President Reagan's address to the nation on September 1 deftly reengaged the United States in the Arab-Israeli peace process. At long last Washington broke free from the straitjacket of deadlocked autonomy negotiations to declare its intention of vigorously pursuing resolution of basic political issues. The success of this initiative will be tested by the extent to which subsequent political change in Israel and in the Arab world produces foreign policies gradually more conducive to compromise.

American foreign policy must indeed seek concessions from both sides, from Arabs as well as Israelis. Whatever signs of moderation can be elicited, on either side, will enhance prospects for positive movement on the other. We should continue to press Arab leaders to declare unambiguously their willingness to recognize and negotiate with Israel, reciprocating Israel's longstanding position on these points. In this regard it was right for Vice President Bush to state, publicly and promptly, that the Fez declaration of September falls short of the necessary explicit acceptance of Israel's right to exist.

But when one looks at Arab and official Israeli attitudes toward the substance of the Reagan initiative, the asymmetry runs the other way. Whereas the Arab side has found positive aspects in the Reagan proposals, the present Israeli government has rejected them out of hand, even as a basis for discussion. It is increasingly apparent that Jordan, Saudi Arabia, other moderate Arab states, and even portions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), are fundamentally willing to join Egypt in pursuit of a peace agreement consistent with what we consider to be Israel's security requirements and legal rights. The problem, on the Arab side, is to make that willingness as straightforward and explicit as possible-as a test of sincerity and as a spur to positive change in Israel. On the Israeli side the problem is quite different, at least as long as a right-wing government of the present complexion remains in power. The problem is not to make explicit and definite a willingness to compromise which is implicit and ambiguous, but to replace a clear unwillingness to compromise with an orientation toward the future of the occupied territories and the Palestinians which would make fruitful negotiations conceivable.

The required change in Israeli policy, in short, is drastic and can only be associated with basic changes in Israeli politics. This, American policymakers should realize, will take time: not weeks or months, but years. Meanwhile, Washington's most important contribution to the achievement of peace, and to the protection of American interests in the Middle East in the absence of peace, will be to invigorate processes of political change in Israel by encouraging debate over issues that divide the Begin government from many, if not most, other Israelis. Intensified and sustained internal debate, and the eventual emergence of an Israeli government inclined toward and capable of implementing political compromises on Israel's eastern frontier, are what U.S. policy should be designed to help bring about.

Such an approach is based on three crucial judgments, all of which are implicit in the profile adopted by the President and his top advisers since the September speech. First, President Reagan's public and rather detailed presentation of a peace plan known to be fundamentally unacceptable to Prime Minister Begin reflects a conviction in Washington that achievement of a workable autonomy agreement with the current government in Jerusalem is impossible. Secondly, Administration support for eventual Israeli disengagement from the bulk of the occupied territories implies a judgment that the process of Israeli de facto annexation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has not yet created, and will not soon create, a politically irreversible situation. Finally, the Reagan initiative and the U.S. government's concomitant willingness to wait for opportunities to pursue directly the consummation of a negotiated agreement imply the judgment that specific U.S. policies can be implemented, over time, to maintain and increase the momentum toward peace.


How valid are these judgments? There is no doubt that the first assessment, concerning the unwillingness of the Begin government to sign an autonomy agreement that would be minimally acceptable to any other party, is sound. Neither Palestinian, Jordanian nor Egyptian negotiators can reasonably be expected to sign any agreement which does not reduce the prospects for permanent Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza below what they would be in the absence of a signed agreement. Yet precisely the reverse of that criterion determines the negotiating position and tactics of the Begin government: it will sign no agreement that does reduce the prospects for permanent Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza below what they would be in the absence of such an agreement.

For Prime Minister Begin and a majority of his Cabinet there is no higher priority than protecting what is known in Israel as the "integrity of the Whole Land of Israel." In full sincerity they may advance a host of other arguments, including security concerns, protection of Jewish rights in Jerusalem and threats of irredentism from a Palestinian homeland. But these arguments are intended primarily to attract support for the absorption of "Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District" from those Israelis, and from Israel's supporters in the West, who do not share the present Israeli government's profound commitment to the expansive interpretation of Zionist ideology propounded by Menachem Begin's hero and mentor, Vladimir Jabotinsky.1

But is it still possible, then, that some future Israeli government, after Menachem Begin, could implement such an agreement? Clearly, Likud policies since 1977 have been designed to establish Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza so firmly and extensively that no future Israeli government could survive the political firestorm that attempts to disengage would trigger. This effort has entailed doing everything possible to erase the "green line" (the 1949 armistice line between Israel and the territories occupied in 1967), and to place Jewish settlements where they will obstruct any future attempts to divide the West Bank into separate Jewish and Arab enclaves. Formal erasure of the green line has been at least partially achieved by orders to state radio and television reporters forbidding them to refer to "Judea and Samaria" as the "West Bank" or as "occupied" or "administered" areas unless quoting an identified source. Official maps no longer include the armistice line between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel proper is officially referred to as the area "within Israeli municipal boundaries."

More concretely, by integrating the power grids of Israel and the territories; by building conurbations and road systems straddling the old border; by implementing water policies which require long-term access to fresh water sources in the West Bank; and by maintaining economic policies which force 100,000 workers in the West Bank and Gaza to depend on employment in Israel, and thousands of Israeli employers to rely on this cheap Arab labor, a recognized and minimally practical way to distinguish Israel proper from "Judea, Samaria and Gaza" is eliminated.

