Unlike the Carter Administration (with the Brookings Report), the new Administration has not come into office with any known general policy framework of its own for the settlement of the Palestine problem and the Arab-Israeli conflict. In addition to the priority accorded by President Reagan to the domestic economy, the fact that the Israeli elections were to be held on June 30 served to purchase additional time. Nonetheless, the emerging indicators of what the new Administration's policy might be give cause for concern to some observers of the Middle East scene.

Secretary of State Alexander Haig's delaying tactics in going out to the Middle East rather than face the problem of which Middle East leaders-and in what sequence-to invite to an unprepared Washington were astute. His trip will have provided him with a privileged tourist's insights into the attitudes of key countries he was visiting for the first time as the principal guest. But the predominantly geopolitical lens through which he views the Middle East (along with the rest of the world) can only heighten concern. Without as yet having scrutinized the contents of the Middle East box (including, inter alia, the Palestine problem and the Arab-Israeli conflict), Mr. Haig proposes to wrap it in a "strategic consensus" between the Israelis and the Arabs in the face of the U.S.S.R.

A number of separate events during the spring indicated a discernible direction in Administration attitudes. On Mr. Haig's trip, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's agreement to the participation of an American contingent in the Sinai buffer zone meshed with Mr. Haig's expectations about a "strategic consensus," as Sadat would have intended. Then in Jerusalem Mr. Haig appeared to swallow Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's line concerning Israel's "rescue mission" in Lebanon against the "brutal" Syrians. (The Syrians were, after all, protégés of the Soviets, so it all seemed to fit.) At the same time, in Washington, National Security Adviser Richard V. Allen was conceding on network television that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) could be described as a terrorist organization" and that the Israelis were justified in their "hot pursuit" of Palestinians in Lebanon, even though the Israelis had long ago abandoned this strategy for what they prefer to call "preemptive retaliation." Meanwhile at the United Nations there was to be a self-imposed U.S. silence on Israeli colonization of the Occupied Territories, now in high gear.

Presumably to offset all this, the Saudis were to get the hardware they had been asking for. Washington's expectations would seem to have been that the emplacement of the Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft (AWACS) and the American personnel to go with them would in time constitute a de facto incorporation of the Saudis into the "strategic consensus." Another expectation would seem to have been that in return for the hardware the Saudis would underwrite a Camp David formula for Palestinian autonomy with only cosmetic changes. If this exercise in divining is not too far off the mark, the Reagan Administration, while ostensibly waiting for the outcome of the Israeli elections, may already have on its hands a policy for Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict but, like the gentleman in the French play, without knowing it.


All this appears to indicate that the Palestinian issue has been shelved by the Reagan Administration. Therefore, it is necessary at this juncture to take a hard look at what is actually at stake in the non-resolution of the Palestine problem and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

U.S. policy toward the Palestine problem and the Arab-Israeli conflict has been an amalgam of three main variables: the geopolitical, the domestic and the regional. The geopolitical variable involves concepts of the national interest and images of other powers, principally the U.S.S.R. The regional variable involves readings of the political map of the Arab world (or any other region in question). The domestic variable (in the form, for example, of inter-institutional competition, public opinion and electoral considerations) influences the two others. Policies whether geopolitical (toward the U.S.S.R.) or regional (toward the Arab world, or any region in question) reflect the mix between these three variables. If one variable, say, the domestic, is paramount, the resulting foreign policy could be irrelevant or worse. Likewise, what role is assigned to the geopolitical and regional variables and the manner in which the two are integrated are primary considerations. Also, if the reading of the regional political map is faulty the resulting policy will be counterproductive in both regional and geopolitical terms. The lower the importance attached (for whatever reason) to even a correct reading of the regional political map, the likelier the irrelevance-or worse-of the regional and therefore the geopolitical policies.

It is the contention of this article that the mix of these three variables in the formulation of U.S. policies toward the Palestine problem and the Arab-Israeli conflict has gone consistently awry since the late 1940s. Sometimes the domestic, at others the geopolitical, and just as often the two together have been allowed to play paramount roles, at the expense of the regional variable. If the forebodings expressed in the preceding section are not unduly alarmist it looks as if we are in for more of the same.

