Creating The Conditions For Peace
Following Israel and Syria's rejection of President Bush's compromise proposal to convene a regional peace conference, a reassessment of the U.S. Middle East strategy and role is critical at this juncture. To break the impasse, the U.S. must develop not only a new stategy but advance a dramatic and comprehensive peace plan of its own that meets the minimum national requirements of the conflicting parties.
What makes the Arab-Israeli conflict intractable is the contradictory nature of their basic national requirements which may be summarized as follows: a) satisfying both Israelis and Palestinians mutual claim to the West Bank and Gaza and recognizing the Palestinians right to self determination, b) restoring Syria's sovereignty over the Golan Heights while guaranteeing Israel's long range security needs and c) recognizing Israel's claim to a united Jerusalem as its capital while addressing Palestinian rights to the old city of Jerusalem.
Although the disagreements between the Arab states and Israel that surfaced during Secretary Baker's recent shuttle diplomacy appeared procedural, they represent critical differences on these core requirements. Neither Israel nor the Arab states could participate in a regional or international conference unless they were reasonably assured that the negotiated outcome would be compatible with their minimal national requirements.
The current governments in Israel, Syria and the Palestinian leadership are basically committed to a certain position from which they could not substantially deviate without paying a heavy political price at home.
To effect a real change in attitude would require either new leadership, free from past commitments and internal political constraints or the introduction of dramatically new elements into the negotiating process that would provide both Israeli and Arab leadership the "cover" they need to change previously held positions. What made the Israeli-Egyptian peace possible, for example, are two critical components that are missing from the current Arab-Israeli scene; the drama which resulted from the historic journey of the late President Anwar El-Sadat of Egypt to Jerusalem in 1977 and President Carter's pressure and persistence to reach an agreement at Camp David in 1979. President Sadat's dramatic act of peace making could neither be denied nor explained away in the Arab world and especially in Israel. The fact that the central Arab state had done the unthinkable was bound to affect all parties to the conflict profoundly.
Unfortunately, there is no Sadat either in Israel or the Arab world. President Bush who has shown a capacity for boldness, creativity and leadership in reversing Iraqi aggression against Kuwait now has an historic opportunity to demonstrate the same capacity for boldness to wage peace in the Middle East.
To begin with, the U.S. should part from its traditional role as a "mediator" and assume a more aggressive posture using its influence and leverage with both Israel and the Arab states. Second, the U.S. must reduce the Arab Israeli conflict to its basic components, bearing in mind the historic perspective of the conflict.
Contrary to some prevailing views, Jordan has no territorial claims against or dispute with Israel. The West Bank, which was in part designated for a Palestinian state in accordance with U.N. Partition Plan 1947, was occupied by Jordan during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 and annexed in 1951. Subsequently. Jordan lost the West Bank to Israel in the Six Day War (1967), and severed its legal and administrative ties to it in July of 1988. Jordan remains, however, a major player in the Arab-Israeli conflict because of its long border with Israel, population make-up (60% Palestinian), continued socio-economic ties to the West Bank and Israel's insistence on linking any Palestinian solution to Jordan. In this respect. King Hussein's call for direct dialogue with Israel was welcomed by Israeli officials.
Lebanon, which borders Israel to the north, has no quarrel with Israel either. Being that Syria enjoys a defactor control over Lebanon, peace between Israel and Lebanon will fall into place once Israel and Syria have reached an accord.
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: From an historic, religious and psychological perspective, both the Israelis' and Palestinians' right to the West Bank is indisputable.
The U.S. should simultaneously recognize the Palestinian national aspiration for autonomous rule (perhaps in confederation with Jordan) and Israeli Jews' right to live in the West Bank and Gaza. In this manner, both people will in fact be living in their "greater" homeland. Each, however, would exercise legal and political authority over part of their homeland. Under such arrangements, Israelis and Palestinians would maintain their separate national identities and ethnic majorities while respecting each other's territorial integrity. By leaving the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza in place, corresponding to the hun-dreds of Palestinian towns and villages in Israel proper, a key requisite for true coexistence will have been fulfilled.
