Can the Palestinians Make Peace?
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
[N.B.: The following reflects what the author submitted, and not exactly what was published. To obtain the precise text of what was printed, please check the original place of publication.]
In November 1917, Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour made public the dramatic announcement that "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." But he then added a major stipulation: "it being understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine."
London's easy assumption of 1917 that the two parts of Balfour's declaration could be reconciled was quickly shattered, as the Arabs of Palestine showed that they very much considered Zionism an impediment to their "civil and religious rights." To their distress, British authorities found over the next thirty years that they could support the Jewish homeland or an Arab-dominated Palestine, but not both. Indeed, nothing in the vast reaches of the Empire had prepared British administrators for such a bleakly zero-sum confrontation. In the end, they gave up on it; in 1947, in a unique instance of imperial defeatism, they handed the problem over to the United Nations.
The honest thing would have been to opt for or against a Jewish national home, without riders. But, given the terrible exigencies of war, London wanted above all not to alienate any party, so it ignored the conflicting goals of Jews and Arabs and let the pieces fall where they may.
This history comes to mind because the Bush administration today seems to be falling into almost the same pitfall. In a key speech delivered in May 1989, laying out the American position on what is optimistically called the Arab-Israeli peace process, Secretary of State James A. Baker, III. called for self-government for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in a manner acceptable to Palestinians, Israel, and Jordan. Such a formula provides ample scope for Palestinians to achieve their full political rights. It also provides ample protection for Israel's security.
These sentences bear an uncanny resemblance to the tortuous balancing of the Balfour Declaration. Where Balfour called for a Jewish "national home," Baker calls for "self-government for Palestinians." In the highly structured language of diplomacy, both are non-standard phrases, as ambiguous as they are vague. Both suggest a less than full sovereign political unit without spelling out the details. And where Balfour stipulated that Arab "civil and religious rights" not be harmed, Baker insists on protection for Israel's security interests. Both represented great powers which lacked the authority to enforce these contradictory goals. In effect, Baker has offered the Palestinians the same deal that Balfour gave the Zionists in 1917: you can get (more or less) what you want-but your principal adversary must (more or less) consent.
As the bitter legacy of the Balfour Declaration makes clear, a self-contradictory solution like this only raises hopes on one side and fears on the other. Washington should discard its oxymoronic policy; the honest thing is to opt for or against a Palestinian national homeland, without riders. And there is another problem. The U.S. government opposes both permanent control by Israel of the occupied territories and an independent Palestinian state. What does that leave? Something called a "Palestinian entity." No one knows what this entity would look like, but here are some of the conditions that Ze'ev Schiff, a leading Israeli military analyst, requires:
The Palestinian entity would be prohibited from entering into any military alliance or from permitting the stationing, transit or training of foreign military or police forces on its territory. This ban would extend to foreign military advisors and trainers.
The Palestinian answer to these ideas has not been encouraging, to say the least. As a prominent Palestinian intellectual, Walid Khalidi observed in 1978, "A demilitarized state would be self-defeating. Without national armed forces the political leadership of the state would become the laughing stock of the Arab world." More recently, Yasir 'Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said he would accept such limits only if they applied in exactly the same measure to Israel.
Further, in a world order of sovereign states, it is not obvious that a "Palestinian entity" would last long. The dynamics of nationalism insure that this eccentric unit would either become sovereign in its own right or fall under the influence of an existing state (Israel, Jordan, or Syria). In other words, foreign control or an Palestinian state are the only two realistic options. In trying to split the difference, just as the British did in 1917, Washington is bound to promote not peace but continuing conflict.
