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The Middle East: Israel's Role in a Changing Middle East

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Traditionally, the twin goals of Israel's foreign policy have always been peace and security-two concepts that are closely interrelated: Where there is strength, there is peace-at least, shall we say, peace has a chance. Peace will be unattainable if Israel is weak or perceived to be so. This, indeed, is one of the most crucial lessons to be learned from the history of the Middle East since the end of the Second World War-in terms not only of the Arab-Israel conflict, but of the area as a whole.

The Middle East is a mosaic of peoples, religions, languages and cultures. Although the Muslim-Arab culture is predominant, it has not produced any homogeneity. A vast number of currents-religious and political-are vying with each other, cutting across political borders. The region is permanently in ferment, and frequently unrest flares up in violence, terror, insurrection, civil strife and open and sometimes prolonged warfare. The surprise invasion of a weakened Iran, still in the throes of the Khomeini upheaval, by neighboring Iraq, whose armed forces have been substantially beefed up by the Soviet Union, is perhaps the most dramatic and the most obvious example, but there are of course many others.

The most remarkable feature, in our context, of these chronic manifestations of unrest and belligerence is the fact that the great majority of them have nothing to do with Israel or with the Arab-Israel conflict. There were some outsiders, 20 and 30 years ago, who sincerely, but out of ignorance, believed that a solution of the Arab-Israel conflict would lead to regional stability and open a new era of progress. Nothing could be further from the truth. There have, it is true, been four major wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors. However, a full count of the instances of trouble and strife, both domestic and international, in North Africa and Western Asia, would show that the overwhelming majority have no connection whatsoever with the Arab relationship to Israel.

II

A more recent version of the old theory that the Arab-Israel conflict is the root of all the trouble in this region is the contention that the solution of the "Palestinian problem" is an absolute condition to any progress towards peace and stability.

The term, "the Palestinian problem," is deliberately flexible and lends itself to several simultaneous interpretations. One is humanitarian and focuses on the Palestinian Arabs displaced in 1948, whose plight should be alleviated, if not resolved, by economic means. Another interpretation is quasi-humanitarian, quasi-political. It maintains that there is a Palestinian people, not just refugees in the humanitarian sense, and since they have no home (after all, there is no country called Palestine), justice requires they should be provided a homeland in some portion of the land once called Palestine, alongside of Israel. The third interpretation is rejectionist and politicidal. According to this theory, the right to that land which was once called Palestine belongs exclusively to those who today call themselves Palestinians (by which they mean Palestinian Arabs). This right, the theory holds, should first be universally recognized, title to the land should be "restored" to them, and they should be allowed to decide whether and under what terms to coexist with a truncated Israel or insist on its dissolution as a distinct state.

These definitions are not precise, and there are variations and combinations. Arab spokesmen have taken to making obscure references to "the rights of the Palestinian people," using variations on the above themes, all as a means of masking their rejection of Israel and of its right to exist as a permanent, viable entity in the Middle East. The standard-bearer of the totality of Arab attitudes against Israel's existence is the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Entrusted with the task of serving as a spearhead of the Arab action against Israel, its leaders have perfected the use of a wide range of themes to suit their tactical needs in their terrorist and propaganda war against Israel. Hence, outsiders who voice support of the solution of "the Palestinian problem" would do well to adopt much more precise language, lest they discover that they were unwittingly providing encouragement to the proponents of Israel's elimination.

On its part, Israel has addressed itself to the substance of the problem squarely and comprehensively, with a sincere desire to contribute to a fair and just solution of the legitimate aspects of this problem.

On the subject of a political entity, a homeland for the Arabs of the former British-mandated territory of Palestine, the facts speak for themselves. The state known today as the Kingdom of Jordan is an integral part of what once was known as Palestine (77 percent of the territory); its inhabitants therefore are Palestinian-not different in their language, culture or religious and demographic composition from other Palestinians. No wonder, then, that Palestinian Arab leaders of all political persuasions have on numerous occasions declared that Jordan and Palestine are identical, and that Jordanians and Palestinians are one and the same. It is merely an accident of history that this state is called the Kingdom of Jordan and not the Kingdom of Palestine.