Some knowledgeable Israeli observers do, in fact, feel that the process of de facto annexation has passed the point of no return, at least in terms of domestic politics in Israel. To the casual observer, a visit to the West Bank creates an impression of Israeli settlements dotting the landscape in such profusion, and the establishment in certain key areas of such imposing and elaborate structures (notable examples are Ariel, southwest of Nablus; Maale Adumim, east of Jerusalem; Kiryat Arba, adjacent to Hebron; and Ephrat, south of Bethlehem) that contemplation of their removal or their transfer to Arab legal and political jurisdiction seems a fanciful exercise.

Dani Rubinstein, Arab affairs correspondent for the Labor Party newspaper, Davar, is well known in Israel for his dovish views. But, at the beginning of 1982, he wrote that after 15 years of Israeli administration, including five years of Likud rule, "there is no chance that Israel will be able to give up as much as one meter in the West Bank and Gaza, even if it wishes to do so." Although he personally views this as a catastrophe for Israel, he found himself forced to conclude that "the extensive settlement operations in the territories, the confiscation and acquisition of land, the Israeli Defense Force [IDF] deployment there, the bases, the emergency stockpiles, the training fields, the economic integration of the territories, all have been perpetrated by Israel's latest government in a way that even a partial renunciation thereof will lead the entire country to collapse."

Meron Benvenisti, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, a leading member of Shulamith Aloni's "Civil Rights Movement," and himself a long time advocate of generous territorial compromise, has embarked on a systematic study of the process of de facto annexation. Citing the settlement in the West Bank of thousands of Israelis who have little or no ideological commitment to living there, but who are attracted by special government housing subsidies, Benvenisti has argued that the development of their settlements "as an inseparable part of the urban areas to which they belong" reflects the extent to which the territories have been absorbed into the everyday life of Israeli society. "The Jewish control of the West Bank after fourteen years is similar to the Jewish control of Galilee after thirty-one years." When Benvenisti wrote this, one and a half years ago, there were 60 settlements in the West Bank inhabited by 20,000 settlers; today there are some 100 with 25-30,000 settlers, and with the continuing step-up in the pace of settlement, there may be as many as 70,000 more settlers in the next two years.2

Some Israeli doves have been driven to contemplate binational formulas that could accommodate Jewish and Palestinian Arab aspirations within one political administrative framework, as an alternative to pursuing the chimera of disengagement. They suggest that formal annexation, with Israeli citizenship imposed on Arab inhabitants, may be a way to preserve Israeli democracy, even at the expense of the state's Jewish-Zionist ethos. Indeed it would be relatively simple for the Begin government, or any annexationist-oriented Cabinet-by the authority of an act of the Knesset passed in 1967-to declare the formal and permanent incorporation of the West Bank and Gaza.3

In sum, it is clear that Israel's stake in keeping permanent control of the West Bank and Gaza has increased dramatically over the last five years. The price of withdrawal will continue to increase with every new apartment building and settlement, every land acquisition and every new administrative decree. For a future Israeli government, disentangling Israel from those territories in a way that could provide real opportunities for Palestinian political self-expression will be a highly complex task, requiring more imagination, more patience and greater willingness to take risks than it would have required in the past.


Despite the intricate web of fact and belief binding the West Bank and Gaza to the Jewish state, however, and despite the day-to-day possibility of formal annexation, I believe the Reagan Administration is correct in its judgment that Israel can, and eventually will, stretch or break its ties to the territories sufficiently to permit a negotiated settlement-or more precisely, a series of negotiated settlements.

Although formal annexation is a possibility, it should also be recognized that any Israeli decision about annexation would have to take into account serious negative consequences. Apart from longer term demographic pressures, it might well result immediately in the closing of the Jordan River bridges. This would slow if not stop Arab emigration from the areas and flood Israeli markets with cheap agricultural produce currently exported from the West Bank and Gaza to the Arab world.

Thus formal annexation is unlikely, though possible. In any case U.S. decision-makers cannot permit American foreign policy to be held hostage to the ability of any Israeli government, at any time, to issue a particular administrative decree. The Knesset is sovereign in Israel, and what it or the government does can be undone. The real determinants of the future of the occupied territories are not only the facts created on the ground, but also the balance of political forces, inside Israel and out, that will struggle to maintain or change them.

That there is long-term flexibility in the Israeli political system on the territorial issue is suggested by the precarious political base of any ultranationalist government in Israel's multidimensional political arena. It is also reflected in the genuine and explicit fears of West Bank and Gaza settlers that disengagement is only too possible.

Following Israel's successful raid against the Iraqi nuclear reactor, and thanks to a sudden and massive allocation of money to subsidize luxury purchases by low income groups, the Likud managed a very narrow come-from-behind victory in the June 1981 elections. But only three to six months earlier the Labor Party had appeared destined for a sweeping victory. Poll after poll indicated that the Labor Party would form the next government and that it would do so with an unprecedentedly large plurality. Not only did Labor lead all other political parties, but Labor Party personalities, such as Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, and Abba Eban, were preferred by wide margins over their Likud counterparts for crucial ministerial posts.

