The Search for a Syria Strategy
What Biden Can Learn From Trump’s Successes and Failures
The olive tree, the oldest tree in the world, whose leaves form the symbol of peace, grows in the Middle East. Also to be found there is a concentration of the most modern weaponry of our epoch, weapons being used right now in warfare.
Peace, like a tree, is a process of growth; it demands great patience, continuous nurturing and the surmounting of many obstacles. Enmity, on the other hand, like a storm brewing, can emerge unannounced. The Middle East is diverse enough to harbor the two processes at one and the same time, and it remains sufficiently magical to attract the opposing forces in the world in the spheres of ideology, strategy and energy.
Important mutations have, nevertheless, occurred, introducing an entirely new situation. One is the change that has occurred in geopolitical priorities: it is the Persian Gulf, a region of about 400 kilometers square, that has taken importance over the warm water of the Mediterranean. Control of the oil and water of the Persian Gulf has a critical influence on the economy of the free world-on the price of gasoline in the United States, on Europe's economic condition, in determining Japan's ability to function-while the Strait of Hormuz has become more of a temptation for the U.S.S.R. than the Mediterranean basin. Energy has become more important than geography.
The Persian Gulf is populated by Muslim states ruled by kings, sheikhs and generals. Not a single Gulf state can be certain of its stability, and almost all are caught up in the contradictory processes of precipitate enrichment and swift modernization on the one hand, and of political backwardness and fragile social structure on the other.
For the first time in the second half of the twentieth century-and this is another change-one of the most important states of the region, Iran, has been captured by a fanatical religious preacher: Ayatollah Khomeini. Employing the most modern means of communication, with cassettes and television cameras, religious fanaticism, resembling the uncompromising spirit of medieval times, has been resurrected. It has a magnetism of instant "purification and catharsis" and the brutal romanticism of the communist revolution; but this time, as extra insurance, it has the Almighty as well on its side. What will draw young people more-the call of Khomeini's slogans or the promise of progress which, for example, the Saudi kingdom has embarked on? It is too early to answer this question with any certainty. But it must be recognized that the question is a totally new one, of a threatening nature for all the states in the region.
The Soviet penetration into the Middle East which began about a quarter of a century ago, riding on the back of the double-humped camel-the Arab-Israeli conflict and nationalist and social unrest-has been extended and augmented. Now it appears to be a comprehensive strategy employing a variety of tactics and not just an improvisation by rival Kremlin forces-apparently the Navy now has a strong voice, an innovation for the land-oriented Russians.
The direction of this strategy can be discerned: its aim is to construct a large periphery encompassing the Persian Gulf and relying on a growing presence in the Middle East. The new Ethiopian regime has granted the Soviets a naval base enabling them to control the Strait of Bab el Mandeb at the entrance to the Red Sea. The Soviets have helped to build a Soviet-style Southern Yemen Republic, threatening the integrity of Saudi Arabia. The other Yemenite Republic is now also receiving Soviet arms, adding to the already existing threat.
Meanwhile, the use of the Red Army to invade Afghanistan, 300 miles from the Persian Gulf, has contributed a new dimension to the strategy which weighs heavily on a broken Iran and its vicinity. The fact is that for the first time since the Second World War, the Red Army has been sent in to conquer a country which is outside the recognized Soviet orbit-surely a source of concern to the other countries neighboring the U.S.S.R. Combined with this, the Soviets are careful to maintain their ties with Syria, supporting Libya and flirting with Iraq in an indefatigable effort to deepen their presence in all these countries.
The real change is not the Soviet ambition, but the means it has introduced: for the first time, a Soviet presence is assured by the participation of Cuban troops. There are 15,000 Cuban soldiers and officers in Ethiopia. It is hard to know who initiated the Cuban participation. Was it Fidel Castro, who described himself as not just a "Latin American," but also a "Latin African," or was it Leonid Brezhnev, who is investing about three billion dollars per annum to subsidize the Cuban economy? In any case, the result is clear: Soviet anchorage is based on a foreign force, not just on penetration into local structures.
Then again, new to our experience, a "little Cuba" has been created in the form of a People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. Arab states never hesitated to consume Soviet arms and experts. But in this case a Soviet model has been built on the sands of the Arabian peninsula. As Khomeini declared Iran an Islamic Republic, so has Abdul Fatah Ismail, the leader of the Southern Yemen Republic, declared his country a "Marxist-Leninist" state.
