Russia’s Repeat Failures
Moscow’s New Strategy in Ukraine Is Just as Bad as the Old One
Those who call for a "new order" in the Middle East are very generous in their regard for our troubled region, as if we ever had an "old order." The grim truth of the matter is that the Middle East is characterized by numerous political volcanoes, distributed randomly in space, which erupt violently, randomly in time. This is a textbook definition of disorder. Whether in cellular biology, solid state physics, social structure or political systems, the transformation of disorder into order entails the investment of energy for the application of a set of rules.
We in Israel have our concept of the relevant rules that we believe is shared by the international community, and we are ready to spend all needed energy toward transforming our region from chaos to order. My stand and that of the Likud Party is a Zionist position. Others will have different positions, which they can certainly present with conviction. If, from our respective positions, we are all ready to direct our energies toward signing peace treaties, then it is worthwhile stating those positions without the "constructive ambiguities" of the past, which have turned out to be not so constructive after all. Given the situation after the Cold War, the Gulf War and the indication of changing attitudes among some of the Arab governments, there is danger that false expectations will lead to a repetition of past errors. This time, therefore, let us try some "constructive clarity."
Our Zionist stand is based on the Zionist goal: the creation of a safe haven for the Jewish nation in the Land of Israel. It rests on two pillars: the right of the Jewish nation to the Land of Israel; and the right of the Jewish state to national security, to allow its sons and daughters to live in freedom. Upon these pillars rests the three-pronged policy of the Israeli government: the prevention of foreign rule west of the Jordan River, an initiative to establish understanding and mutual respect between Israelis and their Arab neighbors, and efforts to reach peace treaties between Israel and the Arab countries.
There are those who dismiss this Zionist stand as founded on aspirations of the past, not on a rational examination of difficulties in the present. I sometimes find myself envious of those of other nations, not as ancient as ours, not as rich with spiritual treasures, not as tied to the cradle of their heritage who, nevertheless, have deep feelings toward their country and express those feelings as "self-evident."
Early in my service as a member of the Knesset, I hosted a delegation of visitors headed by a member of the U.S. Congress from Alaska, which had been transferred to American sovereignty from the Russian tsars in the Alaska purchase some 125 years ago. For my guests it was self-evident that Alaska is part and parcel of the United States. I reminded my visitors that the "Hebron purchase" had taken place some four thousand years ago, between Abraham the Hebrew and Ephron the Hittite; that the "Jerusalem purchase" was sealed three thousand years ago between David the Jew and Aravna the Jebusite, and that we can present a document proving that in both cases our forefathers paid for those lands in cash-a document called the Bible.
North of Jerusalem the Arab village of Anata now stands where 2,600 years ago Jeremiah was born and raised in the village then called Anatot. Since his prophecy, and that of the other Hebrew prophets of that era, no one has surpassed them in spiritual achievement. In every realm of life new generations improve upon their predecessors, but in this case the Hebrew prophets peaked, both in literary style and in moral values. If there are universal values, they are reflected best in the writings of these sons of the Jewish nation. Therefore we believe that our quest for a natural, open, straightforward connection to these sources of our heritage should be taken as "self-evident."
In the United States there are several towns called Shiloh. It is inconceivable that the mayor of such a town could decree it illegal for a Jewish family to live there, just because they are Jews and because some Americans living there might be, as they say today, "sensitive." It is inconceivable to me, therefore, that Jews would be legally barred from dwelling in the original biblical Shiloh, ten miles north of Jerusalem, on grounds of their Jewishness. This, too, is "self-evident."
These assertions seem, to some people, to conflict with the right of the Arab inhabitants of Judea, Samaria and Gaza to establish their own state. I would like, however, to challenge such a wrong impression. In order for a group of people to be considered a separate nation, to have the right to self-determination, that people must be different from other groups to such an extent that would justify its separation from them. In the Land of Israel, on both sides of the Jordan River, within the boundaries of Palestine, only two such groups live: the children of the Arab nation and the children of the Jewish nation. The Palestinian Arabs on both sides of the Jordan River are claimed as an integral part of the Arab nation even under the Palestinian charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But the Syrian government, for instance, has for past decades considered the Palestinian Arabs to be "South Syrians"; the lack of distinguishing national qualities is one of the reasons why Syrian leaders have long been reserved about the need for a unique Palestinian Arab state.
