Defense In Depth
Why U.S. Security Depends on Alliances—Now More Than Ever
A veteran of Middle East negotiations recently said to me: "Trying to help Israel find the way to peace is like pushing a bicycle out of the path of an approaching train while the boy riding it frantically back-pedals."
The metaphor reflects the dangers of the current situation but does not explain them. A major contributing cause is the excessively ingrown and convoluted relations between Israel and the United States. Over the last 30 years these relations have evolved to the point where Israel is more dependent on the United States than ever, and yet feels itself free to take hard-line positions at variance with American views without fear of anything worse than verbal admonition from Washington. The result is to encourage Israeli positions and actions that cannot be in the long-term interest of Israel itself, and to deprive the United States in practice of freedom of diplomatic action on issues that deeply affect its national interest.
The state of the relationship between the two countries has been uneasy for some years. It is now approaching a crisis state, and unless American-Israeli relations are radically redefined-either in a closer or looser direction-the search for an Arab-Israeli peace will be completely thwarted and the interests of both nations increasingly jeopardized.
How did we get into the present situation of "dependence without responsibility"? What can we learn from the past? And, above all, what is the American national interest in the present situation, and how can our support of Israel, and our relationship with Israel, be brought into line with that national interest?
To those familiar only with the period since 1967, it may come as a surprise that for nearly 20 years the relations between Israel and the United States were far from being as intricately intertwined as they have become since. Until 1956, America treated Israel not much differently from other friendly states. The rapid decision to recognize Israel in 1948, 11 minutes after Israel had proclaimed statehood, had been made by President Truman against the judgment of others in his government, and when, in Israel's first war, the Arabs promptly attacked the new state, the United States used United Nations machinery to bring about separate armistice agreements between Israel and the four belligerent Arab states, in 1949.
Four years later, Secretary of State Dulles directed the main thrust of his Middle East diplomacy at building a tier of defenses against the Soviet Union. To avoid prejudice to our larger Middle Eastern interests, he refused to provide arms to Israel. The guiding principle of our military assistance in the Middle East-expressed for a time in a tripartite agreement with Britain and France, signed in 1950-was to maintain an arms balance. We took no action to facilitate Israel's armament program until May 1956, when the State Department relinquished NATO priority over French military equipment to permit its diversion to Israel.
On October 29, 1956, Israel attacked Egypt in collaboration with the misbegotten Suez adventure of the French and British. Israeli forces swept across the Sinai Desert. Though America forced a cease-fire through U.N. action and insisted that all parties withdraw, Israel still sought to retain the new lands won by military conquest. On November 7, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion declared in the Knesset that, since Sinai was historically a part of Israel, Israel could not properly be said to have invaded Egypt and that the 1949 armistice agreements and the boundaries they defined were "dead and buried and will never be resurrected." Though such language anticipated that used two decades later by Prime Minister Begin with regard to the West Bank, President Eisenhower reacted far more strongly than have any of his successors, declaring unequivocally that if Israel refused to withdraw from those territories, it would "impair the friendly cooperation between our two countries." Prime Minister Ben-Gurion fell back grudgingly, withdrawing from most of the Sinai but standing fast on Gaza and Sharm-el-Shaikh.
Even though the American Jewish community strongly pressed Israel's case in Washington, Eisenhower was in no mood for haggling. If Ben-Gurion continued intransigent, the President made clear that he would not only suspend public sector assistance to Israel but would also eliminate the extraordinary tax credits and other administrative actions that facilitated private sector assistance. Although the American Jewish community had enlisted the support of such powerful figures as the Senate Majority Leader, Lyndon Johnson, and the Senate Minority Leader, William Knowland, Eisenhower told the American people in a television speech that "if the United Nations once admits that international disputes can be settled by using force, 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 withdrawal resolutions." Faced with that iron pronouncement, Ben-Gurion angrily yielded on March 1, and the last Israeli soldiers left the Sinai Peninsula on March 16, 1957.
That was the last time the United States ever took, and persisted in, forceful action against the strong wishes of an Israeli government. Alarmed by the implications of Eisenhower's action, American Jewish leaders thereafter set out to build one of Washington's most effective lobbies, which now works in close cooperation with the Israeli Embassy.
Though it is not the purpose of this article to discuss the detailed operations of that highly successful lobby, its activities cannot be ignored in any discussion of United States relations with Israel. They exert a strong and continuing influence on those relations, contributing in a major way to the constrictions imposed on American freedom of diplomatic action toward Israel. Not only do Israel's American supporters have powerful influence with many members of the Congress, but practically no actions touching Israel's interests can be taken, or even discussed, within the executive branch without it being quickly known to the Israeli government. Whenever actions are even contemplated that might conflict with Israeli policy, emissaries are promptly dispatched from Jerusalem to urge members of Congress to make known their displeasure.
I write this more in admiration than criticism. No matter how well organized the Israeli lobby might be, it would be ineffective were it not for the deep sympathy for Israel that pervades American opinion-a reaction compounded not only by grief at the Holocaust but admiration for the brilliance, courage and resourcefulness of the Israeli people.
That sympathy is reinforced by the fact that, more than most Americans, our Jewish population is admirably civic-minded, contributing, to a degree quite incommensurate with their number, not merely to the financing but also to the exhausting practice of politics. As a group, Jewish people care deeply about our country's policies, work harder, more effectively and more idealistically than others in political campaigns and on congressional staffs and contribute generously of their time and wealth. In addition, they are, of course, extraordinarily talented and articulate, enriching American literature, music and the arts, and playing a major role in American media.
Still, it took some years for Israel to develop a strong political hold in Washington and during that time it had to depend extensively on other sources of help and supply. For a substantial period beginning in the mid-1950s, France provided the bulk of Israel's military equipment in furtherance of a policy that sought, through the arming of Israel, to exert pressure on Egyptian President Nasser and discourage him from helping the Algerian rebels. Through her friendship with France, Israel was able to arrange many projects of economic, technical, political, cultural and scientific cooperation-including a 22-megawatt nuclear reactor at Dimona which may greatly have assisted the building of the small nuclear arsenal that, in the view of the CIA, Israel now possesses. The French aid channel, however, did not long endure. Once General de Gaulle had settled the Algerian conflict in 1962, he turned his attention from colonies to oil, deliberately cultivating the Arab states and, after the 1967 War, halting the flow of arms to Israel.