These changes have brought about another, unavoidable one: some of the Arab states, led by Egypt, have reached the conclusion that the Arab-Israeli conflict has lost some of its critical importance because there are greater, more urgent challenges of a threatening nature to their independence and integrity. There is a need to change priorities. Religious fanaticism on the one hand, and Soviet subversion on the other, are not merely external threats which can be halted at a formal border. They require the mobilization of national potential and the attention of the political leadership in order to prevent the collapse of the existing political structure.
Egyptian President Sadat, probably the greatest Arab leader in recent times, was the first to recognize the changing winds. Soviet momentum which began in Ethiopia could be extended to Somalia and Sudan, the source of the Nile. Then there is Libyan President Qaddafi, with a huge arsenal of modern arms trying to draft pilots and tank operators from Syria or North Korea, supported constantly by Soviet advice and promises. Sadat, like his predecessor Nasser, has always taken strong measures against the Muslim Brotherhood, which preceded Khomeini's revolution; yet it is hard to judge if it has disappeared completely from the scene.
Saudi Arabia, with all its wealth, must feel unhappy with the developments in North and South Yemen, which present a constant threat to the Kingdom both from within and without. What effect would be caused by fanatic Muslim propaganda, which accuses the princes of "sins in Mecca, not only in Paris"? These questions could also be posed in Kuwait, Abu-Dhabi, Bahrain and other princedoms.
Iraq cannot remain aloof in the light of what is happening in Iran and Afghanistan. It cannot go hand in hand with Syria, which has remained tied, for the moment, to its Soviet tutelage. Nor can it ignore the uneasiness which events in Iran could insert into its delicate composition; for Iraq is comprised of three almost equal parts, the Kurds, the Shi'ites and the Sunnis.
Another change has occurred in the Middle East: the peace between Egypt and Israel. When President Eisenhower sent his former Secretary of the Treasury, Robert B. Anderson, to mediate between the then Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, and the then Egyptian President, Nasser, Ben-Gurion suggested to Nasser that they meet and that "within hours" the problems would be settled. At that time, Nasser replied that after "those hours" there would not be an Egyptian leader left alive to meet with the Israelis. Sadat has demonstrated that imaginative statesmanship can surmount unfounded prophecy.
Today, meetings between Egyptian and Israeli leaders have become routine and peace has begun to appear as a living reality. The results have not been long in coming. The Egyptian economy has improved, tapping revenue from old and new oil fields, reopening the Suez Canal and exalting Egypt's prestige worldwide. Israel has relinquished a lot, including the oil fields, but it is enjoying, for the first time, the sensation of peace, something it has dreamed of since its inception.
These changes have obviously altered the "balance of concerns" in the Middle East. No longer can a Mediterranean country limit its horizons to the Middle East, nor can it lower its eyes to the Arab-Israeli conflict only. The Arab-Israeli conflict has lost some of its centrality, but it has not lost its importance. Local tensions call for a great effort to solve it as soon as possible so as to free regional, national and international energies to face the new challenges confronting a deeply worried world. Paradoxically, these new challenges have provided a better opportunity to maintain the momentum for peace than before, even though the region is more divided than ever. The camp of peace has not overcome the rejectionist front; it is not the rejection which is new in the situation, but the movement toward peace. The question is how to proceed with the negotiation in order to realize this new vista of peace.
To define what sort of peace Israel on its side is looking for we first have to answer the key question: What sort of Israel do we want?
The Labor Party of Israel believes that the Zionist movement has been driven by a double dream-the return of the dispersed Jewish people to their historic homeland and the construction of a new society based on universal and Jewish ideals of social justice. The objectives from the outset were for the Jews to be able to cultivate their own land, to operate their own industry, to defend their borders without exploiting other peoples. We hoped to free ourselves from dependency on others and were determined not to have other people dependent on us. We do not wish to dominate the Arabs against their will, nor would we like them to serve as an unskilled labor force, having succeeded, after so many years of exile and alienation, in having Jews till the land and becoming manual workers in industry and construction.
