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America and IsraelIan Gilmour
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Vol. 4 No. 3 · 18 February 1982

America and Israel

Ian Gilmour

5490 words
The Struggle for Peace in the Middle East 
by Mahmoud Riad.
Quartet, 365 pp., £11.95, October 1981, 0 7043 2297 8
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Palestinian Self-Determination 
by Hassan Bin Talal.
Quartet, 138 pp., £6.95, July 1981, 0 7043 2312 5
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This Year in Jerusalem 
by Kenneth Cragg.
Darton, Longman and Todd, 192 pp., £5.95, February 1982, 0 232 51524 7
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Arabs often lament that America does not use her ability to influence Israeli policy. Dean Rusk, shortly before he ceased being Secretary of State, warned Mahmoud Riad: ‘Do not ever believe that any future American administration will put pressure on Israel.’ But the Arab cride coeur misses the point. The difficulty is not merely that America does not put pressure on Israel, who is militarily and economically dependent on her, but that Israel effectively controls American policy in the Middle East. The consequences of this extraordinary – and, for the Americans, humiliating – state of affairs are far-reaching. The great majority of Palestinians are in exile; the rest live under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Having lost three-quarters of their country, the Palestinians are not allowed an independent state in the remaining quarter. Lebanon has been wrecked. Other Arabs are fearful of suffering from Israeli expansionism. The Soviet Union gains in prestige; and pro-Western Arab states are undermined by their subjects’ contempt for the impotence of their governments. America tries to disguise its feebleness and double standards by making out that the Palestinian issue is secondary to the problem of Soviet penetration. Nobody is deceived, and the risk of a conflagration in the area grows.

On 22 November 1967, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 242. Essentially, it called for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the recent conflict, for an end to belligerency and for the right of every state to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries. At that time, the territories occupied by Israel outside her 1967 boundaries were the Sinai peninsula, the West Bank, including Arab Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights. More than fourteen years later Israel has withdrawn from most of Sinai, but elsewhere, so far from withdrawing, she has consolidated and extended her control of the occupied territories. She has moved to annex Arab Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. She has created a large number of settlements in those areas, as well as the West Bank and Gaza. Finally, through her Lebanese puppet, Major Haddad, she occupies a small enclave in Southern Lebanon, having laid waste the surrounding country.

The principle of Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories has been accepted by virtually the whole world. Yet Israel has withdrawn only from the barren and largely unpopulated areas of Sinai. Why? Because of the corruption of American politics by Zionism. There have, of course, been subsidiary causes: Egyptian incompetence in turning what should have been a clear if limited victory in 1973 into a mixture of victory and defeat; Israel’s short-sighted preference for continued occupation and annexation of the disputed territories to withdrawal and peace; Arab disunity; extremism in some Arab states and pusillanimity in others.

Before documenting this charge against American politics and American policy and then trying to discover why Israel should wish America to behave in this way, one exception should be noted. Rusk warned that ‘no future American administration’ would put pressure on Israel. But one past American administration, that of President Eisenhower, did. Eisenhower strongly opposed the Israeli-Franco-British invasion of Egypt in 1956 even though it coincided with the climax of his campaign for re-election; and then he insisted on Israel’s total evacuation of Sinai in 1957, even though Ben Gurion had claimed that it was not part of Egypt and that it ‘had been liberated’ by the Israelis.

Israel, of course, has not controlled every move in America’s Middle Eastern policy. Some – but not all – administrations try to escape that control or become exasperated with it. But in the end their attempts to escape fail and their exasperation comes to nothing.

Control is maintained primarily by three methods. First, in the run-up to American elections the full weight of Zionist pressure and propaganda is directed upon both Presidential candidates, having earlier been aimed at all the candidates in the primaries. Any candidate who ignores the propaganda and makes a fair and sensible speech on the Middle East – such as Governor John Connally in 1980 – is taught a sharp lesson. Jewish Americans make up only 2.7 per cent of the population of the United States, but partly because of their concentration in some pivotal states and mainly because of their influence on the American media and sections of American business, they have an electoral clout out of all proportion to their numbers. Fear of the charge of anti-semitism, constantly fanned, silences all but the brave. As a result, Presidential candidates are, by the end of the campaign, vying with each other in their protestations of undying support for the Israelis.