A first remedial step is to upgrade the regional variable from the status of a poor cousin to that of a peer in relation to the other two. But this may not be all that is required. There may be regions of the world (and the Arab world could be one of them) where the regional variable, if only at certain moments, needs to be given particular attention. To compensate for the inferiority hitherto accorded this cardinal component of U.S. policy, the regional aspect should be promoted to the rank of "Regiopolitics." With a capital R, regional expertise (on the Arab world and elsewhere) might have a fairer chance of competing with the godfather of foreign policy, Geopolitics. This is not a plea for empathy. States are by definition in chronic short supply of this commodity. It is a plea for policies toward the Arab world (and other regions on this globe) that are more in touch with the regional facts of life.


The Arab world is a baffling political universe. One explanation is that it is literally an infant in terms of the age of older states' systems. The West European states' system, it will be recalled, has been evolving for more than a millennium. In spite of its infancy the Arab world shares a common political resonance. This is true in a sense of the whole world today. But what distinguishes the Arab world from the global setting is the intensity of its transnational resonance and of its impact, both negative and positive, across the sovereign frontiers of individual Arab states. To be sure, what echoes within this area of resonance is often a protracted cacophony. Yet beneath the confused signals there is a logic of sorts. This is the continuing struggle between centripetal and centrifugal forces. The former are grounded in the ideologies of pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism and their non-doctrinaire versions, which take the form of sentiments, cultural solidarity, interpersonal contacts and enlightened self-interest. The latter stem from the more restrictive perspectives of individual states, ruling elites and leaders, and ethnic, sectarian and tribal sub-national forces.

Within the Arab world six issues dynamically interact: (1) the Palestine problem; (2) the Arab-Israeli conflict; (3) domestic change and instability; (4) oil policies; (5) inter-Arab relations; and (6) relations with the outside world.

It would be ludicrous to maintain that the non-resolution of the Palestine problem and the resulting perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict are responsible for all developments (or those adverse to the West) in all the other "fields" listed above. But it would be sloppy "Regiopolitics" to fail to assess their significance. The issue is particularly alive today because a tacit assumption of the non-centrality (whatever that may mean) of the Palestine problem seems to be a major premise of the new American Administration's policy toward the Arab world.

Given all the other tensions outside the immediate area of the Palestine problem and the Arab-Israeli conflict it would seem highly desirable to get these two out of the way-by working toward a solution. What makes the Middle East and its environs so explosive today is precisely this unprecedented coincidence between the non-resolution of the Palestine problem and the occurrence of so many other dilemmas in contiguous areas.


A brief look at how the Palestine problem has in fact interacted in recent history with the other "fields" provides a useful perspective.

First, the Palestine problem and the Arab-Israeli conflict. That the Arab-Israeli conflict derives from the non-resolution of the Palestine problem should be self-evident. The Arab states' political and economic confrontation with Israel as well as all the Arab-Israeli wars since 1948 are essentially the result of this non-resolution. For reasons that will be given later, it would be rash to generalize from the example of Sadat.

Second, the Palestine problem, domestic changes and instability. Change and domestic instability in the Arab world preceded the emergence of the Palestine problem and will presumably be around after its resolution. But the rapidity and extent of change, and the intensity of the cultural backlash against it, are relatively recent phenomena in the Arab world. Since 1948 incumbent Arab regimes have been at the receiving end of monumental demands from internal opposition forces and regional rivals bent on delegitimizing them in the name of Palestine. In the new circumstances of rapid change and regional turbulence, the non-resolution of the Palestine problem could constitute the bushels of straw that could break the backs of some Arab regimes.

Third, the Palestine problem and oil policies. Since the mid-1930s, when Palestinian guerrillas first attacked the Iraq Petroleum Company pipelines in Mandatory Palestine, the threat to interrupt oil supplies, armed attack on oil installations, disruption in the flow or transport of oil and the imposition of embargoes have been-with the singular exception of the recent Iraqi-Iranian conflict-exclusively connected in the Arab world with the non-resolution of the Palestine problem and the perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Chapter and verse are easy to cite.