When the state of Israel was established, Palestine was in effect divided demographically into the part settled by the Jews and those sections settled by the Arabs. The political division followed the demographic one. The United Nations decided on the establishment of two states within this fairly small area of about 31,000 square kilometers. Israel complied with the U.N. compromise; the Arabs rejected it. Had the Arab states and the terrorist forces of the mufti of Jerusalem not launched their onslaught on us, it is quite likely that two states would exist today west of the Jordan River: one Jewish and one Arab.
But war was raging before the state had been proclaimed, and we had to fight for our lives. The war left the country divided, but instead of becoming an Arab state the West Bank came under the domination of the Arab Legion (Jordanian Army) and the Gaza Strip came under the control of the Egyptian Army. This partition remained intact between 1948 and 1967. When the Six Day War broke out in June 1967, the then Prime Minister of Israel, Levi Eshkol, appealed to King Hussein not to enter the war against us. "Don't touch us and we won't touch you," the King of Jordan was told. But Hussein was tempted by Nasser's premature boastings claiming feigned victories. He joined the war, losing the West Bank in his defeat, as the Egyptians lost the Gaza Strip and the Sinai.
The lesson of 30 years of Israel's existence, of the four wars that have been imposed on us, has taught us that we face a continuous challenge to our security. We have learned the hard way that even countries that voted at the United Nations for Israel would not be prepared to go to war to ensure our existence. Israel must always be capable of defending itself without the assistance of foreign troops. The policies of Israel were guided for almost three decades by the dual aspiration of being true to the moral foundations of the Jewish heritage not to rule over another people, while at the same time retaining a geographic structure which will give us secure borders and the capability of defending the integrity and security of Israel without relying on the call of foreign troops.
This brought us to the conclusion that, within the framework of a peace settlement, we would be prepared to relinquish parts of the West Bank on the condition that they remain demilitarized; that no foreign army ever again cross the Jordan River and menace the gates of Jerusalem, as happened in 1948 and in 1967; and that we gain defensible borders to deter a surprise attack on us, as happened in 1973.
We believe that peace is a contribution to security. While not ignoring our historic rights over the whole territory, our sights are set on the security and peace of the future. The map we have in mind thus implies territorial concessions for the sake of peace and retaining strips of land vital for security.
In the negotiations which started with Egypt in the wake of Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem in November 1977, the government of Israel agreed to surrender all of the Sinai. It was agreed that large sections would remain demilitarized or manned by limited paramilitary forces. The peace agreement with Egypt freed the area from the most recurrent and ominous threat to peace, namely the participation of the Egyptian army in another war. Yet we were left with the most complex problem on the road to a comprehensive peace: the solution of the Palestinian problem and the destiny of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
As to the solution of this problem, there appear to be at least two views in Israel. Prime Minister Menachem Begin has suggested an autonomy plan for the inhabitants of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. His initial proposal, with some alterations inserted at the insistence of Egypt and the suggestion of the United States, has become part of the Camp David Accords. Yet the autonomy plan designed at Camp David is of a general nature and the differences between Israel and Egypt on the direction of autonomy were either excluded or glossed over. These are now emerging and being discussed in the negotiations between Egypt and Israel with the participation of the United States. The cleavage remains wide. Will the self-governing authority have administrative responsibility only, or legislative as well? What sort of election will be used to elect the authority-geographic or ethnic? Who will control government lands during the autonomy period and what will be the nature of the security arrangements to satisfy both Israel and the Arabs? And, autonomy being an interim solution for five years, what will follow it? An attachment of the West Bank to Israel, as Mr. Begin would like, or a separate Palestinian entity, as the Egyptians suggest?
The Labor Party, recognizing the difficulties ahead of time, had its doubts as to whether autonomy could be realized. Yet when we form a government once again, we shall clearly feel bound by the commitments of our predecessors, even though we criticized their plan. But if the negotiations on autonomy fail, then the road to a comprehensive peace may be blocked unless alternative paths are proposed.
I should add that even if autonomy is realized-either in accordance with the version presented by Mr. Begin or that of Mr. Sadat-we feel that we shall be far from a satisfactory solution. If it is realized as Mr. Begin would like it, then Israel will change from being a Jewish state into a binational community. A binational state would not only put an end to the Jewish people's aspiration for a state of their own, but could prolong the Israeli-Arab conflict for many years to come.