The second weapon is Zionist influence over the American media. For years the great majority of American newspapers gave only the Israeli version of events and only the Zionist side of the case. The Arabs were portrayed as terrorists and primitives, always seeking to persecute the Israelis and unreasonably objecting to the Zionist takeover of their territory. Now things are better. Few columnists, of whom Mr William Safire is one, are as crude in their partisanship as was most of the American press until recently. The serious newspapers, whose education has been furthered by the activities of Menachim Begin, do at least make their readers aware that there are two sides to the case. Nevertheless the balance both of ‘news’ and comment is still overwhelmingly in favour of Israel.

The third and most important engine of influence is the American Senate. The Zionist lobbying operation is there so impressive that the Senate sometimes seems to be merely a vast Zionist rotten borough. Almost invariably, when an American President is about to do something in the interests of America and the West, and to become less than docile in his support of Israeli policy, a letter signed by seventy, eighty or even ninety senators is dispatched to the White House warning him that Israel must be fully sustained.

Mahmoud Riad, a skilled, tough and likeable soldier turned diplomat, was Egyptian Foreign Minister from 1964 to 1972 under both Nasser and Sadat, and he was then Secretary-General of the Arab League until 1979. He is therefore in a better position than anybody else still living to give an inside account of those years. He has grasped the opportunity and in this important book he gives a graphic and penetrating account of the diplomatic roundabout from 1967 to 1979.

During the negotiations leading up to the passing of 242, there was no dispute that the resolution was to be implemented and that it was to be implemented quickly. The words of the US representative Arthur Goldberg were the ‘resolution is for implementation’, and on behalf of his government he pledged that ‘our diplomatic and political influence will be exerted ... to achieve a fair and equitable settlement so that all in the area may live in peace, security and tranquillity.’ The United States’ influence was not, however, exerted in that way. Gunnar Jarring, who was appointed the representative of the Secretary-General of the UN to supervise the implementation of 242, received no support from the US, while Israel obstructed him. President Johnson agreed to sell Phantoms to Israel, even though Israel claimed that 242 was not for implementation. Instead of a fair settlement for all, America and Israel offered Egypt a separate peace. Nasser could have had in 1968-9 what Sadat achieved at Camp David. Indeed, he might have got Gaza as well. But Nasser was opposed to Egypt’s deserting its allies and concluding a separate peace. ‘The West Bank,’ he declared, ‘is more important to me than Sinai.’

The substitution of Nixon for Johnson made no difference, except that Israel was sent even more aeroplanes. Israel and the United States continued to ignore 242, and Egypt came under heavy US-Israeli pressure to conclude a separate peace. By 1969, however, as a result of the war of attrition, the United States apparently changed its policy, and Nixon’s Secretary of State, William Rogers, assured Riad that America wanted a comprehensive settlement. The Rogers proposals were quickly rejected by Israel, and their author came under heavy attack from the Israeli lobby in Congress. Nevertheless, despite the dispatch of yet more sophisticated aeroplanes to the Israelis at the behest of the usual 85 senators and despite bellicose speeches by Nixon and Kissinger, in 1970 Rogers tried again. Egypt accepted his initiative, and this time Israel officially did the same, while immediately setting to work in Washington to undermine it.

The following year it was Jarring’s turn to try again. His initiative was accepted by the Egyptians and rejected in its entirety by the Israelis. When Rogers supported Jarring, the Israelis attacked him in language almost as violent as Begin’s, and Rogers had to retract. Jarring himself, when his mission had been finally aborted by Israeli intransigence, expressed to Riad his disappointment at the United States’ alignment with Israel, and her failure even to try to persuade Israel to make peace. Rogers, who, like Rusk, was respected by Riad, admitted that Egypt had done what it could, but by then he had lost all influence.

In the run-up to the 1972 Presidential Election Nixon promised a new round of Phantoms and Skyhawks to Israel. More disastrously, he promised that the US would not undertake any new political initiatives in the Middle East without prior discussion with Israel. With this abdication of responsibility ‘the US position in the Middle East,’ Mr Riad writes, ‘became a hostage to Israeli policy.’ There could be no more ‘Rogers initiatives’, but as these had come to nothing, perhaps the change was more in form than in substance. Until shortly before the 1973 war, the major cause of which was the American belief that Israel could be safely left in occupation of Arab land, Kissinger was pressing a separate peace on Egypt. But when Mrs Meir refused to agree to withdraw even from Sinai, Nixon rewarded her expansionism with yet another arms deal. Not surprisingly, when a draft resolution came before the Security Council in 1973 condemning Israel for its occupation of Arab territories and reviewing Israel’s successful attempts to obstruct the implementation of 242, every country supported it except the United States. Thus, on the eve of the 1973 war, Israel had for six years frustrated the implementation of 242 because, in the words of Mr Riad, its leaders preferred expansion to peace, and ‘its obduracy rested on US support and encouragement.’