Well before its relations with France had begun to loosen, Israel had grown closer to America. The Suez affair had largely destroyed Britain's Middle East position, leaving the United States to carry the burden of defending Western interests throughout the area. Since Nasser had turned to the Soviets for arms, Secretary Dulles had written him off as beyond redemption, while, at the same time, shifting American policy toward strengthening Israel against possible Arab encroachments. Adopting de Gaulle's earlier strategy for his own purposes, Dulles decided that a strong Israel could, by holding down the bulk of Egypt's armed forces, restrict Nasser's freedom of action.
The election of President Kennedy in 1960 greatly strengthened America's ties to Israel. When Nasser began to arm Egypt further in connection with the Yemen War, Kennedy inaugurated a new phase in Israeli-American relations by publicly approving Israel's purchase of Hawk surface-to-air missiles. In 1963, he told Foreign Minister Golda Meir in Washington that the United States viewed Israel as an ally, though that alliance has never been confirmed by treaty.
Spurred on by the growing political influence of pro-Israel organizations, the consolidation of relations continued into President Johnson's era. Wishing to offset the increasing armaments Egypt and other Arab states were receiving from the Soviet Union, President Johnson continued and extended a policy of rectifying the military balance between Israel and the totality of Arab states. He agreed to provide Israel for the first time with offensive weapons-large quantities of tanks and fighter bombers-and not merely the defensive equipment previous administrations had authorized. And the United States became Israel's sole source of arms, as well as the most important contributor of economic and financial assistance, both public and private.
But, though by now the United States constantly spoke of Israel as its "ally," Israel rejected the practice of consultation that an alliance relationship normally involves, fiercely insisting on its freedom of decision and action. The events of the spring of 1967 leading up to the Six-Day War highlighted the difficulties of the relationship, on both sides. There is evidence that, in the face of Nasser's buildup and the activity of Palestinian fedayeen from Egypt, Israel was looking for an excuse for preemptive action. But equally there can be no question that Nasser forced the issue by recklessly marching troops into the Sinai, requesting the withdrawal of the U.N. peacekeeping force there, and finally closing the Gulf of Aqaba (which was Israel's lifeline) not only to Israeli ships but to all ships carrying "strategic material" to Israel.
In response to these developments, America, in Israel's view, failed to act quickly enough to fulfill the promise implied in statements made by Secretary Dulles in 1956, during the sweeping up after Suez. In order to persuade Ben-Gurion to accept Israeli withdrawal from Sharm-el-Shaikh, Dulles had told him that, since the Gulf of Aqaba comprehended "international waters," the United States was prepared, on behalf of American registry vessels, to exercise the right of free and innocent passage "and to join with others to secure general recognition of this right." Though that language was less than a commitment to secure Israel's rights, the Israeli government tended to regard it as such, and considered America's diplomatic efforts in this direction too slow. Thus, Israel went ahead on its own and launched the war-just on the day before the American Vice President was to arrive in Cairo and Egypt's Vice President was to arrive in Washington. As had occurred in 1956, the United States was caught off guard quite as much as the Arabs by Israel's attack. Israel, for its part, not only felt vindicated by the triumphant outcome of the war but confirmed in the belief that only independent Israeli judgments and actions could assure its security.
Among other army units that entered the combat this time were Jordan's, for, on May 30, 1967, King Hussein of Jordan had visited Cairo and signed a treaty of joint defense there, placing his armed forces under Egyptian command in time of war. For Hussein-and, indeed, for future world peace-that proved a disastrous mistake; though Jordan's forces were easily repulsed by the Israelis, their involvement in the 1967 War provided Israel the occasion to seize East Jerusalem and occupy the West Bank, where its forces have been ever since. In addition, Israel vastly increased the territory under its control by occupying the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the whole of the Sinai Peninsula all the way to the Suez Canal. Though the Sinai was an empty desert and few lived on the tiny acreage of the Golan Heights, occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip imposed the Israeli Army on what are now more than 1,200,000 Palestinians, while driving out others in a second Palestinian diaspora.
At the time, the Johnson Administration, deeply preoccupied by the struggle in Vietnam, was anxious to avoid entanglement in another faraway conflict. But since, as Majority Leader, President Johnson had opposed Eisenhower's decision in 1956, he was not prepared to press Israel for an immediate withdrawal from the conquered territories. Thus, although the U.N. Security Council, after much labor, finally produced Resolution 242 in December 1967, Johnson tended to accept Israel's continued occupation of the newly conquered territories pending an Arab willingness to make peace.
I know from personal experience that Israel's ambition to retain the West Bank had not then acquired anything approaching its present intensity. While visiting Jerusalem in July 1968, as U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, I was authorized by Prime Minister Eshkol to tell King Hussein that, in return for peace, Israel would be prepared to return the West Bank with minor modification to his authority. Hussein, however, was not at the time a free agent. The Arabs had reacted to their humiliating defeat in the 1967 War with the so-called Khartoum Declaration, in which the parties had pledged themselves to "no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel and maintenance of the rights of Palestinian people in their nation." Feeling bound by that agreement and fearing Nasser's reprisals, King Hussein was in no position even to discuss a separate peace. It was an unfortunate conjunction, for, had Israel then been able to negotiate the return of the West Bank, the Palestinian issue would by now have been largely forgotten.
What, then, was the state of U.S.-Israeli relations at that time?
Americans had responded with admiration to Israel's brilliant sweep across the desert and its victories on its northern front. It was not merely that we like a winner (we had no sympathy with Hitler in his blitzkrieg against France), but that Israel, a tiny country, had retained its image as the underdog, and Americans have always preferred David to Goliath. Particularly among Israel's friends there was a feeling of euphoria, while support for Israel manifested itself not only in effusive praise but in greatly increased private sector contributions. America's official relations with Israel also drew progressively closer, with our military and economic aid mounting by 1973 to over $400 million.
The years from 1969 to 1973, then, saw a continued stalemate on any progress toward peace, with Israel dug in against even formal acceptance of any return of the conquered territories so long as the Arabs, and principally Nasser, refused to recognize the state of Israel. The Jarring mission foundered on these issues, as did the abortive Rogers Plan introduced by the United States in late 1969 (after a fruitless attempt to engage the Russians in constructive negotiations).