Nor is this the only thing wrong with the American government approach. There is also the quite inexplicable over-emphasis placed on Arabs and Israelis at this time of quiescence in the Middle East and exceptional activity elsewhere in the world. The year 1989 saw revolutions in six East European countries; the likely re-ordering of the entire post-war security system in Europe; the first major changes in the Soviet system in thirty-five years; the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan; trauma in China; and the emergence of Japan as a true world actor. But where was the secretary of state's attention fixed during most of that year? According to Daniel Kurtzer, the deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of Arab-Israeli affairs, James Baker was "in almost daily telephone contact" with leaders in Israel, Egypt, and other Middle East states. Indeed, so systematic is Baker's Middle East effort, it was dubbed "telephone diplomacy" (in imitation of Henry Kissinger's "shuttle diplomacy"). According to the secretary of state's own testimony, he spent fourteen out of his first twenty-four months working on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
To an outside observer, it is almost incomprehensible that Baker devotes so much time to what is now a peripheral issue. Lower-level specialists should handle the Arabs and Israelis, leaving the secretary's time for really critical issues. This de-emphasis would have the added benefit of exposing less of Washington's prestige in what American officials themselves acknowledge to be a very high risk undertaking.
It is also troubling to witness what seems to be an a priori assumption in Washington that Yasir 'Arafat's declaration of December 1988, in which he grudgingly recognized Israel and renounced terrorism, signified a long-term change in the stand of the PLO, and was not just tactical. Yet the inflamed rhetoric and violent activities of the PLO since that declaration was made would seem both to undercut 'Arafat's claim to a new policy and to confirm that, once again, the PLO is more concerned with organizational survival than with making peace. To be sure, U.S. government officials say they are skeptical and are closely monitoring PLO in speech and deed, but their dithering strongly suggests yet another instance of the Department of State reluctant to call a spade a spade.
A final concern is yet more far-reaching. It has to do with the assumption in Washington that the Arab-Israeli conflict can be solved by addressing the Palestinian issue. If satisfying the Palestinians' national aspirations solves the conflict, then Washington is basically on the right track, even if it makes operational errors. But if this does not, the American policy is fundamentally wayward.
Yet this emphasis on the Palestinians (an outlook which I call "Palestinianism") has two important flaws: in the first place, even if Palestinians were to be satisfied, they are too weak to call off the Arabs' conflict with Israel; and in any case, available evidence suggests they cannot be satisfied by any solution short of the destruction of Israel.
A Once-Lively Debate
In decades past, Israelis (and their supporters) portrayed their struggle with the Arabs as an international conflict between states. For their part, Arabs (and their supporters) saw the struggle as a communal one between Jews or Israelis and the Palestinians. At heart, the debate concerned interpretation: Was the dispute between the Arab states and Israel, or between Palestinians and Israelis? States or peoples? The Israelis sought full diplomatic relations, arguing, in essence, that "the Arab states must treat Israel like a normal state." For their part, the Arabs sought resolution of the human issue, responding that "there can be no solution until the Palestinian problem is solved." Even Arab leaders (regardless of what they really thought) stressed the communal dimension. Thus, King al-Husayn reasserted last October, for example, that "the Palestinian-Israeli struggle is at the root of the Middle East conflict." This difference operated on many levels. Israelis portrayed the battlefield as the whole Middle East; Arabs recognized only the unit of Palestine. Israelis aspired to live in peace with neighboring states and Arabs aimed to regain what they had lost in Palestine. Israelis saw the confrontation as primarily military, the Arabs saw it as a human rights issue. Israelis portrayed their country as a tiny sliver surrounded by huge expanses of Arab territory; Arabs pointed to Israel's seemingly inexorable growth into all of Mandatory Palestine. Nomenclature confirmed this difference: Israelis used terms like "Arab-Israeli conflict" and "Middle East conflict," Arabs spoke of the "Palestine problem" or "Palestinian problem."
This once-lively controversy over how to define the struggle hardly exists anymore. Quietly, steadily, and almost without notice, Palestinianism has pushed the state conflict to the sidelines. As endlessly lopsided votes at the United Nations suggests, nearly every single government now sees the matter the Arab way. From all one can tell, so too does public opinion around the globe. Closer to home, Middle East specialists in the United States have come overwhelmingly to embrace Palestinianism, a host of organizations and the media followed suit, and now the executive branch is going in the same direction. So far has this opinion advanced that the states are often seen as mere adjuncts to the conflict, as proxies acting on the Palestinians' behalf.