As a result of political decisions, military conflict and movements of population over a period of some 30 years (1920 to 1950), Palestine was effectively partitioned into two parts. Palestinian Arabs have exclusive domain over Trans-Jordan, or eastern Palestine, while Palestinian Jews form a majority of Cis-Jordan, or 23 percent of the original Palestine, comprising Israel within the pre-June 1967 armistice lines, Judea, Samaria and the Gaza district. The reintroduction of the term "Palestinian" and its exclusive application to Arabs of Cis-Jordan (the "West Bank") is, therefore, a semantic exercise and a calculated maneuver designed to back a new claim to the entire area of western Palestine and to undermine the legitimacy of Israel. As for the humanitarian aspect of the dislocation of population resulting from the Arab wars on Israel, it is time for the international community to address a call to the Arab governments, especially those with large financial resources at their disposal, to extend their help to their brethren, as Israel did for the close to a million Jews from Arab lands who fled to Israel as a result of the same conflict.

Reduced to its true proportions, the problem is clearly not the lack of a homeland for the Palestinian Arabs. That homeland is Trans-Jordan, or eastern Palestine. There are, however, 1.2 million Palestinian Arabs living in the territories which have been administered by Israel since 1967 in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Their status and problems were discussed at great length at Camp David. The granting of sovereignty to those areas was ruled out by Israel. A second Palestinian Arab state to the west of the River Jordan is a prescription for anarchy, a threat to both Israel and Jordan, and a likely base for terrorist and Soviet penetration. Hence, it was finally resolved at Camp David to implement an Autonomy Plan for the inhabitants of those areas, on a five-year interim basis. The proposal was made by Israel and accepted by the other partners of the Camp David accords, Egypt and the United States. It is not intended as the ultimate solution of the problem represented by these areas and their inhabitants, but as an interim arrangement designed to achieve two objectives: (a) to allow the Arab inhabitants of these areas the fullest feasible freedom in running their own lives, and (b) to create optimal conditions of peaceful coexistence between Arab and Jew.

Israel has made it clear, at Camp David and since, that it has a claim to sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and Gaza. In order, however, to keep the door open to a solution that will be acceptable to the parties, as envisaged at Camp David, Israel has deliberately refrained from exercising its rights under this claim. The claim will undoubtedly be presented at the end of the five-year interim period, and, while it is realized that there will be a similar claim on the Arab side, by that time one would hope that the kind of atmosphere will have been created that will make it possible to reach an agreement involving a solution acceptable to both sides. It should be clearly understood, therefore, that just as Israel is refraining from pushing its own solution at this time, by the same token the Arab side must refrain from pushing now for measures or the adoption of principles (such as self-determination, an embryo parliament in the autonomous territories, and the like), that would clearly fall beyond the parameters of Camp David and that would tend to prejudge the ultimate outcome of the negotiations on the final status of these areas. Autonomy, in other words, must be allowed to perform the function it was intended to perform-namely, to serve as an interim arrangement, pending the ultimate solution that is to be addressed at a later stage.

Meanwhile, Israelis and Arabs are learning to coexist in Judea, Samaria and Gaza-ultimately the best way to reconciliation and peace. Israelis will continue to reside in those areas. As in the past, this will not be done, of course, at the expense of the Arab inhabitants and their property. But, as Judea and Samaria constitute the heartland of the Jewish people's birth and development as a nation, Israel will not be party to a design that would deny Jews residence in those areas.

No less important, the Israeli presence in these areas, both civilian and military, is vital to Israel's defense-as should be abundantly clear against the background of the recent history of the region and of Israel's patent inability to maintain a large standing army on its borders. The defunct pre-1967 armistice lines-which for nearly 20 years proved to be a prescription for chronic instability and warfare-have long since ceased to have any relevance in the context of the search for a viable Middle East peace. Certainly, Israel will not entertain any notion of a return to those lines or anything approximating them. On this point there is, in Israel, virtually universal agreement.