But along the way, in connection with these developments and the mini-war that raged through much of 1969 and 1970, the Nixon Administration both worked at cross purposes with itself-with Nixon and Kissinger effectively sabotaging the peace negotiations of Secretary Rogers and Assistant Secretary Sisco-and blunted the possible leverage on Israeli attitudes of any withholding of military equipment from Israel. On at least two occasions, such equipment was deferred, but in a halfhearted way and with the Administration finally yielding and failing to follow through. The result was to confirm the Israelis in the belief that in the last analysis the United States would accept hard-line Israeli approaches to peace without throwing into question any of the elements of American support. Though Mrs. Meir, in her memoirs, writes as though she had modified her stands significantly in order to retain full American support, particularly military equipment, she was not seriously asked to give up anything substantial. And one then member of the Israeli government, Menachem Begin, drew-as we shall see below-his own even more emphatic conclusion that Israel could count on the United States to give full aid and support no matter what Israel did.
Just as twice before Israel had taken its Arab enemies by surprise, the Arabs in October 1973, began Israel's fourth war by catching it off balance, crossing the Suez Canal and attacking with a ferocity that astonished the world's military experts. For a few days, Israel seemed in deadly peril and was saved only by America's massive airlift.
The war altered the relative strength of nations in the Middle East to an extent we are only now beginning to comprehend. For the Arabs, it marked the beginning of a new age-not only because their soldiers had demonstrated to the world formidable fighting qualities (thus exorcising their obsession with the humiliation of 1967), but also because the oil embargo, shortly followed by the OPEC price actions, precipitated a major shift in the economic and political power balance in the whole area. Freed of the drive for revenge, the Arab governments could now concentrate on the potential opened for them by their new oil wealth. For the first time since the creation of Israel, they could seriously contemplate peace. The Arab nations no longer insisted on the destruction of Israel; they were now prepared to bargain directly with that state for the relinquishment of territories conquered in 1967.
At the heart of the quarrel was Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Even though the Palestinians were not popular in all Arab quarters, since some Arab leaders resented the intrusion of the Palestinian question, no Arab nation could ignore them. Palestinians were dispersed over the whole map of Araby. Unusually intelligent and educated, many held high places in Arab governments, commerce and industry and they were not prepared to let their Arab brothers forget the unhappy plight of their people. Meanwhile, the problem of the Palestinians had acquired a new focus. Almost three decades had elapsed since the first Palestinian diaspora in 1948 and 1949 and many of those who had fled at that time were now too old to expect to return to their homeland. But the survivors of the 1967 War-people who were driven out or had fled the West Bank and Gaza Strip or who still lived there under Israeli army rule-saw the problem in a different light. What they wanted was an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, as required by Resolution 242, and firm agreement on self-determination for the Palestinians, with the possibility of a separate Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Just as the 1973 War changed the mind-set of the Arab leaders, it also caused many Israelis to reexamine their national predicament. Prior to the war, most were becoming increasingly convinced that time was working on their side. If Israel could hold on long enough to the territory it had taken in 1967, the world, they thought, would ultimately accept the new boundaries as accomplished facts, while the Arabs would have neither the unity nor the competence to dislodge them. But the October War shot that calculation to bits. Since the Arabs had fought better than anyone had expected, the Israelis began to ask themselves whether time was still working on their side-if, indeed, it had ever been. No one could any longer take it for granted that three million Israelis would be able forever to stand off 100 million hostile Arabs-or, for that matter, that a massive American airlift would always be available-while the phenomenal upward march in oil prices increased the danger by assuring the Arabs of unlimited funds for armaments as well as formidable economic leverage. Many Israelis privately expressed the view that some form of political accommodation was necessary just when the key Arab nations, with their pride restored, also adopted a more flexible stance. Serious progress toward a settlement on all fronts seemed possible.
Meanwhile, with a cease-fire announced on October 24, 1973, it became urgent business to separate the hostile forces on the battlefields. With the Egyptian Third Army Corps cut off from supplies and the Gulf of Aqaba blockaded, hostilities might recommence at any moment. Secretary Kissinger undertook to achieve the necessary redeployment by intense activity as guide and intermediary in successive bilateral discussions, first between Egypt and Israel, then Syria and Israel. Time was of the essence since disengagement had been made a condition to lifting the oil embargo.
Up to this point, events had largely dictated the direction of America's Middle East policy, but in mid-1974, after the key disengagement agreements with Egypt and Syria, the situation offered alternatives. One would have been for the Secretary of State to try to work out an agreement with Jordan, which would require that Israel pull back some distance from the Jordan River and would thus raise the sticky Palestinian question. Though Kissinger had little enthusiasm for this prospect, the issue was resolved for him when, in an Arab summit conference at Rabat on October 28, 1974, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was endorsed as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The failure to come to grips with the West Bank problem-when real progress, or even a lasting answer, might have been possible-was surely due also to the resistance of an uneasy Rabin government in Israel.
Thus, Kissinger decided to resume shuttle diplomacy with Egypt, which desperately wanted a truce with the Israelis. The latter course offered promise of a speedier result, for, outside of the Abu Rudeis oil fields, the Sinai Desert had only military significance and, in spite of the Israeli tendency to equate security with real estate, adequate defense arrangements could be devised. It seemed likely that the relinquishment of at least part of the desert might be arranged fairly quickly through a discrete negotiation that avoided the hard substantive issues, such as the Golan Heights or Jerusalem or the Palestinians, which engaged deep emotions resulting from long-held grievances or from religious passions or from fear. Some also saw advantages in a bilateral deal with Cairo that might divide the Arab world and neutralize Egypt, which contains one-third of the Arab people and has historically posed the greatest military threat to Israel.
Even with Sadat's good will, the negotiation of the Sinai II agreements in 1975 proved a formidable task, breaking down in March, primarily because the Israelis refused to accept anything less than a declaration of full non-belligerency on the part of Egypt. The Rabin government in Jerusalem seemed too weak to agree to a realistic compromise and both Kissinger and President Ford felt angry and frustrated.
