America’s China Policy Is Not Working
The Dangers of a Broad Decoupling
The protracted and unresolved "Palestine question" has finally come to haunt the state of Israel.
Before 1967 "Palestine" was a geographical expression torn asunder by Israel, Egypt and Jordan. A generation later Palestine embodies a nationalism and community that reawakens troubling questions which an earlier Israeli generation hoped had been settled, or at least indefinitely postponed, on the battlefield.
Israel is now obsessed by this issue. Its liberal culture is threatened by the state's continuing role as an occupier of a foreign people. As a country weary from fighting the first half of a hundred-year war, Israel now finds the Palestine problem to be its principal threat-not only to its external security but to the internal unity of the state.
It took the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza two decades to feel their way toward the self-confidence needed for their intifadeh. That the uprising came from within Palestine should not be surprising, but it embodies a certain paradox. The Arab generation of 1988 has done something that was unimaginable to their earlier zealots: it has adopted as its own model the spirit and strategy of classical Zionism.
Emulating the Zionist nationalist and social revolution of generations before, the Palestinian Arabs under occupation have not only accumulated social, economic and political power, but have also learned and deployed the guerrilla tactics of the Israeli underground in their march toward statehood.
The uprising has succeeded in gaining the sympathies of ever wider circles in the West. Moralism and emotion have served the Palestinians well, as they did the Zionists after World War II. Small boys with rocks have achieved what Yasir Arafat and his oil-rich supporters in the Arab world long failed to provoke: a genuine revolt in the land of Palestine. West Bankers are seeking from Israelis what they never dared to ask for during the 20 years of harsh Jordanian rule from which Israel delivered them in 1967, namely independence.
Israel is struggling now not with the paper tigers of the Arab League whose bellicosity marred Israel's first two decades of statehood. The current struggle is akin to wrestling with a cloud. As a result, the Israeli people are becoming a bewildered and frustrated citizenry. While the Arabs in the present circumstances can stall, Israel must act.
What is Israel's response to this formidable contest? The national electorate did not give the government a clear mandate in 1988 either to annex the occupied territories or to withdraw from them. The formation of a second coalition of Likud and Labor indicated that Israelis remain unwilling to choose between their painful alternatives. And ever since, confused friends of Israel the world over have been confounded with public shows of maneuvering and meandering, with cabinet ministers of the same government but different parties vying for equal time to give foreign leaders their explanations and interpretations. Israelis have been unwilling and unable to summon up a meaningful response to the opportunities presented by the Palestinian revolt.
Israel's history has been a constant series of brutal crises, resolved by territorial or military upheavals that have led its citizens to barricade their very minds. The wounds of the Holocaust followed by unceasing Arab aggression have produced the world's only fortress democracy. It is the only modern state-or so Israelis feel-for which a single disaster could spell total destruction.
People who live in a state of constant war naturally yearn for peace; for a nation, security is the equivalent of sanity for an individual. The Israelis' search for security is an obsession, a quest for an almost metaphysical security, even if they know that such protection is beyond their political and military capabilities.
The roller-coaster ride for survival has accelerated since the near-fatal Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the territorial concessions that followed it. The rise of Menachem Begin and the Likud Party, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in 1977 and the Camp David accords only presaged the painful invasion of Lebanon in 1982. This inconclusive conflict was so different from the heady triumphs of 1956 and 1967. And now the bloody and persistent Palestinian uprising poisons the Zionist dream.
The elections of 1988 had aroused high hopes and expectations for the future of Israeli politics and society. The results disappointed many and satisfied no one. Israelis did not demand that the country's two major political parties reach an unequivocal decision on the path the country should take. It was instead the demands of the smaller fringe parties of the left and right that increased their share of voters, only adding to the paralysis of the Likud/Labor coalition that continued in office. So much for vision.