There were many reasons for the popularity of the Labor Party in early 1981. Begin's health had deteriorated, the economy was suffering from triple-digit inflation, Jewish emigration was steadily rising, and constant backbiting, as well as several scandals, had severely weakened public confidence in the Likud and its coalition partners. What is of crucial significance is that the decidedly moderate position of Labor leaders did not prevent decisive majorities of Israelis polled from giving them their support. While Ariel Sharon, as chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Settlement, was implementing widespread and highly publicized land seizures in the West Bank, and announcing, on behalf of the government, the inauguration of settlement after settlement, Labor Party leaders were making their commitment to territorial compromise very clear and were even signaling their readiness to consider evolution of interim agreements toward more substantial accommodation of Jordanian-Palestinian ambitions.

Describing in January 1981 the parts of the West Bank his government would insist that Israel retain, Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres spoke, not of Israeli sovereignty, but of "deployment in the Jordan Valley, Gush Etzion, and the Jerusalem area." In March he conducted highly publicized "secret" talks with King Hassan of Morocco and was widely reported to have established contacts with Saudi officials about a possible solution to the Jerusalem problem. He also publicly refused to promise that he would not remove settlements in the West Bank, even if they had been legally established.

As a rule, Israelis on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, of Sephardic (Oriental) background, with less education and with higher levels of religious observance, have tended to be more opposed to territorial concessions. The important point is not that the Labor Party positions described above were decisive in attracting support from these Israelis-they were not. But in the 1981 campaign the polls showed that the overwhelming majority of Israelis put problems of the Palestinians, the occupied territories, and the peace process very low on their list of priorities. What is instructive is that so many Israelis from groups marginally opposed to Labor Party policies toward the future of the occupied territories expressed their willingness to entrust the leadership of that party with the reins of power.

In other words, despite organizational problems and personality clashes within the Labor Party, demographic trends that are, at least in the short run, increasing the proportion of rightward-leaning, religious Jewish voters, and the Likud's recent success in exploiting the animosities and frustrations of many Sephardic Jews, the ultranationalist Right cannot be considered to have established the kind of ideological and political hegemony enjoyed for so long by the Labor Party.

In a poll of Israel's Jewish population conducted during the war in Lebanon (the first week in August), only 33 percent of those questioned favored "annexation of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza with all that involves" as a solution for the Palestinian problem. Sixteen percent favored "recognition of the [Palestinians'] right to self-determination in preparation for the gradual establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza;" and 37 percent chose "the return to Jordan of parts of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, while demilitarizing them and guaranteeing security arrangements." Fourteen percent indicated no opinion. The continued readiness of a large proportion of Israelis to oppose the clear and consistent position of their government by expressing willingness to relinquish "integral parts of the Land of Israel," in return for peace with the Arabs, represents a fundamental political failure on the part of the Begin government.

There is no group in Israel that appreciates the extent of this failure, or the necessity to instill in the Israeli people a much stronger commitment to "the Whole Land of Israel," than the West Bank and Gaza settlers themselves. Consider their reaction to Israel's withdrawal from Sinai under the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty, specifically the evacuation of the Yamit district in April 1982.

That evacuation involved 8,000 settlers and was preceded by months of speculation about the possibility of violent resistance and mass suicide. When the dramatic day finally arrived, Israelis witnessed scenes broadcast by state television and radio of hysterical mothers and children being carried away, and anguished confrontations between stubborn settlers and unarmed, often tearful soldiers. The conventional, or, more to the point, the official view of the evacuation is that of a "national trauma," of a society stretched to the limits of its psychological endurance. As many have argued, the shock, pain and sacrifice entailed in the forcible uprooting of Jews from Yamit evoke the horrible possibility of civil war, should the same be attempted in Judea and Samaria. Yet there is another interpretation, instructive albeit less well-publicized, of the Yamit evacuation.

What has impressed settler activists about the events of April 1982 is not how secure they show the future of Israel's presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza to be, but how tenuous; not how difficult it was for a government to resist the pressure exerted by the settler lobby, but how easy; not how traumatic was the shock of withdrawal for Israelis, but how rapidly it could be assimilated and forgotten. In a series of formal and informal postmortems on their failure to prevent the evacuation, Gush Emunim leaders have attributed a great deal more fluidity to Israeli politics, and much wider discretion to Israeli governments inclined toward disengagement, than do many Israelis who would favor such an outcome.

Transcripts and summaries of many of these discussions were made public in several issues of Nekuda (Point), a journal published monthly by the Association of Jewish Settlement Councils in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. In the first issue published after the Yamit evacuation, the editors argue that should the legally constituted authorities make the decision to abandon the West Bank and Gaza, such a decision, though with a great deal more difficulty than in Sinai, could be carried out:

Who was able to order the evacuation of Sinai and Yamit, the destruction of everything we built there, and the uprooting of all that had been planted; who was able to make those decisions and implement them, can do the same in other parts of the Land of Israel.

Still, the evacuation of Yamit did not destroy the faith of Gush Emunim in settlement as a means to make permanent the incorporation of the West Bank and Gaza into Israel. Settlers view expansion and acceleration of settlement activity to be as important as ever. But the evacuation of Yamit did convince many of the movement's leaders that only settlement on a much larger scale-one that would eliminate the demographic preponderance of Arabs in the occupied areas-could be decisive in the determination of their future.