Yet people still insist that the Arabs in the Land of Israel, that is the Arabs of Palestine, are distinguished in their traits and dialect from their Arab brethren in Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
For the sake of argument let us accept that position, although many would agree that the differences between an Italian from Milan and an Italian from Naples are deeper than the differences between an Arab from Baghdad and an Arab from Amman. But now, after we distinguish this group from the Arab nation and after we refer to them in a linguistic exercise as a "people," the proposition is imposed upon us that out of this "people" we should still distinguish the Arabs of Samaria-Judea-Gaza as a separate "people." This artificial distinction must lead, however, to the far-reaching conclusion that the Palestinian-Arab people is now separated into three different peoples: the Samarian-Judean-Gazan Arab people in the center, the Trans-Jordanian Arab people to the east and the Israeli Gallilean Arab people to the west. If the first has a right to self-determination, so have the other two. In other words: one becomes three, and the result is nonsensical.
Rhetorical positions aside, the Arab nation of all the nations on earth has enjoyed the fullest expression of its right to self-determination, in 20 independent states where 95 percent of the sons and daughters of the Arab nation live. The need for a unique Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan River was not heard before 1967 in the years when Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria.
In the Land of Israel, which some call Palestine, two states were established: one Arab, one Jewish. There is no group of different and distinct Arabs that is eligible on the basis of the principle of self-determination to establish an additional Arab state west of the Jordan River.
It is true that the 1978 Camp David accords state that negotiations on the final status of Samaria, Judea and the Gaza district will address the "legitimate rights" of its Arab inhabitants. But these legitimate rights do not include the right to establish another Arab state, especially as we know that such a state would eventually be established upon the ruins of the state of Israel. We must make every effort to reach an agreement with our Arab neighbors based on mutual respect, but we must not yield to the false claim that such an agreement must be based on the fictitious recognition of a "symmetry" between the rights of the Jewish nation and that small portion-one percent-of the Arab nation in the western Land of Israel.
The set of rules pertaining to the Arab-Israeli dispute are contained in three familiar international documents. First, U.N. resolution 242, adopted on November 22, 1967, called for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied" and, at the same time, "acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area, and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries." The resolution is "a balanced whole," said Lord Caradon of Britain, its sponsor, in 1967. "To add to it or to detract from it would destroy the balance. . . . It must be considered as a whole and as it stands."
Six years later the U.N. Security Council ordered in resolution 338 that "negotiations start between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices, aimed at establishing a just and lasting peace in the Middle East." Thus, resolution 242 offers guidelines toward the desired goal, and resolution 338 describes the method for getting there.
Building for peace in our region another tier was laid down in 1978 when Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat signed the framework for peace in the Middle East at Camp David in Maryland. This agreement includes a declaration that "the parties are determined to reach a just, comprehensive and durable settlement of the Middle East conflict through the conclusion of peace treaties based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 in all their parts." Based on the generalities of resolutions 242 and 338, the framework is much more specific and detailed.
Up to now the Arab states, with the exception of Egypt, have paid only lip service to their acceptance of resolutions 242 and 338, and this set of rules has been severely distorted, both by addition and by omission. The "right of self-determination of the Palestinians" does not appear in the text; an international parley is not mentioned; the parties appearing in the text only include states, and no "organization," or terrorist syndicate such as the PLO, is mentioned. The phrase "territories occupied" is neither preceded by "the," nor is it followed by "on all fronts." Moreover resolution 242 specifically mentions withdrawal of Israel's armed forces, and not its administration or any other aspect of its sovereignty.
Concurrent with undue additions, a major omission has become habitual in discussion: few remember that the crux of resolutions 242 and 338 is negotiations between parties aimed at establishing a just and durable peace. The rest of the texts, as important as they may be, are details, and since some of these significant details are disputed, the differences must be resolved through direct negotiations without prior conditions.
There is for example an obvious need to reconcile the conflicting rules of "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces" and "peace within secure and recognized boundaries." This is to be resolved by the rules through "negotiations between parties" as imbedded in resolution 338.
The different interpretations of resolution 242 also show the need for direct negotiations. That there are several legitimate interpretations can be learned from the observations of Professor Eugene V. Rostow, who served as the American under-secretary of state for political affairs in 1967 and who was involved in the drafting of resolution 242: "Since Israel has already returned the Sinai, which constitutes over 90 percent of the territory it occupied in 1967, a settlement between Israel and Jordan could satisfy resolution 242 if it transferred all, or some, or none of the West Bank to Jordanian sovereignty."
