WASHINGTON (Dec. 27)
The continuing political drama of the Arab-Israeli conflict enters a new year with a new set of principals in Washington facing the old set of problems which includes both how to find the approach for a settlement as well as a settlement itself.
Similarly, the tragedy of Soviet Jewry continues despite the Helsinki accord now in its second year. Its promise of improved human relationships between the Soviet and the West has not materialized. The Soviet economic and political dealing for high stakes goes far beyond those Jews who want to emigrate and those who might be content to stay as Soviet citizens if they could practice their Jewish culture.
The Carter Administration takes office and the 95th Congress goes into session with full understanding that the U.S. defense of democracy, as exemplified by Israel, and universal human rights, as personified by the Soviet Jews, will demand much of their energies, and trust their will against both foreign and domestic opponents whose weapons include tools of propaganda that range from automatic antidemocratic majorities in the United Nations to media tactics designed to confuse, intimidate and ultimately induce Americans into paths contrary to those proclaimed anew in the Bicentennial year just completed.
AIMED AT U.S. OPINION
In campaigns to influence U.S. opinion, both the Arabs and the Soviets and their American supporters have laid down terms to the Carter Administration. Soviet Communist Party Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and others in the Kremlin want U.S. concessions on nuclear weapons and on U.S.-USSR trade. They demand U.S. credits and that the U.S. repeal the “discriminatory” Jackson-Vanik legislation designed to help Jews and others emigrate.
Moscow’s views on both issues has support from certain American corporations which, as Senator Frank Church (D. Idaho) observes, are prepared to use U.S. tax money to underpin their technological development in the Soviet Union for probable profits without financial risk to themselves.
The “peace offensive” hatched in October in Ryadh has brought out changes in Arab tactics from bluster to blandishment but the substance of their position towards Israel remains officially and fundamentally unchanged. What has changed, it is observed, is the relationship among the Arab states and from this alteration the seeds of settlement may sprout.
Saudi Arabia with its wealth has emerged as the determinant of collective action or inaction towards either peace or more trouble with Israel. Syria has expanded into Lebanon to rival Egypt in power. Egypt economically depressed and its prestige diminished, talks loudly of its “friendship” for American while entering a rapprochement with the Soviets. The terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization, despite its second disaster in six years, retains its ability to carry bombs in suitcases.
The “peace offensive”, particularly from Cairo, has brought a surge of optimism in the West, including some highly placed U.S. officials; but among analysts seasoned in the ways of Middle East diplomacy the only certainties are skepticism and caution. Their concern is that such views as “no time is riper than now” for a settlement and praise for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat may bring expectations beyond realization that could result in explosions within nations as well as between them.
NO OFFICIAL PROPOSAL
Analysts note that the voices of “moderation” in the Arab world are expressed to foreigners but the Arab governments, even as 1976 ends, have not presented a single proposal in diplomatic channels to Washington for even a suggested approach towards a conference at which the framework for negotiations may be adopted.
Last spring, when some Senators were furious over Israeli settlements on the West Bank, Senator George McGovern (D. S.D.) asked the State Department to analyze what Arabs were saying privately and publicly. The Department’s response, obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, was a compendium of media excerpts but it reported nothing government-to-government. As 1976 was ending. JTA checked with the State Department and found the same vacancy–no Arab proposals.
Other contradictions stud the Middle East situation. Ever since Israel’s founding, the argument has been posed that “time is on the side of the Arabs.” As the 1948 record of State Department secret documents now reveals, high American officials used this argument, almost successfully, to convince Jews they should not have a state of their own because “in time” the Arabs will destroy it. Today, however, in the wake of the U.S. election the Arabs are pushing for an immediate resumption of the Geneva conference and a quick settlement.
The PLO is consistently pictured as “moderating” but its charter to eliminate Israel is unchanged. While PLO Chief Yasir Arafat tells foreigners and the media that he accepts Israel as a state, PLO “Foreign Minister” Khadoumi rejects Israel. The Arafat talk is widely and prominently reported. Not so Khadoumi’s. “It’s not part of the present script,” one observer remarked.
WHY CARROT, NOT STICK
Israel’s worsening economy, political divisions, the burden of armament and constant preparedness and the inspired outbursts of rioting among the Arabs within it put strains on Israelis that caused Nobel Prize. Winner Saul Bellow to wonder how they stand it. Then why blandishment instead of threats from the Arab leaders, including the PLO chief? A reason may be found in a comment from one who supports the Arabist concept that Israel has to give up East Jerusalem and the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus to the PLO.
The Israelis, the commentary goes, are an anxious people. In the Israeli election campaign, the U.S. has a strong impact and its influence will be major in determining the winner. “If Israelis think their anxieties will be neglected they will vote for hard lines.” it said. “If they feel they will be treated more sympathetically, they will vote for moderates.”
Nonetheless, despite the contradictions and the propaganda, a fresh start may be in the offing for a better set of circumstances. That leaders of the new Administration have not been deluded by the “peace” offensive is indicated by President-elect Jimmy Carter’s rejection of the “appreciation” demand from Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s view is that the U.S. is “obliged” to provide it with weapons.
Neither is there any hurry to start traveling towards Geneva. The general thinking is that the Carter Administration will deal first with Soviet matters before it considers the Middle East and then initiatives will be held back until after the Israeli elections perhaps in May. President Ford in a recent interview put the Amb-Israeli conflict fourth among the major international issues. U.S.-Soviet, nuclear and oil matters come ahead of it.
All kinds of diplomatic possibilities are seen as 1977 dawns. Among them is the thought that Saudi Arabia, still bitterly anti-Zionist, may have second thoughts about squandering the returns from its oil on anti-Jewish wars that do not help it advance
Jordan, Syria and Lebanon could be coaxed into joining Israel in an economic relationship that Americans have long dreamed as possible to bring prosperity to the area. The Palestinians may be convinced that the majority of them who, live in Jordan and the West Bank can join with the government of Jordan in a political arrangement that satisfies both Palestinian dignity and Israeli security. But throughout all this is the theory that some U.S.-Soviet understanding is essential for a workable settlement. There is little difference between Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and National Security Advisor-elect Zbigniew Brzezinski on the need for a Soviet role. In views he gave to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Brzezinski said; “The Soviet Union has the power to complicate, to an enormous extent, the process of first obtaining and then consolidating and finally maintaining a settlement. That is why, at some stage in the process and preferably in its latter stages, the Soviet Union will have to be drawn into some arrangement whereby a settlement, once it has been attained by the Israelis and the Arabs, becomes an arrangement to which the Soviet Union is an indirect party.
“If the Soviet Union is entirely excluded then it will have additional incentive to exploit the most radical and the most extreme Arab elements as a tool of its own policy and in order to create that tension and instability in the region from which it might hope to benefit.”
George F. Kennan, former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow and Belgrade whose views continue to carry weight at the State Department, pointed out Dec. 17 in a WETA television interview over Public Service Broadcasting stations that while neither the U.S. nor the Soviets can, either “independently or together,” solve the Middle East’s problems–”only the people of that area can do it” — both can be “much more helpful if we have some understanding between ourselves.”
In all the complicated scramble, the goal that is primary in 1977 remains what it has been since May 15, 1948. This, in Bzrezinski’s words, is that the Arabs must “formalize” and “institutionalize their acceptance of Israel as a permanent and legitimate presence in the Middle East.”