A final word on the Palestinian subject. There are some, no doubt well-intentioned but largely unaware of some very important facts, who have proposed that Israel negotiate with the PLO. They point to the absence of any organized voice, other than the PLO, representing "the Palestinians" and to the existence of ostensibly moderate elements in that organization that may be encouraged to seek a political solution that would include recognition of Israel.

The real problem is not whether to deal with the PLO or not, but whether it would serve any useful purpose whatsoever. Even if one were to overlook their bloodthirsty modus operandi, their subservience to Soviet aims and their key role in international terror, the PLO's very raison d'être is the denial of Israel's right to exist, thinly veiled behind the cover of an ostensibly legitimate call for Palestinian statehood. The very act of granting the PLO a status-any status-in the political negotiations would be self-defeating. It would elevate its standing from that of a terrorist organization to that of a recognized aspirant to a totally superfluous political entity. Hence, association of the PLO with any aspect whatsoever of the political process and the prospects of peace are mutually exclusive.

III

In the course of arduous negotiations at Camp David, the obstacles to peace with Israel were finally removed when Egypt broke away from the PLO-rejectionist platform on the Palestinian issue. The demand for a second Palestinian Arab state-one major obstacle-was set aside, in favor of an attempt at coexistence through the Autonomy Plan. Another hurdle was cleared with the unequivocal acceptance of Israel by Egypt and the undertaking of the steps necessary to normalize relations between the two states.

By the beginning of May 1982, implementation of the territorial aspects of the Egypt-Israel Treaty will have been completed and the former international border between the two countries reestablished. The normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel will enter a new phase.

On its part, Israel will do everything it can to ensure that the peace treaty with Egypt will serve as a solid base from which to expand the peace process toward a wider circle of participants. This can be achieved only by means of an Israel-Egypt partnership that is encouraged by active U.S. participation. It has a chance of success, provided that no alternative proposals and plans other than the Camp David accords are introduced into the process. No one is so naive as to believe that this is a goal which will be easily attained. But this combination of states, working together toward a worthy and vital objective, has already proved its capacity to overcome obstacles and make progress. Together, they are a formidable force for stability that cannot be bypassed by any factor in the Middle East. In order for this policy to bear fruit, much patience and persistent effort are required.

Israel perceives the Camp David accords as a process and a program of action that may take considerable time to reach full fruition. Steps taken in this process until now should be seen as deposits on a long-term installment plan. Both Israel and Egypt have made commitments at the bilateral level of relations and beyond. Hence it is mischievous and destructive to imply that Camp David has run its course and other avenues should be explored. Such an attitude-particularly when displayed by governments that refused or hesitated to support the accords-is no less than cynical.

Those who have hesitated to voice their support and offer their contribution to buttressing the Egypt-Israel peace because of opposition to it by the rejectionist Arab governments have committed a serious blunder. If, God forbid, this first step toward Arab-Israel accommodation were to falter or fail, it would take the entire region back to a situation of sustained deadlock, if not belligerency. Moreover, it would serve as proof that the Arab world as a whole is not ready for peace. The chances, then, for a renewal of the peace effort would be drastically reduced. No one, least of all Israel, would be willing to take the slightest risk in order to re-energize the process. The rejectionists and the terrorists would applaud, but the interests of those who shortsightedly turned their backs on Camp David would, in all likelihood, be exposed to grave danger in a deteriorating situation. After three decades of hostility and strife, the process of peace and normalization must be given a chance to take hold and bear fruit. In time, it should have a beneficial impact on other issues, beyond the strictly bilateral Israel-Egypt level.

The magnitude of Israel's sacrifice for the achievement of the peace treaty has not been given proper recognition by the international community. From 1968 onward, Israel invested $17 billion in the Sinai Peninsula-in airfields, military installations, development of oilfields, infrastructure, towns and farm villages. The cost of the military redeployment to the Negev is estimated at $4.4 billion. Beyond the financial burden, and the strategic significance of the withdrawal from Sinai, the uprooting of several thousand Israelis who built their homes in the townships and villages along the eastern edge of Sinai is a traumatic event that has made a deep imprint on the entire nation.