The consensus reached by the settlers was summarized in their new slogan: "Behityashvut lo dai!" ("Settlement is not enough!") That thousands of Israelis are taking up residence beyond the green line in order to live in government-subsidized housing is of course welcomed by Gush Emunim. But Gush activists fear that if utilitarian and not ideological concerns are what lead Jews to live in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, then utilitarian calculations, including offers of financial compensation, might some day lead them to move back into Israel proper. Accordingly, the editors of Nekuda have declared that sustained, well-organized political action must be mounted over the coming years:

If we want to prevent another tragedy from befalling us we must act before the Israeli political machine-that is the government-is put in motion by forces from inside and outside the country.

In a booklet published in the summer of 1982, entitled A Plan of Action for a Time of Emergency, the settlement councils detailed an elaborate program for the invigoration and expansion of Gush Emunim as a broad-based political movement. The pamphlet portrays the struggle for Israeli public opinion as crucial; it is to be conducted over many years and in all spheres of Israeli life-in the news media, inside governmental and quasi-governmental bureaucracies, in parliamentary and intra-party elections, in the schools, in the theater and in the armed forces. In the settlers' view, the permanent incorporation of "Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District" will not be assured until the vast majority of Israelis share their commitment to the "integrity of the Land of Israel" as the Jewish people's highest priority. In the long run, Gush leaders believe, this will require sharp reductions in Israeli dependence on foreign economic aid and a new willingness on the part of most Israelis, including poorer Sephardic Jews, to accept a reduced standard of living.

The Labor Party leadership shares the settlers' view that Israel faces a lengthy, multifaceted and profoundly difficult internal struggle, determining whether, and within what boundaries, a Jewish state will survive in the Middle East. And it also believes that trends toward de facto annexation are reversible. In mid-August, even before the end of the war in Lebanon, Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres announced plans for a renewed campaign "to reopen the great and burning controversy over the direction in which Israel is heading . . . an historic argument that cannot be escaped or blurred." Peres also feels that the struggle to annex or disengage from the territories must be thought about in terms of years. Emphasizing the fundamentally disruptive consequences of absorbing the large Arab populations in the West Bank and Gaza, Peres characterized the Labor Party's position, and that of the government, as

two sharp national alternatives . . . an Israel large in territory or an Israel justified in its path . . . prepared to give up some of its territory.

Just as Mr. Begin sees this as a part of his fight for the greater Land of Israel, for the Whole Land of Israel, I see-and now more than ever-a need to explain to the nation and to the youth our choices. I do not want us to wake up in another ten years with our sons asking: Did you not see what was happening, that between the Jordan and the sea most of the children being born were not even Jewish children; that in the Galilee the Jews or the Jewish colony is in a constant downswing?

In sum, the struggle over the West Bank and Gaza will certainly be prolonged, and will subject the Israeli political system to enormous strains, but evidence suggesting the possibility of Israeli disengagement from the occupied territories is strong enough to justify U.S. pursuit of territorial compromise. Polls continue to show that a substantial proportion of Israelis, and often even a clear majority, express willingness to trade territory for peace. In spite of Menachem Begin's political success, he has yet to demonstrate that his stand against territorial compromise can itself attract a decisive measure of support from the Israeli electorate. Both the settlers, who are closest to the process of de facto annexation, and the Labor leadership, representing what still is the single largest political party in Israel, consider the fate of the West Bank and Gaza an open question.


Given the impossibility of negotiating a territorial compromise while Menachem Begin is Israel's prime minister, and given the difficult internal struggle necessary before any Israeli government could disengage from the occupied territories, policymakers must now concentrate on sustaining the peace process-through short-term failure to long-term success. In other words, however much Washington might welcome a more forthcoming attitude on the part of the present government in Israel, and no matter how genuinely we may seek to elicit it, American policy must be fashioned not to alter the policies of the present Israeli government but to help create conditions supportive of substantial shifts in Israeli politics.

Three elements will support this approach. One is the potential for flexibility that does exist in Israel, especially if peace can be seen as dependent on territorial compromise and political accommodation with the Palestinians. Another is the very extremism of the Begin government (or any committed to permanent control of the West Bank and Gaza), which can abet U.S. efforts to end the association in Arab minds between the U.S. and Israeli policies. The third element is the willingness of moderate Arabs, including Palestinian leaders, to wait for the achievement of a settlement; that is, to wait as long as they receive credible assurance that real opportunities for achieving their basic demands are being preserved.

This combination of circumstances should enable American diplomacy to limit the damage to U.S. interests from the current absence of a solution, to increase the explicitness of moderate Arab willingness to make peace with Israel, and, most important of all, to encourage the emergence of a new constellation of political power and purpose in Israel. Central to the accomplishment of these objectives will be sustained and gradually elaborated criticism of Israeli policies, corresponding to the fault lines that divide mainstream Israeli opinion from ultranationalist ambitions and slogans.

Maintaining such an approach will, however, require more sophistication about the dynamics of internal Israeli politics than has often been reflected in U.S. policy. It is important, first of all, to dispel the widely held misconception that a vast majority of Israelis can be mobilized to support the country's leadership whenever it strikes a pose of "resisting American pressure." Washington must understand the fundamental importance, for any incumbent or aspiring Israeli prime minister, of claiming that he can foster the close ties between Israel and the United States-that the "special relationship" will be preserved. At the same time, although it is important for Israel to receive regular assurances from the United States of our commitment to its security and economic viability, it is not altogether unhealthy for Israelis to wonder whether long-term support for the Jewish state may be endangered by Israeli government policies which go beyond the Israeli "national consensus."