The political boundaries of Israel and the Palestinian entity should be established by and large on the basis of U.N. Resolution 242 and in accordance with the Camp David accords. Israel and the Palestinian entity should provide legal jurisdiction for residency and citizenship. For example, an Israeli living in the West Bank may choose to be a resident of the Palestinian entity and a citizen of Israel and visa versa.
Before Israel could concede any territory, all of its security requirements will have to be met, including: total demilitarization of the West Bank and Gaza, electronic surveillance, on location verification and a long transitional period (10-15 years). Israel's withdrawal will be done in stages allowing strong confidence building measures to be established. Peace between Israel and the surrounding Arab states, in particular Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, will have to be concluded before the last Israeli soldier withdraws.
Jerusalem: The U.S. should recognize a united. Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Such a step will have a considerable impact on every Israeli and engender widespread sympathy toward making concessions in other areas, especially in the West Bank.
The historic act of unifying East and West Jerusalem and making the united city Israel's capital twenty four years ago symbolizes unambiguously and unequivocally from the Israeli perspective the end of an era and the beginning of a new one in Jewish life. The homecoming settled once and for all the emotional wandering of Jews; it put an end to millennia of religious intolerance, deprivation and disdain while also giving substance and full meaning to Jewish national revival.
For this reason, no Israeli government regardless of its political coloration will ever negotiate the status of Jerusalem and stay in power for one day.
Although the unshakable position further complicates the prospects for a settlement, Israeli officials insist that a united Jerusalem as Israel's capital can be reconciled with the Palestinian claim to make East Jerusalem their capital.
Israel maintains that the status of Jerusalem should not limit or inhibit the Palestinian Arabs from maintaining their administrative control over their religious and cultural institutions. In fact, they could expand their participation in the city affairs. For example, a modified borough system as was suggested by Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, would give the Palestinians total and complete administrative autonomy over their religious and cultural affairs in Jerusalem with no Israeli interference whatsoever.
The Israeli-Syrian Conflict: The US. should support the surrender of the vast majority of the Golan Heights to Syrian sovereignty based on U.N. Resolution 242. Syria will then lease it back to Israel for an extended period of time (say 50 years). Under such an agreement, the Syrian government will have no right to change or revoke it unilaterally. The lease may be renewed, extended or modified only by mutual agreement between Israel and Syria.
For Syria, regaining the Golan Heights is a matter of national pride. No Syrian leader can make peace with Israel without restoring Syrian sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The Golan was always Syrian territory and no country has recognized its annexation by Israel.
The enforcement of U.N. resolutions against Iraq gave rise to President Hafez Assad's hopes that eventually international pressure on Israel will be brought to bear. Hence Syria's insistence on a U.N. sponsored peace conference. The skeptics among the Shamir Likud party, however, cite two decades of merciless Syrian bombardment of Israeli settlements, from the highlands of the Golan before 1967 thus rejecting the surrender of these territories on security grounds.
Many Israeli military experts, though, including former Israeli Military Chief of Staff General Shomron, argue that strategic territory is important only in the absence of peace. Moreover, travel and investments, both sides would develop extensive vested interests in their relationship. Thus, the Syrian flag could fly on the Golan for the Syrian people to see while Israel's security is not compromised. In the course of these confidence building years the Golan Jewish settlers may relocate whilo fully compensated or stay as Israeli citizens but residents of Syria.
In the end, Israel. Syria and the Palestinians will have to compromise. Neither Syria nor the Palestinians would be able to regain territories lost in any other way and Israel may yet find that no piece of land could in the long run substitute for real peace. Never in the long history of the Arab-Israeli conflict has the U.S. enjoyed greater leverage and influence over both the Arab states and Israel. The post Gulf War era still offers an unprecedented opportunity to put an end to the explosive Arab-Israeli conflict. The U.S. must now, however, take the initiative and advance a bold peace plan – a plan that must incorporate provisions that meet equitably the Arabs and Israeli basic national requirements.