With the transfer of the Sinai Peninsula to Egyptian sovereignty and the normalization of relations with Egypt under the peace treaty, Israel has gone a long way toward implementing the provisions of the 1967 U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. The Sinai Peninsula, it should be remembered, covers more than 90 percent of the territory that came into Israel's possession in the Six-Day War. Thus Israel has demonstrated, through concrete action and considerable risk and sacrifice, that it seeks peace and coexistence with its neighbors. It is now up to its neighbors to come forth with a similar demonstration of peaceful intent and readiness.

IV

On December 14, 1981, Israel decided to abolish the military administration over the Golan Heights that was established after the 1967 Six-Day War and to apply Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration to that area.

Ever since 1948, the Syrian army had, from the Golan Heights, intermittently shelled and sniped at civilian targets in the valley in northeastern Israel. A 700-square-mile strip of the Heights was captured by Israel in the course of the Six-Day War of June 1967. The area was again the scene of heavy fighting during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the Syrians launched their surprise attack in an effort to drive Israel from the Heights and continue their push into the Galilee. Israel's possession of the Heights was a crucial factor that prevented the Syrian tanks from invading Israel, delaying them up on the plateau until reinforcements could be rushed to the Golan. In the course of the Israeli counterattack, the Israel Defense Forces captured a large additional area, coming to within some 25 miles of the Syrian capital of Damascus.

In May 1974, in an effort to achieve the beginning of an accommodation with the Syrian Government, Israel's then Prime Minister Golda Meir agreed to return to the Syrians, unilaterally, the entire area it had captured in the Yom Kippur War, plus the town of Kuneitra, which had been occupied in 1967. This gesture was undertaken, through the good offices of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, in the context of a disengagement agreement. It was designed to facilitate progress towards a more stable political agreement and make possible the return of civilian life on both sides of the cease-fire lines.

The Syrian Government, however, chose to revert to its former hostile and belligerent posture. It rejected all negotiation with Israel and refused to accept U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. It did not permit the return of civilians to Kuneitra. It spearheaded the Arab Rejectionist Front against Israel and gave military and political support to various PLO terrorist groups, especially those that specialized in bomb outrages against Jewish targets in Europe. President Hafiz al-Assad left no doubt with regard to his intentions when he stated on December 13, 1981, that "even if the PLO were to recognize Israel, Syria would not be able to recognize it." In the face of this total denial of Israel and of accommodation with it, a broad national consensus developed in Israel that we should not return the Golan Heights to Syria under any circumstances. After 14 years, Israel decided to give formal expression to this position by an act of law.

Since Syrian leaders have repeatedly stated that they would refuse to make peace even if the Golan Heights were to be returned to their possession, it is simply erroneous to contend that Israel's Golan Law has added an obstacle to peace with Syria. Now as before, Israel remains ready to negotiate a peace treaty with Syria without prior conditions.

V

The circumstances surrounding Israel's rebirth, in which the entire Arab world rejected what it chose to regard as an alien entity, have been undergoing a subtle change. The ostracizing of the Jewish State, coupled with periodic warfare, implanted in many minds a picture of total polarization between two hostile camps. The reality was different, especially since the 1967 Six-Day War, but the change was barely noticed. Hence, President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 came as a total surprise to the outside world.

Behind the scenes, however, many bridges had already been extended across the wide gulf separating Arab and Israeli. After June 1967, Israel administered areas inhabited by more than a million Arabs, many of whom had close connections with the neighboring states. The bridges remained, even expanded, and an unofficial human relationship developed. At the same time, clandestine contacts between Israel and leading personalities in several Arab states were maintained on a continuing basis. Without them, the late President Sadat's first visit to Jerusalem would not have been possible. Some prominent Arabs visited Israel incognito. Thousands of nationals of Arab states who were related to Arabs residing in Israel-controlled territories were permitted to visit their relatives, and most of them took advantage of the opportunity to tour Israel and meet with Israelis.

Beyond the expanding personal contacts, Israel, as a Middle Eastern country, was drawn into growing involvement in international relationships that had no direct bearing on the Arab-Israel level. Israeli governments have studiously refrained from intervening in the internal affairs of Israel's neighbors. But Israel could not maintain a disinterested stance when conflicts between its neighbors threatened its own security or increased the danger of upsetting a tenuous regional balance.

Thus, Israel, in coordination with the United States, acted in September 1970 to deter a Soviet-sponsored Syrian invasion of Jordan. In 1975, Israel was involved in an American-sponsored attempt at defining the limits of Syrian intervention in Lebanon. As a result of the Syrian invasion of Lebanon, the continuing threat of a total Syrian annexation of that hapless country and the terrorist attacks from southern Lebanon, Israel was drawn into the Lebanese situation.

The crowning event in a growing Israeli involvement in regional realities was, of course, the Egypt-Israel peace and the opening of the borders between the two countries. We are aware of strong voices, in some Arab countries, pressing Egypt to close its borders with Israel once the last Israeli has departed from Sinai. The message being beamed to Cairo runs along these lines: "We understand you had to conclude a treaty, establish embassies, and open the borders, because these were the only means of restoring Sinai to Arab sovereignty. From this point on, however, it would be treasonable to the Arab cause for Egypt to continue this relationship with the Zionist enemy. We will welcome you back to the Arab fold only if you reestablish the wall around Israel and resume the siege." Egypt has rejected this message and stated clearly that it will not resume relations with the other Arab states at the expense of peace with Israel. There are signs that some Arab governments are attuning themselves to this reality, in spite of their continued rejection of Israel on the ideological level. Elsewhere in the Arab world, the rejectionist spirit is as vibrantly negative as ever.

Of course, it will be up to Egypt's leadership to contend with the rejectionists and show them the way to breach the psychological barrier behind which they are entrenched. Whatever the outcome of this test, I am convinced that, sooner or later, Israel will establish relations with other Arab capitals. I will not rule out even Damascus among those capitals. Such developments are typical of paradoxical Middle Eastern realities, which outsiders find so difficult to digest. Accommodation with Israel by some will be accompanied by sustained total hostility to Israel by others. Those defined by the West as moderates are not necessarily so. Plans and proposals launched on occasion by these supposedly moderate countries-such as the Saudi eight-point plan of last summer-are often designed, in reality, to reduce Israel to a situation of defenselessness.

Thus, within the context of a powerful, basically unchanging ideological rejection of Israel, there are two conflicting currents coursing through the Arab world. One-which is, as of now, the prevailing current-rejects the Jewish State wholly and without reservation, in theory and in practice. The other-only just beginning to crack the surface of developments in the Middle East-accepts the fact of Israel's existence and is ready, in some sort of pragmatic fashion, to come to terms with that existence. Israel is learning to live with this reality, and to try to build on the hope that, in the course of time, this pragmatism can be developed into something more permanent and more meaningful.

VI

A crucial role in determining the future direction of events in the region can be played by forces and influences outside the region.

The history of the involvement of foreign governments in Middle Eastern politics is not a happy one. Attracted by the strategic importance of the region and, more recently, by its immense natural resources and bank deposits, most governments have sought to apply a political gloss to their perceived economic interests by making political statements on the Arab-Israel issue in response to Arab pressures.

The internationalization of the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors has proved futile. For the Arab governments, for a long time, it served as a means of mobilizing international pressure on Israel, imposing a solution on it and evading the need for recognition and peace with Israel. Camp David has dealt a death blow to this course of action and, with it, to the notion that a viable Arab-Israel peace can be negotiated in a framework such as the defunct Geneva Conference. In particular, the late President Sadat demonstrated that Israel can be dealt with directly, with meaningful and far-reaching results.

Nevertheless, the Soviet Union has not given up on the "Geneva approach" to Middle East problems. Moscow in recent years has been steadily increasing its identification with the Arab Rejectionist Front and the PLO. Notwithstanding protestations to the contrary by its spokesmen, it has aided and abetted the Arab cause against Israel's existence. Soviet political and ideological support for Arab extremism against Israel has found expression in treaties of friendship it has concluded with Syria, Iraq and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, in which the U.S.S.R. joined in the obscene castigation of Zionism. Arab hopes of exercising the military option against Israel would not have been sustained as they are if not for the immense supplies of sophisticated offensive military supplies from Russia. The Soviet Government has steadily increased its political and military support of the PLO in spite of, or perhaps because of, this organization's central role in international terror and its declared aim of destroying Israel and its population. This totally one-sided stand by the Soviet Union is compounded by its policy of boycotting Israel, and of persisting in its non-relations with Israel since 1967.

Soviet actions demonstrate clearly that the Soviet Union is opposed to peace in the Middle East, is bent on expanding its presence and influence in the region at the expense of regional stability, and has no problem in the choice of means to achieve its objective. Public opinion is far from being a factor in Soviet decisionmaking.

The Soviets will persist in their negative, obstructive role so long as local governments seek its support against Israel and continue to place their faith in the military option. Once those Arab governments decide that peace is more important and will better serve their own interests, the Soviet role will, of necessity, diminish, and the peace camp will expand and encompass a wider circle of participants. It follows that the massive supply of arms by the West to governments in the region, in competition with the U.S.S.R., directly conflicts with the interests of stability and the chances of peace in our region. The Soviets, in any case, have demonstrated again and again that they are capable of matching or outdoing any Western arms supply, both in quantity and in sophistication.

Other powers have not resisted the temptation to exploit local conflicts and domestic insecurity for the purpose of selling immense quantities of arms to Middle Eastern governments. The influx of so much military equipment has become a prime source of danger and even greater instability in the region. Since 1980, the Arab "confrontation states" have concluded arms deals worth approximately $30 billion. It is a most unfortunately chosen means of recycling petrodollars. It cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, enhance moderation or contribute to a better and more peaceful Middle East. It places an impossible burden on Israel's shoulders.

In contrast to the other superpower, the United States has a paramount interest in peace and stability in the Middle East. The congruence of interests between Israel and the United States has forged an alliance that has proved to be a formidable factor in promoting these goals. The Camp David accords are an outstanding product of this joint endeavor. America's continued and undeviating support of those accords represents the only way to assure progress toward regional stability and peace.

Normalization of relations with Israel will undoubtedly contribute to the prospects of peace in our region. This applies equally to the African states that broke off diplomatic ties with Israel, at the behest of Egypt and other Arab countries, in the wake of the Yom Kippur War. The ostensible reason for the break was the occupation of African territory-the Sinai Peninsula-by Israel. The peace treaty with Egypt should have removed this obstacle to normalization, and indeed we have been informed that there is a desire on the part of African governments to restore those relations.

A number of Arab governments have been making efforts to thwart the resumption of relations with Israel, using threats and financial inducements. Our experience with African nations has shown that such attempts on African integrity and pride tend to backfire. We hope and expect that Black Africa will assert its independent course and reject such attempts at dictating its policies. For more than a decade, Israel maintained a close and warm relationship with most governments in sub-Saharan Africa. It was a fruitful, practical and mutually satisfying relationship, in spite of Israel's limited capacity to finance technical assistance and cooperation programs. It can be resumed at any time, at least insofar as Israel is concerned.

VII

Peace is fundamental to Israel's way of life, and Israel's determination to achieve it is permanent. Security is a vital guarantee of the viability and maintenance of peace. Together these two objectives provided the conceptual framework that produced the Camp David accords, and the march along this road must continue unabated.

A program for continued action to secure regional stability and peace must originate from the countries and governments that will have to implement the peace and live by it. Israel believes that it should include the following elements:

1. Negotiations between Israel and each of its neighbors, aimed at agreement on a just and lasting peace, laid out in formal peace treaties, that would provide for the establishment of normal diplomatic, economic and good-neighborly relations.

2. Recognition of the sovereignty and political independence of all existing states in the region, and of their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries, free from threats or acts of force, including terrorist activity of any kind.

3. Autonomy for the Arab inhabitants of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza district for a five-year interim period, as set forth in the Camp David accords, and deferment of the final determination of the status of these areas until the end of this transitional period.

4. Restoration of the full independence of Lebanon, through the withdrawal of Syrian and PLO forces from Lebanese territory.

5. Negotiations, among all the states of the Middle East, aimed at declaring the region a nuclear-weapons-free zone, for the security and well-being of all its inhabitants.

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