The end of the 1973 war provided an opportunity for the comprehensive settlement laid down in 242. Yet Kissinger, for whom Mr Riad preserves a special scorn, concentrated instead on splitting Egypt from Syria, and proceeding step by step. In practice, as Mr Riad says, Kissinger’s ‘devious step-by-step policy ... was confined to those steps which Israel permitted’. When President Assad of Syria complained that the policy was contrary to Nixon’s pledge of a comprehensive solution, Kissinger replied that that had been the policy of the previous administration. Thus American pledges to Israel are binding on subsequent administrations. American pledges to the Arabs are not.

Nevertheless Israel demanded even more than she was offered, and initially Kissinger’s efforts to secure a second disengagement failed. President Ford announced that America’s Middle Eastern policy would have to be reassessed. This implied the end of the failed step-by-step policy and a resumption of the search for a comprehensive settlement. In such a situation the Senate can always be relied upon. This time 76 senators urged Ford to give Israel what it wanted, and that was the end of the reassessment of American policy. As a result, the second disengagement agreement between Israel and Egypt was signed, whereby Israel gave back part of Sinai in return for Sadat’s agreeing not to resort to war and America’s agreeing to subordinate its policies yet further to Israeli wishes and to supply Israel with a colossal amount of military supplies and economic aid. This must be one of the most one-sided agreements ever signed.

President Carter initially favoured a comprehensive settlement, but, as Mr Riad makes clear, he inherited a disastrous legacy from Kissinger. Militarily, Israel was much more powerful than she had ever been. Diplomatically, America’s freedom of action was severely circumscribed by Kissinger’s profligate pledges to Israel. Yet Carter made a number of speeches which angered the Israelis, and on 1 October 1977 the American and Russian Governments invited all parties to the conflict, including the Palestinians, to a conference at Geneva. As the former leader of the World Zionist Federation, Nahum Goldmann, has often pointed out, Russian involvement in the peace process is at some stage essential. Begin, however, reacted with fury, and there was the usual result: Carter retracted. Still, even after Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem, Herman Eilts, the American Ambassador in Cairo and probably one of the four best American diplomats since the war, told Riad that the US Government favoured a comprehensive peace and felt that a separate peace between Israel and Egypt would only perpetuate the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yet a separate peace was what the Americans eventually achieved.

It will be seen from Mr Riad’s book that American politicians can be divided into two classes: some, like Johnson, Nixon and Kissinger, were happy to follow pro-Zionist policies and despite occasional exasperation to be the willing tools of Israel; others, like Rusk, Rogers, Ford, Carter and Vance, tried to be even-handed between Israel and the Arabs and not to lose sight of America’s national interests. But whichever class they belonged to, whether they were willing or unwilling, they all ended up playing Israel’s game and abandoned the search for a comprehensive peace. Israel ultimately controlled American policy whoever was nominally in charge of it. Israel, too, was always provided with more of America’s most sophisticated weaponry. If Israel is, according to American standards, behaving relatively well, then she is flooded with arms as a reward. If she is behaving badly, the American line is that, if arms are cut off, she will be provoked into behaving even more aggressively. So once again the arms flow.

Whatever criticism may be levelled against the US and Israel for the period from 1967 to 1973, there is, it may be argued, a very plausible defence for them in the subsequent period. After all, was not President Sadat a partner in all that took place between 1973 and 1981? There were elements of greatness in Sadat. He had vision and originality and courage. His visit to Jerusalem and his speech to the Knesset demonstrated all those qualities. Yet with his greatness went a remarkable innocence. Although inexperienced in international affairs, he seldom took the advice of his talented experts, and expected his generosity towards other nations to be reciprocated: and no amount of experience to the contrary altered his behaviour. He continued to cast his bread on the waters even though it virtually never came back to him. Combined with this naivety about the ways of the world was a marked distaste and inaptitude for detailed negotiation. Such an attitude would have led to trouble whoever his partners or opponents had been: in negotiating with Kissinger and the Israelis it was crippling.