If Mr. Sadat's version is implemented, then an additional Palestinian state will emerge next to Jordan, itself already in reality a Palestinian state because a majority of its citizens are Palestinians. An additional Palestinian state will continually menace both the Jordanian kingdom and the security of Israel, and consequently the peace and stability of the whole area. There is no purpose in replacing one conflict with another. If a Palestinian state is established, it will insist on the establishment of a Palestinian army. This army would necessarily be encamped on the West Bank, constantly threatening Israel's narrow waistline on the coastal plain, an area whose entire width is no more than eight or nine miles. The threat does not have to be a purely military one; it could be one of terrorist incursions, sabotage and hijackings. The tragedy of Lebanon could be repeated on the West Bank all over again.
Most Arab leaders do not necessarily insist on the establishment of a Palestinian state. President Carter publicly declared after his talks with various Arab leaders that none of them had advocated the creation of a Palestinian state. In discussions I have had with him, President Sadat himself made it clear that he distinguishes between the situation in Sinai and that on the West Bank. Between Sinai and Israel, he said, there was a recognized international border. By contrast, no such boundary line ever existed on the West Bank. In his opinion, following the agreement with Egypt, there is no reason to expect a threat to Israel's security from the south, since Egypt, like Israel, has declared a policy of "no more war," whereas the West Bank and the Gaza Strip could constitute a security problem for Israel.
Among the formulations that Egypt presented at Camp David there was one suggesting that in determining the future boundaries of the West Bank, the two main considerations should be the aspirations of the Palestinians and the security of Israel. Those of us who do not advocate the incorporation of the Administered Territories and their residents into the state of Israel, are theoretically facing a dilemma: either to hold negotiations with Jordan, or to hold them with the Palestine Liberation Organization. Clearly, if we want to conduct negotiations with Jordan, we must refuse to do so with the PLO; while whoever suggests holding talks with the PLO inevitably pushes Jordan out of the framework of possible negotiations.
We are firm in our conviction that the option of opening negotiations with the PLO does not really exist. The PLO may have improved its public relations image in some parts of the world. Nonetheless, it remains an organization capable of uniting for its public relations and its acts of terrorism, but not competent to hold meaningful negotiations for a positive settlement. The PLO is a coalition of a number of separate armed factions, without majority rule and without the authority of disciplined leadership. The common denominator of these factions is political immobility. Each group is supplied with arms, money and instructions by different Arab countries, and the divisions which exist in the Arab world are reflected in their own midst.
George Habash, a leader of one of these armed factions, considers terror as a "strategy, not as tactics"-a strategy aimed at the annihilation of Israel. He would not submit to PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat if Arafat tried reaching peace with Israel. He is supported by Muammar al-Qaddafi of Libya, whose own attitudes are no less extreme than Habash's. Nayef Hawatmeh, who heads a different organization, is attached to Syria. Neither he nor his patron would agree with the Egyptian peace initiative. Arafat himself admitted in a recent conversation that Syria, the country which supports him in Lebanon, is not actually interested in a peaceful settlement to the conflict, since it is competing with Egypt for hegemony in the Arab world. In contrast to Sadat's flag of peace, Syria hoists the banner of war with Israel. Arafat is facing a real dilemma: either eliminating terror and getting involved in the peace process, or letting terror destroy any chance he may have of a political option.
To date, he has preferred the negative denominator within his organization, and there appears to be no chance whatsoever within the existing PLO structure of him doing otherwise. The Covenant of the PLO calls for the return of the entire land of Palestine-i.e., Israel and the West Bank-to Arab domination. Interlocutors who claim that Arafat may be satisfied with a less ambitious goal, namely that Israel withdraw to the pre-June 1967 borders, that it abandon East Jerusalem, and concede the establishment of a Palestinian army, may not realize that they sponsor a scheme that would prejudice Israel's capacity for self-defense and would leave it without defensible borders.