We know of course that geography does not guarantee security, but we also know that in the Middle East a lack of minimum geography guarantees defeat. If a government of Israel declares, as some people expect it to, that it would be ready to shrink itself back to the pre-1967 lines "in exchange for peace," shortsightedness will triumph and peace will be defeated. The temptation to eliminate the ten-mile-wide Jewish democracy in one quick blow would be irresistible for Middle Eastern dictators, whether radical Arab nationalists such as those in Syria and Iraq, or Islamic fundamentalists in Iran or Algeria.
Even if our responsible position is not accepted, it is important not to be preoccupied with the fact that there exist different interpretations to resolution 242. Advocating the single, narrow interpretation of "land for peace" may leave no room for negotiations, unless the determination of a timetable for Israel's withdrawal to the pre-1967 armistice lines is defined as "negotiations." The very insistence on such an Israeli declaration as a precondition stands in direct contrast with the call for negotiations between parties, because by then the outcome of negotiations would have been decided before they even began.
The territorial issue as an "obstacle to peace" standing between Israel and the Arab states is artificial, and therefore it is unjustified. Of the 19 Arab states still in a state of war with Israel 16 do not share a border with Israel and, of the remaining three, Lebanon and Jordan do not have a dispute with Israel over the location of the border. Lebanon and Israel both recognize the international border between them, and King Hussein of Jordan, in his summer 1988 announcement that he was severing his ties with the West Bank, implicitly determined the Jordan River as the western border of his kingdom.
There is no reasonable explanation why Saudi Arabia, for example, is still in a state of war with Israel, nor is there reasonable justification for its American friends to avoid explaining that to the Saudi family. The club of democracies should demand that members of the Arab League refrain from raising the territorial excuse and insist that they fulfill their obligation as members of the United Nations: to pass from a state of war with another member state of the United Nations to a state of peace through direct negotiations between parties according to resolution 338.
It has become habit to neglect the fact that the Camp David accords deal not only with the relations between Jews and Arabs west of the Jordan River, but require the broadening of the scope of peace to include Arab states. Sometimes the obvious is forgotten: it is a coalition of Arab states armed with tanks and fighter aircraft that will decide if there will be peace or war in the Middle East and not the Palestinian Arabs west of the Jordan River. Real peace requires discussion about reducing this threat and not about increasing Israeli vulnerability alone. After the Gulf War it is clear that more effort must now be devoted to this wider aspect of the conflict, and more rigorous treatment is needed here.
For too long we have been exposed to the guessing game of who means what, when he or she says this or that. We had been told that Iraq's leaders are moderate, actually, and Saddam Hussein is pragmatic (and "do not pay attention to the violent threats against Israel, they are necessary for internal consumption"). We were told that the PLO is moderate, actually, and Yasir Arafat is pragmatic ("and do not pay attention to continuing acts of terrorism by PLO constituent organizations"). Behind this smokescreen of alleged moderation, Iraq acquired and built a grand war machine from both Eastern and Western sources. The PLO in turn was the most enthusiastic supporter of Saddam Hussein in the Arab world and praised his threats to destroy half of Israel. Should Israel believe untested assumptions about Middle Eastern leaders, or should it hold them to certain standards? Learning the lessons of the past, we certainly need an accurate, simple and obvious litmus test of the other side's intentions.
The following two questions should be directed, on a one-by-one basis, to the Arab leaders of states who consider themselves to be in a state of war with Israel:
-Do you unequivocally accept the natural right of the Jewish people to establish and maintain a viable Jewish state in the Land of Israel (the word Palestine can also be used if it would help)?
-Are you ready to enter face-to-face, open, bilateral negotiations without prior conditions aimed at the signing of a contractual peace treaty with the Jewish state of Israel (or just Israel if that would help)?
"Negotiations without prior conditions" deserves clarification. It does not imply that each side abandon its own dreams or political positions. But preconditions cannot be placed on the actual opening of negotiations; it is illogical to attempt to force the other party to change its position in advance, as a condition to begin talks. Each side will come with its position, willing at least to sit openly face-to-face at the negotiating table, the proclaimed goal of the talks being the signing of peace treaties between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Despite the prospect of receiving evasive or even negative answers, the leaders of the emerging world order can be expected to insist on positive answers to both these questions. This approach should be adopted as a brave, new diplomatic standard, leading to a meaningful peace process.