If recent Israeli history seems bitter, then Israel's overseas friends have not appeared exactly steadfast. The latest instance of backsliding, as the Israelis see it, was the American decision toward the end of the Reagan Administration to institute low-level talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
This stunning about-face came after months of equivocation by Chairman Arafat, beginning with the Palestinian National Council meeting in Algiers in 1988, where he seemed implicitly to recognize Israel and to accept U.N. resolutions 242 and 338 while declaring an independent Palestinian state. For Israel this was old stuff, but for West Europeans it was an epiphany of moderation. If the United States remained skeptical at first, Arafat was alert to the possibilities of working upon world opinion and continued his ambiguous affabilities, which finally sounded benign enough for the United States to initiate talks. Thus was rocked the old certainty of Israeli politics-at least during the Reagan years-that the United States would always hang tough when it mattered.
No serious response has emerged from the Israeli government to this stream of developments.
Through 1988 events moved to challenge the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and its status quo policy. First was the intifadeh. Next, in the summer, Jordan's King Hussein withdrew his administrative, financial and political support from the West Bank, which then became the PLO's exclusive responsibility. Labor leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin decided to act. Aware of the need for initiative in Israeli policy, Defense Minister Rabin proposed holding elections for West Bank representatives to negotiate a Palestinian autonomy administration with the Israeli cabinet. This election would produce a bona fide Palestinian delegation entirely drawn from the occupied territories with which Israel could negotiate. After a heated battle with the Likud members in the cabinet, Rabin prevailed and on May 14, 1989, Shamir accepted the idea that would henceforth bear his name. The prime minister's agreement came only on the condition that the elections would come in the context of the Camp David accords.
In July an attempt by Ariel Sharon, minister of industry and commerce, to derail the Shamir plan was averted by a cabinet decision of 21 to four. The United States viewed the Israeli initiative with encouragement and tacitly accepted it as the basis for future Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. The PLO and the intifadeh leaders flatly rejected the Shamir plan when it was first presented. They demanded, instead, international supervision of the election and the participation of the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, who now vote in Jordanian elections or in Jerusalem municipal elections. Above all, the PLO argued that negotiations must lead toward the formation of an independent state.
As the Shamir initiative appeared to stall, Finance Minister Peres appealed to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in September, asking him to exercise his authority as an official party to the Camp David accords. In consultation with Peres, President Mubarak presented an official ten-point proposal of his own-much inspired by Labor Party ideas-to a group of visiting American congressmen, a proposal that was then sent to the Israeli cabinet for consideration.
The key Egyptian points called for a free election under international supervision to be held in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, and for Israel to negotiate land for peace and to accept as negotiators two Palestinian activists that Israel had deported from the occupied territories. This point was designed to reassure the PLO that the Palestinian delegation would not be exclusively composed of delegates from the occupied territories.
The differences between the Mubarak plan and the Labor Party campaign platform of 1988 are negligible. The Labor Party registered its official approval of the plan and Egypt's role, amending only the status of Jerusalem's Palestinian voters.
On September 17 the Israeli cabinet took the dramatic step of sending Rabin to Cairo to begin discussions on the proposed plan. Rabin encouraged Mubarak to act as mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. Labor also hoped the plan would replace the unproductive American dialogue with the PLO in Tunis, which had failed so far to bring the two antagonists closer together. Mubarak proceeded to invite the parties to Cairo.
The Labor-inspired Mubarak plan guaranteed bitter dispute when it came up for consideration. Likud opposes any form of pre-negotiation lest it dilute the party consensus over the Shamir plan. But at the same time both Likud and Labor shrink from the prospect of another national election in Israel which neither could be confident of winning.
Rabin's role is pivotal. It is reminiscent of Moshe Dayan's role as part of Menachem Begin's first government, when Dayan's extraordinary stature and skill helped produce the Camp David accords and the Egyptian peace treaty. Furthermore Rabin, as minister of defense, is the best guarantee Shamir and Foreign Minister Moshe Arens have that they can continue to block the ambitious Sharon, leader of their party's hawks.
The United States supports the Egyptian initiative as complementary to Shamir's plan. "The Egyptian ten points do not represent a competing proposal," Secretary of State James Baker announced on October 1, 1989. "They represent a means of getting the dialogue established."
