The only hope for peace is to compel the Arab world to give up its illegitimate weapons: terrorism and the denial of resettlement to Palestinian refugees
The United States, American presidents often remind us, is Israel's greatest friend in the world. This is certainly true, and the contrast between American sympathy and European hostility has only become clearer during the current conflict. But if the US is serious about promoting peace in the wake of the expected war in Iraq, it has to start doing something simple: the US must tell some basic truths that it knows, but does not state out of deference to Arab opinion.
Until now, America has been giving Israel protection from international pressure without challenging the false premises on which that pressure is based. By doing this, the US encourages Israel's enemies to hope that someday the US will stop protecting Israel. They can believe that the US support for Israel results from the "Jewish lobby" or other political considerations and contradicts the requirements of justice and peace, or international security.
West Europeans, Arabs, and Meretz regularly call on the US to become more involved in reaching a "solution" to the Israel-Arab conflict. They assume that if the US is more involved it will force Israel to accept an agreement more favorable to the Palestinians than the offers Israel made at Camp David and Taba. Presumably they believe that such an agreement would satisfy the Palestinians' just demands and preserve Israel's security as a democratic Jewish sovereign and therefore solve the conflict.
It is natural to assume, based on the traditional diplomatic discussion, that a major US peace effort would involve pressure on Israel to go beyond its previous offers. But that standard discussion is far removed from reality and cannot lead to peace.
A major component of a new approach that the US requires is to speak the truth to Arab governments - instead of diplomatically avoiding the truth in order to avoid offending them. There are two reasons for the US to switch to a revolutionary truth-telling policy: It is the best way to pursue peace. And it meets the needs of the current US fight against militant Islam.
The truths that the US have not been willing to say clearly to Arab governments include:
THE CURRENT approach is to attempt to achieve peace without publicly establishing any of these truths, which American diplomats would privately not deny, as a basis for diplomacy. The current approach cannot work, because it is based on an attempt to satisfy the Arab world, without confronting the Arab belief that Israel's very existence is unjust and essentially illegal.
- Israel is a legitimate state based on law and justice.
- The Jewish people have ancient roots in Palestine
- The League of Nations established the international authority for a Jewish homeland in Palestine - and its decision was formally endorsed by the US and never superseded by the UN.
- UN Security Council Resolution 242 does not require that Israel relinquish all territory acquired in 1967. Since 1967 Israel has stood ready to negotiate a division of the West Bank and Gaza as envisaged by Resolution 242.
- Israel is not occupying Palestinian land. It is occupying disputed territory to which it has a substantial claim and which was never under Palestinian sovereignty, while trying in good faith to negotiate about the disposition of that land as required by Resolution 242.
- Israeli neighborhoods and settlements in Jerusalem and the disputed territories are not illegal. Nor are they in violation of any Israeli agreement or understanding with the Palestinians (unlike many Palestinian "settlements" in the territories).
- There are arguments for and against the separate position that new settlements, even though legal, made it more difficult to make peace. It is not clear whether the positions the US has taken against settlements represent a genuine judgment on the question or merely a diplomatic decision that disagreeing with the Arabs on this issue will hurt either US interests or the cause of peace.
- Palestinian refugees do not have a "right of return." The Arab interpretation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which is the supposed source of this "right," is incorrect. They must be resettled like all other refugees in the world. Most Palestinian refugees should be on their way to permanent resettlement in Arab countries as a prelude to realistic peace negotiations.
- Jerusalem as a city is central to Israel and to Judaism; it is primarily a negative concern for Muslims. Israel should not be expected to agree to any arrangement for Jerusalem that threatens its ability to continue to be a successful working city as it is today and the capital of Israel.
- The claims and interests of Palestinians and Israel in Jerusalem are profoundly asymmetric; therefore reasonable agreements between the parties should not be expected to provide equality or symmetry between the rights of Israel and the rights of Palestine in Jerusalem. This does not speak to the question of whether there can or should be a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, nor to the question of protection of Muslim interests in holy places.
- The deliberate killings of innocent Israelis is terrorism. The Palestinian/Arab position that anything done to "resist occupation" is not terrorism cannot be accepted. This definition undercuts the fight against international terrorism.
- The PLO is an organization that supports and harbors terrorists. Therefore although it also does other things, it is a terrorist organization.
- Israel has been exercising its right to self-defense with remarkable restraint. There certainly are a large number of cases where Israelis made deadly mistakes or deliberately inflicted more harm on the Palestinians than necessary to pursue Israel's security requirements. But in comparison to the way any other Western democracy would act in response to such attacks, Israel has shown great concern, and taken great risks to avoid civilian casualties on the Palestinian side.
If the Arab world succeeds in fooling or pressuring the US and Europe to impose an agreement on Israel, there will not be peace, because they will believe that they can use the same measures to take the next step to destroying Israel. (Just as Hizbullah's success in inducing Israel to leave southern Lebanon convinced Yasser Arafat that similar measures would induce Israel to leave the West Bank and Gaza.)
The result of an imposed agreement will be more war, in more difficult circumstances for Israel, quite possibly requiring Israel to be less constrained than it is today.
The only hope of peace is to go in the opposite direction: to help the Arabs to recognize that Israel cannot be removed, and compel them to give up their main weapons, which are terrorism and the cruel denial of resettlement opportunity to Palestinian refugees, because both weapons are illegitimate and stand in the way of peace.
Fundamental peace obviously requires that the Arab states and the Palestinians accept Israel's presence as a Jewish state in the region. This suggests that a policy intended to achieve peace should be designed to induce the Arab states to change their current position. And a big step in this direction is for the US to state the facts that Israel's enemies refuse to recognize.
Instead, the US has been following the theory that either the Arab states really do accept Israel now, or that they would do so if Israel only retreated to the 1967 borders and made an accommodation on Arab refugees that would save face for the PLO and the Arab countries.
While perhaps there was some chance in 1992 that this policy might have worked - although even then there was much evidence that this was wishful thinking - it is now clear that playing along with the pretenses of Arafat and some Arab states set back the cause of peace. But this failed policy had the "advantage" of allowing the US to avoid challenges to the assumptions of the Arab states and their supporters, including much Western European diplomacy and opinion.
Now the "advantage" of avoiding the need to contradict Arab governments has become a disadvantage, because now the US needs to demonstrate its power over the Arab countries and the hopelessness of violent Muslim challenges to US power. To fight international terror, the US must show that it cannot be fooled or pressured into accepting false or illegitimate Arab positions. In particular, the US has to demonstrate that it is willing to confront Arab governments that use lies or special definitions to deny that they harbor or support terrorists.
Until Saddam Hussein is removed there is no way that the US can convince Arab governments that they have to pay attention to US unhappiness with their continuing support for terrorists. If Saddam can get away with what he does they can get away with diddling the US about terrorists.
When Saddam is removed there will be a new page in regional political calculations and the US will have a chance to show that it will do what must be done to protect itself and others from international terrorism.
The argument will be made - by the US State Department among others - that after its show of power in Iraq, the US should balance its strong demands on Arab countries to stop harboring terrorists by continuing to accommodate their views on Israel. Some may even argue that to make up for the insult of overthrowing Saddam, the US should avoid pushing too strongly against continued Arab protection of terrorist organizations.
These arguments should be rejected because they misunderstand Arab politics and society. Telling the Arabs the truth about their conflict with Israel will be a twofer. It is the beginning of a realistic pursuit of peace, and it shows that the US has the understanding and the will to eliminate governmental support for international terrorists.The writer is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies of Bar-Ilan University.
©2002 - Jerusalem Post