The Long Arm of the Strongman
How China and Russia Use Sharp Power to Threaten Democracies
After more than a third of a century of conflict, the Middle East remains the greatest threat to international peace and security. In a fitting close to 1981, and as if to signal its own recognition of the fact, and further ensure that the so-called Camp David accords can never lead to a general settlement, the Israeli government enacted legislation that for all intents and purposes annexes the Syrian Golan Heights to Israel. And a new chapter in the conflict begins.
Despite what is often said in moments of frustration, most of us here in the Middle East believe it is in America's interest, as it is in the whole world's interest, to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict. Most of us continue to believe that U.S. policy has such a settlement as one of its principal objectives for regional and global and even domestic American reasons. What we see, however, is a tendency on the part of U.S. policymakers to fall into the same traps that we, who have suffered so long with this tragic problem, also allowed to impede us earlier. These traps include the "peace by pieces" fallacy, the related "squeaky wheel" tendency, and the "peace-on-the-cheap" syndrome.
Americans are not alone in their attraction to the concept of the realization of peace gradually. Whether expressed in traditional functionalist theory or neo-functionalism, whether in terms of concrete proposals such as the Johnson plan or Secretary Kissinger's step-by-step diplomacy, "peace by pieces" is a fascinating and useful concept. But no theory, no concept, should be considered universally applicable. We in Jordan supported Secretary Kissinger's attempt to use "step-by-step" diplomacy as a confidence-building measure to effect a necessary disengagement of forces on the Golan and Sinai after the 1973 War. It was the extension of this piecemeal approach to the peace process as a whole that we felt was misplaced.
The Middle East problem is a complex of issues. To disaggregate the whole into its parts may help reduce one or two of those issues, but as we have seen time and time again, inevitably eliminates the possibility of addressing the core issues. It must be recalled that the several parties will have to effect numerous compromises to arrive at a general regional settlement. On highly charged and complex questions such as the Palestinian problem, compromises will undoubtedly have to be made on an interdependent basis. The Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be disaggregated, because the solutions will necessarily be as interdependent as the problems are. Even a cursory glance at the positions of all the parties demonstrates this interdependence.
The tendency to grease the squeaky wheel has also been characteristic of American diplomacy. If we can put peace together in pieces, then let us deal with the most threatening piece immediately. The Camp David accords, designed to remove Egypt from the Arab coalition and thereby eliminate at one time both the largest Arab army and a second front that forces Israel to divide its forces and efforts, illustrates this approach too. Without Egypt, there is no credible military threat to Israeli security-so goes the argument. After Camp David, problems in Lebanon both demonstrated the fallacy of the squeaky wheel tendency and became the next "squeaky wheel." Once again, though, the integral nature of the Middle East conflict made of Ambassador Philip Habib's laudable efforts and considerable achievements only a brief respite from the underlying tensions.
Finally, but no less futile, we have "peace on the cheap." This has been our biggest problem in the Arab world, and it now has become a significant consideration for the United States. By "peace on the cheap" we mean the attempt to bring about a settlement at no cost to oneself. No problem that has endured as long, has cost as many lives, and has engendered as much distrust, hatred, and discord as the Arab-Israeli conflict can have a cost-free solution. We in the Arab world know that now, for we have paid an inordinate price already, by anybody's accounting.
Nor will a peace be cost-free for the United States, however. The U.S. government has been afraid to face certain political realities, both domestic and Middle Eastern, because of the special nature of America's relationship with Israel and, to a lesser extent, with some Arab countries. But there is no escaping it: "biting the bullet" is the price Americans will pay, will have to pay, if we are to realize an end to this enduring tragedy.
We believe it is in America's interest, as we know it is in ours, to move toward a settlement. We hope, as Americans do, that such a resolution will eventuate, but it cannot come about without fullest consideration to the requirements and perspectives of each of the principal parties to the conflict. One of those parties-and we in Jordan wish it were otherwise, wish it could be otherwise-is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Over the last few years, the United States, Israel and, frankly, many Arab countries, have tended to overlook or take for granted our country. Yet, Jordan is critical to a settlement, to any settlement, of the Middle East problem.
Because Jordan is a small country, we are often discounted as a major factor in what is clearly the greatest threat to international security. We do not have a large population like Egypt or Syria. We do not have a position of military superiority like Israel. We do not have oil like Saudi Arabia or Iraq. So, then, why is Jordan important? Do we assert its centrality because we are Jordanian?