To bridge the gap between the plans of Shamir and Mubarak, secret diplomacy similar to the Camp David negotiations is required. Dayan, then foreign minister, was after all a loyal member of Begin's government, not a leader of an opposing party. He was able to modify Begin's resistance. In contrast, Defense Minister Rabin is both a minister in an uneasy coalition government and a leader of the party that opposes Likud. Any of Rabin's proposals resonate with political overtones and have the effect of arousing Shamir's suspicions, making him even more intractable. Shamir could not finally bring himself to accept even the most favorable points in Mubarak's plan.
For its part, the PLO appeared upset by Mubarak's absence of specific references to Palestinian statehood. But on September 22 the Egyptian president issued a statement saying he was "confident" that PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat would eventually accept the ten points. If no compromise on the Mubarak plan is eventually reached, and Likud tries to form a narrow government without Labor to avert new elections, the pressure from the Sharon faction against any negotiations would be formidable. Shamir's domination of Likud would dwindle; Rabin, Peres and the Labor Party would be in limbo.
But Mubarak's ideas will not die or fade away. Nor is the Shamir plan dead. The Israeli government and society will be buffeted to and fro over the months to come by all the competing proposals for confronting the Palestinian problem.
The real questions facing Israel go unanswered because they are too uncomfortable even to be posed. How much security is enough? Does Israel have breira (choice), the slogan of the Liberal bloc, or ein breira (no choice), the ideological position of the radical Nationalist bloc?
What kind of territorial arrangement should Israel strive for: a partitioned land as in 1949 or a greater Israel with settlements stretching to the Jordan River? Should Israel sacrifice territory for peace and national unity? What is the future of Zionism, in both its classic and revisionist variations? Should Israel preserve its secular foundations or should it abandon them for medieval, reactionary, Hasidic and Toranic laws that will submerge the traditional secular Zionist vision? Election campaigns inflame these issues but fail to address them.
Polls show that 70 percent of Israelis favor the partitioned state and some form of territorial concessions to the Palestinians, and an overwhelming 82 percent reject reactionary rabbinical laws and integration of the Torah into the statute book. Yet the government remains unresponsive. The majority of Israelis will accept a reasonable accommodation with the Palestinians, yet the ancient insecurity remains, compounded by the total lack of trust in Yasir Arafat.
Israelis also remain suspicious of international conferences as a means toward solving the Palestinian problem. They still suspect that the PLO wants to negotiate for more than a partitioned Palestine, that an international conference is merely a maneuver on the unchanged road to a complete Palestinian state. An international conference, with the United States as an unreliable ally and the Soviet Union as a known adversary, offers only an imposed solution from which America could disengage at the first sign of trouble.
Israel's two major parties and the fringe elements on their respective wings stand in sharp contrast to each other in philosophy, history and ideology.
For Likud, the chief burden is the ideological baggage of revisionism, which it has carried since the days of Jabotinsky: from the unitary doctrine of complete Eretz Israel, which still defines the essence of the bloc, to the rejection of any Arab independent state in the territory west of the Jordan River. Likud must make the philosophical adjustments necessary to jettison the dogma that Palestine's indigenous population was just a rabble of Arabs. Making these changes will be complicated by the mounting clamor of the radical Nationalist groups on the far right, whose three splinter parties command a very critical eight or nine votes in the Knesset.
Labor is less constrained ideologically, carrying on the tradition of David Ben-Gurion who created a definable, authentic and democratic nation by accepting the partition of Palestine. Ben-Gurion's policy of working with the Jordanians at the expense of the urban Palestinians is to be continued. The party has none of the Likud's commitment to a policy of annexation and population transfer, or to semi-Toranic claims over Judea and Samaria. Labor is a secular and liberal party, pragmatic and flexible. But it appears unable to conceive of a solution to the Palestinian problem that does not place a central responsibility on Jordan. And that nation is now so "Palestinianized" as to be almost incapable of committing itself to any settlement that does not include the Palestinians themselves.
The implicit conflict between the Likud and Labor parties boils down to the logic of Likud's irreconcilable assertion of biblical frontiers and Ben-Gurion's lifelong commitment to a practical modification of Jewish claims, even at the moment of greatest victory, in order to stabilize the Arab world in the enlightened self-interest of Israel. Likud, which simply does not believe in the durability either of Arab regimes or their promises, believes in nothing more stable than an armed cease-fire.