More important yet, even Israelis have come around to the Arab viewpoint. Most of Israel's Labor Party accepts Palestinianism. It is promoted by such eloquent spokesmen as Shulamit Aloni, Abba Eban, Amos Elon, Yehoshafat Harkabi, Mark Heller, Amos Oz, Matityahu Peled, Ze'ev Schiff, Ezer Weizman, and A. B. Yehoshua. The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, the International Center for Peace in the Middle East,the Israeli Human Rights Association, Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B'tzalem), Peace Now, and the Ratz Party all espouse this perspective as well. Some Israelis, it bears noting, adopted Palestinianism for tactical reasons, deeming them more flexible toward Israel than are the Arab states. Yehoshafat Harkabi, who calls himself a Machiavellian dove, fits this description.
The Israeli imprimatur has served to legitimate Palestinianism in the eyes of American Jews, including such individuals as Ed Asner, Howard Fast, Rita Hauser, Stanley Hoffman, Philip Klutznick, and Anthony Lewis, and Milton Viorst. Magazines like Tikkun and Moment, organizations such as the American Jewish Congress, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and the New Jewish Agenda, Americans for a Progressive Israel, Jewish Committee on the Middle East, and the Jewish Peace Lobby) also boost what was the traditional Arab view. A recent poll indicated that this approach is supported by no less than three-quarters of leading Jewish organizations in the United States.
To be sure, the notion that the state conflict counts most still has powerful supporters in the United States, among them the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Zionist Organization of America, and even the U.S. Congress, as well as the Likud Party in Israel. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, for example, declared in late 1989 that "an understanding must first be reached with those Arab countries that are still in a state of war with us, because an arrangement with the Palestinians-which will not be accompanied by one with Arab states-will be useless." Yet even the Likud bastion is divided, with no less a figure than Foreign Minister Moshe Arens accepting a form of Palestinianism: "The problem most threatening to our existence is the Palestinian issue. It is at the very heart of the country, near the population centers, and not somewhere in Iraq or even the Golan Heights." In both countries, proponents of the state perspective, though prominently placed, are nowadays on the defensive.
Why is Palestinianism So Strong?
As Arens' statement suggests, Palestinianism flourishes because the Palestinians now dominate Arab activity vis-à-vis Israel, both violent and diplomatic. The following news report from March 1988 typifies the news since the intifada began: "Yesterday's destruction of livestock at Netusha is the latest indication of the form that the conflict is increasingly taking. Last week, an avocado plantation in a northern kibbutz was vandalized and Arab residents of Baqaal-Sharqiya complained that [Jewish] settlers had burned and cut olive trees in their village." More generally, as Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times writes, this is an era "when the Middle East intercountry conflict, with marching armies and rockets, has been at least temporarily replaced by an intercommunal conflict between Israelis and Palestinians with small arms and rocks." In parallel with Americans, who now worry less about Soviet missiles than about crime, Israelis worry less about Syrian missiles and more about stabbings. But how is it that the Palestinians, a small people without a state of their own, have managed almost to exclude the Arab states from the picture?
In large part, the explanation lies in the states themselves, which (except for Jordan) helped develop and then sponsored Palestinianism. They actually created the PLO in 1964 and nurtured it with money, arms, and diplomatic support. In part, it has to do with the string of Israeli military victories, which changed the Jewish state's image from that of a plucky and admired underdog into a great regional power ("Visit Israel before it visits you"). Credit too must go to the Palestinians themselves. Intellectuals articulated their case with such skill that it finally won a hearing; Yasir 'Arafat, for all his failings as a military leader, is a brilliant publicist and diplomat; and rock-throwers launched the intifada in December 1987.
In retrospect, it is apparent that Palestinianism rose to its present paramountcy beginning in mid-1982. As Jerusalem returned the last of the Sinai desert to Egypt, on 25 April, Israel's role in Egypt abruptly changed from domestic to foreign. Then, forty days later, Menachem Begin decided to go after the PLO in Lebanon, leading to the seemingly endless battle for Beirut between Israel and the PLO. an act which crowned the Palestinians as Israel's main opponent, thereby inadvertently fulfilling the PLO's long-sought goal.