Sadat’s first notable exploit on the international scene was the expulsion of the Soviet technicians from Egypt in 1972. This was something on which the US put high value, and if he had concerted his action with the Americans, he would have wrung considerable concessions from them. But Sadat did not consult the West, and therefore got nothing from them. Kissinger told a friend of Riad’s, reasonably enough, that there was no morality in politics and that it was not the job of the United States to pay for something that had been given them free. During the years that followed Sadat showed a similar tendency to throw his cards away. So far from being an oriental bargainer, he disdained to bargain at all. Hence other people got the bargains, and Sadat paid for them. Both at the end of the 1973 war and in the first disengagement agreement Sadat’s unique diplomatic technique was again revealed: he made enormous concessions without ensuring that they were matched by the other side. He also allowed himself to be split from Syria – Mr Riad leaves no doubt that the blame for the Egypt-Syria split must be ascribed to Egypt. Sadat presumably thought he was building up good will, but in diplomacy good will is not a bankable asset. Riad reports one meeting with Kissinger that left ‘a sour taste in his mouth’ because of the latter’s deviousness not just towards him but towards members of the American administration: Sadat had no such feelings. He was charmed by Kissinger and emptied his pockets to him. They were not refilled. The second disengagement agreement showed a similar pattern. Kissinger got what he wanted, Israel got a lot, Sadat got little.

Of course Sadat was all the time adding to his stature in Europe and America, more especially after his visit to Jerusalem and the Camp David agreement: he became much more popular in the West than any other Arab has ever been. He probably thought this change in Western opinion would enable him to gain his ends. But he never had a chance of displacing the Zionist lobby as the prime influence on US policy. Sadat was left with the popularity: Begin got the spoils.

Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 was a superb and courageous action. But even here Sadat seems to have had hopelessly unrealistic expectations of its likely results. He evidently thought that the Israelis would be so impressed that their objections to withdrawing from the occupied territories would evaporate in the euphoria generated by his visit. Begin, as he should have known, does not suffer from that sort of euphoria.

Thus by Camp David Sadat was in a weak position, partly because of his mistakes in negotiation and partly because of the great military preponderance that the Americans had given to Israel. Israeli strength was opposed by Arab weakness. In 1975 Sadat had forsworn the Use of force. The Russians had ceased supplying arms to Egypt after Sadat’s public attacks on the Soviet Union. And Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem had ended any military cooperation with the Eastern Front. It had also ended financial help to Egypt from the Arab oil producers for the buying of arms. Nevertheless, before Camp David Sadat professed to believe that he would achieve a comprehensive settlement there. Between 1974 and 1978, together with Dennis Walters MP (who for some reason is called in this book Walter Dennis), I saw Sadat four times: each time he emphasised the need for a comprehensive settlement and the need to stop Israel building colonies in the occupied territories. But he never made any progress on either point or indeed exerted himself to do so. He was seemingly always prepared to make a separate peace, even though he hoped that, despite his setbacks, the Americans would in the end deliver a comprehensive settlement.

At Camp David, Carter, who was at that time registering a very low score in the Gallup Poll, badly needed a success. Finding he could not shift Begin towards a compromise, he turned to the far more malleable Sadat. In an article in Foreign Affairs Herman Eilts, who was present, has explained how things went wrong. Carter himself concentrated upon the Sinai agreement, leaving the framework on Palestine to others. Begin succeeded in greatly changing the Palestine document to his advantage. Several times Vance, realising that the proposed agreement was becoming quite unacceptable to the Arabs, tried to prevent its further emasculation. Carter always overruled him, and new formulas were produced which ‘cumulatively had the effect of contradicting the reality of autonomy’. The Americans made out to Sadat that the changes were only semantic and urged him to accept them.

The more unbalanced the new accords became, the more important it was that there should be a legal linkage between them. Sadat wanted linkage, but to their discredit the Americans persuaded him to ‘accommodate Begin’. The Americans, like Sadat, wanted a protracted freeze on Israeli settlements, but instead of taking enough time to tie Begin down to a written agreement he could not wriggle out of, they negligently relied on a verbal agreement, which Begin immediately did wriggle out of. Meanwhile Sadat had signed the Camp David accords, relying on American assurances that a lengthy freeze on settlements was a part of the agreement. Characteristically, the Americans retreated and meekly acquiesced in Begin’s volte-face. As Eilts comments, ‘such an ignominious collapse of the US position ... destroyed the last chance of obtaining moderate Arab support.’ There was equal futility over Jerusalem, while out of ignorance or irresponsibility the Americans assured Sadat that the Saudis would support the agreements. Sadat’s gullibility can be severely faulted. A major international statesman should rely upon himself and his advisers, not on another power. But on this Sadat was impervious to experience. He went on saying that America held ‘99 per cent of the cards’ and refused to recognise that America would not play them without Israeli permission. He either should have held out for much better terms or gone home without an agreement.

