Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 29, 1985, Page 2


Why Peace Is Possible

The Arab leaders visiting President Reagan during these first months of his second term all have national axes to grind, but they also are urging that he involve himself personally in the Middle East peace process. They reason that, as a re-elected president, he enjoys immunity from domestic political pressure (meaning the Israel lobby) that no first-term president possesses. Further, they believe now is a "window of opportunity" for several reasons:

With dialogue slowly resuming between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., the Russians are unlikely to throw a monkey wrench into a U.S.-Middle East peace initiative and thus jeopardize all other East-West issues. Also, the moderate Arabs, including for the first time Yasser Arafat's PLO, are ready to work with a U.S. initiative since the alternative is chaos that could sweep away not only all remaining U.S. influence in the Middle East, but also some of the Arab regimes that benefit from it. Further, a lot of Israelis finally realize, nearly eight years after Begin began experimenting, that militaristic expansion does not yield security.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy's current travels indicate the Administration is sounding out peace prospects with all concern parties, particular the U.S.S.R. and Syria. Even if the U.S.S.R. and Syria do not oppose U.S. efforts, however, President Reagan cannot do anything effective in the Middle East until he commits his personal prestige to the project.

In assessing chances for a Reagan success in such a seemingly complex problem, it is best first to de-mystify the several peace plans. The Saudi Fahd Plan of 1981, which became the Fez Plan after its adoption at a 1982 Arab summit meeting; the U.S. Rogers Plan of 1969 and Reagan Plan of 1982; and even Israel's unofficial Allon Plan of the early 1970s, all derive from one source. It is U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 war in exchange for Arab recognition of the right of Israel "to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from acts or threats of force."

This land-for-peace formula has been the basis of U.S. policy for the past 17 years. Resolution 242 also has been formally accepted at one time or another by the U.S.S.R., the U.K., the western European countries, Israel under Golda Meir, and every Arab state bordering on Israel, including Syria. Now Yasser Arafat, in his February 11, 1985, agreement with King Hussein, has called "for total withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 for comprehensive peace as established in U.N. and Security Council resolutions." This is a breakthrough since it constitutes PLO acceptance of the key provision of Resolution 242.

This has been obscured by Arafat's insistence that the Palestinian component of any Jordaniai-Palestinian delegation be responsive to the PLO, and on Palestinian self-determination "within the context of the formation of the proposed confederated Arab state of Jordan and Palestine." None of this conflicts with U.S. policy. What matters is that Arafat accepts the land-for-peace formula.

There is, however, a substantial problem with Resolution 242 itself. The Israelis say it does not mean withdrawal from all the territories seized, and the Arabs say it does. By accepting the 1967 boundaries, Arab moderates would be relinquishing far more than half the land of the original Palestine Mandate. They won't give up significant slices of what little is left. There are non-substantive differences as well. Israelis of the Likud block say they won't negotiate with PLO "terrorists." What they mean is they don't want to negotiate with anyone. They want to keep all of the land in question. Similarly, Palestinians of the "steadfastness front," responding to Syria and Libya, say they won't negotiate with Israel from a position of weakness. What they mean is they don't want to negotiate with a Jewish state at all. They want a "democratic secular state" incorporating Muslims, Christians and Jews.

So how can the U.S. move the action from intransigents on both sides, who want to give up nothing, to moderates on both sides, who would agree to land for peace? It will require international cooperation and critics will call it "imposing" a peace. When the absence of peace threatens the area with unending bloodshed, and the whole world with nuclear conflagration, however, it's analogous to what local authorities do with a health or fire hazard. For the safety of all concerned, they move in and clean things up.

The U.S. would have to "deliver" Israel, an action desired by some Israeli moderates and opposed by Israeli extremists. Although Israel is totally dependent upon U.S. funding and arms, it is not as easy as it sounds. To date only President Eisenhower has resisted Israel's enormous power in Congress and the U.S. media, but he was successful each time he did it. He demonstrated that a U.S. president who engages his personal prestige, and explains carefully to the American people exactly what he is doing and why, will be supported by congressmen who normally obey, but deeply resent, the Israeli lobby.

Who will "deliver" the Palestinians, who suffer no shortage of demagogues in their own camp? That's up to such Arab countries as Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. who, individually, fundboth moderate and some extremist factions of the PLO, and also help pay for Syria's arms. They will have to stop subsidizing Arabswho work at cross-purposes with their own foreign policy goals, if they expect the U.S. to do the same with intransigent Israeli leaders like Begin, Shamir, and Sharon.

Getting Over Difficult Hurdles

How about Libya and Iran, which can be counted upon to use oil money to oppose any land-for-peace settlement? If the U.S., the U.S.S.R., and the other Arab countries named all decide they will no longer allow Libya and Iran to provide arms to extremist groups in Lebanon and Syria, there is no way these bands can disrupt a peace based upon Resolution 242.

The most difficult hurdle for any peace agreement is Jerusalem. The U.N. recognized this clearly in the 1947 resolution which partitioned Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state, but left Jerusalem under international control. International control, assuring access to all parts of the city by Jews, Muslims and Christians, is the only solution acceptable to all. It would have to be imposed and guaranteed by outside powers.

What all of this illustrates is that, although our policymakers believe continuation of the Arab-Israeli dispute works to the advantage of the Soviet Union, the U.S. cannot end it without Soviet cooperation. Since the Middle East has the potential to become the trip wire for world conflagration, however, by now a settlement may be as important to the U. S. S. R. as it is to the U. S. If President Reagan could convince Chairman Gorbachev that good faith in the Middle East is the touchstone for good faith in all future East-West dealings, they might be on their way to ending 40 years of Middle East bloodshed, and opening a truly meaningful U.S.-U.S.S.R. dialogue that could make the world much safer for our children. With stakes like that, how can a President whose knack for communicating is rapidly becoming legendary decline to begin?