President Jimmy Carter shaking hands with Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at the signing of the Egyptian–Israeli Peace Treaty on the grounds of the White House, 1979

The peace treaty ratified by Egypt and Israel on March 29, 1979 is neither an end to a problem nor a fresh point of departure in the efforts to resolve it. Rather, it represents a stage in a protracted series of negotiations, misunderstandings, cajoleries, and tacit agreements extending back for years. All these will continue-but the situation has changed, for Egypt and Israel now have a document with which they can map out their future haggling.

The peace treaty provides an outline for the future negotiations, and a timetable for part of them. The procedures for the talks and the issues to be discussed are now both institutionalized by the treaty-but the outcome is not, nor are the specific details, which have been the most serious sources of contention between Israel and Egypt. Issues that were deliberately avoided in the peace treaty will have to be addressed during these negotiations. In spite of the many problems that still lie ahead, however, the successful achievement of this first accommodation between Egypt and Israel creates a momentum of negotiation that will be of considerable importance in the years to come.

Besides that momentum, another important influence on the talks that lie ahead is the role of the United States. Without American intervention there would be no glimmer of peace in the Middle East, and without continued American guidance and pressure there will be no hope for a satisfactory agreement on elections in the West Bank, or for any lasting peace in the region. American pressure has been crucial ever since Henry Kissinger wrung from Egypt and Israel the Sinai troop disengagement agreement of 1975. Now the United States will have a vital role to play in attempting to bring the Palestinians to the bargaining table and in defusing the threat of the Baghdad front of Arab rejectionist states.

The schedule and elements of the negotiations are simple. No later than one month after exchanging instruments of ratification, negotiations over the autonomy plan will start. Both Israel and Egypt will set for themselves the target of one year for the completion of the negotiations, so that elections to the self-governing authority can be held as speedily as possible. The self-governing authority could be established a month after these elections, and-after a five-year transition period-full autonomy could be achieved.

The parties to the negotiations are stipulated: Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Arabs (a vaguely defined partner that can include sympathizers of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the West Bank and Gaza), and Jordan, if it chooses to join in. The aim of the negotiations is to agree on the "modalities" for establishing the elected self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza that will bestow full autonomy on the populations of those areas. The power and responsibilities of the administrative council will be established. The military government of Israel will retreat in favor of the new authority, and the Israeli defense forces will withdraw to specified enclaves.

It seems likely that there will be two phases of negotiations. The first will start sometime in May-June 1979 when the treaty's instruments of ratification have been signed; it will end no more than a year later, when both Israel and Egypt sign the accords on the self-governing authority. The second phase will begin after the elections to the self-governing authority, sometime in July 1980, and end as the specified five-year interim period draws to a close.

The analysis in this paper will concentrate mainly on the dynamics of the first phase, but must of necessity consider the second as well, since no clear distinction is likely to survive in practice. Some knotty problems will inevitably be held over for solution into the later stage. At the same time, Egypt, supported by the United States, will do its utmost to link the two phases and to incorporate into the early stage what it expects to be achieved and completed in the later one. Israel will try to separate the two phases.

Before we examine the probable course of the negotiations, however, we will look at the situation in which the main actors find themselves at the start of the negotiations, as well as some of the internal pressures that will be at work. In the end, between the rival claims of Palestinians, Egyptians and Israelis, and the pressures of the rejectionist Arab states, the completion of the negotiations will take on many aspects of a race against time.


One of the major lessons learned by Israel and Egypt in the course of past negotiations is that they have leverage over one another which they can use to extract concessions. In this new set of discussions, the leverage stems very largely from the phased nature of the treaty.

Though letters have been exchanged aimed at bringing about ambassadorial exchanges and diplomatic relations one month after Israel withdraws from the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt still has great scope for playing on the Israelis' desire for normalized relations. It can make use of Annex III to the treaty (which deals with economics and trade, cultural relations, freedom of movement, transportation and good-neighborly relations between Egypt and Israel), raising or lowering the benefits from each of these links as retaliation or reward for the Israeli attitude on the Palestinian questions.

In return, Israel has a lever of its own: the speed of the promised withdrawal from occupied territories and, especially, in these early stages, from Sinai.

Also in the background of these discussions will be the mutual exhaustion of the two countries: neither can tolerate the economic and psychological burdens of continuing adversity.

Egypt has become determined to escape from the major responsibility for attaining the radical pan-Arab goal of annihilating Israel and erecting a maximalist Palestinian state in its place. While the Baghdad front of Iraq, Syria, Jordan and the PLO may still be ready for war, the growing military strength of Iraq in no way compensates for the loss of Egypt's armed forces and its strategic position on Israel's southern front.

The change stems from the fact that, unlike his predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who tried-and failed-to lead the Arab world, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat has chosen to consider Egyptian interests first, although like Nasser he remains highly conscious of the extraordinary potential of Egypt, its political, intellectual and strategic importance at the center of the Arab world. In his speech to the Israeli Knesset in November 1977, Sadat insisted on two essential claims: that Israel must respect the territorial integrity of the Arab states, and that it must address itself to the righting of Palestinian wrongs. After 16 months of tortuous negotiations, the peace treaty still contains both of those fundamental claims, however modified the form.

Israel is still militarily, economically and diplomatically dependent on the United States. Although Israel has done much in recent years to decrease its military dependence on American supplies, other sources of dependence have not lessened. The signing of the peace treaty has in fact strengthened them, through American aid and the heavy claims that will be made on American funds and civil engineering resources in the gigantic task of relocating Israel's defense forces from the Sinai Peninsula to the Negev Desert.

The personalities of Sadat and Begin contributed incalculably to the achievement of the treaty. But even if one or the other of them should become incapacitated or should die before the Palestinian question is resolved, the work would go on, for the momentum behind the process is more historical than personal. A change in the style of leadership would make very little difference, for the path is charted ahead.


The negotiations, of course, will begin with each party's maximum demands, each containing a healthy measure of regard for domestic political pressure-but they will be guided by a set of minimum demands that must be satisfied before agreement can be reached. These demands center around five crucial questions which define the nature of the future autonomy of the West Bank and, to a lesser extent, of Gaza:

1. Who is to control the population of the regions, and how is that population to be composed?

2. Who is to own the territory of the West Bank and Gaza?

3. What sort of government will the new regions possess, and who will be permitted to form this regime?

4. Who will police the regions, and how will the security of Israel and Israelis be guaranteed in them?

5. How will the boundaries of these regions be decided, and who will negotiate on this issue?

These five issues-population, territory, regime, security and boundaries-are woven throughout the conflicting sets of Egyptian and Israeli minimum demands, and they will condition the responses of the United States, the PLO and the rest of the Arab world to whatever emerges.

The Begin plan for West Bank autonomy sets forth certain principles of Palestinian self-rule that (though disputed by Sadat at Camp David) are still Israel's iron laws for future negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs. The autonomy annex to the peace treaty neither confirms nor denies these principles, which are based on three linked strategic aims: the guarantee of security, the principle of settlement, and the "open bridges" concept, also now called "no boundaries."

Begin's desired arrangements for the autonomous areas are incorporated in the unpublished Ben Ellisar report of the joint committee of the directors general of the Likud government's ministers, headed by Begin's chief of staff, Eliahu Ben Ellisar. This report is already setting the tone of the Israeli conception of autonomy. The principle of the Ben Ellisar plan-about which Minister for Foreign Affairs Moshe Dayan has expressed reservations-is to establish an effective Israeli presence in the unsettled and militarily vulnerable mountain areas, as well as to preserve elements of Israeli sovereign rule in the autonomous areas. This is, in essence, a Transkei policy. Israeli settlement and military bases would encircle the most populated Arab areas, and the scheme would establish Israeli jurisdiction for Jewish settlements and for all matters affecting the Jewish populations in the autonomous self-governing areas.

The purpose of the plan is to make certain that the self-governing authority does not develop the potential moral and political clout to impose an independent Palestinian state on Israel. Further, the Jewish settlements would create new boundaries between Israel and Palestine at the end of the interim period.

So, as the negotiations continue, Israel will create political facts in the area by continuing its settlement policy despite unfavorable world publicity and American and Egyptian protests. This strategy will be partly influenced by the pressures of Israeli public opinion and a tacit rejectionist alliance in domestic Israeli politics.1 Although Prime Minister Menachem Begin chooses to embellish his firm intention of continuing the settlement policy with the rhetoric of a religious manifest destiny to which most of his fellow citizens no longer subscribe, this should not blind us to the broad public support for the policy itself, for Begin's determination to reduce the autonomy clauses to a cipher in this way reflects, not the outdated prejudices of a zealot, but the deepest desires of the Israeli nation.

Israel's longing for peace, so marked at the time of President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem only 16 months ago, became transformed, as the endless negotiations wore on, into a longing for peace on Israel's terms. It is clear that the Israeli public deeply desires peace with Egypt-but it is also clear that it does not want to make the concessions necessary for the general Arab-Israeli settlement that Sadat originally hoped for, and still pretends he has achieved.

The gap between the Israeli public's attitude and the hopes of the Egyptians has been vividly illustrated by the parliamentary hostility to concessions Begin has had to face all through the negotiations-not simply from his own hard-line back-benchers, but from politicians right across the (extremely limited) Israeli political spectrum.

After the ratification of the peace treaty, for example, Dayan promised that the seat of the military government of Gaza would be moved outside the city limits, and that political prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza, presently held in administrative detention, would be freed. At the same time, the government rejected two far more significant concessions requested by the Egyptians-the legalizing of political activities in the occupied territories and the lifting of censorship, and the introduction of freedom of movement. Despite these stern refusals, and Dayan's assurances that the freeing of the prisoners would not have been promised if there had been any danger to state security, there was much opposition to these two steps from members of the majority parties.

This episode, trivial in itself, illustrates the nature of likely future Israeli concessions: the substance always refused, the appearance conceded, but only after fierce domestic political struggles. From the Israelis' point of view, if they can gather the advantages of peace with Egypt without opening up the West Bank and Gaza as bases for the PLO, they will have achieved a stunning strategic coup.

The power of domestic political criticism is never far from Begin's mind, as he continues to run a potentially explosive government coalition. Hence his decision to attempt to defuse such criticism, from outsiders as well as from coalition members, by appointing a seven-member cabinet Autonomy Committee to oversee the performance of the negotiating team (Begin, Weizman, and Dayan). Significantly, the chairman of this committee is to be Dr. Yoseph Burg, the moderate National Religious Party Minister of the Interior.

Despite these pressures, one compromise-made under heavy American pressure and a desire to enhance the progress of normalization with Egypt-can be fairly confidently predicted. This would be Israeli consent to open elections, supervised by the parties to the treaty or by the United Nations. The treaty does not describe the way in which the elections should be conducted, so Israel can probably treat a willingness to allow all comers to enter as a concession.

Throughout the negotiations, Israel will play upon its deep concern for security, which will be used to establish Israeli military control over the governing authority in matters of terrorism and security. This would provide powerful leverage over a weak administrative authority. To buttress these claims, Israel will point to the Camp David Agreements (Section A, West Bank and Gaza, paragraph (a)). "These new arrangements," says the accord, "should give due consideration . . . to the legitimate security concerns of the parties involved." Israel will interpret "legitimate security" in ways that will give it the control over West Bank security which it seeks.

Anwar Sadat's response to Israeli negotiating tactics will be conditioned by his minimum demands, and by his genuine moral commitment to the Palestinian cause. Much has been written about how Sadat betrayed the Palestinians and agreed to a simple bilateral Israeli-Egyptian settlement to recover his lost territory. This view inaccurately treats the Palestinian pages of the peace treaty as a disingenuous device to cover Sadat's ungraceful jettisoning of his Palestinian responsibilities. But for Egypt, the self-governing authority is a true state-in-the-making. Sadat made clear at Camp David that he is committed to the principle of linking an Egyptian-Israeli peace to a satisfactory future for the Palestinians.

Sadat will thus start off in the negotiations by asking for most of the trappings of sovereignty for the new authority: elections, parties, free assembly, foreign policy, authority over land, people, and resources. The agreement that covers the interim period should take as given the emergence of an independent Arab Palestine at the end of the period.

An attempt to schematize the two main negotiating parties' minimum and maximum demands might look something like the following.

On the issue of the population of the regions, Israel's maximum demand is that the administrative authority should be deprived of all properties of sovereignty over the inhabitants of the area until boundaries are settled five years after the election. In principle, Israel will oppose the acceptance of a Palestinian right of return; in practice, it will accept the return of perhaps 100,000 to 150,000 Palestinians from abroad. Israel will demand a link in legal jurisdiction between Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria and the Israeli state. In other words, it will insist on extraterritoriality of Jewish settlements and extraterritorial rights for Israeli citizens anywhere within the region. As a corollary, no restrictions will be accepted on the movement of Palestinians and Israelis between the self-governing authority and Israel.

Egypt's maximum demand on population is for total control of all the population, Israeli and Arab, by the new authority; as a minimum, Egypt would insist on theoretical control by the authority, but would accept a measure of practical Israeli control in the interests of security. A Palestinian right of return is a theoretical minimum for Egypt, but this demand, forced on Egypt's negotiators by the need to placate the Palestinians, is not one for which they have much enthusiasm.

On the issue of territory, the main bone of contention is the Israeli settlements. Israel's maximum demand is for the continued right to increase settlements, and extraterritorial rights for settlers. This will include the right of unlimited land purchase. Above all, Israel will reject the evacuation or dismantling of Jewish settlements on Arab land.

Egypt objects to Israeli settlement of the occupied or autonomous territories, but will not insist in the end, as it did over Sinai, that Israel immediately evacuate and dismantle its settlements. This, Egypt will argue, would be a matter for the self-governing authority and its successor, the future Palestinian state, to negotiate with Israel. In the meantime, there should be an immediate end to the policy of building fresh settlements. This last demand is likely to prove one of the most contentious issues in the early stages of the talks. Another minimum demand will be for existing settlements to come under Palestinian authority.

The regime of the new autonomous regions brings out the dispute about the statehood of the areas. Israel has no real maximum demand; its minimum demand is simply that the administrative agency should be an Arab National Committee, with no trappings of sovereignty, until borders are settled. Egypt has no fixed maximum demand in this regard either, but will try to get as many properties of sovereignty attached to the new self-governing authority as soon as possible. (It will be pressed especially hard here by Palestinian politicians keen to avoid an unworkable state.)

On the issue of security, one can expect a consistent Israeli attempt to separate the promised sovereignty of the new self-governing authority from the role of the security policeman in its own territory. More specifically, the area governed by the Palestinian self-governing authority and by its unknown successor would be demilitarized. No Arab or foreign troops could be deployed west of the river Jordan. Any such development would mean the end of Israel's tolerance of the regime's autonomy. After withdrawal, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) would be deployed in assigned, guaranteed enclaves-probably in the strategic mountains facing the Jordan on the east and the Mediterranean in the west. This would have the additional advantage of providing Israel with a "mark of sovereignty," which the government is determined to retain on the West Bank, in however vestigial a form.

At the same time, the IDF would (both independently and in collaboration with the new Palestinian police force) secure the area from terrorism and guerrilla activity sponsored by Palestinian and Arab rejectionists. Israel will demand the right to deal with this violence, for its ultimate target would be the state of Israel itself. To achieve this, IDF and Palestinian police would be controlled by the Israelis; and in the case of Gaza, by joint Israeli-Egyptian control. Minimum demands would probably involve some complex policing arrangement on the West Bank, possibly involving the United Nations, which would blur the fact of practical Israeli control.

Egypt's maximum demand is for the total withdrawal of Israeli forces everywhere during the second phase, and, in phase one, the overall control by the United Nations on the West Bank. It will insist that no foreign troops be permanently stationed in the area; this will include Israelis, Arab rejectionists, Soviet troops, or Cubans. In Gaza, Egypt wants to control a joint Egyptian-Israeli-United Nations-Palestinian police force from the beginning of the first stage. As its minimum demand, Egypt will continue to insist on Israeli withdrawal by the end of the second phase, but will probably, like Israel, be willing to blur the issue of police control on the West Bank by setting up an ambiguously worded joint policing operation.

On the issue of how the boundaries of the new regions will be defined, Israel will help ensure that the potential for true sovereignty will not emerge in the West Bank and Gaza through its basic demand that it will only negotiate with an established Arab state five years after the elections. The West Bank talks would therefore take place with Jordan; the Gaza talks with Egypt. This was stated unequivocally by Dayan on April 18, 1979, when he said, "Autonomy is not a state. If the administrative authority declares itself a state, the autonomy becomes null and void. . . . We negotiate only with sovereign states. The autonomy is only an Arab Palestinian national committee."2

Egypt sees little room for negotiation on this issue-its basic demand is that the self-governing authority should negotiate its own boundaries with Israel. This blank disagreement will probably be resolved-as it was in the peace treaty-by leaving the issue open, at least until it is clear whether or not the new authorities will be ones with whom Israel can practically negotiate.

On the five central issues listed above, the United States will largely follow Egyptian demands. It expects total Israeli withdrawal from the territory after the elections in 1980 with the exception of IDF enclaves, and will recommend joint Arab-Israeli-Palestinian security arrangements. The United States will not accept Israeli demands for extraterritoriality, and it will try to get Israel to call a moratorium on settlements. It will, however, go some way toward meeting Israel's demands by agreeing to those Israeli claims that relate strictly to the need to control threats from terrorists and guerrillas. The United States will not press, in this first phase of talks, for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, but it will insist that the new authority possess some elements of sovereignty from the start, and will press for a special status for Jerusalem.

Sadat will have considerable problems, as the above analysis shows, in attaining even his minimum position in the face of Israeli intransigence. The maximum aim, therefore, is even less likely to emerge. But the major obstacle to Egypt's goal may prove to be the Palestinians themselves.

Although the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza could be represented as a party, and the Egyptian and Jordanian delegations (should the latter materialize) could include Palestinians, the major representative of the Arab Palestinian people, the Palestine Liberation Organization, has not been invited, and is categorically excluded by the Israelis. PLO sympathizers may be overlooked, as Begin and Dayan have indicated, but an official PLO presence is unacceptable to Israel.

Those Palestinian Arabs willing to take part in the negotiations will emphasize the importance of a guarantee of total Israeli military withdrawal, a moratorium on Israeli settlements, full sovereign rights for the new authority, a legislative assembly, an executive power, a minimal military-police force to be used mainly against terrorism, an independent foreign policy, and diplomatic relations with all Arab states, including the Baghdad bloc. Above all, they will demand an unrestricted right of Palestinian return to the homeland.

Sadat and the United States can only implore the Palestinians, the PLO, the Baghdad states, and the moderate Arabs to facilitate the process of self-government. But if the PLO and its rejectionist allies remain adamantly opposed to negotiating by proxy, as seems likely, then the best chance for any Palestinians who wish to join in the talks would be to appear as members of the Egyptian delegation, where they would have the support of the United States and would avoid infringing on the Rabat Arab summit declaration which named the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.

Since the Gaza Palestinians are more independently minded than the Palestinians on the West Bank, and Gaza poses less of a strategic, historical and religious problem for Israel, the first stage in the talks will probably be between Egypt, Israel and Gaza Palestinians, supported by the United States. These talks will aim at producing a self-governing authority in Gaza that would serve as a model for an eventual West Bank authority which would challenge the PLO's stranglehold as Palestinian representative.

This may be precisely what Egypt and Israel have in mind. Because this could be a likely outcome, Begin and Dayan accepted Egypt's "special relationship" with Gaza, though they successfully opposed an Egyptian military-administrative presence there. The strategy could mark a crucial turning point for the PLO, to whose dilemma we now turn.


The PLO has undergone considerable change since its inception in 1956 as a miniscule group of Gaza terrorists. It is now a well-established political structure, legitimized in 1974 by the Arab states in Rabat, and recognized by over a hundred U.N. members. It represents the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people, and has become the essence of pan-Arabism-the Arab holy cause.

The Camp David accords and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty conspicuously ignored the PLO. For its part, the PLO vehemently opposed the process that culminated in these agreements, refusing to join in Sadat's Cairo conference in November-December 1977.

Although officially committed to the total liberation of Palestine (first, the West Bank and Gaza; next, Israel proper; finally, probably Jordan and parts of Lebanon), the political realism of PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat and a group of moderates that surround him has considerably modified the PLO's maximalist claim for the establishment of a democratic Jewish-Christian-Muslim state.

The PLO leadership now seems ready, I believe, to accept half a loaf: an independent PLO state in the West Bank and Gaza plus the Hamma region in northeast Israel, the crossroads between Syria, Jordan and Israel. While adhering to maximalist ideological aspirations, the PLO is ready to turn to a "phased strategy," that is, it would consent to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, not in exchange for recognition or for ending the war with Israel, but as a first step in the eventual realization of the ultimate goal of the liberation of all Palestine.

The "phased strategy," however, means compressing Israel's size to the 1947 boundaries. This is a practical PLO demand, as was the demand to participate in the Geneva Conference, but not on the basis of U.N. Resolution 242, which recognizes the Palestinians only as "refugees."

Whatever the potentially pragmatic policies of the PLO's best-known leaders, the organization may well find itself unable to act with sufficient pragmatism. The PLO's very structure works against flexibility.

An executive committee composed of 12 to 14 federated fedayeen groups, the PLO has no real executive and political authority, for true power still resides within each fedayeen group. The 260 delegates of the only representative body, the Palestine National Council (PNC), are not chosen by the PLO or the membership but by the fedayeen groups, making it an ad hoc parliament of federated but autonomous groups.

The Palestine National Council is neither a legislative body nor an executive, but a sort of constituent assembly that meets infrequently; resolutions agreed upon by the PNC cannot be revoked, amended or changed until the next PNC conference. The absence of a mechanism to modify resolutions more expeditiously tends to further rigidify the PLO, weaken its moderate factions, and strengthen the smaller and more rejectionist groups. Although the majority of the fedayeen groups take a fairly moderate position, the extremists dominate because of their sizable influence in the PLO's military and guerrilla organization. Experience has shown the PLO that if they don't all hang together (as was the case before 1968), they will all be hanged separately. Disparate groups have thus been bound together, but only at the cost of becoming identified with a radical, extremist rigidity.

In order for the PLO to participate in the negotiations-actively, if not openly-it must recognize Israel, or at least U.N. Resolution 242. This would mean convening a special PNC conference. A similar, but abortive attempt was made in the Cairo PNC conference in March 1977, when the United States unsuccessfully urged the PLO to modify its position, or at least to recognize Resolution 242. By the time Sadat went to Jerusalem, in November of that year, PLO-U.S. relations were deadlocked. After the peace treaty and the Baghdad resolutions of March 1979 condemning the treaty, it seems improbable that the PLO, or its allies Syria and Iraq, will be receptive to the same American overtures that came to naught in 1977.

The PLO will certainly not change its stance, at least not until the elections to the self-governing authority have been held, which cannot happen before the latter part of 1980. In the meantime, the PLO will almost certainly settle for attempts to sabotage the negotiations by the use of terror in Israel and Egypt, and will try to restrain the West Bank Palestinians by intimidation from joining the Arab delegations to the negotiations over autonomy. The PLO will also try to mobilize Arab radical nations and oil states (e.g., Kuwait and possibly Saudi Arabia) against autonomy.

However, the PLO may recommend that its sympathizers vote in the elections. A similar strategy was followed in the West Bank elections in 1976, and with considerable success. This time the PLO would again be hoping for an overwhelming electoral victory among West Bank Palestinians. But once its sympathizers dominate the autonomous administration, especially if Egypt and the United States secure elements of real sovereignty for the new authority, the PLO will find its former front-men much more difficult to handle. Serious political struggles between the PLO and its sympathizers, possibly even spilling over into violence, can be expected, once the latter achieve autonomy.

The chances are that U.S. efforts to persuade the PLO to modify its charter and its course, at least during the first phase of negotiations, are bound to founder. Nonetheless, the United States will be hoping that, by acting on behalf of either the West Bank Palestinians or the PLO in the negotiations, it will be able to swing the balance within the PLO toward the moderates. The United States will undoubtedly intensify its contacts with the PLO and the West Bank Palestinians to persuade them to grant the United States or another American-sponsored combination (with Egypt or the United Nations) enough authority to wage a diplomatic battle on behalf of the Palestinian cause.

American strategists will emphasize the events of 1976, when the PLO appeared ready to modify maximalist positions. In November of that year, Faruq al-Qaddumi, the head of the PLO's political department (or "foreign minister"), hinted that the PLO might give some kind of recognition to Israel, and Yassir Arafat said that a unified Palestine "is my dream," but "we are prepared to establish an independent regime in any territory that we liberate or from which Israel withdraws." President Carter's positive response, calling for the resumption of the Geneva Conference and for a "Palestinian homeland," eased negotiations with the PLO. Both Carter and President Assad of Syria were convinced that they were close to persuading the PLO to go to Geneva and accept Resolution 242. But the arrival of the Begin government, the collapse of Geneva, and the chorus of Arab outrage (led by the PLO) when Sadat went to Jerusalem-all helped to harden the PLO moderates against their earlier shift toward pragmatism.

Despite gloomy prospects for success, American policymakers are convinced that an effort to get the PLO to accept the United States as its representative is worth attempting. A first step would be for the United States to disentangle itself from former Secretary of State Kissinger's written commitment made to Prime Minister Rabin's government during the Sinai II disengagement agreement that the United States would never negotiate with the PLO until the latter recognized Israel and its 1967 borders. Once the United States dissolves this agreement, the road will open to closer and more trustworthy U.S.-PLO relations. But whether this would be enough to get the tacit support of the PLO for the negotiations over autonomy remains to be seen-and the outlook is not favorable.


Moderate PLO leaders would, in any case, be trapped by their allies, the Iraqi and Syrian rulers, whose main objectives are to halt the peace process, isolate and weaken Egypt, and keep Jordan firmly in their own camp. Iraq and Syria need each other, despite the historical enmity between the two ruling Baath parties, because they are both worried about the ramifications of the Iranian revolution, and because they need to fill the Egyptian military vacuum. The Iraqis in particular are keen to threaten by political or even military means the peace process so advantageous to their implacable foes, Israel and Egypt. Yet if the Baghdad bloc fails to demonstrate its political strength now, it may lose leverage over Arab politicians in years to come.

Nevertheless, the arguments are not all on one side. Terrorism may be all very well as an expedient for an extremist group like the PLO, but established states like Iraq, Syria or Jordan have their own national interests which may not be equally affected by the Egyptian-Israeli rapprochement. The only truly unregenerate rejectionists are Libya and possibly Iraq. Syria and Jordan form a more moderate group, while Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are hardly members of either of the fronts.

Egypt, Israel and the United States should treat each state according to the practical limits on its goals. Syria, for example, might well make practical gains by separating itself from the Baghdad front and beginning its own peace negotiations with Israel on the Egyptian model. The rewards would be an almost total Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, stabilization of Syria's dangerously exposed position in Lebanon through a tacit Israeli-Syrian arrangement, and possibly even the Syrian patronage over the West Bank Palestinians that Assad asked from Carter at their April 1977 meeting in Geneva. By contrast, if Syria stays with the rejectionist front, it runs the risk of being trapped by PLO and Iraqi ambitions.

Iraq hopes to lead a polarized rejectionist Arab world that would be reluctantly reoriented toward its leadership. But if Israel fulfills its pledges under the Egyptian peace treaty, then Iraq may suffer a political setback, and perhaps a military defeat into the bargain. A successful conclusion to the first phase of negotiations would leave Iraq without real influence on the development of the second stage. Both Syria and Iraq (and along with them a reluctant Jordan) appear to be gambling on becoming once more the radical Arab Fertile Crescent that they tried to become in the 1960s. If the elections take place, and phase two of the negotiations gets properly underway, the gamble may prove to be an unhappy one.

For Jordan, the options are limited. Since the Rabat conference in 1974, it no longer represents the Palestinians. The 1976 West Bank elections, in which PLO sympathizers won the mayoralty elections, ended any chance for a return of the area to Hashemite rule. Now Israel's Labor Party is in the opposition and its Jordanian-Palestinian solution has been replaced by Begin's autonomy plan. Jordan thus stands to lose an element of sovereignty over the West Bank to the new self-governing authority.

It has little to gain from the peace treaty and nothing to gain from the autonomy scheme. Yet Jordan could be squeezed between Syria and Iraq on the one hand, and Israel on the other. It might still have a chance at an independent role by acting as another party to the negotiations. But the Jordanian decision to oppose the treaty seems likely to cost the Hashemites some of their political independence. Dependent on Syria, on Iraq or on both, squeezed once more between the PLO and Israel, Jordan could once more become a target of Israeli retaliation against the PLO, as has Lebanon. Jordan's foreign policy must always be that of a weak state seeking allies and patrons. This time the Jordanians hope they have joined the winners in the Arab world. But their powerful new allies, Syria and Iraq, will be hard to escape, for they will certainly exact retribution if Jordan chooses to return to the moderate Arab fold.

The pressures within the rejectionist front seem likely to produce, at the very least, fresh military tensions along Israel's northern borders. If Syria and Jordan choose to ignore the appeal to their underlying interests presented by a role in the negotiations, they will have to join Iraq in hoping for a rapid collapse of the peace process. All the usual signs of heightened military activity are likely to follow-border skirmishes, cross-border raids by the PLO, stray aircraft shot down, and so on.

Ironically, one of the most likely triggers for such military tension would be a successful American diplomatic effort to bring moderate Palestinians into the self-governing agreement, and to modify Israel's maximalist ambitions. In such circumstances, with the hope of a collapse of the peace process fading, Syria and Iraq might feel pushed into trying to destroy the negotiations by limited military means.

One possible counterforce should not be overlooked: the role of American aid. The billions of dollars in American military and economic assistance, and the American promise to serve as guardian of the peace in a region destabilized by the events in Iran and Afghanistan, could provide temptations even for the rejectionists. A "Marshall Plan" for the Middle East would be a big carrot, but American offers of aid would certainly be greeted with skepticism until congressional approval was assured.


The outcome of the initial phase of negotiations is, needless to say, difficult to forecast. Past successes and the presence of the United States as a partner nonetheless give cause for optimism. The minimum positions of Egypt and Israel, while in conflict, allow scope for a compromise solution to emerge, based in part on the mutually beneficial vagueness which allows both sides to claim victory, and which played an important role in the achievement of the Camp David accords and the peace treaty.

That compromise would emerge in the first quarter of 1980. It would involve wide autonomy for the Palestinians under two simultaneously erected authorities: one agreed to essentially by the Egyptians and Israelis, on their own, in Gaza; a second, far more difficult to agree upon, involving not only these two negotiating partners but the United States and the Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank. This solution will curtail and heavily restrict (but not dismantle) Jewish settlements, leave borders open, and produce joint Egyptian-Israeli security control in Gaza and Israeli maintenance of West Bank security, perhaps with the aid of an interim U.N. force until Jordan chooses to join in or until West Bank Palestinians achieve autonomy five years after the elections.

Such a compromise would avoid defining the type of regime that would emerge in five years' time. Boundaries and sovereign rights of the self-governing authority are not expected to be drawn till 1985. The development of the self-governing authority would not be laid down in advance by the negotiators, but would rather evolve after the elections, and will be heavily influenced by the fact that the PLO may decide, as in 1976, to enter the elections with a slate of sympathizers.

A victory by those sympathizers would pose dilemmas both for Israel and for the PLO. Opposition forces in Israel will see a victory by PLO sympathizers as a reason for abrogating the rights granted to the West Bank, while the PLO will face the reluctance of its sympathizers to use their posts simply as a platform for maximalist PLO propaganda.

The ultimate shape taken by Palestinian self-determination and the extent to which it acquires, in the face of Israeli hostility, the elements of statehood, will depend on the political and diplomatic skills of those Palestinians living in the occupied territories who decide that half a loaf is a realistic goal. Israel, as a neighbor and an intimately involved partner, will still dominate Arab Palestine, and the key to the formation of an independent Palestine will lie with the Israelis. Nothing can replace the Palestinians' ability to assure Israel of future good-neighborliness. Israel will be counting on the latent hostility between the West Bank Palestinians and the PLO to contain the PLO's "phased strategy" leading to a complete territorial takeover of the whole of Palestine.

An early and relatively painless agreement would set an important precedent for the West Bank. Egypt and Israel both agree that there must be an end to Palestinian terrorism, and that without security for Israel there is no security for Egypt. These principles can be realized in Gaza with relative ease, not least because of the simple reason that the area is sandwiched between Egypt and Israel. The West Bank, by contrast, is not physically attached to Egypt, has no historical links with it, and borders on Jordan.

Egypt has historically controlled Gaza, and the pro-Egyptian faction among the Gaza Palestinians is dominant. From Israel's point of view, Gaza is not part of Eretz Israel, that is, the nation of Israel. There are also fewer settlements there than on the West Bank, and no problem of the complexity of what to do with Jerusalem. Finally, for both sides, the area is an extension of the Sinai, from which both can invade the other. Hence the demilitarization of an autonomous Gaza is important-and once a credible compromise is achieved for the area, the chances of reaching an analogous arrangement for the West Bank will rise.

Gaza is important for the United States, too. A temporary separation of Gaza from the West Bank would alienate the PLO, but realism may dictate that such a solution be accepted for phase one of the process. The United States will insist thereafter on incorporating properties of sovereignty in both Gaza and the West Bank, thereby keeping the integrity of the Palestinian mini-state as intact as possible. The United States will also work to ensure, during the first phase of the negotiations-and certainly during the second-that Jordan enters the peacemaking process. Moreover, the Baghdad challenge will continue to grow in 1980, and the United States will have to play an important role in reducing such a threat.


The United States must not follow an unworkable policy of trying to achieve grand multilateral and overall solutions. U.S. diplomacy should be persistent, clearly backed by the exercise of presidential authority, and most important, directed toward bilateral solutions. Dogged presidential determination, and above all a bilateral phase-by-phase approach leading to the construction of a set of negotiating procedures and assumptions, will still prove to be the most satisfactory American negotiating strategy.

The stakes are high and the risks are evident. But the success of the process so far, and the creation of that momentum of negotiation which helps to establish a presumption of success, may yet prevail.


2 Ma'ariv (Tel Aviv), April 19, 1979.

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