As all this was going on, the Arab states, beset by their own difficulties, began to distance themselves from the Arab-Israeli conflict. The oil boom of the 1970s led inexorably to the oil bust of the 1980s, causing growth rates to flatten, military purchases to fall off, and political clout to diminish. The Iraq-Iran war pre-empted attention formerly paid to Israel; it became clear that the latter was a luxury, probably one the states could no longer afford. Ideologically, the Arab regimes ran out of steam: anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism, and Arab socialism all failed, replaced by a greater sobriety and a harsher realism. Exuberant ambitions gave way to mordant introspection.
Accordingly, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan renounced its claim to the West Bank (temporarily, at least) when faced with a restive population and mounting debt; the Iraqi and Saudi authorities also found less reason to concern themselves with the conflict against Israel. But nowhere was the shift more apparent than in Egypt. For the first time since 1943, Cairo did not seek centrality in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Under Husni Mubarak, the government's attention was (fortunately) directed toward eliminating state subsidies, building public works, keeping the birth rate down, and a host of other urgent domestic issues. If Gamal Abdel Nasser aspired to be president of the Middle East, Mubarak asks no more than to be mayor of Egypt. In Iraq, Saddam Husayn's war against Iran in 1980, which was supposed to last just a few weeks, continues to haunt his country even after the ceasefire.
The Syrian government was somewhat different: while its hostility to Israel did not diminish, severe economic problems obstructed Hafiz al-Asad's grandiose notions of strategic parity with Israel. Even Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi lost his punch, largely due to a failing economy. Qadhdhafi also appeared to have suffered a loss of nerve as a result of the U.S. raid on Tripoli in April 1986. Iran remains the one state fully engaged in the battle against Israel, but even there means hobble intentions.
For all that Cairo, Amman, Damascus, and the other Arab capitals are for the moment distancing themselves from the conflict with Israel, however, they remain key to a settlement-far more so than the residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Palestinian diaspora, or the Palestine Liberation Organization. In candid moments, even the PLO leadership acknowledges this fact. Thus, Salah Khalaf told an interviewer in October 1989, "there can be no Middle East settlement without Syria."
Further, the states still seek to control part or all of Palestine, even if they disguise this aspiration. The governments of Jordan, Syria, Libya, and Iran have highly elaborated views about the proper future of Palestine. Jordanian and Syrian ambitions are most evident; their leaders actually consider Palestine rightfully part of their patrimonies. The Libyan and Iranian governments overtly hope to place their agents in control.
Against this, the PLO has little independent power. Yasir 'Arafat is more a media figure than a power broker; he cannot impose his will on a single state, with the possible exception of Kuwait (where Palestinians form approximately one-quarter of the population). Governments dispose of wealth, military force, political influence, and all the other instruments of state not available to Palestinians and on which the PLO depends. Through its quarter-century of existence, the PLO has never been in a position to ignore the wishes of Arab states.
State deference to the PLO is probably temporary. Kings, presidents, and colonels have been integrally involved in Arab-Israeli affairs for over half a century, and they will be back, for their quiet role today is due to weakness, not disinclination. The Palestinian-Israeli confrontation dominates the Arab-Israeli conflict today only because the states are preoccupied with other matters. The Syrian and Libyan retreats are grudging; clearly, should Asad and Qadhdhafi regain strength, they will again try to impose their notions on the Palestinians. In King al-Husayn's case, the 1988 renunciation of the West Bank signals not much; as Adam Garfinkle puts it, this act resembles that of a tree shedding leaves in winter-not an irrevocable act but part of an ongoing cycle.
When circumstances change, some states will probably re-enter the arena more actively. Specific statements point to this eventuality. In Jordan, 'Atallah 'Atallah, Husayn's favorite Palestinian leader asserted what the government itself did not yet dare to say: "The justification used by certain people to demand the severance of the West Bank's links with Jordan no longer exists today now that all separate official Palestinian efforts have reached a dead end." Were there a real prospect of peace, the states would return with a vengeance. Cairo would seek to steer the negotiations, Damascus would demand the return of the Golan, Amman would want the refugee problem settled, while Riyadh and the Gulf capitals would be expected to provide funds.