But the prime culprits were the Americans and Begin. The Americans misled Sadat and were beaten at every turn by Begin. Though nobody but Begin wanted a separate peace between Israel and Egypt, that was the result. Begin’s statements in New York immediately after Camp David that Israel would continue to build settlements, and that Israel would in no circumstances withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza after the five-year period was up, removed any possibility that the Palestine part of the agreement would be much more than cosmetic. There was going to be no self-determination for the Palestinians. Once again, the Israelis had succeeded in bending the Americans to their will. Peace between Israel and Egypt would have been universally welcomed, had it been linked to the achievement of a comprehensive settlement. But there was no linkage. In consequence, Camp David, as Eilts agrees, ‘set back prospects for a comprehensive peace’. Instead there was in effect the separate peace between Israel and Egypt which had been the constant objective of the Israelis since 1968 and the intermittent objective of the Americans. But at the time it was achieved it was not an American objective.

So the fact that Sadat went along with Israeli and American policy from 1973 to Camp David and after is only a partial mitigation of America’s behaviour. Sadat, a bad negotiator by any standards, was no match for Kissinger, whom he trusted. At the same time Sadat’s power was being steadily eroded by America’s build-up of Israel’s already excessive military power. And at Camp David Sadat’s position was weakened once again by his own generosity: he could not spurn Carter’s plea for help.

Arguably, Sadat was unlucky in having Begin as his Israeli opposite number. Mr Riad refers to Begin’s arrival at Camp David ‘in the same extremist frame of mind as when in his early years he butchered the villagers of Deir Yassin’ – an incident which even the highly charitable Bishop Cragg calls ‘the Arab Lidice’. But rather than regarding Begin as a retired terrorist and his behaviour as stemming from his past, it is fairer and more illuminating to see him as one of the fundamentalist fanatics who are currently loose in the Middle East, like Khomeini and Gaddafi. People may have their individual preferences among this trio. Khomeini is more a danger to his own people than he is abroad. Gaddafi is dangerous both at home and abroad, even if one dismisses as absurd the story that he dispatched assassination squads to America to kill President Reagan. Because Israel is still a democracy – it is impossible to imagine Begin locking up Israel’s leading journalist as Sadat locked up Mohamed Heikal shortly before he was himself assassinated – Begin is not domestically dangerous to Israelis: but he presents a very real threat to his neighbours.

Each of them is selective in his fundamentalism. Gaddafi flirts with the atheistic Russians, while Begin relies on the Old Testament for the Biblical promises concerning the land of Israel, which, as Bishop Cragg points out, are not applicable today. Begin’s recent tirade against Washington, after the Reagan Administration had reacted to his ‘annexation’ of the Golan Heights, was a masterpiece of fundamentalist fanaticism. The mixture of self-righteousness, bad history and unblushing inaccuracy, culminating in the fantastic absurdity of accusing the Reagan Administration of anti-semitism in selling some extremely expensive aeroplanes to Saudi Arabia, would not have shamed Khomeini or Gaddafi. Similarly, Gaddafi’s remark that ‘the existence of Israel is incompatible with the existence of the Arab World’ is, in its obsessive intolerance, the obverse of Begin’s view that a Palestinian state is incompatible with the existence of Israel. Yet Begin has won two elections, and his policy has not been all that different from the policy pursued by preceding Labour governments. Israel’s refusal to compromise cannot, therefore, be blamed wholly on Begin. In spite of his extremism, he is in many ways not unrepresentative.

Why then has Israel, since 1967, refused peace and acceptance, and preferred force and continued occupation of Arab land? Over the years Zionist leaders have made statements that did not conceal Israel’s territorial ambitions. But given the great longing of many Israelis for peace and the distaste of many for the role of occupying power, the expansionist dreams of the leaders do not seem a sufficient explanation for Israel’s policy of putting territory before peace, in the words of King Hussein, or for its adamant refusal of self-determination to the Palestinians – a right to which Prince Hassan of Jordan, in his learned and judicious examination of the legal problems, shows they are fully entitled. The apt epigraph to his book is Pope’s couplet:

Truths would you teach, or save a sinking land?
All fear, none aid you, and few understand.