Labor, on the other hand, has committed itself, in the absence of Jordanian cooperation, to ever more intricate initiatives in which it makes the moves for both players and openly toys with variations of the old Allon plan. This would link unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territory to the establishment of auxiliary settlements that will consolidate Israel's eastern border.
What political and diplomatic moves are then open to Israel? Clearly the present state of affairs between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza cannot be allowed to continue. Endurance and survival have worked to Israel's advantage before, but no one in the Middle East can gain anything by maintaining the status quo, and the risk of a dreadful new war increases with every postponed decision. It is crucial for the Israeli government to respond to the uprising; foot-dragging will only make matters worse and encourage extremists on both sides.
Israel's options in this violent and internationally unpredictable situation range, it must be said, from difficult to disastrous. It could isolate itself behind a refusal to budge and ignore challenges that would concede the arena of world opinion to the PLO.
Likud and Labor alike see that Arafat's swift gambits exploit historical divisions between Israel's left and right that are more pronounced now than ever. Moreover his actions seem to be driving a wedge between Israel and its traditional support among American Jews, antagonizing the intimate relationship between the Israeli and American governments.
Under the current coalition, three Israeli leaders-Peres, Rabin and Arens-have made cautious initiatives toward the weary and disillusioned bureaucracies of Washington and Moscow. In the month of September all three visited Washington to see President George Bush and Secretary of State Baker, who was notably cautious. These trips, past and future, are nothing but a politically necessary ritual. They will bear no fruit until Israel responds to Palestinian goals with confidence and with an independent set of objectives.
Any number of well-meaning and reasonable-sounding solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been offered by experts in Israel and the United States. But nothing will come of them unless Israel, the principal and most reliable party for on-site transactions, sets the basic ground rules for the inevitably long and agonizing negotiations that will follow.
First and most significant, face-to-face Israeli-Palestinian negotiations cannot be obtained by decree, but can only follow after gradual diminution of bitterness between these two parties. The negotiating process will entail discarding many cherished illusions, call for many unwelcome decisions and involve endless collisions, false intermediaries and domestic storms. Confidence-building measures must precede fateful decisions for both parties. The election of Palestinian representatives to negotiate with the Israelis will represent real progress.
Second, it must be made clear to Israelis and Palestinians and, more important, to other Arabs, Europeans and Americans that negotiation is between geographical, not ideological, entities. The first phase is to reassure the indigenous Palestinian population that they will be achieving freedom in their territory and eventually the mastery of it. That resolution must lead in the direction of statehood. There is no other way to stabilize Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Palestinian freedom is in the hands of the Israelis and no one else, for it cannot be fulfilled without the end of their occupation. The genuine Palestine Liberation Organization today is comprised of the leaders of the intifadeh even if they are not the leaders of the parent PLO. Twenty years of relative peace with the Israelis have given these Palestinians more than ample time to learn a few hard facts: Israel's existence is inevitable; in any future Arab war against Israel, the Palestinians will be the main victims; the solution to their problem will be a partitioned Palestine; and the price of freedom from Israeli occupation will be their separation from the futile policies of the Arab League.
As long as the Palestinians relate their grievances to the interests of the Arab states or to the Arab League, they will always fall short of realizing their goal of statehood.
Third, negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis must start with an a priori understanding that the end of the process-Palestinian independence-does not constitute an existential danger to Israel. Palestinian statehood must be achieved only in strict conformity with Israeli security. This will entail most complex and detailed Israeli security arrangements that do not significantly modify Palestinian sovereignty.
Limited sovereignty for security is the most hopeful and thus cardinal basis for successful negotiation and conflict resolution. This means that the end of the tunnel for the negotiators now is the same as it was for Israel and Egypt in 1977, namely an exchange of territory for peace. The current communal strife, however, is considerably different from the Egyptian-Israeli conflict. In that interstate confrontation neither party claimed the other's capital or territory as its own.
Nor will a Palestinian state be capable of exclusively maintaining its security and political integrity. Palestinian security must be linked to Jordan and Israel. Therefore the negotiations between the parties must pursue ways to guarantee the security of Israel, Jordan and the emergent Palestinian entity. Security, not acreage, must be the foundation of Israel's national interest.
Once a Palestinian state is in place, security can be achieved through an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian arrangement. A police force composed of the three parties will protect the Palestinian territory against internal terrorism. It must be assumed that neither Syria, nor its radical PLO clients, nor the fanatic Hamas Muslim fundamentalist movement in Gaza will be reconciled to any Israeli-Palestinian settlement. A Palestinian state will have no armed forces and its sovereignty will be restricted to the conduct of foreign affairs, its security being organically linked to Israel and Jordan. A Palestinian state will be nonaligned in the manner of Austria or Finland.
Fourth, the negotiations should proceed in phases. The PLO empowers the leaders of the intifadeh to negotiate now, remaining at arm's length from the process itself. For all its recent rhetoric, the PLO in Israeli perceptions is still an organization dedicated to reducing Israel to some acceptable Arabophil colonialist's ghost-state of 1947.
Fifth-the hardest obstacle to overcome-there must be an Israeli commitment to the principle of military, political and psychological withdrawal from Palestinian territory. Without this, a peace settlement cannot succeed.
So emotionally charged an agenda can only be implemented if unbreakable ground rules are in place. If the U.S. administration blithely ignores those rules, it will seriously harm its role as the one go-between of unchallengeable goodwill to all parties. An American-or Egyptian-plan that preempts the negotiation while confidence-building measures are taking place will be premature and harmful to the process.
What we can expect next, even before formal negotiations start, is a transformation of the political and military disorder into a more hopeful diplomatic offensive. Most immediately, the Israeli containment of the Palestinian uprising will switch from a police mode to one of low-grade conflict, even as some Israeli political leaders open a dialogue with the uprising's leaders. Western diplomats and journalists will probably see a contradiction here, but not the shrewd and wily Arab leaders. Such action will transform the differences between Likud and Labor from the level of ideological argument into an understanding of Israel's basic security needs.
Labor and Likud are already intensifying personal contacts and exchanges with the leadership of the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza. Secret diplomacy is conducted on a daily basis between members of the Israeli cabinet, including Shamir, Arens and Rabin, and intifadeh leaders. A new generation of Palestinians is now ready to be Israel's natural negotiating partner.
An international diplomatic offensive, independent of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, should not impose the form that those direct negotiations should take. It should not repeat the poor man's Versailles formulated with lamentable seriousness by Peres and King Hussein, and reluctantly supported by Secretary of State George Shultz during the latter years of the Reagan Administration.
But no international conference can convene until the parties on the ground have agreed on an agenda. In Israel it may even be necessary to hold a plebiscite or new elections to determine the country's stand on this issue. Negotiations leading to Palestinian sovereignty cannot be undertaken under the glare of an aggressive international media.
The Shamir/Arens team has modified its attitude toward an international conference. Likud is growing eager to reopen diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union to set the pace for diplomacy. There is some progress in Soviet-Israeli relations represented in the exchange of low-level diplomatic officials between Tel Aviv and Moscow. Israeli leaders hope that President Gorbachev, unlike some of his predecessors, realizes the Soviet Union restricted its flexibility in the region by giving a monopoly of its support to ineffectual Arab regimes. The Soviet foreign ministry nomenklatura, however, may still be psychologically unprepared to abandon its rigid insistence on a formally convened international conference. Signals from Moscow are mixed. Elections to the provisional autonomy could modify present Soviet policy.
The United States has a primary role to play in communicating, explaining and interpreting the parties' fundamental requirements; it would become the parties' most trustful and confidential outsider. As an honest broker America would help the parties, at least in the initial stages, to inch toward one another and overcome misunderstandings and prevent stalemates.
The United States and the Soviet Union must be partners in this enterprise. In order to ease the strain at each phase of the negotiations, the superpowers must guide their allies toward compromise. America has a special obligation to inform Israel of its dealings with the Tunis-based PLO and with the Soviets. No predetermined forum or agenda should be acceptable or negotiable. The Israelis must warn their American colleagues that the program is workable only with Israel's assent as the strongest, but also the most endangered, participant, and that any American attempt to modify or preempt it will destroy the process.
The role of Jordan is crucial. Without the Hashemite Kingdom there is no starting point for any negotiations. If this sounds hopeless in light of King Hussein's stated determination to stay out of the peace process, it is nevertheless true that no final territorial arrangement can be signed, let alone implemented, without taking Jordan into consideration. Nor can King Hussein afford to stay out of such discussions, although he must be given a decent interval to join them. In any case a U.S.-Soviet partnership with Israeli and Egyptian participation will lure him back, given time and a genuine admission on all sides of his country's indispensability. King Hussein acceded to a desert throne with Palestinian guests as virtual trespassers and he now rules what almost amounts to a Palestinian state. He stands or falls by what happens to the west of the Jordan River.
Any form of negotiation that does not take into account the psychological, intellectual and political contingencies on which the eternal Israeli-Palestinian conflict turns is bound to fail. Thus a premature international conference determined to establish an independent Palestinian state will not be a fruitful intermediary for long. To reiterate, a successful agenda is one with no winners and no losers. It must accept the following assumptions:
-The principal of security; Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan have a common interest in the Jordan River being a "good-fences-make-good-neighbors" security zone. The most stringent and detailed Israeli security measures must be in place.
-The principle of withdrawal; Israeli military occupation must end. In the first phase of withdrawal, no military presence will be allowed except for Israel Defense Forces' enclaves on the river's West Bank, and they would remain until further political development of the Arab-Israeli conflict is guaranteed.
-The principle of sovereignty; no independent Palestinian state will be formally established until the Arab League renounces its struggle against Israel, followed by the recognition of Israel by all Arab moderate states; and certainly not until an Israeli-Jordanian formal accommodation is in place. A Palestinian state would represent the end of Arab claims on Israel.
-Whatever communal and religious combinations and arrangements come into being within the city government of Jerusalem, it will never become an exclusively Arab capital.
-The prospect of a long-term Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian confederation-a coalition of the stable urban states-must be seriously considered and emphasized as the best possible solution to the turbulence of the region.
A more intimate U.S.-Soviet coordination based on mutual unwillingness to raise the stakes and a U.S.-Israeli relationship based on trust will go a long way toward facilitating negotiations. But the United States must also build upon its new contact with the PLO to urge the granting of negotiating authority to Palestinian leaders in the West Bank.
The intrepid men and women of the intifadeh have the biggest interest in negotiations toward future stability, and indeed they were responsible for rescuing Arafat's PLO from its moribund state and giving it an opportunity to creep back into the spotlight. It is this Palestinian leadership with which Israel must negotiate on terms of mutual respect. If anything, the current whirlwind activities of Arafat's PLO and its "armed struggle" posture in southern Lebanon will derail any effort toward a final resolution of the Palestinian question; Arafat probably knows this, but dares not acknowledge it.
Nevertheless, there is no security for a divided Israel and there is no substitute for Israel Defense Forces on the West Bank of the Jordan River that can obviate the need for U.S. (Sinai-style) or U.N. troops, until full political stability is attained.
If these proposals seem more advantageous to Israel than to the Palestinians, then the result of the 1988 elections, the nature of the present Israeli government and the apprehensive mood of the nation all dictate that there is no room for mistakes. Israel needs a genuine security arrangement with its neighbors, supported by its chief ally, the United States, and legitimized by the moderate Arab world and the international community.
Resolution of the Palestinian question entails decoupling it from the whole Arab-Israeli conflict. Let us not forget that Syria, Iraq and Libya remain in the wings as potential combatants in a more general war, and as weapons get more deadly the region gets no larger. The hostility of Arab states toward Israel remains to be addressed over the years in a less poisoned atmosphere.
A resolution of the Palestinian conflict would have two salutary effects for Israel. The Palestinian cause has always been a rallying cry for other Arab states and a settlement would deprive them of the flag of the homeless. It would also restore Israel's democratic reputation, cement the traditional U.S.-Israeli friendship and rekindle the support of troubled American Jews. It would go a long way toward ending the increasing isolation of Israel caused by the intifadeh and Israel's harsh countermeasures.
A troubled Israeli society, politically divided, in search of necessary security, must unburden itself of the millstone of occupation and regain the moral high ground-the historic domain in international politics where the nation's founders consciously meant Israel always to be.