Nor can 'Arafat control such Middle East ideologues as the fundamentalist Muslims (especially those in Lebanon) and Pan-Arabists (whether Nasserists or Ba'thists). Indeed, he cannot even impose his will on the many Palestinian groups which reject his leadership. These divide into two types, the secularist organizations based in Damascus constituting the Palestine National Salvation Front; and the fundamentalist Muslims, living mostly in Gaza, where, according to some sources, they already outnumber PLO partisans in Gaza. In Shimon Peres' words: "There is nothing more fake than the PLO; there is no eel slicker than 'Arafat. He has no control over the PLO, Nayif Hawatma, or George Habash."
Far from following 'Arafat's lead, rival Palestinian leaders persistently denounce and fight him. For example, Abu Musa replied to 'Arafat's "treasonous initiative" at Geneva with a vow "to continue raising the banner of struggle" against him. Islamic Jihad responded by denouncing "traitors and agents" and calling on "our people to fight them with force and confront them with an iron fist." When 'Arafat announced his willingness to go to Jerusalem to make peace, Abu Musa threatened to kill him. Not long after, in a statement many Israelis would agree with, Abu Musa has called 'Arafat "a traitor, a cheat and a killer, a common criminal." While visiting Paris, 'Arafat termed the PLO Charter "caduc, null and void"; George Habash responded by declaring that "Yasir 'Arafat does not speak in the name of the masses of the Palestinian people." And Ahmad Jibril likened 'Arafat to Marshal Pétain and threatened him with a death like Anwar as-Sadat's.
A hypothetical illustration brings home 'Arafat's weakness. Suppose, by some miracle, he and the Israelis came to a complete agreement on Palestinian self-government. What would change? Not much. Syrian missiles and Jordanian soldiers would remain in place, as would the cold peace with Egypt, while anti-'Arafat elements of the PLO would continue to engage in terrorism. The intifada would probably go on, even if weakened. In contrast, suppose Hafiz al-Asad signed a peace treaty with the Israelis. In that case, the inter-state war would come to a virtually end because Amman would immediately follow Damascus's example. Some of the Syrian-backed Palestinian groups would come to terms with Israel, as would 'Arafat. Even though Palestinian extremists would continue to riot, the conflict would become much less dangerous.
In sum, 'Arafat does not make the vital decisions of war and peace. The fighter planes in Syria, missiles and binary chemical weapons in Iraq, and tanks in Egypt count more than the rocks on the West Bank. In some ways, the military dimension is more critical than ever, what with the introduction of ever-more sophisticated armaments and the weakening hold of taboos (such as that against chemical weapons).
For all these reasons, it is a mistake to focus on the Palestinians. As Max Singer of the Potomac Institute points out, "for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians while the Arab war against Israel continues would be like making peace with a hand while the rest of the body is trying to kill you." Only when peace has been attained at the state level will it become possible to deal with Palestinian aspirations.
Assuming, that is, that it will ever be possible for Israel to satisfy these aspirations safely. For there is a second major problem with Palestinianism: it postulates a Palestinian willingness to compromise and to coexist with Israel.
Here is Secretary of State Baker defining the official American position: "The United States does not support annexation or permanent Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza, nor do we support the creation of an independent Palestinian state." [This and other statements in Baker's address raised such hackles in Israel that, casting diplomatic niceties aside, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir called the speech "useless" (Press Association, 23 May 1989).] With this, Baker told the Israelis in effect: Yes, we will assuage your justified fears of the Arabs; but no, we will not satisfy your desire for territorial expansion. To the Palestinians, he announced: Yes, we wish to satisfy your legitimate nationalist aims; but no, we will not tolerate your efforts to destroy Israel. In Baker's view, the American role is to help find the combination that gives each party what it most wants but not at the expense of its enemy's basic interests. The U.S. government approach assumes that compromise is possible.
This leads to a further supposition that Israelis and Palestinians can live quietly and peaceably side by side. Benelux is referred to as a "good example" for Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians! Some go further yet and draw comparisons with Connecticut, New York State, and New Jersey.
Two errors underlie this inappropriately cheerful line of thought: the American view of the rest of the world; and a misreading of Palestinian political sentiments.