Arafat expressed his desire for "a flag, a uniform and a prison." Arafat's flag is ultimately aiming to replace both the flags of Jordan and Israel with his own. A Palestinian army, stationed in the proximity of Israel, would be accompanied by the armed terrorist organizations already existing in Lebanon. And the prison he referred to will house all those who disagree with the PLO's most extreme postures. In the choice between a unified kingdom and a divided dictatorship, a unified kingdom is preferable for negotiations and peace. On many occasions the Kingdom of Jordan has offered responsibility, while the PLO has contributed only tragedy to Jews and Arabs alike. A PLO state on the West Bank could never settle the problem of the Palestinian refugees. The open space of Jordan could. A PLO state would prolong, not end warfare; it would build a base for the continuation of the struggle, not work for reconciliation.
Consequently, the Labor Party would have taken a totally different road. Instead of conducting negotiations on autonomy, we would have preferred to hold negotiations on territorial compromise based on U.N. Resolution 242. Negotiations based on 242 might have facilitated Jordan's participation in the peace process along with representatives of the Territories. Representatives of the Territories find themselves in a quandary. They cannot join the negotiations in the face of joint opposition by Jordan and the PLO. The PLO would not participate in any sort of negotiation with Israel, and Jordan will not hold negotiations on the basis of autonomy since that plan does not allocate it a major role. On the other hand, Jordan has already agreed in the past to accept Resolution 242, though in accordance with its own interpretation. The accession of Jordan into the peace process would open the door for the West Bankers to participate in the talks.
Negotiations with Jordan might lead to the creation of one overall framework comprising the Kingdom of Jordan and those parts of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip which Israel would ultimately relinquish. Such a framework might embrace two to three million Palestinians (over a million in Jordan, over 700,000 in Judea and Samaria, and over 400,000 in the Gaza Strip), and thus constitute a large Jordanian-Palestinian entity in which the majority of all Palestinians reside. This new arrangement would lean on one Jordanian-Palestinian army (into which even today many Palestinians have already been drafted) with one central army and one central authority, all based in Amman. Negotiating with this authority could lead Israel to withdraw from the Territories with the assurance that they would remain demilitarized. A united Jordanian-Palestinian entity would be able to husband a self-sustaining economy and offer prospects of prosperity to its inhabitants and cooperation to its neighbors.
For the time being, King Hussein may be reluctant to return to the West Bank. He may have good reason not to show eagerness to enlarge his kingdom by adding 1.2 million Palestinians. But he, too, must take into account that by not returning to the West Bank, Jordan might confront a very unpleasant situation-the establishment of a Palestinian state hostile to Jordan. It might be the cause of continuous unrest among the Palestinians in Jordan who constitute a majority, and it would put Jordan itself into double jeopardy, with an unfriendly Iraq to the east and a hostile Palestinian state to the west. Iraq, which is arming itself at a rapid rate, has always cast an eye in the direction of Jordan. Its appetite for Jordan has not diminished with its growing strength, while a Palestinian state would try to achieve what Jordan has always resisted and prevented, namely the unification of the West Bank with the Kingdom of Jordan, not under Hashemite rule, but under that of the PLO.
The connection between the West Bank and Jordan is not arbitrary, but ethnic and historic. Ethnically, most of the citizens of Jordan and all the West Bank residents originate from the same national source-Palestinian Arabs. They speak the same language, practice the same religion, come from the same vicinity and are connected by close family and tribal ties. Historically, the King of Jordan bears responsibility for the fate of the West Bank residents. He granted them all Jordanian passports when his army took over in 1948, and he has not canceled their validity. The residents have not relinquished their Jordanian citizenship despite PLO pressure, and, in fact, only recently Jordanian passport officers have been reassigned to the West Bank.
The King has also experienced good-neighborly relations with Israel: the boundary between Jordan and Israel has been the most tranquil border since 1967, despite being the longest between Israel and any other Arab state. Both countries act in their own way against terrorist penetration along this border. Across the Jordan River (which is also the border line) there are open bridges over which people and goods pass as if there were normal peaceful relations between the two states. And when Syria attempted to invade Jordan in 1970, Israel cooperated with the United States to frustrate the attempt. While ceremony is lacking between our two countries, practical measures have created a promise for the future of good neighborliness.