These days the question is sometimes asked: How will regional arms control arrangements affect the political process in the Middle East? I would suggest that the question be reversed. It is the "meaningful peace process" that should affect arms control arrangements, and not vice versa. The reason is the awkward fact that the Middle East is different from Europe. In the Israeli situation the basic long-term threat is not miscalculation; it is cool, cruel, systematic calculation aimed at the elimination of the Jewish democracy from the heart of the Arab nations. Until this element is openly eliminated from Middle East politics, arms control arrangements will be of little use, or even detrimental. Because the basic issue of the legitimacy of a specific state in Europe did not exist, a bottom-up approach to arms control was workable there. But in the Middle East, where Israel is still generally considered illegitimate, a top-to-bottom approach must logically be applied.
A new political alignment in this armed, violent, intolerant part of the world must be accompanied by a realigned state of mind on the part of the Arab leadership. The fate of the Kurdish minority in Iraq and along the barren hilltops of southern Turkey is a reminder to all Middle Eastern peoples of the potential magnitude of national tragedy that can confront a nation incapable of defending itself in the Arab world of 1991.
"Missiles are not impressed by strategic depth," we are told. "When a missile is launched from Iraq or Syria it does not stop in Judea, in Samaria or in the Gaza district in order to receive permission to continue on its course." This statement, heard in the wake of the Gulf War, is intended to undermine the assertion that Israeli rule over the area west of the Jordan River is vital to the existence of the Jewish state. The smart wording cannot hide the superficial thought behind this policy.
Even after the Arab missile attacks on Israel's population centers it must be understood that the source of the threat to Israel's existence is a ground attack, and a missile attack only exacerbates this threat.
We are faced here with the common military problem of calculating time and space. Israel will always be protected by a small standing army, dependent on its reserves, and will always require a process to mobilize them. The mobilization will always take a few days. It can be executed only after careful assessment and deliberation by Israel's democratic government. This is the practical timetable that should be compared with the observation that a few hours are sufficient for a large Arab land force to be deployed at a zero distance from Israel's major metropolitan area, the strategic center of the Israeli state. The significance of the Golan, of Judea and Samaria is not derived from the 20 miles (Golan) or 30 miles (Judea and Samaria) that they add to Israel, but rather comes from their rugged topography. Israel will always need reasonably defensive positions there to hold back a massive ground attack with a small standing army, while the Israeli reserve call-up is underway.
The problem of missiles exacerbates this danger. The Syrian army has fielded accurate missiles with a range of 60 miles, as well as missiles with a range of 300 miles, carrying conventional warheads weighing 1,000 kilograms and even carrying chemical warheads. Chinese missiles with a range of 1,400 miles were supplied to Saudi Arabia and could also be supplied to Iran. The fact of the matter is that a mobile Syrian army, coupled with even a partially restored Iraqi army, can cross the Jordan River in less time than it takes to deploy Israel's reserve forces at full strength. In a coordinated attack Israel's enemies can inflict serious damage to its airfields and depots using their accurate missiles, and inflict heavy casualties to population centers using the other missiles. This would disrupt Israel's ability to maintain the vital mobilization of its reserves, while a large ground force crosses the Jordan, greeted by Arab residents cheering on the roof tops in demilitarized Samaria, and reaching the heart of Israel in a single night's movement. This is a severe yet reasonable scenario, and its potential realization carries the serious and not improbable ramification: the surrender of the Jewish state.
The realization that the threat to Israel's existence is indeed a ground attack from the east is shared by the Israeli Labor Party. Examination of the party's platform reveals this recognition in its keystone item, stressing that Israel's "security border" must be the Jordan River. Yet if the Jordan Valley is under Israeli sovereignty, according to the concept of "territorial compromise," but parts of Judea and Samaria are relinquished, this would immediately lead to the single possible result: the seizing of power there by the PLO and the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, followed by the establishment of another terrorist Arab state, alongside Iraq, Syria and Libya. The danger in its constitution is its ability to mobilize the Arab force, using the slogan of Arab solidarity in order to implement the Arab "right of return" to Jaffa, Lod and Haifa.
Our Zionist conclusion is, therefore, logical and plausible. It is vital for Israeli security to control the Golan Heights as well as the entire area west of the Jordan River. By defending our land we will protect our people.
"That is all well and good," we are told, "but doesn't the situation in Europe prove that it is possible to agree on security arrangements capable of alleviating the tension between East and West? Aren't you exaggerating your demand for security standards?" On the contrary; we can look toward Europe and learn.