Since Kissinger strongly felt and said-at least in private-that the breakdown had been due largely to Israeli intransigence, President Ford ordered a "reassessment" of America's foreign policy toward the Middle East while arms deliveries to Israel were slowed down or in some cases deferred pending the outcome.
At this point the pro-Israeli lobby dramatically intervened, inducing 76 Senators (three-fourths of the Senate) to sign a letter to President Ford, dated May 21, referring to the reassessment and admonishing him to "be responsive to Israel's urgent military and economic needs," and "to make clear, as we do, that the United States, acting in its own national interests, stands firmly with Israel in the search for peace in future negotiations . . . ." As a spectacular demonstration of political muscle achieved by the application of enormous pressure including threats of reprisal, this letter has become a legend even on Capitol Hill where pressure from one interest group or another is an elemental part of the legislative process. Moreover, it was followed by a confirming event later in the summer when the lobby humiliated both Kissinger and King Hussein by inducing the Senate to block the sale of Hawk missiles (a defensive anti-aircraft weapon) to Jordan.
Impressed by such heavy cannonading on the domestic front, Kissinger abandoned any attempt to seek a solution for the substantive problems, letting it be known instead that he was ready to resume the negotiations.
Meanwhile, Israeli leaders had been having second thoughts. If Israel could not obtain from Egypt an explicit non-belligerency declaration but only what Kissinger referred to as its "functional equivalent," it could still ask a high price from America for its willingness to show flexibility. And what a price it exacted! In a sense, the Sinai II agreement of September 1975 amounted to a vast real estate deal in which the United States bought a slice of the Sinai Desert from Israel for a huge financial and political consideration and then paid Egypt for accepting it.
The commitments that America made consisted, among other things, of the following:
-The U. S. government and the government of Israel would conclude a contingency plan for a military supply operation to Israel in an emergency situation;
-The U. S. government would seek to prevent proposals which it and Israel agreed were detrimental to the interests of Israel;
-The United States would be resolved to maintain Israel's defensive strength through the supply of advanced types of equipment, such as the F-16 aircraft, and would undertake a joint study of high-technology and sophisticated items, including Pershing ground-to-ground missiles with conventional warheads, with a view to giving a positive response;
-The United States would not recognize or negotiate with the PLO so long as the PLO did not recognize Israel's right to exist and did not accept Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338;
-The U.S. government would consult fully and seek to concert its position and strategy with regard to the PLO at the Geneva Peace Conference;
-The United States would, for five years, make oil available to meet all the "normal requirements" of Israel if Israel was not able to obtain it elsewhere, and to provide the funds to pay the costs of imported oil that it might otherwise have obtained from the oil fields it was turning over to Egypt;
-The United States would establish two surveillance stations in the Sinai, managed by 200 U.S. civilians.
These were some of the specific promises, but in addition the United States agreed on "an ongoing and long-term basis" to "make every effort to be fully responsive" to "Israel's military equipment and other defense requirements, to its energy requirements and to its economic needs." Though no specific figures were mentioned, this was generally regarded at the time as a commitment for the next ten years, at a general level somewhere around $2 billion a year.
That was a staggering list. Not only did America accept serious restrictions on its freedom of action in negotiating for a settlement of the Palestinian issue, but, if it paid so much for a limited acreage in the Sinai, how much would it have to pay for a settlement of the hard substantive issues?
Thereafter, when President Carter took office at the beginning of 1977, he quite properly perceived the primacy of the issue of the Palestinians and their need for a homeland. Though he saw quite clearly that this issue could be resolved only with the involvement of effective Palestinian spokesmen, he was precluded from dealing with the PLO by the Sinai II commitment, which, after some hesitancy, he felt obliged to reaffirm.
His first year of encounter with the baffling problems of the Middle East was eventful: Menachem Begin became Israel's Prime Minister; efforts were made to get a Geneva Conference under way; President Sadat made his historic trip to Jerusalem; and Prime Minister Begin put forward a plan for limited autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Sadat visit, made without the knowledge or approval of other Arab leaders, split the Arab world in two, while, in seeking to exploit the possibilities opened up by the Sadat visit, the United States assumed once more the role of mediating between Egypt and Israel in a constricting bilateral framework.
Even so, President Carter repeatedly stated-as did President Sadat-that he would not be content merely with peace between Egypt and Israel, but that the settlement must include progress toward a Palestinian solution. Yet effective progress on that central issue required the involvement of representatives who could speak with authority for the Palestinian people. Though an ingenious arrangement was proposed to create such spokesmen by an electoral process, that proved unrealistic in view of the pressures and tensions in the area.
Nevertheless, the President did not abandon his efforts to expand the scope of the negotiation, and at Camp David, in September 1978, he pressed as far as he felt able-within the constraints of the Israeli-American relationship as by then defined-to exact concessions from Begin that would make progress possible with regard to the occupied areas. Sadat was apparently persuaded to go along with Begin's grudging concessions by the impression that President Carter would take stronger steps to secure the broadening of the settlement than the President subsequently found feasible.
What has happened since the President's spectacular diplomacy at Camp David is well known. In the desire to obtain some agreement as tangible consideration for the prestige and effort he committed, the President finally settled for a document that did not offer nearly enough to attract Palestinian support or the support of Jordan or Syria. Since then, the Begin government, having secured peace with Egypt, has been progressively narrowing the scope of even its Camp David offers. What was originally referred to as an "autonomy plan" has been so reduced by subsequent Israeli statements that it now appears as little more than a proposal to regroup occupation forces, with a small sweetener of local self-government. At the same time, Prime Minister Begin and his colleagues have made clear that they have no intention of giving up the West Bank, to which they claim title based on an Old Testament grant more than 2,000 years old. Beyond an Egyptian-Israeli agreement, therefore, it now seems apparent that the negotiations are going nowhere. They will, according to America's recent chief negotiator, Robert Strauss, not be concluded by the May 1980 target date, though presumably the Administration will try to keep them going in a routine way until after the presidential election.
In the flow of statements emanating from the Begin government, it is impossible to detect any long-range plans for dealing with the occupied areas. Repeatedly in the past the individualism manifest in Israeli democracy and the impossibility of gaining any broad agreement for a new initiative has led to immobilism and that is now the situation. Though more and more Israelis may be privately-and even publicly-taking a more realistic view of their nation's future, the current government is quite clearly incapable of a constructive initiative.