Israelis also fear, and are undoubtedly worried about their security. Those Arab leaders who make warlike noises against Israel usually do so from a safe distance, but they are listened to by the Israeli public. Ridiculous quibbles about whether Israel has a right to exist feed Israeli anxiety. Mahmoud Riad was stating the obvious when he told me immediately after the 1967 war that the removal of the Israelis from Palestine would create even more misery and injustice for the innocent than the Israeli removal of the Palestinians had caused in 1948 and subsequently. What was obvious in 1967 should be even more obvious today. Yet foolish and impotent threats against Israel are still made. All the same, the Israeli leaders know perfectly well that Israel is so much more powerful than her neighbours that she is militarily unassailable, and that a Palestinian state consisting of the West Bank and Gaza, which are not even geographically contiguous, would be economically weak and would present no military threat. In any case, a peace settlement would include the establishment of demilitarised zones and peace-keeping forces and other necessary safeguards. Nor can the claim that the PLO is a terrorist organisation, and that it is impossible to deal with terrorists, possibly be a valid reason for Israel’s stance. A government that is led by Begin, Shamir et al cannot suffer from squeamishness.

More than fears for their security, joined to hopes of more territory, seem to me to lie behind the Israeli attitude to the Palestinians. It is, after all, odd that they should think it right for the Palestinians to be kept in perpetual colonial subjection – or to be removed from their own country. This attitude is sometimes excused on the grounds that Jordan is already largely a Palestinian state, and that there is no need for another one. This may have been accepted by some in the Reagan Administration, but it does not bear a moment’s examination. For one thing, everybody knows what they mean by Palestine, which is the land running to the west of the River Jordan. For another, to remove a people from their own country, and then say that they have no right to complain since they now form a majority in another one, is palpably dishonest. Besides, the chant of Mr Begin’s party, the Likud, includes the words: ‘The West Bank is ours and the East Bank too.’

A clue to the real reason for Israel’s behaviour is provided by a remark of Abba Eban’s which is quoted by Bishop Cragg. ‘We did not believe,’ Eban wrote in 1970, ‘that a unitary structure west of the Jordan could be permanently reconciled with our democratic nature, or with the basic Zionist concept of a Jewish state saturated with Jewish identity and association.’ A statement by Ben Gurion in the same book points us in the same direction. Palestine, he said in 1917, was ‘a country without inhabitants in a moral and historical sense’. He meant, of course, that Palestine had many inhabitants but that they were Arabs, not Jews. Dayan made similar remarks.

The Israeli opposition to a Palestinian state stems largely, I believe, from doubts about their own legitimacy. If Palestinian self-determination and a Palestinian state is allowed in a quarter of Palestine, why should things stop there? If there can be a Palestinian state in 25 per cent of Palestine, why shouldn’t there be a Palestinian state in 100 per cent of Palestine? After all, Palestine was recently composed almost entirely of Arabs. If the results of the 1967 war can be undone, the argument runs, why shouldn’t the results of the 1948 war be undone and the Palestinians returned to their homes in what is now Israel?

Such fears are not unnatural, and in strict logic the policy based upon them can perhaps be justified. But in reality it is profoundly mistaken. Israeli doubts about their legitimacy lead to a denial of Palestinian rights, which leads to a denial of Israeli rights by the Palestinians. The Arabs will not accept Israel until there is a just settlement of the Palestinian problem. Only by allowing the Palestinians a quarter of their country will the Israelis persuade the Arabs to concede them peace and security in the other three-quarters. Peace and security will never be gained by the continual pinching of Arab land, and such a compromise would not be unfavourable to Israel. Bishop Cragg, who is occasionally naive but whose religious attitude to the conflict casts light upon it, believes that it is the Palestinian vocation to suffer and to accept Israeli rule in the occupied territories. But even a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza will have involved much suffering for the Palestinians. That, and no more, should be demanded of them.

In the meantime, what should be done? Some believe that Israel and the Arabs should be left alone and nobody else should interfere. But Israel is not left alone. She receives vast quantities of money and arms from America, and largely through past American folly the USSR is also heavily involved in the area. The ‘hands off’ plea is therefore bogus. The hands are already there. Others believe that the US should be left to settle the problem on her own, and that other countries should keep away: a euphemism for saying that American policy should be controlled by Israel, and that Israel should not withdraw from the occupied territories. Some still entertain what Mr Riad calls ‘the limp hope’ that the US will adopt an even-handed position. Certainly such a hope will remain limp if other countries make no attempt to counteract the influence of the Israeli lobby in Washington. Europe must play her part. Yet unless the Israelis or the Americans or both start following their own best interests, only the Arabs can help themselves. Virtual Arab unity on a moderate but firm position should be the first step. Begin’s aggressiveness makes Arab unity difficult. It also makes it essential.