In the past few years the NATO allies have come to realize that the source of Europe's security problem is not nuclear weapons but the unacceptable disparity between the Warsaw Pact and NATO in conventional arms. In March 1989 representatives of 23 European states, East and West, along with U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker, gathered in Vienna for the first conference on limiting conventional forces in Europe (CFE), which is now about to conclude successfully in Brussels. The figures presented in Vienna were simple. For example, 52,000 tanks in the Warsaw Pact against 22,000 in NATO-a ratio of almost 2.5 to 1-was considered unreasonable and unacceptable to the Western democracies.
The CFE treaty is based upon three guidelines: the potential enemy is judged by its capabilities, not by its perceived intentions; capability is assessed through the infamous bean-counting method irrespective of weapon sophistication; and based on such an assessment the requirement is a 1:1 ratio between East and West armaments (20,000 tanks in the West must balance 20,000 tanks in the East, and the combined forces of eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland must not exceed 7,500 tanks, against the same 7,500 in France, Belgium and Holland).
It is both possible and necessary to compare these newly defined, reasonable standards of national security with the Middle East situation and examine whether Israeli citizens too can expect to enjoy these standards.
Before the Gulf War, in terms of disparity on Israel's eastern front alone (Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia), some 9,000 tanks were fielded, as compared to less than 4,000 in Israel. This 2.25-to-1 ratio, unacceptable in Europe, must also be considered alongside Israel's western front, taking into account the rise in fundamentalist Islam that has already reached Algeria.
The strategic depth in western Europe at its narrowest section, opposite Holland and Belgium, is some 300 miles. "Greater Israel," however, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea opposite metropolitan Tel Aviv is only 45 miles.
In terms of early warning time, to most Israelis the current debate in NATO on whether the standard warning time for NATO troops should be two weeks, as in the past, or four-to-six weeks sounds ridiculous. Faced with dictatorships that are difficult to deter, a surprise attack is within their capability. Israel must be at a state of readiness measured in days or hours, not weeks or months.
Since the worst of all wars 45 years ago Europe has not experienced a war, while the Middle East in the past decade alone has known the horrors of the Iran-Iraq War and its one million casualties, and the Gulf War with its horrible consequences in 1991. Israel, of course, has also been the target of six wars since its inception and the recipient of cruel missile attacks in the recent Gulf War. The most accurate official account of the current Arab nations' intention toward Israel is the concluding declaration made on May 26, 1989, at the Casablanca summit of the Arab League, just two weeks after Israel announced its own peace initiative. It included the Arab commitment to "the right of return," and to the rallying of all Arab forces to achieve strategic parity to contain the "Israeli aggression."
Preempting a possible new alignment in the Middle East, Syria used the $2 billion check it received from Saudi Arabia (in exchange for the services rendered in the Gulf War by Syria's 9th Armored Division) to purchase Scud missiles from North Korea (which have a 300-mile range and a 1,000-kilogram warhead), 300 T-72-M1 tanks from Czechoslovakia, and it is discussing procurement of M-9 missiles from China. The Syrian protectorate imposed on Lebanon in May 1991 is another indication of Syria's regional ambitions.
All efforts aimed at arms control in the Middle East must therefore address first the enormous asymmetry in conventional arms between Israel and its enemies as it was applied in Europe.
The Arab-Israeli dispute is so deeply rooted-in both the historical and psychological senses-that one should not expect it to be solved in a single short diplomatic move. With this realization in mind the participants in the Camp David accords agreed on a gradual approach. This in turn was translated to a "partial agreement," in two different meanings. First it is an interim agreement, defining a transitional period of five years, which will enable the parties to examine carefully the developments in the Middle East, in particular, those west of the Jordan River. Second the agreement is partial also in terms of substance. The parties are asked to seek agreement on the "softer" issues, on which they can hopefully agree, while addressing the harder issues would be deferred to a later phase (but still within the transitional period). It is understood that the hardest-to-solve point of contention is the final status of Samaria, Judea and the Gaza district.
The wisdom of Camp David dictated that the five transitional years should not be wasted, but instead should become a source for confidence building between Arabs and Jews west of the Jordan River. This approach was translated to the need to decrease to a minimum possible sources of friction between the Arab inhabitants and branches of the Israeli government. The tool proposed for that was a self-governing authority. Accordingly the Arab inhabitants of Samaria, Judea and Gaza will run their own affairs through an Arab administrative council to be elected by them, while Israel takes care of its security through means determined by the government.