How, then, does the Begin Government foresee the future? It is unrealistic to believe that Israel, which has maintained a military occupation over 1,200,000 Palestinians for the past 12 years, can continue that role indefinitely. With violence increasing and Arab strength expanding, the attempt to maintain the status quo offers only a sad and bloody future. Nor is it reasonable to believe that the American people will be prepared indefinitely to subsidize this Israeli brand of colonialism so far out of tune with present-day opinion.
Yet, if maintaining the status quo is a prescription for disaster, what are the alternatives?
The platform of Mr. Begin's party calls for annexing the occupied areas. But, even if that could be achieved without precipitating war with other Arab states, demographic realities would defeat it. If the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were added to the 500,000 already in Israel, more than one-third the total population would be Arab, and, since the Arab population is increasing at twice the rate of the Israeli, the proportion would, within a relatively few years, amount to 50 percent. That would certainly call into question the concept of a Jewish national home, particularly since Israel is now losing population by net emigration.
What some in the Begin government seem wistfully to hope, however, is that, by its current settlements policy, Israel can persuade more and more Arabs to leave the West Bank. There is some basis for this belief; during the past year, something over 22,000 Palestinians did leave, and, to the extent that the settlements policy preempts the best land and water facilities, it could, over time, be expected to hasten that emigration. Already Israel has taken over one-third of the West Bank's irrigation waters.
The Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Ariel Sharon, who is in charge of the settlements policy, told me two years ago that he expected there to be 2,000,000 Israelis in the West Bank by the turn of the century. When I asked him how that was demographically possible, he replied that by the year 2000 the total Israeli population would rise to 4,200,000. When I pursued the question as to what would happen to the Palestinians, who would be increasing at a much faster rate, he broke off the conversation.
Obviously, I am not suggesting that all Israelis advocate the tactics of the American cowbird, which lays its eggs in other birds' nests with the chicks then forcing the other eggs out. There is every variety of opinion in Israel, including a growing element who feel, as does Israel's former Foreign Minister Abba Eban, that
Israel's urgent need is to grasp that the avoidance of Israeli rule over the million Palestine Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza is not only a concession by Israel to her adversaries, but also a service that Israel should render to her own interest and destiny.
But, given such a diversity of opinion, all that emerges from a search for an Israeli policy toward the occupied areas is a profusion of vaguely defined hopes and ambitions compounded by the fear that any solution of the problem would endanger Israeli security. Unhappily, the extraordinary factionalism that characterizes Israeli democracy tends to reduce policy in operative terms to its lowest common denominator, and its lowest common denominator means simply a continuance of the status quo in the vague hope that something good will come out of it.
In short, the current position of the Israeli government offers no hope whatever of progress toward resolution of the problems of the West Bank and Gaza, the core of the Palestinian issue which in turn is the key to a lasting peace. Not only is no progress in sight, but Israel keeps on expanding settlements on the West Bank, it renews permission for Israelis to buy West Bank land (in circumstances where any such purchases are bound to have an element of coercion), and in southern Lebanon-in the name of retaliation for terrorist raids-it conducts a policy of savage and wide-ranging air attacks that inflict casualties out of all proportion to the occasions. Both in the West Bank and in southern Lebanon, Arabs can hardly be blamed for believing that Israel is engaged in a deliberate policy of expansion and consolidation.
For reasons I shall expand on in a moment, such actions by Israel are profoundly antithetic not only to American interests and to American moral principles, but also as to the interests of Israel itself. Yet Israel consistently rebuffs Washington's protests and also our efforts to move the negotiating process forward by the quiet diplomacy of Cyrus Vance, Robert Strauss, and now Sol Linowitz. Why is this?
Is it because Israel, having made peace with Egypt and thus removed the major Arab military force from the balance, no longer needs the assurance of American military aid in enormous quantities, with additional sophisticated items as a "worst-case" argument for them appears? Apparently not, for Israel keeps on urging that the United States supply more F-15 fighter-bombers, more F-16 fighters, and similar items. Plainly, Israel still feels that it needs vast American military help.
Nor is its economic dependence decreasing; on the contrary, Israel's economy is deteriorating at a shocking pace. With inflation running at a rate approaching 100 percent, Israel's economic statistics are unique in the world; no other nation's economy even vaguely resembles it.1 No other country has a national budget that is almost as high as its GNP, or an external debt that is roughly equal to its GNP. In fact, its external debt per capita is now the highest in the world, while its balance of payments deficit for this year will amount to $4.5 billion. It would be hard to find another country that commits 40 percent or more of its GNP to defense, which illustrates the point that the expansion of its territory as a result of the 1967 War did not mean that it could rest in peace behind "secure borders"; far from it, it accelerated the defense drain, with the result that between 1967 and 1978 its defense costs have enormously increased.
Obviously, Israel's extravagant rate of national expenditure has been at the cost of its economic development. Ever since the 1973 War, its economy has been nearly stagnant, while the Israeli people are the most highly taxed in the world. Thus, it is hardly surprising that, in spite of the government's vigorous efforts to promote immigration, more people have been leaving the country during the past three or four years than have been entering it.
Today Israel is able to continue on its present course only because of continued vast subsidies from the United States. Distasteful as it must be to Israelis, the nation has become a ward-a kind of welfare dependent-of America. The United States is providing annual subsidies out of the public sector that amount to the equivalent of $7,500 a year for every Jewish family-or, in other words, every five persons-and those subsidies will be substantially increased before America finishes paying the costs of Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. In addition, of course, there are the huge sums paid every year to Israel out of the admirable generosity of the American Jewish community, on a scale without precedent in history.
So Israel's hard-line policies and total rejection of American advice are not due to some newfound independence from any need for American support. On the contrary, such dependence has now reached the point of totality.
Rather, one must ask, is it the very scale of this dependence-necessarily irksome to a proud and brilliant people-that makes Israelis so resistant to American suggestions? Perhaps a good psychologist could make the case that when, through force of circumstances, any nation (or person) has become heavily dependent on a larger and more powerful entity (or parent), the only way to assert one's continuing identity-to maintain one's self-respect-is to strike back at the nation (or parent) on whom one depends, hard and often.