If there are any more fiascos like Fez, the Arabs will have only themselves to blame. The Arabs should unite on the Fahd plan, stating explicitly that the plan entails recognition of Israel. Meanwhile the PLO should be prepared to recognise Israel on condition that Israel recognises Palestinian rights. The combination of these measures with European pressure on Washington would make it very difficult for the United States not to act. Conversely, in such circumstances a refusal by the United States to act would make it very difficult for the Arab states not to react. Nobody can be optimistic. But since a solution based on 242 and a Palestinian state with or without a link with Jordan is in the interests of everybody concerned – the Palestinians, the Israelis, the other Arab states, the United States, Europe and probably even the USSR – it is, despite the history of the last thirty years, too soon to despair.

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Letters

Vol. 4 No. 5 · 18 March 1982

SIR: Ian Gilmour (LRB, 18 February) misconstrues Abba Eban as implying rejection of the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland. Eban was referring solely to the conception of a unified bi-national state, and has firmly advocated the establishment of a separate Palestinian homeland in the area. On this error and upon a single quotation from as long ago as 1917, Gilmour develops an insinuating and derogatory analysis of Israeli behaviour. Furthermore his unproblematic presentation of the simplicity of establishing a Palestinian state and of the acceptance of the PLO must be questioned. The doctrine of the PLO is not analysed (does Gilmour condone the IRA?), and his confidence in ‘demilitarised zones and peace-keeping forces and other necessary safeguards’ shows a substantial disregard for historical experience. He fails to appreciate that the PLO has, embodied in its charter, a commitment to the destruction of Israel. Gilmour also places Khomeini and Gaddafi (why not Arafat?) with Begin as ‘fundamentalist fanatics’. Nevertheless he is forced – we might suppose by a rare modicum of objectivity – to recognise, if only in passing, the absolutely central point that Israel is a democracy. We are reminded of Deir Yassin but of no PLO atrocities (Lod, Ma’alot, Munich etc). He asks why Israel has since 1967 ‘refused’ peace and yet fails to acknowledge the intransigence of Arab leaders as explanation. Blame is thus squarely placed on Israel for the failure of the peace process. We are not led to ponder on the potential of Camp David if it had met with wider support from the other Arab nations. The complex and tense relationship between America and Israel is fictitiously described in terms of Zionist conspiracy.

Laurence Jacobs
Queen’s College, Oxford

SIR: What a shame it is that the vast majority of Americans will never see Ian Gilmour’s statement of simple truths. Most of them will go on as ignorant of Zionist activities in Palestine as so many Germans ‘went on’ knowing nothing about Buchenwald; and not much wanting to know, either. The political opponents of these activities will be dealt with swiftly, as Mr Gilmour says, by the Jewish Lobby in Washington; the local critics will be taken care of as ‘anti-semites’ in smear-campaigns; and the ‘Lumpenproletariat’ will remain too busy hating blacks to care what happens to either Jews or Arabs. The Europeans, who have suffered more than anyone else from the oil prices, the oil embargoes and the resulting unemployment spawned by the policy of the United States, can do little to put pressure on a country whose Mr Haig can so easily dismiss Lord Carrington as ‘a liar’. The only hope lies within America’s own Jewish community. Many of them are aware enough of history to recognise the untold suffering that Zionism has brought upon Jewish communities from Rabat to Russia: people who formed an integral part of their countries and had to leave them, for a country where most of their US counterparts didn’t even want to go. They will remember that their famous ‘hold on the media’ also existed under the Weimar Republic: and they will know that the fate of Mr Begin’s policies might well be decided at a time when the United States is busy in its more familiar playgrounds of Central America and the Far East. Whether they will speak up – and a few indeed have done so – remains to be seen.

Peter Todd Mitchell
Sitges, Spain

Vol. 4 No. 7 · 15 April 1982

SIR: Mr Ian Gilmour flatters Israel (LRB, 18 February). What a powerful little state it is! It ‘effectively controls American policy in the Middle East’, and it controls the President, the parliament and the media of the United States, too. This it does because it has in its service something that Mr Gilmour calls ‘Zionism’, which is not, according to Mr Gilmour, the movement of national liberation of the Jews. It is more like their multinational corporation. And it is the mightiest multinational of all; the influence of Exxon and Bechtel upon the fate of the Arab peoples deserves not a mention alongside what is being prepared for them by the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, 444 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20001.

The Middle East badly requires an explanation. The region is so eventful, and so elaborate. Mr Gilmour has an explanation, and it is attractively simple. Like the bewildered girl in Randall Jarrell’s novel, he looked under his bed and discovered a horse. The Palestinians are ‘in exile’, Lebanon has been ‘wrecked’, pro-Western Arab states are ‘undermined’, the Soviet Union ‘gains in prestige’ – and all because of Israel. There is much that Mr Gilmour prefers not to know. To wit: the Palestinians are in exile because they refused to recognise that Jews are their neighbours because they have a right; Lebanon was wrecked by a civil war between Palestinian terrorists and Christian fascists, a war which Israel did not start but which it put to some use; the charged constellation of religious and social forces known as Islam is a greater threat to pro-Western Arab regimes than Israel, and a threat that would be only inflamed if these regimes sued Israel for peace; and the Soviet Union’s position in the region is bettered because the Saudis, as they candidly admit, fear Zionism more than Communism.

But if Mr Gilmour understands little about the Middle East, he understands even less about America. His coarse comments about ‘the corruption of American politics by Zionism’ betray a really breathtaking ignorance and incomprehension of the political system of the United States. The Jews of the United States, when they seek ‘clout out of all proportion to their numbers’, are playing by its rules, as are the American Hellenic Institute, the National Rifle Association and Mr Ralph Nader. They have formed a lobby in a country in which, for complex historical and cultural reasons, a group is not embarrassed by the prosecution of its own interests. The pro-Israel lobby is no more than the expression in the area of foreign affairs of the Jewish part in democracy. Mr Gilmour, on the other hand, evidently believes that power in a society should be distributed among its groups strictly ‘in proportion to their numbers’. Not very Tory.

The Israeli lobby has sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed. It owes its successes not to bribes, as the Korean lobby did, nor to the slick techniques of public relations, as the Saudi lobby did, but to the merit of its argument. Mr Gilmour does not see this, because he does not believe that its argument has merit. Instead, he warns ominously of ‘the full weight of Zionist pressure and propaganda’ upon American candidates and voters. Propaganda is Mr Gilmour’s term for a view with which he disagrees; pressure, his term for its popularity. What all this means, however, is that Americans tend to vote for people who seem to be in sympathy with their position, and the position of a large number of Americans has so far been pro-Israel. Bad for Mr Gilmour, but not exactly sinister.

The ‘vast Zionist rotten borough’ that is the US Senate, moreover, did not prevent the Saudis from being awarded either F-I5s or AWACS; and that body appears to be in accord with the new tilt of American policy toward Riyadh, as it is championed by Secretary Weinberger. Of such inconvenient facts Mr Gilmour takes no note. (Of other inconvenient facts – the summary Arab rejection of Fahd’s rather maximalist plan, for example – he takes note, but no lesson.) Perhaps Mr Gilmour suspects that it was all along the secret plan of ‘Zionism’ to provide the Saudis with their planes, because then it could take the Gulf too, in accordance with its well-known ‘territorial ambitions’.

Mr Gilmour does not merely differ with American policy-makers, and with the majority of the American public: he defames them. He has ideas, but they have motives. He has principles, but they have pressures. Those who advance the Arab argument, like John Connally, are ‘fair’ and ‘sensible’ and ‘brave’, but all the others are tools. Presumably Mr Gilmour numbers himself among the brave, as he rehearses the clichés of a ‘comprehensive settlement’ and the canards of anti-Zionism. I say anti-Zionism, not anti-semitism. Mr Gilmour is, of course, not an anti-semite. Imagine what he might have written then.

Leon Wieseltier
Harvard University

Vol. 4 No. 8 · 6 May 1982

SIR: Mr Wieseltier (Letters, 15 April) neatly proves my point. He does not dispute, because he can’t, the evidence I gave that Israel has systematically frustrated a comprehensive settlement since 1967. Nor does he dispute that for most of that time American governments to their shame have gone along with that objective. To Mr Wieseltier this is not because of Zionist pressure but because Israel is right. But that won’t wash. It does not explain why at various times the Nixon, the Ford and the Carter administrations tried to escape from Israel’s embrace and pursue fair policies in the American national interest. Each time the Zionist lobby defeated them.

Mr Wieseltier is also conspicuously silent about what Israel has done and is doing on the West Bank. Does he approve? If so, why does he not say so? If, on the other hand, he thinks that the Palestinians, like other people, should have the right to self-determination and should not be subjected to an oppressive colonial occupation which steadily removes their land from them, why does he not speak up?

Referring to Zionist influence on the American media, I said in my article that ‘fear of the charge of anti-semitism, constantly fanned, silences all but the brave.’ Connoisseurs of the technique will relish Mr Wieseltier’s last two sentences.

Ian Gilmour
Isleworth

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