Possible future threats to Arab oil fall broadly into the following categories: (1) direct assault by the U.S.S.R.; (2) attacks against installations, pipelines, shipping, etc., by Palestinian and non-Palestinian extremist groups; (3) embargoes imposed by radical Arab incumbents, already in place for reasons unconnected with the Palestine problem; (4) embargoes imposed by radical/conservative Arab regimes during a future Arab-Israeli war; (5) embargoes imposed by radical/conservative Arab regimes in despair at the consolidation of the Israelis' hold on the Occupied Territories and East Jerusalem or in the event of large-scale Israeli operations in Lebanon; (6) embargoes imposed by radical regimes after the overthrow of conservative ones; (7) seizure of the oil installations by opposition forces in radical or conservative regimes; (8) war between two oil-producing Arab countries or between an oil-producing and a non-oil producing one; (9) war between an oil-producing Arab country and a non-Arab country other than Israel; (10) blowing up of oil installations in anticipation of Israeli seizure; (11) bombing of oil installations by Israel in a future Arab-Israeli war; (12) blowing up of installations in anticipation of seizure by the U.S. Rapid Deployment Force to forestall some or all of the above.

A detailed analysis of this list would indicate that many if not most of these threats could be generated directly or indirectly by the non-resolution of the Palestine problem.

Fourth, the Palestine problem and inter-Arab relations. Many centrifugal forces in the Arab world operate independently of any ramifications of the Palestine problem. A list enumerating "purely" inter-Arab conflicts would be a long one. But from the U.S. point of view these conflicts do not adversely involve the U.S. image or interests quite in the same way, if at all, as do inter-Arab tensions related to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Given the dynamics of the Arab area of resonance, the oil-rich Arab countries do not constitute a cohesive sub-system in any meaningful political sense within it. Both their affiliation with the West and their conservative regimes make these states particularly vulnerable to the pressure of the Palestine problem both domestically and in their inter-Arab relations. This pressure has been a major cause of polarization among the Arab states as a whole. Its most destabilizing effect has been the outbidding tactics, both offensive and defensive, that the Arab states have used against each other in the name of Palestine.

The outbidding process has taken place not only between radical and conservative regimes but also between conservative regimes (e.g., Hashemite Iraq and Saudi Arabia in the 1950s) and between the radicals themselves. By and large the conservatives have been at the receiving end, but sometimes they have gone on the offensive against the radicals (e.g., Jordanian and Saudi Arabian castigation of Nasser for hiding behind the United Nations Emergency Force in 1966-67). In imposing the 1973 embargo the conservatives were demonstrating to Arab public opinion that they were second to none in their espousal of the cause of Palestine. The agony of Lebanon (reminiscent of Spain in the 1930s) is the most poignant example of the spillover effect of the non-resolution of the Palestine problem into inter-Arab relations.

A point can be made that, notwithstanding the foregoing, the Palestine problem has been the principal "unifying" factor in inter-Arab politics and that its resolution would give momentum to centrifugal forces. At worst the fervent proponents of Arab fragmentation might perhaps be persuaded to endorse a Palestinian settlement if only with their own objective in mind. And yet it is a moot point whether a polarized Arab world is in anybody's interest-though Nasser once told this writer that in his view the U.S.S.R. and the United States were equally opposed to Arab unification.

Fifth, the Palestine problem, the Arabs, the United States and the U.S.S.R. The Palestine problem and Arab-Israeli conflict have had the following broad effects on Arab relations with the West and the U.S.S.R. (1) They have resulted in the deepening and perpetuation of Arab political alienation from the West-an alienation which admittedly had historico-cultural roots older than the Palestine problem and was also a product of the Arab experience of European colonialism in general. Western, and particularly American, sponsorship of Israel and a perceived unwillingness to solve the Palestine problem largely counterbalanced the positive effects of decolonization on Arab-Western relations. With West European colonial disengagement completed, the onus of the non-resolution of the Palestine problem was shifted increasingly to the United States. (2) At the same time, the attractiveness of Soviet military and diplomatic help has increased in proportion to American backing of Israel. In fact, the Palestine problem provided the main Soviet entrée into the Arab world, affording Moscow the opportunity to champion the most popular Arab cause at the expense of the West. (3) While the fundamentally nationalist ideology of even the most radical Arab regimes has set limits on Soviet influence and while disillusionment with Soviet help has developed in many countries, the non-resolution of the Palestine problem has supplied the most powerful motivation (and rationalization) for continued reliance on the U.S.S.R. And while the Arab cultural backlash in its nationalist and religious manifestations has involved "repudiation" of both East and West, the emotional and intellectual balance of Arab public and elite opinion remains in favor of the U.S.S.R. (4) Western military support of Israel has led to Soviet military support of the Arabs. The vicious circle this established has reinforced the Arab emotional and intellectual tilt in favor of the Soviets, especially with the younger generations.

Since the early 1950s the non-resolution of the Palestine problem has been the single most important factor frustrating Western attempts to co-opt the Arab countries into an overt Western military alliance against the U.S.S.R. Such is the moral of the collapse of both the Baghdad Pact (and with it the Hashemite dynasty of Iraq) and of the Eisenhower Doctrine. The "strategic consensus" sought by Mr. Haig would seem to be the contemporary version of these ill-fated attempts. Its chances of success are no brighter; its impact on its Arab adherents is likely to be no less catastrophic.


From the perspective of Washington the Arab world can be looked at in several ways: as intermediate space between the United States and the U.S.S.R.;1 as a universe inhabited by three-dimensional indigenous peoples whose political evolution and orientation are important in themselves as well as being relevant to the global balance of power including security and access to oil. A third perspective, not necessarily mid-way between the foregoing, is characterized by a reluctance (for whatever reason) to face the regional reality and a tendency to resort to "alibi" solutions. Built into this third perspective is a propensity to veer toward the first perspective.

In framing policy, one must define the real challenges facing American statesmanship in the Arab world. They are: how to get on with the radical Arabs; and how not to undermine the conservative Arabs. An American policy whose components are, first, pursuit of a "strategic consensus" and second, the simultaneous downgrading of the Palestine problem will prove highly counterproductive with regard to both challenges.

Quite simply, the general Arab mood since World War II has become less and less conducive to the incorporation of Arab countries into either superpower's military network. Sadat, like Iraq's Nuri Said in the 1950s, is a freak. Sadats do not grow on trees, not even in the lush valley of the Nile. In the Arab world (as elsewhere) nationalism is the bulwark vis-à-vis both Moscow (in spite of Soviet sponsorship of the cause of Palestine) and Washington (largely because of American sponsorship of Israel). In the post-Nasser era a potentially crucial but little-noticed development has been the increasing tendency of radical and conservative regimes to align themselves with each other across the ideological barrier (for example, Jordan and Syria in the mid- to late-1970s, the ongoing relations between Iraq and Jordan and Saudi Arabia on the one hand, and Iraq and Syria, on the other). Another equally significant development has been the tendency of both radicals and conservatives to put some distance between themselves and their respective superpower sponsor (Iraq and the U.S.S.R., the conservatives generally, and the United States) and to edge toward the other superpower (Jordan and Kuwait and the U.S.S.R.; Iraq and the United States).

This increasing political diversification reflects the political self-confidence that comes from the economic power of both the conservative and the radical (e.g., Iraq) oil-producing countries; disillusionment with both superpowers; and the burgeoning nationalism stemming from mass politicization, Islamic resurgence, and cultural backlash. This phenomenon of political diversification is in the long-term interest of regional stability. The main question facing Washington is how to harness it in that direction. With some imagination, this can be done.

The beginning of wisdom would be to downgrade the "strategic consensus" concept from a hackneyed grand design aimed at establishing a substitute focus for the adversaries on either side of the Arab-Israeli cleavage, to the level of a unilateral signal by Washington to Moscow of American purposefulness in the Indian Ocean environment. Simultaneously, the moderate policies of the Arab conservatives on the Palestine problem and on oil policy, as well as their perceived affiliation with the United States, should be seen to bear demonstrable fruit. This could be in the shape of the supply of the requested U.S. military hardware (AWACS, etc.) but primarily in meaningful progress on the Palestine problem. This would vindicate moderate policies, and enhance the influence of the conservatives with the radicals. To press on toward the grand design of a strategic consensus while downgrading the Palestine problem and shilly-shallying on the military hardware is the unfailing recipe for inter-Arab polarization and outbidding, the undermining of moderation, and the erosion of the prestige and the legitimacy of the conservatives-developments that preclude any progress in the resolution of the Palestine problem.

To be sure it could be argued that polarization could be turned against the radicals. The chances are that such polarization would boomerang against its Arab and Western architects. It could be further argued, as a variation on the theme of the marginality of the Palestine problem, that its solution would likewise have a marginal effect in terms, for example, of improving the chances of establishing the "strategic consensus." True enough, but then the thesis in this article has not been that a Palestinian solution would result in an Arab démarche at Foggy Bottom in favor of the Rapid Deployment Force.


No one knows what an Arab world bereft of the Palestine problem would look like, but there are excellent reasons for trying to find out. For Israel a settlement of the Palestine problem will mean the end of war. For the Palestinians a sovereign Palestinian state on the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip, and in East Jerusalem in coexistence with Israel-the terms on which the PLO would settle-means a haven from their diaspora and a repository for their vast potential for constructive achievement. The endorsement by Fatah, the mainstream PLO group, of a settlement along these lines will isolate and contain the Palestinian and Arab dissidents. Such a settlement would remove a primary source of instability throughout the Arab states' system. It could improve the prospects for functional inter-Arab regional cooperation. Agitation on behalf of Palestine would markedly decline. The interruption of oil supplies resulting from such agitation will lose its rationale, while that resulting from an Arab-Israeli war will be precluded. The continual Arab-American confrontation over Palestine in international forums will end. The incentive for Arab acquisition of nuclear weapons to match Israel's will become less cogent. Such Arab military dependence on outside powers as has been generated by the Arab-Israeli conflict will significantly diminish. Superpower collision in the Middle East will lose a hitherto ever-present catalyst.


On the other hand, it is not difficult to see why Israel and Sadat's Egypt might not be altogether averse to alternative scenarios that could be envisaged in the event of non-resolution and the concurrent pursuit of the mirage of a "strategic consensus." They would hope to enhance their ostensible usefulness to Washington in an environment of confrontation with the Arab radicals, the PLO, and the U.S.S.R. This would divert attention from the obduracy of the one and the failures of the other in the wake of Camp David.

The rationale for American coyness about moving forward on a settlement could be reduced to three arguments: (1) the PLO and the radical Arabs are unwilling to contemplate a reasonable and honorable settlement; (2) the same is true for the U.S.S.R.; (3) what might be described as the Cohabitation Argument-the removal of Egypt through Camp David from the Arab-Israeli military equation-makes it possible to live with the new status quo.

Israeli arguments against a sovereign Palestinian state on the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip, and in East Jerusalem in coexistence with Israel have been examined elsewhere by this writer.2 But the PLO is excluded from peace negotiations on the ground that it is a terrorist organization. This is hypocritical and unadult. Like every liberation movement in history the PLO has used terrorist tactics. Most of the PLO's terrorist tactics are, in fact, variations of those introduced into the Middle East in the 1930s and 1940s by the Irgun Zvai Leumi before the establishment of the state of Israel. Israel and the PLO are at war with one another and war is terror. Some leading civilized nations in the world have within living memory used "terrorist" tactics on the most horrendous scale. Of all liberation movements in recent history the PLO has been among the most viable in genuineness of motivation, grassroots appeal, organizational structure, and international support and standing.

The PLO is likewise ruled out of court because of the provisions in its Covenant which deny the legitimacy of the state of Israel and call for the liberation of "the whole of Palestine."3 One way of looking at the Covenant is to view it as a gratuitous tract of hate against an altogether innocent party. Another is to see it in relation to the evolution of the Palestine problem and the tribulations of Palestinian disinheritance and statelessness. Nevertheless, whatever its background the Covenant is maximalist, unrealistic and no basis for a settlement.