Yet I doubt if this is a satisfactory explanation. The Israelis are influenced by many factors other than their American connection. They see themselves as beleaguered, and the judgment of beleaguered nations or peoples is often distorted and lacking in perspective.
Rather, I think one must give great weight to the simple politician's explanation. Why should Israel not pursue its own course, when Israelis have been so long conditioned to expect that America will support their country, no matter how often it disregards American advice and protests and America's own interests, that both sides now accept this extraordinary ritual dancing as quite normal?
That this is the view of Prime Minister Begin is confirmed by his own words. In her autobiography, My Life, Golda Meir discusses the cease-fire proposed by Secretary of State Rogers in 1970, which called for discussions of a settlement based on Israel's withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 conflict, as required by Resolution 242. Mr. Begin's party, the Gahal, which was then in the government, insisted that the Israeli defense forces must remain on the cease-fire lines until peace was attained; they refused to agree to any negotiation on the subject of withdrawal until there was peace. Mrs. Meir then wrote:
"But we won't have any cease-fire unless we also accept some of the less favorable conditions," I tried to explain repeatedly to Mr. Begin. "And what's more, we won't get any arms from America." "What do you mean, we won't get arms?" he used to say. "We'll demand them from the Americans." I couldn't get it through to him that although the American commitment to Israel's survival was certainly great, we needed Mr. Nixon and Mr. Rogers much more than they needed us, and Israel's policies couldn't be based entirely on the assumption that American Jewry either would or could force Mr. Nixon to adopt a position against his will or better judgment. But Gahal, intoxicated by its own rhetoric, had convinced itself that all we had to do was to go on telling the United States that we wouldn't give in to any pressure whatsoever, and if we did this long enough and loud enough, one day that pressure would just vanish.
In the minds of Israeli leaders, the test of American friendship would thus appear to be our unquestioning willingness to continue our heavy subsidy, however aberrant Israeli policies may seem. Israel's former Foreign Minister, General Moshe Dayan, made that clear recently when he praised the Carter Administration as Israel's great friend, pointing out that, even though there had been some harsh exchanges, the Carter Administration had never once made a threat to slow down the outpouring of economic and military aid to Israel.
Obviously, that attitude does not make for a healthy relationship between our countries. So long as we accept that unflattering assessment of ourselves-and confirm it by our actions-the Israelis will have little respect for America or the strength and character of the American people.
From an American standpoint, the simple present facts are that (1) both our national interests and our moral principles now require a speedy settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict; (2) progress toward such a settlement is, and has been since 1973, possible on terms that would protect the survival and long-term status of Israel in the Middle East far better than any futile effort to protect the status quo; (3) it is, at this stage at least, Israel that is blocking the unfolding of a process of settlement that might meet both Israeli and American interests in both the short and long term.
We have already addressed the third of these points. Let us take the other two in order. Since 1973, nothing has changed in the outlines of a reasonable Arab-Israeli settlement: what made sense then still makes sense; what was in accord with both the American commitment to Israel and to American-and world-sentiment about the need to accord the Palestinians self-determination is still the same. What almost any thoughtful American (or group of Americans) would suggest as the terms of peace today does not differ from what such an individual or group might have suggested five or ten years ago.2 The Carter outline for peace (or the Connally one, for that matter) is essentially the same as what President Johnson or President Nixon would have regarded as reasonable. America has not sold its soul for oil-although there was unfortunate language in Governor Connally's October statement that seemed to make a connection between oil and the substance (as opposed to the timing) of a peaceful settlement.
Yet there has clearly been an important change since 1973. If the neutralization of Egypt has changed the balance of military power in the area, the world oil crisis has changed the political balance. Prior to 1973, it was possible for the United States to pursue a policy of complaisance toward Israel with only marginal concern for its own interests. Since the rise of OPEC as a major factor in world affairs, America's interests have become vitally and directly involved in a speedy settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Already, the splitting of the Arab world by Camp David has created tensions and complications in our relations not merely with Saudi Arabia but with the other oil-producing states as well. That has been given increased importance by the disappearance of Iran as a reliable oil supplier.
Unless we make prompt and serious progress toward solving the Palestinian problem, we can expect to see our energy needs increasingly hostage to our Middle East policies. Once it is clear that the Camp David talks have ground to a halt with no progress on a Palestinian solution and we have launched no new negotiating initiative, the more activist Arab states will bring enormous pressure on Saudi Arabia to use its oil production for political purposes. Anyone who believes that the Saudis can easily resist that pressure does not understand the significance of what occurred at the Baghdad meeting of October 1978, when the Saudis were reluctantly forced to go along with a decision to cut off subsidy funds for Egypt. Not that the Saudi government would explain a curtailment in explicit political terms-that is not its style. Instead, we could expect a progressive reduction of Saudi production-attributed, perhaps, to technical reasons. That is a realistic prediction, and it is time we pondered its implications not only for America but for all non-communist oil-consuming nations.
If our country is to advance and protect its interests in the Middle East, we must carefully define those interests. We must be quite clear at the outset that our interests are not always congruent with the Begin government's perception of Israel's national interests. Thus we must unravel the tangled skein that intertwines our interests with Israel's, or we shall lose control of policy even more than is now the case.
America's overriding interest in the Middle East is to promote peace in the area, and particularly an early peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors. There are many reasons for this.
The first is that America needs to establish lasting friendly relations with the Arab states that are becoming increasingly significant elements in the economic life of the world. Yet today, as the acknowledged friend of Israel, we are politically hobbled so long as Israel is at odds with its Arab neighbors. If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, it is also true in Arab thinking that the friend of my enemy is my enemy. Thus, so long as there is hostility between Israel and Araby, we shall suffer severe disabilities in developing relationships that are becoming increasingly important.
Second, we need to keep the Middle East out of the communist orbit. That requires not only that there be peace between Israel and the Arab world but that we avoid those divisive issues that set Arab states against one another and thus invite them to play one superpower against the other. Recently, in our efforts to promote peace between Israel and Egypt, we have contributed to the polarization of the Arab world. The result is to force such activist nations as Iraq and Syria to rely on the Soviet Union as their principal arms supplier. It creates extreme pressures on Saudi Arabia to choose up sides between two sets of Arab nations at the cost of internal dangers. Particularly now that the Soviets have beachheads in the Horn of Africa and South Yemen, America must do everything possible to sustain and strengthen the nations on the littoral of the Gulf, which is at the moment the strategic heart of the world.