The concept of autonomy for the Arab inhabitants of Judea, Samaria and Gaza has its origin in the writings of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the Likud mentor, more than 50 years ago. It was echoed in the platforms of the Likud Party and its Herut element before coming to power in 1977, and the concept was modified by Prime Minister Begin late that year. Originally it pertained to Arab religious and cultural autonomy, to be guaranteed under Israeli sovereignty. The 1977 modification greatly expanded its scope, and Arab autonomy is not now conceived as under Israeli sovereignty. This was a far-reaching leap in Likud thinking and is a significant concession on its part. The initial reservations about the Camp David accords voiced by some Likud leaders revolved around the prospects of relinquishing to Egypt the whole Sinai Peninsula, including Jewish towns there-reservations that were also shared by leaders of the Labor Party. But since 1978 the Camp David accords have been an essential part of the Likud platform.
It should be stressed that the agreement between Egypt and Israel concerning Arab autonomy pertains not to the territory of Samaria, Judea and Gaza, but to its Arab inhabitants. In early 1982, before the Egyptian delegation withdrew from the negotiations, Israel proposed an extensive, detailed list of powers and responsibilities to be transferred to the Arab administrative council.1 These include: administration of justice, including supervision of the administrative and prosecution systems; administration of finance-budgeting and allocation, taxation; and local police, with the operation of a strong police force and maintenance of prisons for criminal offenders. This far-reaching proposal is still on the table, and was included in Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's letter to President Bush in April 1990.
An important element in the Camp David framework is the fact that it is open-ended. There is nothing in the accords that would preclude any agreed solution to the final status. The Arabs therefore have not been required to give up any of their positions from the outset, including their claim to Arab sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and Gaza. They will be able to raise their claims during negotiations on these issues, while the elected government of Israel will come to the negotiations with its own stand, according to the free decision of the majority in Israel.
It was understood at Camp David that an agreement between Jews and Arabs west of the Jordan River cannot stand alone. An integral part of the package must be, as agreed, the signing of a peace treaty with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan by the end of the transitional period. This wider scope of the peace process is essential to a successful long-term outcome of the negotiations, and it would prevent a future use of Jordan as a platform for Iraqi tanks moving toward Israel.
The Camp David framework is the only practical diplomatic vehicle that carries any hope for progress toward a workable solution, containing the necessary and the sufficient elements for beginning negotiations. It is important that our Arab neighbors examine these documents and assess their advantages without prejudice. They must give up the illusion that violence, from within or without, shall force us into more far-reaching proposals, such as a commitment to accept a future 21st Arab state west of the Jordan River. All of us will have to find a way to live side by side west of the Jordan River-and when our neighbors understand that, there is a possibility that they will sit with us, negotiate and agree, for their sake. We shall be there too, for our sake.
The Gulf War reminds us once again that Israel lives under extremely difficult conditions, in a violent, totalitarian environment. It cannot be merely coincidence that among the 20 Arab states, which have been free from the yoke of colonialism for one or two generations, none has succeeded in establishing a democracy. The Arab states are oligarchies or dictatorships; their governments have not been legitimized by the democratic process. It is little wonder that they maintain power through the military and a suppressed press, and as far as order goes, too many of them were ordained in the order of state terrorism.
Political violence, it must be concluded, is characteristic in the Middle East, a region that relatively recently emerged from the Ottoman Empire, and whose borders have not yet solidified. The dictatorial nature of the regimes in the Arab countries is not conducive to change, and dictators often fall into the habit of using hatred as a political tool. Today this hatred is specifically directed toward the Jewish state.
When people demand "Peace Now," it is our responsibility to ask them, "And what then?" The conflict between Israel and the Arab nations has deep historical and psychological roots pertaining not only to Samaria, Judea and Gaza but also to the Israeli coastal plain. What is Hebron to us, they call el-Halil; Ashkelon for us is Majdal to them; our Jerusalem is their Urshulim-el-Kuds, and our Haifa is for them also Haifa. This is not "just another" border dispute on acid rain, sardine fishing rights or even drug smuggling. For Israel it is an existential issue, and such a conflict cannot be ended by a quick fix.
For an attempted diplomacy in the Middle East, overenthusiasm is no virtue, and a cautious approach is no vice. For us Israelis guarded optimism has a different twist: it is important to be an optimist; it is vital to be on guard.
1 Egypt withdrew from those negotiations under Arab pressure, as admitted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Anaba, Jan. 6, 1988.