No, Jordan's views are important. Apart from the Sinai, which is in the process of being returned to Egypt, most of the territory Israel occupied in 1967, and therefore which is referred to in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, was Jordanian. East Jerusalem was Jordanian. There are more Palestinians in Jordan than in any other state, most of them refugees from the wars of 1948 and 1967. Jordan and Israel have outstanding territorial conflicts dating from 1948. Although it is our position and belief that the Palestine Liberation Organization is and can only be the sole representative of the Palestinian people, still it is incontestable that large numbers of Arabs in the West Bank continue to attend closely to Jordan's actions and policies.
It is clear today that the sine qua non of any general and effective settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict must address and resolve the Palestinian issue. It is not our purpose here to posit the requirements for such a resolution; indeed, the requirements are part of the dispute. What is clear, however, is that all parties today recognize that, to use the words of former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Harold Saunders, "The Palestinians collectively are a political factor which must be dealt with if there is to be a peace between Israel and its neighbors." Even a cursory review of Israeli statements demonstrates conclusively that there too is a recognition of the crucial nature of the Palestinian problem. Whether in terms of "autonomy" proposals or hints that the Palestinians already have their state in Jordan, it is evident that Israeli leaders, too, have come to accept, implicitly or explicitly, the unavoidable fact that no settlement is possible without dealing with the Palestinian problem.
We Jordanians must add that, practically speaking, a settlement must also take into account our perceptions. Small as Jordan is, our country is politically, socially, economically, militarily and historically inseparable from the Palestinian issue. Not that we can speak in place of the Palestinians; we cannot. As His Majesty King Hussein has said recently, "Palestinians alone have the right to determine their future. There are no other options acceptable to Jordan nor is there any substitute for the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sole legitimate representative of the people of Palestine. . . ." We cannot speak in place of the Palestinians. At the same time, however, as a leading Jordanian social scientist has written, "The Jordanians and Palestinians are now one people, and no political loyalty, however strong, will separate them permanently."
Consider for a moment the following:
- Half Jordan's population is Palestinian.
- The West Bank and East Jerusalem, both captured by Israel in 1967, were part of Jordan.
- If there is large-scale Palestinian migration as a result of any regional settlement, Jordan will necessarily be greatly affected.
- Virtually all Palestinians currently resident in Jordan are Jordanian nationals.
- Israel and Jordan have vital interests in development of regional water resources in the Jordan River. Israel has already illegally diverted much of the Jordan River, but the importance of cooperation in the future cannot be overestimated. In other areas such as tourism, there is also substantial need for cooperation.
- After any settlement as before it, Jordan will share a long border with Israel. For us, development is not just an abstract goal, but a pressing need. We do not wish to continue to divert so much of Jordan's small resource base to a costly armaments program to defend our overexposed position or in order to reduce the risks along this extended border.
- Pending the creation of a Palestinian state, it is still Jordan which pays the salaries and pensions of West Bank officials; it is Jordan that bears some development costs of the territory and whose approval is necessary for such projects; it is in the Jordanian parliament that the inhabitants of the West Bank are represented; it is Jordanian law that has effect in the West Bank. This is not to deny that Israel is also involved in these activities, for that is true, albeit a clear violation of international law. Rather, we intend only to show how concrete and contemporary are Jordan's interests.
In point of fact and history, independent analysts and national governments alike have at least implicitly recognized Jordan's importance to a settlement. Most peace proposals provide for a central role for the kingdom, even if they misconstrue our attitudes, perceptions, and policies. The more specific the proposals, i.e., the more modalities are delineated, the clearer generally is the role allocated to Jordan. For example, both the initiative of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Fahd on August 8, 1981, and the Camp David agreements between Egypt and Israel-the former a set of general proposals designed to stimulate movement toward a settlement, the latter a complex and much more specific set of bilateral agreements-assume that Jordan will play a key role. Without such a role, neither approach is feasible.
Similarly, for their part, Israelis have consistently recognized the central role of Jordan in any viable settlement arrangement. Some propose to "bury the Palestinian problem in Jordan," others to transform our country into a Palestinian state, and still others to confer upon us what amounts to a policeman's role in a West Bank virtually incorporated into Israel. Mind you, these options scarcely scratch the surface of the catalog of Israeli ideas. But all see in Jordan an important actor.