A long-established American view of foreign affairs holds that conflicts result from misunderstandings. If only enemies can be convinced to sit down together, they can work out their differences. (Or, in the memorable words of one American diplomat, "Why can't Arabs and Israelis behave like good Christians?") Good will can overcome disagreements, lawyer-like compromise can solve almost any dispute. Pace Will Rogers, this is foreign policy premised on "I never met a country I didn't like." With regard to the Middle East peace process, the American vision is one of mutual benefit; success (as Amos Perlmutter recently put it) is an outcome "with no winners and no losers."
Unfortunately, compromise is not always possible, for some conflicts do not have solutions. When nationalist visions clash, it is especially likely that irreconcilable differences require there be a winner and a loser. Ulster will be part of Great Britain or the Republic of Ireland; Cyprus will be one country or two; Taiwan will be part of China or not. And Jerusalem will be under Jewish or Muslim control. The well-known writer Badr 'Abd al-Haqq captures this sentiment exactly; Palestine, he writes, "should accommodate either us, the Arabs, or them, the Jews. There can be no compromises."
This postulate flies in the face of abundant evidence that most Palestinians have always sought and still seek to destroy Israel. In his review of their attitudes from 1918 to 1948, Joseph Nevo uses the terms "monolithic and uncompromising" to describe Palestinian opposition to the Jews. Decades later, a 1980 survey of Palestinian students in Kuwait found 100 percent (!) refusing to recognize Israel's existence. A 1987 poll conducted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip found 78 percent of the population supporting "a democratic Palestinian state in all of Palestine," whereas only 17 percent accepted "a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip" (a ratio of almost 5-to-1). The researchers who conducted the poll, Mohammed Shadid and Rick Seltzer, justifiably concluded that "the current leadership of the PLO is far more moderate than the Palestinian population residing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip."
This judgment was confirmed in November 1989 by the spectacular success of fundamentalist Muslims in the Jordanian elections. Not only did they win 32 out of 80 seats, but they did so in spite of extensive gerrymandering to weaken them. More to the point, the fundamentalists scored their largest margins of victory in the districts of Amman where Palestinians are concentrated; significantly, much of their appeal had to do with their call for a jihad to destroy Israel. And this is not just rhetoric, since Jordanian fundamentalists retain close links to their counterparts in the territories occupied by Israel, to whom they send money, arms, explosives, and instructions.
Those counterparts, recently organized into Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are more extreme in their rejection of Israel even than anti-'Arafat PLO leaders like George Habash, Nayif Hawatma, Ahmad Jibril, Abu Musa, Abu Nidal, 'Isam al-Qadi, and Samir Ghawsha. A Hamas leaflet dated 14 March 1988 declared "'No' to peace with the Zionist entity.... Where is there justice with them still possessing one inch on the coast of Haifa and Acre?" For his part, Shaykh Khalil Quqa of Gaza put it is opposed to "giving the Jews even one granule of sand." Were elections held, Hamas could win 40 per cent of the vote in both the West Bank and more in Gaza-- which goes far toward explaining why the PLO has such reservations about elections.
In the time-honored fashion of Palestinian politics, moderates are being silenced by systematic intimidation. Revealingly, the number of incidents and the degree of their brutality both increased substantially as soon as the Israeli government launched a peace initiative in May 1989. During the first half of 1989, 710 of the attacks by Palestinians were directed against Jews, but nearly as many, 670, were directed against Arabs. Favorite targets included village elders, reporters, policemen, and day laborers in Israel. In part, the killings resulted from the rivalry between Hamas and the PLO for leadership in the occupied territories.
No wonder, then, that when ABC's "Nightline" asked a group of Palestinians in early 1988 if they would accept Israel inside the pre-1967 borders, not one would unequivocally say yes. Mahmud Darwish, a man widely regarded as "the standard-bearer of PLO doves" wrote a poem in early 1988 addressed to Israelis which included these lines:
So leave our country
Some Israelis inclined to Palestinianism despaired over this poem; others struggled to interpret away its unambiguous hostility.
If poetry can be ignored, acts of hair-raising barbarism cannot. It is bad enough that the intifada has inspired Palestinian brutality against both Jews (including the hijacking of a bus over a cliff) and "collaborators" (including many back-alley ax murders); worse is the fact that these deeds have been celebrated by the Palestinian leaders. For example, the official Voice of the PLO, broadcasting from Baghdad, described the bus operation as "heroic."