The Palestine National Council (PNC), the highest PLO authority, has met 12 times since the adoption of the present Covenant in 1968. If the resolutions adopted by successive PNCs are read in sequence, a movement away from maximalism and in the direction of accommodation is unmistakable. This movement is noticeable on four levels: (1) from explicit emphasis on the objective of the liberation of the "whole" or the "entire" soil of Palestine to the discarding of these adjectives; (2) from explicit reliance on "armed struggle" as the only means for the achievement of liberation to increasing expressions of the need for political activity in addition to this "armed struggle," and of readiness to attend international peace conferences as well as to meet with "progressive" Jewish elements from both inside and outside Israel; (3) from repeated statements about the "secular democratic state" over the whole of Palestine as the ultimate objective to an increasing de-emphasis of this objective; and (4) from repeated and vehement rejection of a "political entity" or a "ministate" in the post-1967 Occupied Territories to an implied though conditional acceptance of such a state. It remains to make explicit what is implied in this movement. That is the task of quiet diplomacy.

The Arab countries that are pivotal for a solution of the Palestine problem are the radicals: Syria and Iraq. Neither Jordan nor Saudi Arabia could sponsor a solution unacceptable to both or either of these two. Damascus and Baghdad are the ideological capitals of pan-Arabism, and in fact much of the tension between them is over its leadership.

The quintessence of Camp David is: Egypt first. Neither Syria's President, Hafez al-Assad, nor Iraq's President, Saddam Hussein-much less Saudi and Jordanian Kings Khalid and Hussein-could appear to be putting their respective countries ahead of Palestine. The greater leeway enjoyed by Sadat stems from the political culture of Egypt. This has three main strands: Egyptianism, Islam and Arabism, in that order. This writer belongs to a post-1948 generation which spent two decades of its adulthood wooing Nasser's Egypt into the Arab fold in order to balance Israel's overwhelming superiority over the eastern Arabs. Nasser elevated the Arab component of Egypt's policy partly as a result of his own self-image as the champion of pan-Arabism.

Sadat's worldview stood Nasserism on its head. The immediate circumstances of his accession to power were conducive to that end. With honor satisfied by the 1973 War, Sadat led his countrymen back toward their basic ethos: Egyptianism. The basic ethos of the Arabs east of Suez, however, is Arabism, with Islam close behind in the case of Saudi Arabia. That is why Camp David, with its present content and form, is unrepeatable on the other fronts.

If Syria, Iraq and the PLO have a veto among Arabs over a Palestinian settlement, the Saudi role is no less indispensable. The cornerstone of Saudi diplomacy in the post-Nasser era has been the effort to forge a moderate inter-Arab consensus on the Palestine problem, oil policies, regional disputes and international relations in general. Intrinsic to this Saudi diplomacy has been bridge-building with the radicals, Syria and Iraq, and Fatah. No other Arab capital is on speaking terms with as many Arab (and Muslim) capitals as Riyadh. This makes the Saudis the ideal interlocutor between the Arabs (and Muslims) and the West. The greater the prestige of Saudi Arabia in the Arab world, the greater the impact of its moderating influence.

The contours of a settlement on Palestine acceptable to the radicals emerge from the inner deliberations and the published communiqué of the Baghdad Summit of November 1978. Their gist is a sovereign Palestinian state in coexistence with an Israel contained within the 1967 frontiers and Israeli withdrawal to these boundaries in the Golan. This consensus is not dead but hibernating. What is implicit in it should be made explicit. This, too, is the task of quiet diplomacy. A tripartite U.S.-Israeli-Egyptian strategy to polarize the Arab world is tantamount to sabotaging this burgeoning consensus-the sine qua non of an honorable and peaceful settlement of the Palestine problem.

The assumption that the U.S.S.R. has no interest in a Palestine settlement may or may not be true. What is unquestionable is that the U.S.S.R. will wreck a solution composed and orchestrated exclusively by the United States. The thrust of the top Soviet leadership's advice to the PLO has been along the lines the PLO will now accept. The mercurial nature of Arab regimes with regard to Moscow may have generally sunk into Soviet political consciousness and the Soviets may by now be aware that all Arab regimes are fundamentally nationalist. Further, the Soviets may not relish being dragged to the brink of confrontation with the United States by a runaway ad hoc Arab military coalition-a likely eventuality should no solution of the Palestine problem materialize. They may not relish the prospect of an Arab client being humiliated in a future Arab-Israeli war, nor view with equanimity the Arab trend toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Given all these considerations, the attractions for the Soviet Union of a role as co-guarantor of a settlement as a peer with the United States may not be insignificant. Such a settlement might even fit into a broader global framework of tradeoffs and linkages. And even if the Soviets were to wax oil-thirsty in the 1980s, an agreed quota (in the fullness of time) of Middle East oil within some such general context might be preferable to the risks of making a dash for the oil wells in the face of an over-alert United States. Nor should the face-saving function of Soviet endorsement of a moderate settlement be dismissed. This could be invaluable for both the PLO and the Arab radicals vis-à-vis Arab public opinion.

That the Camp David status quo is something the United States can live with is the most dangerous illusion. There is in fact no such status quo. Within the Camp David framework Israeli colonization policies in the Occupied Territories have been changing the situation on the ground so rapidly that before long the physical basis of a Palestinian settlement will have been removed for all time. No Arab regime (including Egypt) can be reconciled to the permanent loss of the Occupied Territories. Israeli retention of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem as well as the Golan maximizes the probability of Arab reaction. The religious ferment in the region could reconfirm Jerusalem's credentials as a catalyst for crusades. Continued public silence by Washington on Israel's colonization policies is no asset to the United States in the worlds of Arabdom and Islam. It reinforces the already formidable Israeli constituency against the evacuation of the Occupied Territories.

Israel could badly bloody the PLO again and again but the prospects of the PLO's extirpation are slight. The confrontation in Lebanon between Syria and the PLO, on the one hand, and the Maronite Phalangists, and Israel, on the other, is a probable flashpoint for a fifth Arab-Israeli war. In such a war Israel might march into more than one Arab capital. What it cannot do is control the reverberations. Islamism and Arabism are still powerful forces in Egypt. In the circumstances, mounting pressures could still summon a conscience-stricken Egyptianism from its present limbo. There is no deus ex machina in a Labour victory in the Israeli elections. The Labour leader, Shimon Peres, will at best be a hostage of his coalition partners and his Hashemite daydreams.


The Europeans cannot deliver Israel or the PLO. They don't have to. But there are things that urgently need to be done which the United States cannot and the Europeans can undertake-with an American cautionary yellow light. The Europeans could constructively focus attention on the two principles of "reciprocity" and "coexistence"-the leaven for a modus vivendi. They could draw out the PLO and the Arab radicals on what they have been implying. They could elicit from Israel responses, however guarded, about what in the circumstances it might contemplate. Should the Europeans collectively ascertain the preparedness of this or that protagonist to exchange reciprocal assurances on the basis of coexistence, this should be welcome news. The United States might find the information worthy of building on.

A new hierarchy of priorities could thus emerge. All this fuss about a "strategic consensus" might fall into perspective. Even the AWACS issue might be seen in a different light from both Washington and Riyadh. This could finally render progress on the core issue of Palestine more feasible given the realities of the domestic political setting in the United States.

3 The Covenant uses such phrases as: "elimination of the Zionist presence in Palestine" (Article 15); "entire illegality of the United Nations partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of Israel there" (Article 19); "since the liberation of Palestine will involve the destruction of the Zionist and imperialistic presence therein . . . ." (Article 22).


You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Walid Khalidi, who was born in Jerusalem, Palestine, is Professor of Political Studies at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. Since 1978 he has been a visiting Professor of Government at Harvard University, and is the author of Conflict and Violence in Lebanon: Confrontation in the Middle East.
  • More By Walid Khalidi