Conversely, the key to success in dealing with Israel does not lie in simply "squeezing" the country toward a sense of weakness and insecurity. Nor will it be found in the application of quid pro quo sanctions or the promise of rewards to manipulate Israeli policies. The key to success lies in the convincing promotion of U.S. ideas that affect the rhetorical and political resources available to competing Israeli groups.

The potency of this crucial factor was illustrated-in reverse-from 1979 through 1981, when active U.S. pursuit of an autonomy agreement, in formal closed-door sessions, without any other indication of basic U.S. policy, had a powerful counterproductive impact on the environment of political competition in Israel. Negotiations were taking place, generating a stream of vague but hopeful joint communiqués. This made it very difficult for the Labor Party and compromise-minded elements within the government to challenge Begin's autonomy plan as a plausible solution to the West Bank-Gaza-Palestinian problem. Meanwhile, implementation of maximalist settlement programs in 1980 and 1981 elicited little negative comment from U.S. policy makers anxious to preserve the autonomy negotiating process and protect the final stages of the Sinai withdrawal. As a result there was almost nothing on the Israeli political horizon, aside from minor flare-ups on the West Bank, giving credibility to arguments that keeping all of "Judea, Samaria, and Gaza" was possible only at ruinous cost to American support, as well as to Israeli society and to the chances for peace. In this context the Labor Party and other opposition groups were unable to exploit broad public uneasiness with de facto annexation by launching a full-scale debate on the future of Israel's relationship with the West Bank and Gaza.

This contrasts dramatically with the impact in Israel of President Reagan's speech and of subsequent elaborations given to the American initiative by Secretary of State Shultz and other Administration spokesmen. For the first time since his initial victory in 1977, Prime Minister Begin has been put on the defensive on the issue of de facto annexation. Zevulun Hammer, Minister of Education and Culture, and Deputy Foreign Minister Yehuda Ben-Meir, both leaders of the hawkish young guard of the National Religious Party, appear to be distancing themselves from former allies in Gush Emunim and to be calling for a profound reassessment of Israel's foreign policy. The invigoration of the debate in Israel about the process of de facto annexation, and the new political capital of Israeli opponents of that process, are at least partially the result of American attention to issues which divide Begin and his ultranationalist allies from the anti-annexationist majority of Israelis.


Peace, or even serious negotiations toward that objective, will not soon occur. Just as it is important to avoid excessive distress at the sluggish rate of change in official Arab positions toward Israel, so is it necessary to avoid overreaction to early signs of movement in Israeli politics. If elections are held in 1983, there is at least an even chance that the Likud will emerge victorious once again. Nor, if Labor should come to power (alone or, much more likely, in a new coalition), will fruitful talks necessarily ensue. Even if Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians were willing to join Egypt in negotiations based on U.S. ideas, a Labor government would still be powerfully constrained by the hawks within its own ranks, strong ultranationalist factions among its religious party coalition partners, and the extra-parliamentary pressure which a large, dedicated and well-organized annexationist opposition will be able to exert. Thus it would be a serious error for the United States to make the return of the Labor Party to power its policy objective. Such an effort would invite counterproductive criticism of U.S. attempts to directly manipulate Israeli politics, without resulting in enough change in Israel to permit necessary political and territorial compromises.

To encourage the evolution of the Israeli political system toward the emergence of a government which could negotiate fruitfully-whether led by the Labor Party or some as yet unformed political coalition-the United States must stop characterizing the present as a golden and not-to-be-missed opportunity. Washington must prepare for years of patient diplomacy, backed by concrete measures that lend to American policy ever increasing weight and conviction. These measures must serve not only to shape the context within which Israeli politics will develop, but also to enhance the credibility of our commitment to legitimate Palestinian rights, and thus to protect the alignment of Arab states willing to make permanent peace with Israel.

What are some such measures?

First, the United States should begin again voicing its opinion about the legal status of the settlements. We should base our position on the Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land (1907), according to which Israel's High Court of Justice has unanimously declared any "permanent" settlement to be, ipso facto, illegal.4 According to the High Court's interpretation of the Convention, land for settlements cannot be "expropriated," but only temporarily "requisitioned" as required, not for political or ideological purposes, but for vital military needs. The Hague Convention also prohibits a wide range of settlement-related activities in occupied areas. This judicial admonition was prominent in two cases concerning settlements that aroused intense controversy in Israel in 1979 and 1980.

These rulings provide an ideal basis for the articulation of U.S. positions which can be "legitimized" in the Israeli political context. They permit a sharp distinction to be made between opposition to Jewish settlements established in occupied areas against the will of the local population, and support for the principle that Jews, as well as Arabs, should have the right to live wherever they please. U.S. interpretations of the legal constraints on Israeli settlements, framed to correspond to those stipulated by the High Court, would give politically important encouragement to those in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza striving to use the legal system to limit land seizures and settlement activity and to protect the principle of the temporary nature of the occupation. Such a move would also encourage a more explicit debate over the wisdom of pouring scarce resources into legally "temporary" settlements, and increase the felt risks of Israelis who may consider investing in the construction of their own homes in the West Bank and Gaza.

We can also give more concrete effect to our opposition to the settlements. Since 1967, every American Administration has stipulated that no U.S. aid could be used by Israel to fund projects in the occupied territories. This policy has received regular legislative support in Senate and House hearings on annual foreign aid appropriations. Six billion dollars in economic aid have been awarded to Israel between 1967 and 1982,5 but the ban on the use of our funds beyond the green line has never been enforced. In fact it could not have been, because the aid has been extended under the category of "security support assistance," or, as it is now labeled, an "economic support fund." This kind of economic aid consists of budgetary support in the form of cash transfers (loans and grants)-in contrast to most other aid relationships, the projects we fund in Israel are not specified. Nor has a single official at the State Department or the Agency for International Development (AID) ever been assigned to supervise the use of our funds by the Israeli government.

The transfer of even a small portion of economic assistance to Israel from the "economic support fund" category to that of "development assistance" would entail the immediate creation of a bureaucratic mechanism at AID for evaluating and monitoring its use in Israel. For the first time, the ban on Israel's use of U.S. aid beyond the green line could be at least partially enforced. Although the Israeli government would still have its own ample resources to go forward with projects in the West Bank and Gaza, this action would be a strong signal to Arabs and Israelis alike of Washington's determination to maintain the fundamental distinction between Israel and the territories that has been U.S. policy during the last 15 years.

As determined appropriate, the proportion of funds delivered to Israel within the development assistance category could be gradually increased, providing more opportunities for oversight and enhancing the credibility of our opposition to the process of de facto annexation. Should that process continue to accelerate, an added step might be to deduct from aid to Israel, and to place in escrow, funds equal to the amount estimated to have been spent in the previous year on settlements over the green line. Again, the possible usefulness of such a measure should not be evaluated on the basis of resulting changes in Israeli policies, but in terms of its impact on moderate Arab political calculations as to U.S. intentions, and on political struggles within Israel linking expenditures on settlements to decreases in government-sponsored social welfare programs.

A second key area where the United States may exert influence is in its approach to West Bank and Gaza Palestinians. The single most powerful argument of Israelis advocating disengagement from the West Bank and Gaza centers on demography. That Israel be a Jewish state, with a preponderant Jewish majority, is the very core of Zionism-to transform the Jewish people from a tolerated minority everywhere to a dominant majority somewhere. The Arab minority within Israel proper has grown to represent 16 percent of Israel's citizenry-a problem demographically, but a manageable one. But if the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are included, the Jewish majority shrinks to less than 65 percent. (Indeed, since 1972, the number of Arab babies born annually "between the Jordan River and the sea" has exceeded the number born to Jewish parents.) In 1980, the natural increase of Palestinian Arabs under Israeli jurisdiction was 20 percent more than that of the Jewish population. When they are forced to respond to the social, political and ideological problems that these population statistics portend, ultranationalist spokesmen hint that currently high levels of Arab emigration from the West Bank and Gaza are likely to continue, and eventually increase, with the application of tougher policies against dissidents and transformation of the areas into integral parts of the Jewish state.

The United States can reduce the credibility of this argument, and thereby accentuate Israeli concerns over the demographic problem, by bolstering the morale of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians and supporting their efforts to remain in their homes and on their lands. We should therefore, first of all, cultivate closer ties with Palestinian spokesmen, and support economic and social projects to enhance the quality of life for West Bank and Gaza Arabs. Concern for their welfare could be demonstrated, for example, by increasing the range and regularity of contacts between our ambassadors in Tel Aviv and Amman and local representatives of Palestinian opinion. At present, these contacts are primarily maintained on a low profile basis by the staff of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.

As to dealings with the PLO itself, the United States would be wise to adhere to the 1975 undertaking by Secretary Kissinger, not to recognize the PLO or negotiate formally with it, until its public posture changes to demonstrate clearly its acceptance of Israel. However, as ex-Presidents Ford and Carter have joined in suggesting, informal dialogue with PLO representatives might well be useful; such informal contact was never excluded by the 1975 undertaking. The State Department could also begin to allow leading PLO representatives to travel and speak in the United States, a privilege we have frequently accorded to representatives of similar movements not formally recognized.

Such possibilities are sensitive and difficult for Israeli public opinion and for many supporters of Israel in the United States. An American-Palestinian dialogue, however, can have a positive impact in Israel as well as the Arab world to the extent that its nature and pace are guided by signs of movement in the PLO position. Both informal contacts and the opportunity to convey their views can serve to emphasize to Palestinian leaders the importance of ending all forms of terrorism and of demonstrating political maturity and discipline in the pursuit of an accommodation with Israel.

We should also increase our presently modest official aid to private service organizations providing health care, agricultural and vocational training, cultural support activities, educational programs, and municipal development assistance to residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. By raising our financial assistance substantially and by taking a more active and public role in the defense of these organizations against administrative harassment by Israeli authorities, Washington can help slow the emigration of Arabs, especially educated Arab men, from the West Bank and Gaza. Besides signaling, in the most concrete manner, our concern for local Palestinians, such measures would help discredit ultranationalist responses to the demographic dilemma. To the extent that the United States is perceived as strongly committed to the rights and welfare of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, it will be more difficult for Israelis to believe that Arabs in those areas will gradually disappear, or that they could be incorporated into Israel without granting them full civil and political rights.

A third main area for U.S. influence with Israel concerns the role of Jordan in the peace process. Jordan is mentioned no less than 14 times in the Camp David Framework for Peace. The Hashemite Kingdom is viewed as one of the four principal participants, along with Israel, Egypt and "the representatives of the Palestinian people," in eventual negotiations "on the resolution of the Palestinian problem in all of its aspects." Involvement of Jordan in negotiations toward establishing a "transitional arrangement" for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and of Jordanian personnel in the "strong local police force" envisioned as responsible for internal security, were both explicitly mentioned in the Framework document.

Jordan's refusal to participate in the ill-starred autonomy negotiations, as conducted to date, should not be interpreted as evidence of its unwillingness or inability to pursue political compromise with Israel along the lines set out in the Camp David Accords. The decision reflected a valid political judgment. The terms of reference for the autonomy talks, as well as the content of U.S. and, especially, Israeli policies, indicated that Jordanian participation would help camouflage de facto annexation, rather than enhance prospects for a "transitional arrangement" that would leave open minimally satisfying options for the permanent disposition of the areas.

The question of Jordan's role has opened one of the deep fissures in Israeli politics separating ultranationalists from most of those willing, in principle, to disengage from the territories. Anxious to at least appear to be advancing some positive solution to the Palestinian problem, the Begin government and many Israeli hardliners have argued that Jordan, with a majority of Palestinian refugees already, should be considered a Palestinian homeland.6 Also questioning the legitimacy of Hashemite rule, some suggest, with more clarity and explicitness than in the past, that an end to the present regime in Amman would be a positive development. Implicit in this position is the hope, if not the design, that large numbers of Palestinians presently living under Israeli jurisdiction will eventually decide to make their homes across the Jordan River. The longstanding position of the Labor Party, on the other hand, and of most Israelis inclined toward disengagement, is that the solution of the Palestinian problem must be found in the context of a Jordanian-Palestinian entity encompassing the Hashemite Kingdom as well as the bulk of the occupied territories.

By insisting on the principle, laid down at Camp David, of Jordanian and Palestinian participation in negotiations toward a transitional agreement, by maintaining the suspension of the autonomy talks until participation would make good political sense in Amman, by (correctly) characterizing attacks on the integrity of Jordan as contrary to U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, and by supporting Jordan in other ways-such as arms deals, diplomatic visits and economic development projects-the United States would clearly establish its commitment to the political integrity of Jordan and the country's central role in the resolution of the West Bank-Gaza-Palestinian problem.

Aside from strengthening our ties with a friendly Arab government providing vital security support services to moderate states along the Persian Gulf, stronger U.S.-Jordanian ties would have a positive political impact in Israel. On the one hand, they would weaken the ultranationalist argument that Hussein's kingdom is artificial and temporary. On the other, they would strengthen the hand of Israelis who stress the need to offer realistic negotiating terms to King Hussein, in order to reinvolve him in the determination of the future of the occupied territories, and in a joint effort to create a politically manageable Palestinian homeland.

Consistent focus on the consummation of "transitional" or "interim" agreements is also key. There are still, and are likely to remain, substantial gaps between the position of any government capable of coming to power in Israel in the next few years, and that which internal and external pressures will enforce on Jordan. Negotiations that may take place should therefore be based on the principle (confirmed in Resolution 242) that acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible, and on the clear premise that interim agreements represent transitional stages in a gradual but comprehensive peace process. Only through tapping the trust generated by those agreements could Israeli and Arab leaders eventually bring their constituencies to accept more concessions than they can presently envision.

Clearly the distance between moderate Arab and Israeli positions is widest on the future of Jerusalem and its environs-that large chunk of the West Bank, from Ramallah to Bethlehem, defined by Israel since 1967 as part of the municipality of Jerusalem. Resolution of staunch and diametrically opposed claims to sovereignty will be possible only when conceptions of the politically possible on both sides of the dispute are substantially altered. At that time it may be possible to maintain the integrity of a smaller municipality, while dividing sovereignty among Arab and Jewish boroughs.

In this connection-paradoxical as the proposal may seem at first glance-Washington should be alert, at some point down the road, for a propitious moment to declare U.S. willingness, in principle, to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel's capital. By doing so, and by stressing that the permanent disposition of all territories occupied in 1967, including the East Jerusalem area, will be determined by negotiations to which Israel will be party, U.S. diplomacy could seek to prevent ultranationalists in Israel from using the Jerusalem question to block any movement toward compromise. For this is what they have done. Annexationists have used the broad-based commitment of Israelis to keep under Jewish sovereignty all of what was defined in 1967 as Jerusalem, as a kind of insurance policy against withdrawal from any part of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. By arguing that no territorial concessions will elicit agreement from the Arab world without also surrendering Israel's claim to a "united Jerusalem," they have sought to neutralize the willingness that exists in Israel to relinquish substantial portions of the occupied territories.7


The measures suggested above are not exhaustive, but illustrative, not to be implemented in one fell swoop, but elaborated carefully. Whenever possible they should be timed to correspond with steps which bespeak Washington's strong commitment to Israel's security and economic viability, such as the delivery of new weapons systems, the passage of foreign aid appropriations, or the protection of Israel's status in international forums. But attempts to manipulate Israeli policies, or Israeli politics, through direct use of the country's military and economic dependence, will generate a severe backlash among Israelis, raise a storm of protest among Israel's supporters in the United States, and send dangerous signals to the Arabs that concessions on their part are unnecessary.

The approach outlined in this article is not likely to bring dramatic gains for a President who implements it. But it has the great merit of being sustainable over a long period of time, during which threats to U.S. interests in the Middle East can be effectively mitigated and promotion of those interests significantly enhanced. At least while a right-wing government remains in power in Israel, domestic political costs within the United States should be tolerable. As is already apparent, intensified debate in Israel is bound to spur similar discussions among Israel's supporters in the United States, particularly within the American Jewish community. The airing of views long held privately will be healthy for all. Under such circumstances it will be less likely than in the past that either Republican or Democratic politicians will seek electoral advantage by out-bidding their opponents concerning U.S. support for Israel.

Most important, this is a policy that can succeed. It will encourage, gradually, lower-class Israelis to see their aspirations for economic and social advancement threatened by annexationist policies, dependence on Arab labor and the absence of peace. It will lead increasing numbers of religious Israelis, and others who value the country's cultural distinctiveness, to understand the implications for the Jewishness of the state of absorbing 1.4 million more Muslim and Christian Arabs. It will influence Israeli businessmen to appreciate how far staggering defense budgets, isolation abroad and instability at home, are obstacles to economic growth which could be eliminated along with efforts to extend Israeli sovereignty over the "Whole Land of Israel." More generally, it can create in the hearts and minds of all Israelis a profound sense of how devastating for the future of their country would be permanent incorporation of the West Bank and Gaza.

If pursued resolutely and implemented with no more error or misjudgment than is normal in the conduct of foreign affairs, an American policy designed to affect Israeli politics, rather than Israeli policies, can create genuine opportunities for building a durable peace.

1 For Menachem Begin, as it was for Jabotinsky, Jewish sovereignty over all the Land of Israel is an article of faith. Partition is akin to heresy. In 1981, Begin dramatically affirmed his devotion to the cause. At a large campaign rally in Ariel, a new settlement erected in the heart of a heavily populated district in the West Bank, he declared: "I, Menachem, the son of Ze'ev and Hasia Begin, do solemnly swear that as long as I serve the nation as prime minister, we will not leave any part of Judea, Samaria, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights."

2 This is the estimate of Amos Elon, the noted Israeli author and journalist, and is consistent with government plans and projects already initiated. Moreover, the figures given here leave out the 65,000 Israelis who have become residents of the sprawling East Jerusalem district neighborhoods since 1967, in areas beyond the green line. Their inclusion brings the present total of Israelis now resident in the West Bank to nearly 100,000, equalling ten percent of the territory's population. (See pages 397-8 of this article for further discussion of the problem of Jerusalem.)

While unwilling to characterize the situation in as categorical terms as have Rubinstein and Benvenisti, Elon thinks that with almost one-third of the land Israeli-owned, "for all practical purposes," the West Bank and Gaza "have already been annexed to the State of Israel, perhaps irrevocably." Although he himself favors a territorial compromise with Jordan, and although he is not ready completely to rule out the possibility of its achievement, he seriously doubts that there is still any territory which could actually be returned.

3 By virtue of this act, the minister of justice is empowered at any time to extend Israeli law to any part of the Land of Israel under Israeli control. Thus an Israeli government so inclined would not even have to turn to Parliament for its approval, as the Begin government was required to do in December 1981, when the Golan Heights were annexed.

4 Up until 1981 U.S. spokesmen clearly and consistently characterized the West Bank and Gaza settlements as "illegal," but the State Department's legal adviser expressly based the government's position on the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. The Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, does explicitly prohibit the kinds of settlement activities sponsored by the Israeli government in the occupied areas. But for complex juridical reasons the Israeli High Court of Justice has ruled that the terms of the Geneva Convention are unenforceable in Israeli courts.

5 In addition, military aid amounted to around $14 billion during this period. It is interesting to note that aid figures increased dramatically in the mid-1970s. Economic aid climbed sharply in 1975 (to $353 million), as a consequence of Israel's worsening balance of payments situation in the aftermath of the rise in oil prices, and again in 1976 (to $714 million). It has ranged from $742 million to $791 million in the years since then. Military aid jumped sharply in 1974 (to $2.4 billion), to help replace Israeli losses in the 1973 war, and has ranged from $1 to 1.5 billion in the years since then-except in 1979, when the appropriation of $4 billion included $3 billion for costs incurred in the withdrawal from the Sinai, as required by the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty. (Source for figures: U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants and Assistance from International Organizations, Report prepared for the use of Congress by the Office of Planning and Budgeting, Bureau for Program and Policy Coordination, Agency for International Development, 1981.)

6 See, for example, Yitzhak Shamir, "Israel's Role in a Changing Middle East," Foreign Affairs, Spring 1982, p. 789.

7 Thus, protection of Israel's control of the West Bank and Gaza was the real reason for the Begin government's promulgation of the "Jerusalem Law," declaring the entire city to be united forever as Israel's capital. This objective also explains the cult-like attitude of Likud government spokesmen regarding the sacred integrity of an expanded municipal district that, apart from the Old City and the Mount of Olives, contains relatively little that distinguishes it, historically or religiously, from the balance of "Judea and Samaria."



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  • Ian S. Lustick is an Associate Professor of Government at Dartmouth College and the author of Arabs in the Jewish State.
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