The Palestinians too recognize our critical role, and the range of Palestinian ideas and proposals is perhaps broader even than that of the Israelis. Yet even those Palestinians who find our Hashemite tradition, our form of government, and our abiding faith in God distasteful, those blinded by ideology who see us as reactionaries or lackeys or worse, even they understand today how deep and indissoluble have grown the relationships between Palestinian and Jordanian.
We have seen that Jordan is central to any Arab-Israeli settlement, that Jordanian views must be very seriously considered if any initiative is to have a chance at success. Yet lately we in Jordan have begun to hear and read that "Jordan opposes an Arab-Israeli settlement." Let us be clear on this point: no one, no country, no people wants a settlement more than we do. Certainly, no one pays a heavier price for the continuation of the conflict than do we here in Jordan.
No, we do not oppose the resolution of this merciless dispute. To the contrary, His Majesty King Hussein has seen most of his life consumed by the search for an end to the unending violence, a remission from the unremitting hatred, a break in the yet-unbroken cycle of hostility and fear and distrust. Moreover, our grandfather, King Abdullah, also beloved of the Jordanian people, gave his life to this tragic conflict even as his grandsons' lives have often been threatened by it. Some in the West, thousands of miles from this sanguinary battlefield, may reach a facile conclusion that we oppose a resolution; but God knows, and we know, that this is not and could not be so.
Since the earliest days of the Arab-Israeli conflict our government, frequently opposed by our Arab brothers who were not asked to bear such a heavy burden, pursued many paths toward a settlement. In retrospect, had the other Arab countries and peoples seen the situation as clearly as we did, had they been so situated as to recognize irreversible political realities, it might have been possible to arrive at an agreement that provided the minimum needs of all parties and national self-determination for the Palestinian people. But we were all, Jordanians too, overwhelmed at the unprecedented injustice done to the Palestinians in 1948, determined to reverse this, and it was not possible to pursue more constructive paths for some years.
After the 1967 War, other Arab governments learned-and what a costly lesson-what we had known for almost two decades: Israel was to be an enduring reality of the Middle East, and the issue was not to undo the 1947 injustice to Palestinians and all Arabs but rather to constrain an Israel hungry for territorial expansion and powerful enough to obtain it. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the United Nations and the United States both made serious efforts to attain a settlement, or even to attain a workable framework for settlement. One need only read the documents concerning the Jarring mission or the exchanges associated with the Rogers plan to see how forthcoming Jordan has been. We have supported these initiatives not because we agreed with each point or idea or tendency, but because we knew that somehow a break was necessary in the stalemate.
Perhaps it is germane to say at this point that we Jordanians do not have a precise blueprint of a settlement in mind. Indeed, I believe I can speak for all the Arab countries, and probably for Israel too, in saying that the range of ideas or alternatives or minimums or maximums that is advanced in any of our countries is appallingly varied. For us, Jordanians, there are a few clear-cut requirements. Certainly, the same can be said for Egyptians, Israelis, Iraqis, Palestinians, Saudis and Syrians. We have learned through successive tragedies to keep our requirements few, to question them, to be sure they are truly vital. This is true also of other Arab parties. Sadly, it is not true for Israel, whose list of requirements has grown with each passing year.
- Today, Israel claims districts she never claimed before. The Golan is annexed, even though no Israeli government before today has ever even suggested the Golan was other than Syrian.
- Today, Israel claims resources she never claimed before. She uses the waters of the Litani and unlawfully takes our waters from the Yarmuk River-Jordan River confluence. She prevents us from developing these hydrological resources in our own countries by threat or use of force when necessary, all so that Israel may use all the region's water as she pleases.
- Today, Israel claims private lands she never claimed before. In the West Bank occupied by Israel since 1967, over one-third of the land (and 90 percent of the waters) has been confiscated for Jewish settlements in contravention of all international law.
- Today, Israel claims rights she never claimed before. When Iraq purchased a nuclear reactor for energy purposes, Israel, which does not even border Iraq, launched an air attack on the reactor. No government in the world except Israel arrogates such rights unto itself.
- Today, Israel claims duties she never claimed before. "Hot pursuit" has been claimed by many countries at many times to permit retaliatory or punitive excursions. Israel alone claims the right of "preemptive retaliation," which is as violative of the law as it is of logic.
And these novelties are in addition to earlier Israeli demands.
In spite of Israel's intransigence, which is growing apace with her appetite, the Arab governments including Jordan still seek a settlement. We have to, for let us be candid: Israel has designs on the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and southern Lebanon-whose territories are these? Arab territories. We do not want to provide a pretext for further Israeli expansion. So, yes, Jordan, and, yes, the other Arab states near Israel favor a settlement.