It is here one must note a point that I think is often misconstrued or misunderstood. In the past, there was at least one occasion-the fedayeen and Syrian attack on Jordan in September 1970-when Israeli military forces played a crucial role in preserving Middle East stability. And, so long as Iran was governed by the Shah who was friendly to Israel, it was at least arguable that the military power of Israel, in tandem with Iran's, was a general force for stability.
Today, however, with Iran in a militantly anti-Israel posture that is unlikely soon to change, there is no possibility whatever of Israel playing any useful part in the direct military or strategic sense. Last February, when Secretary of Defense Harold Brown visited Saudi Arabia and other countries to see what could be done to assist in the face of Soviet incursions (including the then raging South Yemen attack on North Yemen), his mission was told in the most categorical terms that any project that involved Israeli territory or forces would be highly disruptive.
The blunt fact, then, is that so long as Israel holds on to the occupied territories, and especially so long as it seems to be seeking to consolidate its hold on the West Bank for the long term, its impact on the stability of the Middle East will be wholly negative. Only if those conditions change can Israel hope for genuine acceptance in the area, or for any possibility of useful economic or security relations with its neighbors.
None of this, of course, means any change in the basic American position toward the survival of Israel. Our commitment to Israel's security is an integral part of American policy and we should do nothing to qualify that commitment. That does not mean, however, that we should leave any ambiguity as to its application. We are pledged to secure the territorial integrity of Israel within approximately its pre-1967 boundaries, not an expanded Israel that includes the occupied territories.
At the same time, we should emphasize to the Israeli government that Israel can never achieve lasting security through superior military force or the pledge of a friendly power; it can be safe only by establishing peaceful relations with its neighbors.
What are the concrete immediate policies to which this analysis points? They must start with the United States insisting that Israel cease its settlements policy. That policy, in the view of American authorities, is a flagrant violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which provides that "the occupying power shall not deport or transfer part of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." When we continually condone conduct that not merely offends our sense of legality but undercuts progress toward an objective that vitally concerns our national interest, we are acting in a manner unbecoming a great nation.
The settlements policy discredits any Israeli claim to an ultimate peace, confirming the deep-and probably well-founded-suspicions of Israel's Arab neighbors that at least substantial elements in the Israeli government have expansionist ambitions. It is a major impediment to the attainment of peace, and we must categorically insist that it be stopped. So long as we continue our subsidy while Israel flouts our futile protests, we not only support illegality but look both impotent and absurd.
Second, the current negotiations in the West Bank and Gaza must be completed by their May 1980 deadline in such a way as to assure elections that will lead on to genuine Palestinian participation in the major governing functions of the area. Under the Camp David agreements, this would mean an agreed transition period of genuine but limited autonomy.
The Camp David agreements implied (and President Carter clearly intended) that the process, once it got under way, must inevitably lead to self-determination by the Palestinians at the end of the transition period. But this was not categorically specified in the agreements-doubtless because it seemed too much for Menachem Begin (and perhaps the Israeli public) to swallow in one gulp.
It is a familiar negotiating technique to avoid crossing bridges in this manner, and to trust that unfolding events will provide the answer needed. And if it had not been for the upheaval in Iran, which tended to stiffen both Arab and Israeli positions, it might have worked here. If the Israeli-Egyptian treaty had been concluded by December 1978, if Israel had then taken forthcoming positions in the West Bank negotiations, if incidents relating to Lebanese territory had not continued-then the prospect of self-determination at the end of the road might today be clear enough.
Unfortunately, the reverse happened, and today self-determination remains an American position but not an agreed one with Israel. And President Carter (doubtless under Israeli pressure) has qualified his support for the principle by saying that he opposes an independent Palestinian state.
I do not know what the chances are that a genuine exercise of self-determination by the Palestinians would produce a choice for an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. Some form of federation with Jordan would seem more practical. But I do know that the more Israeli spokesmen rail against an independent state as intolerable-while continuing to block even the most limited steps toward autonomy-the more they feed sentiment for just such a state, not only among Palestinians but among ruling elites in Arab countries. Whatever their private reservations may be, such elites cannot help supporting the Palestinians so long as the Israeli position denies any prospect of self-determination, while the American position remains one of "self-determination, but no fair choosing a separate state."
Thus, the only answer-and it is needed soon-is an unqualified acceptance of ultimate self-determination. Though the Palestinian leaders-including the PLO-would probably be prepared to accept even five years of limited autonomy, they would do so only on the agreed condition that it was a prelude to self-determination.
Here, again, we encounter a refusal to face reality, since Camp David has already demonstrated the futility of trying to find a West Bank solution under procedures that exclude the PLO.
That the PLO is guilty of obscene acts of terrorism, no one can deny. Nor can anyone committed to the humane principles of the West help but find terrorism totally repulsive. But if it would be both stupid and evil to condone terrorism, one should try to identify its roots-and terrorism has historically been a psychotic response to military occupation. The way to remove terrorism is to remove the cause, since the longer the conditions that produce such a response are permitted to continue, the more difficult will be its eradication. It is dangerous to let a whole generation grow up conditioned to terrorism as a way of life.3
If we are to get on seriously with the attainment of a peaceful settlement, we must face the realization that the great bulk of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip recognize no legitimate spokesman but the PLO. That is an inevitable result of Israeli policies; for the Israeli army, by suppressing all political discussion and organization in the occupied areas, has precluded the development of a more moderate alternative.
Perhaps, so, some will say, but we still cannot deal with the PLO's leaders until they have accepted Resolution 242. Thus we create our own impasse. The agreement to revise those provisions of the PLO protocols that call for the destruction of Israel is for the PLO leaders their only available bargaining chip. They will give it up only in exchange for a promise of self-determination to the Palestinian peoples at the end of an appropriate process. It is the old question of what must come first, and experience has shown a thousand times that the answer can be found only through simultaneous offers.
If there is to be peace, we must, therefore, return to the principle of self-determination we have long espoused yet have extended only in a qualified way to Palestine. Only when we advance that principle without qualification, recognizing that any qualification contradicts the principle, can we ever hope to gain the support of other Arab states which have themselves accepted Resolution 242; only then can we expect the peoples now living in the West Bank and Gaza strip to respond in a manner that will enable the more moderate leaders of the PLO to agree to participate in a serious diplomatic effort.
Insisting on self-determination, of course, places the burden on us to find means to assure the security of Israel. But by combining a number of measures the solution to that problem should not be beyond human ingenuity. Among other measures are the demilitarization of a new Palestinian state for at least an agreed term of years while peaceful relationships develop, elaborate technical arrangements for surveillance that will assure Israel against the possibility of surprise attack and even the possible establishment of an American military presence in the area.
In the current state of the military art, there is no such thing as a totally secure border between hostile states; nor has there ever been, though it is a myth with a long history. In 1940 France had its Maginot Line, while more than a century earlier a slogan of the Revolution that France must achieve "natural frontiers" was used by Napoleon to legitimize his subsequent overrunning of all of Europe. But Napoleon's conquests, far from assuring France "natural frontiers," only paved the way for ultimate defeats. Natural frontiers, or, in other words, secure borders, cannot be achieved by natural obstructions or geographical depth, but only by the development of peaceful relations on both sides.
A reformulation of our relations with Israel does not mean in any sense an abandonment of our commitments or of our close cooperation. But no relations between nations can be mutually healthy and satisfactory unless they are based on a mutual fulfillment of national interests. Over the years we have become so sympathetic to Israel's aspirations, so admiring of its achievements, and so aware of its sensitivities, that we have smudged and lost sight of our own interests-and, paradoxically have in the process done Israel a disservice.
What Israel needs more than anything else is peace, for it will suffer a severe erosion of national élan and self-esteem if it is forced to continue armed to the teeth, squandering its human and material resources on maintaining a garrison state and dependent for its economic livelihood on American generosity. Not that we should cease being generous, but we should so shape our generosity as to promote the best interests of the recipient, and in Israel's case we have not always done this.
Were there to be peace-real peace, which is possible only with the solution of the hard substantive issues that still haunt the area-the Israeli people could then devote their extraordinary gifts and energies to making the whole Middle East flower, as they have done for Israel itself. Not only would Israel greatly profit by this but America and the whole non-communist world would richly benefit.
But, it will be said, these positions-however sensible they may be in terms of American national interest-are simply not acceptable to Israel. And it is Israel that must carry out the principal actions that would lead to genuine autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza and hold out the clear prospect of Palestinian self-determination there, and it is Israel that must waive its objections to dealing with the PLO. So what can we do, since, over the years, we have been constantly admonished that the United States must not "bring pressure on Israel" because that might suggest an "imposed peace."
What, however, do those terms mean? Do they mean, as now interpreted, that the United States should continue to pay out a massive subvention each year to meet Israel's military and economic needs, even though Israel insists on pursuing a course of action that frustrates the peace and is contrary to our own national interests? Stated in those terms, the absurdity of the proposition is evident. The Congress is mandated by the American people to spend their tax money only for purposes consistent with the advancement, and not impairment, of our interests. Particularly at a time of threatened economic recession, the decision as to how such funds are spent is a sovereign action whose benefits must be carefully weighed.
In short, as I said at the outset, Israeli-American relations must either become much closer-with Israel accepting the essential changes in its present position-or they must become much looser, with the United States resuming its freedom of action on all forms of aid to Israel, so long as Israel sticks to its present course.
Such freedom of action for the United States is not, of course, solely a matter for the President and the executive branch. It will require the understanding and cooperation of the Congress. And the sanction of withdrawing or limiting American aid is so drastic in its implications that even serious discussion of it is bound to set off a confrontation in which members of Congress will be under enormous pressure to vote the required billions regardless of Israeli behavior.
Ordinarily, such a confrontation would be out of the question in an election year. In 1968, and again in 1972 and 1976, negotiations for peace were allowed to lapse, with serious loss of time and momentum at least in the latter two years. I do not think we can permit a similar lapse in 1980, even though Israel's government and many of its vocal supporters here seem to be counting on it. The time is short-too short-both for Israel and the United States, on the one hand, and for the potentially moderate Arab nations on the other, now themselves threatened, who insist on progress toward peace and who hold, in some cases, an important degree of control on the price and supply of the oil from the Middle East on which we continue to let our nation depend to an outrageous degree. One way or another, events will force the situation to a boil some time during 1980.
So it is not hyperbole to speak of a "coming crisis" in Israeli-American relations. That crisis is already upon us. Deep down, the Administration knows it and a large section of the American public senses it. Only by the effective pressure of American public opinion, leading in turn to constructive actions by Israel, can we avert an outcome that would be desperately damaging to both countries, but most of all to Israel itself.
I am indebted to Dr. Douglas Ball for certain historical information that dramatically illustrates the state of the Israeli economy. At the time of the Israeli declaration of independence in 1948, both the Palestinian pound (which also circulated in parts of what later became Jordan) and the pounds being circulated by the Anglo-Palestinian Bank were at par with the British pound, then quoted at $4.06. Both the new Jordanian dinar (issued by the new Bank of Jordan) and the Israeli pound then followed sterling down to $2.80 per pound in the 1950s. Thereafter, there was a steady divergence, with the Israeli pound steadily sinking until by September of 1979, the dinar was quoted at $3.333, while the Israeli pound was quoted at .03333, or one hundredth of the dinar.
3 That those who go through a passing phase of terrorism can become responsible leaders once their cause is achieved is shown by the experience of Prime Minister Begin himself. The Irgun Zwei Leumi, which he headed, committed several atrocities in its fight for freedom from British military occupation. It blew up the King David Hotel, which cost 91 lives, and wiped out the village of Deir Yassim, which may have cost as many as 254 Arab lives. In fact, Mr. Begin's activities as head of the Irgun were so widely known that when he visited the United States soon after the establishment of Israel, a distinguished list of Jewish leaders, including Hannah Arendt, Albert Einstein, Sidney Hook and Seymour Melman, wrote to The New York Times on December 4, 1948, denouncing him as "the head of a Fascist party for whom terrorism (against Jews, Arabs, and British alike) and misrepresentation are means, and a 'Leader State' is the goal." Today, Mr. Begin is a respected leader of Israel and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace.