NEW YORK (Apr. 28)
Three experts on the Middle East agreed here Wednesday night that prospects for peace in the area are dim.
They cited the continued Palestinian riots in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the division within Israeli society and the lack of a reliable Arab partners to negotiate with Israel as the major obstacles for reaching any peaceful settlement in the near future.
“The prospects for peace in the Middle East in the near future are dim at best,” James Phillips, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation asserted.
“I agree, the prospects are remote,” said Ambassador Herbert Okun, deputy permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations, “When you look at the situation it’s hard to be optimistic.”
Johanan Bein, acting permanent representative of Israel to the United Nations, said: “I also agree that prospects for peace in the region are not bright, but I think the overall prospects are better than we can see now,” considering the tremendous progress and achievements of Israel and the Jewish people in the last 40 years.
Bein, Okun and Phillips were participating in a panel discussion on Mideast peace prospects, sponsored by the Jacob Goodman Institute for Mideast Research and Information of the Zionist Organization of America.
Okun said that despite the pessimistic outlook for the near future, there are several encouraging facts in today’s Mideast.
Israel’s military superiority in the region is overwhelming.
Egypt, which maintains “a cold peace” with Israel, did not pull out its ambassador to Israel, despite the disturbances and violence in the territories.
The Soviet Union, “which has learned some lessons in Afghanistan,” may no longer wish to play a “spoiling role” in the Mideast and will not stand in the way of a negotiated settlement.
Okun said that “it is not clear at all” that the recent peace initiative of Secretary of State George Shultz is going to succeed, mainly because both Israel and the United States are approaching general elections, and the continued uprising in the West Bank and Gaza.
“The violence (in the territories) has shown that there is a strong and growing Palestinian conscience,” he said. A way has to be found to meet Palestinian needs together with Israel’s security demands, he said.
NO PARTNERS IN PEACE
Bein said that the major problem for Israel in its quest for peace is that “there is no partner for Israel in the Arab world” to negotiate with. He said that after watching Tuesday night’s “Nightline” program from Jerusalem on ABC-TV, in which Israelis and Palestinians were interviewed, “One wonders if there is anybody (among the Palestinians) to speak to.”
As for the division among Israeli leaders on an international peace conference, Bein contended “We all want negotiations. The question is the modality.” He said that both leaders of Labor and Likud want to reach a solution through “direct negotiations without preconditions.”
Bein observed that during the War of Independence, Israel had to fight seven Arab countries; in the Six Day War in 1967 she confronted only three Arab countries, and in the Lebanon war in 1982 only one Arab country. “Now we have a struggle with the Palestinians” in the territories, he said. It is not war and looking back, he asserted, there is a reason for guarded optimism.
Phillips, expressing “pessimism” for peace prospects in the short-run, said nonetheless that in the long run “things can change” because negotiations are “no longer a taboo” in the Arab world.