Yet it is true that we do not favor any settlement. Neither Jordan, nor Syria nor Lebanon nor Saudi Arabia nor Egypt nor Israel-none of the Middle East countries-is prepared to accept, or should be prepared to accept, "peace at any price." Again, let us all be honest. A "settlement" that did not resolve the Palestinian problem, or the question of the Golan, or Israel's or Jordan's or Lebanon's or Syria's rights to exist with reasonable security within a recognized territory-such an outcome would be no settlement at all, for natural forces would be at work to overturn it before it was signed. We understand Israel's needs, and believe Israel's truly vital requirements can be met, but we too have a few vital requirements. Each nation must enjoy some security as a result of a settlement, and none of us can have perfect security, for as has often been shown, one nation's perfect security is another's perfect insecurity.
It is true that agreement on what a settlement should look like is lacking both within and among Arab states, as it is lacking in fact within Israel and between Israel and other states. But a resolution to the conflict is much less likely to be found
- if Israel continues to expand what are clearly illegal settlements in the occupied territories;
- if Israel continues to decide unilaterally to annex Arab land;
- if private land is confiscated to be handed out to Israeli settlers;
- if peace agreements are made in the name of rather than with other parties;
- if Israel continues to play with internal vulnerabilities of Arab states, increasing instability and distrust;
- if Israel continues to intervene militarily in Arab states, seeing her role as a regional policeman.
Let there be no mistake. I am not holding the Arabs blameless for the depth and duration of the Arab-Israeli conflict. For too long Arab states thought the monumental injustice perpetrated against the Palestinian people in 1948 was the only reality. For too long many Arabs held that justice would be served in the end, that justice would triumph, and could see only a return to their lands by the refugees as just. After all, we knew the Palestinian Arabs, native to the land, as our Arab brothers. We did not know the Jews who had suddenly seized it. What was to happen to them? Arabs didn't care; they cared deeply, though, about the Palestinians. This was unrealistic. Today, we understand that the Palestinian problem must be dealt with in the context of the existence of Israel. Nevertheless, that problem must be resolved. We Arabs too have some requirements, but there is no question that we seek, favor, and deeply desire a resolution to this disastrous conflict.
As we in Jordan see the Arab-Israeli conflict today, prospects for a settlement in the near term have dimmed substantially. At one time, after 1975, we were very hopeful. All the conflict states wanted a settlement, and their minimum positions were not as far apart as they are today. It looked for several years as if a peace might be possible within a decade. Moreover, there seemed to have developed a near-consensus about the general shape of a settlement. This consensus was perhaps best exemplified in Toward Peace in the Middle East, an influential report of a study group that met in 1975 under the auspices of The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.1
Not one of the parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict ever issued a statement about the Brookings report, and certainly we in Jordan and other Arabs had views and preferences that departed from those voiced in the report. It is clear that the same may be said of Israel. Still, the report seemed at least accurately to portray the trends of thinking and the hope that a settlement was possible.
Today, some five years later, another pamphlet has recently been issued, this one by the Seven Springs Center, Mt. Kisco, New York.2 Its conclusions accurately reflect the renascence of pessimism:
1. "Hopes for a negotiated peace . . . are fading. Many Arabs and Israelis are beginning to resign themselves to prolonged confrontation and violence because they see no alternative that promises a just comprehensive peace."
2. These hopes are fading "just at a moment when acceptance of Palestinian national identity in the Arab world and beyond and growing Arab willingness to accept the Israeli state have created the best possibility of an Arab-Palestinian-Israeli negotiation since Israel was established."
3. "Palestinian nationalism and the Palestinian desire for a state must be fairly faced and dealt with in negotiation in ways consistent with the rights and security of their neighbors. . . ."
4. "A basis for negotiation between Israel and its eastern neighbors . . . [must] acknowledge but transcend what was achieved under the Camp David accords and go on to define practical steps. . . .
5. "There is widespread conviction in the Middle East that only the United States can effectively help to achieve peace, but there is deep doubt that the U.S. is prepared to play a role as a just mediator and to work actively for a negotiated peace."
In 1977 the late Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, made a decision to go to Israel. His objective, as he recounted in his autobiography and speeches, was to break through the psychological barrier to peace. We in Jordan understand that this was no mean task, but a very important one, and we were concerned that President Sadat undertook his approach without consulting other Arab governments no less concerned about the "psychological barrier" and no less threatened by its impediment to peace. Nevertheless, although we reserved judgment on the historic trip, we became more concerned as Sadat's initiative began to take on a momentum of its own leading inexorably toward a separate peace between Israel and Egypt. Such an approach only encourages Israeli hawks, whetting their expansionist appetites.
It must be noted that the Israeli annexation of Arab Jerusalem and the Golan have both taken place in the aftermath of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Even Israelis never claimed historic rights to the Golan. Now that they have purported to annex the Golan Heights, can anyone doubt that the next step will be the West Bank? Never mind the concept of autonomy. Never mind the ideas of Palestinian self-rule. It is clear that Israel is intent upon adding this Arab territory to Greater Israel.
It was the inevitability of this result to the Camp David separate peace that led us to remain outside the discussions. We ask for a process of peace, not a process of annexation. Jordan and other Arab governments want a true peace, a peace of compromise, a peace that will allow Arab and Jew and Christian to live side by side in this region so important to all three faiths and the many peoples who embrace them. We seek a peace that will not force us to divert our meager resources to a constant cycle of arming to deter others and defend ourselves, a peace that will allow us to develop our land, our people, and our society both economically and spiritually, not bury the people in the land with continuing bitterness and hatred.
And what are the essentials of such a peace? Clearly, the modalities must be negotiated, but several prerequisites are manifestly central to bring about a peace that can endure. Happily, the prerequisites are few. Sadly, they are more elusive today than they were when President Sadat traveled to Jerusalem.
First, it is clear that the Palestinians must be allowed to freely exercise their national right of self-determination. The whole world, including the United States, and implicitly even Israel, has recognized that the Palestinian problem is at the core of the continuing Middle East tragedy. Put another way, there will never be a true peace in the region until this first requirement is met.
The second requirement is Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 War. Indeed, these two requirements may be viewed as related. We understand that timing can be important, that security measures (such as arms or forces limitations, observers, and the like) may be an integral part of any agreement. Issues such as security measures, juridical status, corridors of transit and communication, representation, foreign nationals, and so forth are important and are proper subjects of negotiation. Moreover, it is clear that in some cases security requirements may dictate minor modifications to specific lines previously disputed. Yet, such exchanges must result from negotiations aimed at mutual security and based on the two principles we have identified, not as a result of force or threat. Certainly, the Arab governments and Israel alike will be seeking means to provide for their security, including recognized borders and perhaps guarantees. Yet no one can question that the two requirements we have noted here are clearly prerequisites to any viable settlement.
Jordan and the other Arab countries have made clear their willingness to discuss and accept various forms of security arrangements to underwrite the peace-demilitarized zones, peacekeeping forces, and so forth. It is Israel that refuses such measures, even though Israel attacked the Arab countries in 1956 and 1967 and has occupied our land since.
The United States has important-some would say, vital-interests in the Middle East. It is also true that we have critical interests in the West, not least with the United States. Much in our tradition is shared, from our great monotheistic traditions to our prolonged and close association with Western Europe. We have resources of faith as well as of minerals; America has resources of science and technology as well as capital. The world is interdependent, and those Arabs who ignore or castigate our interdependence with the West, like their counterparts here, are out of step with more than their compatriots-they are out of step with reality itself.
Thus, when some Arabs say that American or Western interests are at risk in the continued failure to achieve a settlement, what they are really saying is that world interests, our interests as well as yours, are at stake. A future that condemns us to pervert the nature and value of our relationship into that of a gunrunner's, that forces America's friends to confront and even do violence to other friends, that perpetuates poverty and ignorance and narrowly limits the resources to overcome these common enemies-this is not a hopeful destiny, this is not a humane destiny, this is not an acceptable destiny.
Yes, the Middle East problem is complex, but perhaps not more so than the mysteries of human life itself, the physics of space travel, or the conquest of poliomyelitis. A United States that has shown it can meet such challenges need not, and, we hope, will not be intimidated by the problems of the Middle East. A similar commitment is what is required. After all, Arabs do not and cannot console ourselves with the thought that the problem is thousands of miles away. Of our commitment to attain a settlement I can give complete and categorical assurance.
1 Toward Peace in the Middle East: Report of a Study Group, Washington: The Brookings Institution, 1975.
2 Joseph N. Greene, Jr., Philip M. Klutznick, Harold H. Saunders, and Merle Thorpe, Jr., The Path to Peace: Arab-Israeli Peace and the United States, Mount Kisco, N.Y.: Seven Springs Center, October 1981.