Jordan is certainly sensitive to the many changes which have taken place in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf-many of them not necessarily favoring the longevity of monarchies. In the mosques of Jordan one can hear voices in support of Khomeini. A Palestinian army that may acquire Soviet arms and invite Soviet experts would threaten Amman as well as Jerusalem. With all the grievances that Hussein harbors against Sadat and Sadat holds against Hussein, and that the King of Saudi Arabia holds against the two of them and the two of them against him, all these leaders know that in reality there is no realistic alternative for any of them but the existing setup. Any change in a radical direction would undermine the peace and stability of the region.
If Jordan agrees in principle to negotiations with Israel on the basis of Security Council Resolution 242, how should these negotiations toward a comprehensive peace in the Middle East be conducted?
It seems to me that a Geneva Conference could consummate but not initiate an agreement. Once international rivalries are superimposed on the regional disputes, it merely exacerbates the conflict and deepens the gap which already exists from the outset. The United Nations is a parliament with a clear anti-Israel majority and Israel has no chance whatever of expecting a fair and impartial hearing. The true meaning of a Geneva Conference, under U.N. auspices, would be to bring in the U.S.S.R. as an additional mediator. The U.S.S.R. is seeking to strengthen its own position in the Middle East and it wants gains, not compromises. Since 1954 it has followed a clearly pro-Arab line and has tried to win the Arab heart, undeterred by identifying its policies with the most extreme Arab line and paying little attention to the merits of the case.
In peace negotiations, only those interested in peace should participate. The negotiations between Egypt and Israel bore fruit because Egypt decided to embark in the direction of peaceful settlement, while Israel has been striving for peace from the very beginning. The United States, which acted as an honest broker, has considered peace in the Middle East as a major interest and goal. Washington in 1980 is more aware of the problems of the Middle East and its intricacies than any other capital in the world. Unlike Moscow, Washington has close ties with Israel.
Meanwhile, Europe, which traditionally was deeply involved in the affairs of the Middle East, has narrowed its interest to the supply of oil and the promotion of business with the Arab world. Its approach to the Middle East is parochial and commercial rather than global. Europe is under the impression that by merely putting demands to Israel, Israel will ignore its own national interests and concede. Israel is ready to pay a price for peace, but not to become the price itself. For that reason, Israel is more attentive to American than European opinion, particularly as the United States has traditionally responded to Israel's needs in the field of defense. As long as there is a massive supply of Soviet arms to the Arab countries, it is the United States that can and does guarantee the vital balance of power that contributes to preventing war in the Middle East.
The best framework for the continuation of the peace process in the Middle East is the one originally and successfully launched by former Secretary of State Kissinger between Egypt and Israel, namely a face-to-face negotiation with the United States participating. The prospects of King Hussein's involvement in the negotiations are predicated on active encouragement by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
By May 1980 the negotiations between Egypt and Israel on the essence of autonomy have to be completed. If they are concluded positively there will be the need for elections in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip to elect an Autonomy Council. Five years later it will be necessary to determine the permanent map of the region.
But it is doubtful whether the autonomy negotiations will be completed on time, and even if both sides agreed to wait a few more months, it remains questionable whether those extra months would basically change anything. The gap is not in timing but in content. Yet without an agreement there could be a freeze in the development of the relations that have just begun between Egypt and Israel in a promising manner for both countries.
To overcome the possible crisis, I believe that an alternative script should be drafted that will keep the wind in the sails of the negotiations. It would be a step-by-step policy, some steps transitional, some permanent.
The first step is to relate the autonomy to the Gaza Strip. The situation in Gaza is less complicated than the one in the West Bank. It is not hampered by the subject of Jerusalem and it covers a relatively compact area 35 kilometers long and ten kilometers wide, densely populated by 420,000 people, almost all of whom are Palestinian Arabs. The negotiations concerning the Gaza Strip could be started without the immediate participation of Jordan, since the residents there are not Jordanian citizens. In spite of possible PLO opposition, a local leadership could emerge. Egypt has no territorial ambitions in the Gaza Strip, and to ensure the security needs of Israel no major territorial changes are necessary. The Gaza Strip has only one real city, Gaza itself, and the city as well as the Strip have already experienced some measure of autonomy.
If autonomy is realized in the Gaza Strip, it will enable Egypt to claim that the negotiations between itself and Israel have gone beyond the purely Egyptian-Israeli context, relating now to the solution of the Palestinian problem. Israel, in my view, should not be interested in administering the lives of such a sizable Palestinian community. Israel can assure security in the Gaza Strip without the continuation of the military government. The withdrawal of the military government from the Gaza Strip would be within the realm of one of the important paragraphs in the Camp David Accords.