As a final example of hostility, it is worth noting a debate that took place in late 1988 on the pages of Ad-Dustur, a Jordanian daily. Nimr Sirhan, a Palestinian historian, kicked it off with an article advocating recognition of Israel in return for an independent Palestinian state. Sirhan made it very clear that he saw this as a temporary expedient in anticipation of eliminating Israel.
Let us learn a lesson from what Saladin did during the era of the Crusades, when he accepted a liberated part of Palestine and recognized a Crusader state on another part of Palestine, until a century later when [the Egyptian kings] al-Ashraf Khalil and al-Ashraf Qala'un unleashed their swords and wiped out the Crusader invasion.... I tell those demanding liberation from the river to the sea that the moment when their dictum will be achieved will come later.
Although Sirhan advocated a two-state solution only as a step on the way to the destruction of Israel, his article provoked an uproar. "We will not recognize Israel, no matter what the justifications," wrote Rawda al-Farkh al-Hudhud, an author of children's books. Isma'il al-Ma'mun added: "I say no to Israel, no to recognition, no to despair, no to defeat, and no to surrender." Badr 'Abd al-Haqq responded in Ar-Ra'y, another Jordanian newspaper:
I am one of those who believe that if established, the independent Palestinian state should be on the area that extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River....
What weight do 'Arafat's half-hearted and ambiguous statements carry in the face of this avalanche of opinion?
Then there is the fact that Israelis and Palestinians have been engaged in a communal warfare since 1929. which makes it supremely difficult to imagine them like Dutch and Luxenbourgeois. Thomas Friedman describes the antagonism in From Beirut to Jerusalem:
One side had knives and pistols; the other had secret agents and courts. While each constantly cried out to the world how evil the other was, when they looked one another in the eye-whether in the interrogator's room or before inserting a knife in a back alley-they said something different: I will do whatever I have to survive. Have no doubt about it.
No diplomatic maneuvering, regardless how skilled, can induce two such hostile populations to drop their arms one day and (as the American plan suggests) live side-by-side.
The unhappy conclusion cannot be avoided: there can be either an Israel or a Palestine, but not both. To think that two states can stably and peacefully coexist in the small territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is to be either naïve or duplicitous. If the last seventy years teach anything, it is that there can be only one state west of the Jordan River. Therefore, to those who ask why the Palestinians must be deprived of a state, the answer is simple: grant them one and you set in motion a chain of events that will lead either to its extinction or the extinction of Israel.
What Should Americans Do?
In 1983, I wrote that the PLO is essentially a creature of the Arab states, and that "it will moderate only when its Arab patrons want it to; so long as the Arab consensus needs it to reject Israel, it must do so." I also implied, noting the quiescence of the West Bank and Gaza, that those Palestinians with first-hand familiarity with Israel did not share the PLO's fantasies about eliminating the Jewish state. For its part, the PLO depends on the states, and cannot with ease defy the weighted average of their wishes. This has been the case ever since the genesis of Palestinian nationalism in 1920.
In retrospect, it appears I was right on the first point but not the second. The Arab states have moderated their policies toward Israel and, as though on cue, 'Arafat moved with them, moderating his stand too. But I was wrong in expecting that the Palestinians themselves would remain more moderate than the Arab states consensus and the PLO. Recent events suggest just the opposite: while states are increasingly inclined to compromise, the Palestinians have developed a deep sense of national identity and now, more than ever, insist on the total destruction of Israel.
Therefore, if it once appeared that progress in the Arab-Israeli conflict was contingent on getting the Palestinians involved, it now seems just as critical to keep them away, and to pay more attention to the Arab states. Asad, King al-Husayn, and Saddam Husayn are not only stronger than 'Arafat, Habash, and Abu Nidal, but they are more inclined to compromise. The utterly bleak prospects of Palestinianism are complemented by the somewhat favorable ones of the Arab states. Emphasis on the states has another advantage too: these are the conventional units of international politics, and the tools of diplomacy are all directed to dealing with states. Indeed, trying to include a non-state actor in diplomacy complicates things. (The peace process does have one redeeming virtue, however: it provides Israelis and Palestinians with something other than sheer confrontation and is thus desirable as an end in itself. This somewhat cynical viewpoint has several implications for American diplomats: Don't rush things-It follows that the slower the course of negotiation, the better.) Make sure that failure does not cause harm to the United States or American allies. Provide contingencies to keep on talking once failure occurs.
Unfortunately, Washington is so imbued with Palestinianism that it no longer presses the Arab states to come to terms with Israel. Surely the authorities in Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq should be pressed to accept Israel verbally as much as Yasir 'Arafat did in Geneva in saying that they accept the 1947 U.N. resolution partitioning Palestine; that they renounce terrorism in all its forms; and that they seek peace with Israel. The leaders of these states should then be pressured into calling off their economic boycott of Israel; into agreeing to rescind the "Zionism is racism" resolution at the United Nations; and into ceasing their efforts to expel Israel from the General Assembly. Most important of all, they should be prodded into ending their permanent state of war against Israel.
Washington's fixation on Palestinianism has also stood in the way of testing Moscow's claim to have applied "new thinking" to the Middle East. Yet a true shift in Soviet policies would mean a reduction in the supply of military aid to Syria, as well as similar reductions in the supply of weaponry to Libya and South Yemen. Once this is done, Moscow might be persuaded to cooperate with the U.S. in reducing arms transfers to the Middle East (from China especially), stopping the spread of ballistic missile and nuclear technology, and reasserting, by force if necessary, the ban on chemical warfare.
But the key is Syria. However much weakened, it remains Israel's single most formidable opponent. In terms of conventional war, Syria is Israel's only strategic enemy.
The U.S. government has a variety of options, depending on how deeply involved it wants to get. Least ambitious would be simply to wait out Hafiz al-Asad-which should not take too long, for Asad is ill. Most ambitious would be to undertake military action. In between these extremes, Washington could change the tenor of U.S.-Syrian relations by such steps as decrying Syrian policies and reducing the size of the Syrian missions in the United States. More ambitiously, it could pressure allies to reduce the size and number of Syrian diplomatic missions abroad, induce the Kremlin to limit the flow of arms; and get the Arab states to focus on extricating Syrian forces out of Lebanon. Or it could impose economic sanctions, a promising tactic given the country's dire economic situation.
In the aftermath of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979, the basic diplomatic question has been "Who will be the second to make peace with Israel?" Many Israelis used to assume it would be Lebanon, until the fiasco of the May 1983 accords showed that the Lebanese are too weak to achieve this. King al-Husayn of Jordan knows that he lacks the strength to do this by himself. And I hold that the Palestinians are also deficient. If the first Arab party to make peace was the strongest, then it follows that the second must be the second strongest-Syria. And given the "new thinking" in Moscow and Syria's dire economic situation, that country, as Patrick Clawson concludes in his recent pathbreaking study of its economy, is now "vulnerable to outside pressure." The time has come for such pressure to be applied.
Author's note: The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait both confirmed and dated the following chapter. The invasion dramatically and uncontestably substantiated my key points here-that when it comes to relations with Israel, Arab states matter more than Palestinians; and that Palestinians overwhelmingly reject the existence of Israel. The ease with which Saddam Husayn grabbed center stage from the Palestinians testifies to the dominance of the states; and his bellicose stand against Israel clearly struck a sensitive chord among Palestinians, judging by the remarkably positive response it received both among PLO leaders and mobs on Amman's streets. In some cases, even Palestinians living under Israel control (and who would likely die if chemical bombs fell on Israel) pleaded for the bombing to start. In short, if the arguments in this chapter were controversial when delivered in December 1989, subsequent events made them unexceptional.
At the same time, the Kuwait crisis so radically changed Middle East politics that updating this chapter would be nearly hopeless. When I presented it in December 1989, the peace process very much dominated American concerns in the region, while the region itself was marginalized by events in Europe. Exactly the opposite obtained after August 2, 1990: the peace process vanished but the Middle East became overwhelmingly Washington's dominant foreign policy concern. For this reason, I am leaving the chapter as it was in late 1989, so that it still fights the battles and responds to the concerns of that moment.
Reader comments (2) on this item
Comment on this item
You can help support Daniel Pipes' work by making a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes