conference when the chances would be that the United States might have to accept, in the end, the legitimization of a PLO-dominated Palestine. Israel will not accept U.S.-Soviet guidelines where the United States and the Soviet Union hope to resolve the conflict within the framework of a comprehensive settlement. A comprehensive settlement might be achieved if the Israelis could be persuaded that the Carter Administration could assume PLO acceptance of a politically autonomous and sovereign Israel or that a Soviet-American deal could produce the frontiers to which Israel is aspiring. Neither of the above can be delivered by the Carter Administration.

Thus the differences between Carter's Middle Eastern policy and Begin's goals and aspirations are vast. No Israeli political leader has openly defied or contradicted a U.S. President, and it is unlikely that Begin will openly defy President Carter. It is also doubtful, however, that Carter will achieve an overall Israeli-Arab settlement in the time framework he has set for himself. If the Administration sees Geneva merely as an opening step toward conflict resolution, then U.S. mediation might achieve its desired result. But if Carter's Geneva is perceived by Israel as an imposed solution, the President's goal of progress toward an everlasting peace in the Middle East will not be realized.

For U.S.-Israeli relations to be maintained at the level they have been for the last three decades, both parties will have to modify their goals: Begin, his uncompromising concept of the indivisibility of Palestine; and the Carter Administration, its rather rigid position on an Arab-Israeli overall settlement in the near future. I am convinced the two historical friends will not surrender so easily what they have shared in common in the past, but failure to approach the conflict realistically will only hamper efforts toward an everlasting peace. Neither the United States nor Israel is ready or willing to be blamed for not serving peace in the Middle East.


1 Private interview with Rabin, Tel Aviv, August 15, 1977.

2 Private interview with Begin, Jerusalem, August 10, 1977.

4 Vice President Mondale outlined the American plan in his June 17, 1977 speech. Having considered that the imperatives of Israeli security are to be separated from the requirement of recognized borders, the plan conceives of Israel's return to the pre-1967 borders with only minor modifications. Mondale stated: "It is in this way that Israel could return to approximately the borders that existed prior to the war of 1967, albeit with minor modifications as negotiated among the parties, and yet retain security lines or other arrangements that would ensure Israel's safety as full confidence developed in a comprehensive peace." Mondale also made clear that trading territory for peace (normalization) means also the establishment of some form of a Palestinian entity, separate or in connection with Jordan, all of which will define the nature of peace: withdrawal for normalization.

5 Private interview with Begin, Jerusalem, August 10, 1977.

6 Interview with former Prime Minister Rabin, Jerusalem, August 16, 1977.

7 Former Prime Minister Rabin, after the Sinai II September Troop Separation Agreement between Egypt and Israel, was under fire from Likud opposition. In defending himself for supposedly surrendering Israel's tangible for Egyptian nontangible concessions, Rabin argued that his major purpose was not Egyptian concessions as much as it was Israel accommodation in order to achieve "full understanding with the United States." Thus, the meaning of Sinai II is in its political significance for Israeli-American understanding rather than concessions made to Egypt. These understandings with Secretary of State Kissinger and President Ford were ratified and approved by the Senate. (Prime Minister Rabin's statement on the Agreement between Israel and Egypt, the Knesset, September 3, 1975 and author's interview with Rabin, August 15, 1977).

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  • Amos Perlmutter is Professor of Political Science and Sociology at The American University in Washington, D.C. and the Editor of The Journal of Strategic Studies. He is the author of The Military and Politics in Modern Times and Politics and the Military in Israel, 1967-1977.
  • More By Amos Perlmutter