The controversial issues regarding the essence of autonomy are not necessarily relevant to the Gaza Strip. Thus, for example, there is almost no problem as to who will control government lands there, since there is very little available land in Gaza. There is no problem as to who will control the water resources, since the Gaza Strip must import water from Israel, and Israel will continue to supply it with the amount of water presently supplied.
A provisional Autonomy Council can be chosen by electorates, mayors and mukhtars, or local leaders, of the towns and villages. The issue of who will serve as the source of authority is something that can remain open until it is agreed upon at the conclusion of the overall autonomy negotiations. The Gaza Strip should be granted broad economic aid enabling it to solve the housing problems-something which the government of Israel has already started-and to enlarge the economy by the development of fisheries and agriculture. Education in Gaza, both elementary and vocational, is already comprehensive, and it is the school system that elevates refugee life to respectable levels of normalcy.
Should the autonomy model in the Gaza Strip prove successful, it could become a model which would encourage the completion of the negotiations with regard to Judea and Samaria. In other words, autonomy in the Gaza Strip, even of a provisional nature, can be established even before the conclusion of the negotiations between Israel and Egypt concerning the full autonomy plan. And while in the future it will be linked to Jordan, at present it may allow for the necessary time for Jordan to come in.
A second step would be to hold municipal elections in Judea and Samaria. These elections could be tacitly coordinated with King Hussein, who maintains and has to maintain his ties with West Bank towns and villages. The terms of the present mayors are over and new elections are necessary anyway. Despite the municipal nature of these elections, they will enable the residents of the Territories to elect accepted representatives from among themselves. At some time in the future, these Mayors could be the kernel of a negotiating team on the future of the Territories within a framework to be decided, as part of the Jordanian delegation.
Then the time would be ripe for the third step-King Hussein would be invited to participate in the negotiations. There is no need to change the formal basis of the Camp David Agreements, since the Agreements have two doors open to negotiation: in addition to the autonomy plan, it is based on Resolution 242, which Jordan has in the past accepted. The negotiation with Jordan could be bilateral-Jordan-Israel with the participation of the United States-or of a wider scope, with the participation of Egypt and representatives of the Palestinians residing on the West Bank and delegates from the Gazan autonomous councils.
The negotiations can start without preconditions from either side. They may be concerned with an interim agreement or with a comprehensive one. I tend to believe that there will be a need for an intermediary accord since, for the time being, there is no Jordanian map that stands a chance of being accepted by Israel and vice versa. Negotiations with Egypt went through three stages-the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement, the 1975 Interim Agreement, and finally the 1978 Peace Agreement-and the reason for these gradual negotiations stemmed from the same problems presently facing Israel and Jordan, namely the difficulty in reaching an overall agreement in one leap in the face of the width of the initial chasm. The negotiations can start not just from the territorial angle, but also from the functional one. On different occasions Jordan has indicated a readiness to go for a shared government over the Territories as a transitional arrangement.
Another step, parallel to or perhaps prior to the others, should be the arrival at an understanding among Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United States, so that King Hussein can come to the negotiating table with considerable Arab and Western support. I estimate that today the conditions for such an understanding are better than ever before: Jordan will not be the first Arab state to reach a peace agreement with Israel, since Egypt preceded it; nor will Jordan have to agree to a new base, for it can be done on the basis of Resolution 242. Egypt does not have the desire or capacity to represent the residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. And it is most likely that Cairo would prefer that this be done by the King and not by Arafat.
To conclude, one should not underestimate the difficulties on the path to attaining peace in the Middle East, but the chances for this peace have also grown. The Middle East is subjected to enormous external pressures, and if it does not get organized in time to face them, the danger is imminent that the Middle East will be severely damaged by Soviet pressure and religious fanaticism.
For many years it seemed that it was impossible to begin bringing about peace in the Middle East. Today, peace is a reality between the two strongest Middle East states, Egypt and Israel. In order for this reality to grow, it must be nurtured at particular moments and in ways which can help it quickly prosper. The vitality and strength of the olive tree have not disappeared.