The United States and Palestine: Reagan's Legacy to Bush
U.S. policy
United States

Since the end of the 1967 Middle East war, two approaches have emerged for settling the Arab-Israeli conflict: a comprehensive settlement under international auspices and a "peace process" conducted under United States supervision.

The first approach envisions an international framework with authority to shape a settlement in accordance with recognized legal principles and accepted practices. The international consensus associated with this approach embodies an historic compromise, based on the exchange of territory for peace: the Arab states and the Palestinians would recognize the permanence of Israel within its 1967 borders in return for the recognition of the right of the Palestinians to self-determination.

Naseer Aruri is professor of political science at Southeastern Massachusetts University. 

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Since the end of the 1967 Middle East war, two approaches have emerged for settling the Arab-Israeli conflict: a comprehensive settlement under international auspices and a "peace process" conducted under United States supervision.

The first approach envisions an international framework with authority to shape a settlement in accordance with recognized legal principles and accepted practices. The international consensus associated with this approach embodies an historic compromise, based on the exchange of territory for peace: the Arab states and the Palestinians would recognize the permanence of Israel within its 1967 borders in return for the recognition of the right of the Palestinians to self-determination.

This approach is based on UN resolutions 242 and 338 which have been universally accepted as the cornerstone of a proper settlement. This approach is championed by the Soviet Union and promoted by the great majority of third world countries, including the Arab states. It was endorsed by Arab summit conferences from Algiers and Rabat in 1973 and 1974, to Fez and Amman in 1982 and 1987. It received an implicit sanction from the 1977 Palestine National Council (PNC) session in Cairo and an explicit acknowledgment from the 1988 PNC session in Algiers, which was made even more explicit by Yasir Arafat's statements to the UN General Assembly session in Geneva, his subsequent press conference, and the "Stockholm Document," all in December 1988.

The second approach also claims resolutions 242 and 338 as a foundation for a reasonable settlement, but endorses the concept of direct bilateral negotiations between states in a step-by-step process, leading toward a comprehensive settlement. The exchange of territory for peace dimension of this approach remained unclear and seemed to allow for Israel's retaining some parts of occupied Arab land.

The diplomatic history of the Middle East for the past two decades reveals that five United States administrations consistently followed the second approach, thereby thwarting an international settlement. Between 1969 and 1973, U.S. diplomacy succeeded in tipping the balance against the international consensus. [1] It undermined the international pressure exerted between June 1967 and March 1969 to effect Israeli withdrawal by channeling diplomatic efforts toward a separate peace between Egypt and Israel. U.S. diplomatic hegemony was further enhanced by Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy in the aftermath of the October 1973 war, which succeeded in interrupting the superpower condominium in the Middle East. Henceforth, the peace process was reduced, in effect, to an exclusive American undertaking, which shielded Israel from international scrutiny and succeeded in permitting Israel to consolidate its occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories. At the same time, Israel succeeded in rejecting every U.S. peace initiative involving withdrawal from any part of Palestine, starting with Secretary of State William Rogers' plan in 1969 and ending with that of George Shultz in 1988. [2] 

The Marginalization of the Palestine Question through the Special Relationship

The Sinai accord of 1975 and the Camp David accords of 1979 embody the principle that the final settlement of the Palestine question will not be premised on the "faulty assumption" that Israel has violated Palestinian rights. [3] Hence, the matter of sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza was to be included in the category of negotiable items. That, in reality, was the true meaning of America's diplomatic blockade against the PLO, which was decreed by Henry Kissinger in 1975 and lifted by the Reagan administration on its way out of office.

Such moves required a tacit re-interpretation of Resolution 242. Given that resolution's broad acceptance as a foundation for a settlement, it was necessary to keep it at diplomatic centerstage. Its failure to mention Palestinian rights appealed to Israel, yet its withdrawal clause contradicted Israeli goals. To reconcile these conflicting components, the U.S. allowed 242 to be understood in such a way as to allow for a certain accommodation of the Israeli position. For example, despite the fact that Camp David promised a comprehensive settlement on the basis of 242, it in effect altered the status of the West Bank and Gaza from occupied territory, according to international law, to disputed territory whose sovereignty was to be a matter for negotiations. A political settlement thus became intertwined with the U.S.-Israel special relationship, which was bolstered by the anti-Soviet thrust of the first Reagan administration. The more intense the cold war with the Soviet Union grew, the stronger the special relationship with Israel became. The more inroads perceived to have been made in the third world by local forces allied with the Soviet Union, the more pronounced became Israel's counter-revolutionary role at a global level, and consequently the less urgent became a Middle East settlement.

Although U.S. strategic calculations did not totally ignore the role of conservative Arab states, under Reagan the U.S. -Israel relationship was the favored one, thus giving much greater weight to a hard-line Israeli position.

Together, these aspects of post-1973 American Middle East policy accelerated the disenfranchisement of the Palestinians from the "peace process" and tried to insure their exclusion from the new order that would emanate from it. Aside from the 1977 aberration under Carter, U.S. policy continued to denigrate the Palestine question until it became a secondary, if not a tertiary, issue during Reagan's presidency. That transformation of Israel from client to strategic ally and the corresponding marginalization of the Palestine question made the "peace process" more responsive to strategic calculations and the exigencies of the cold war than to basic international legal principles and the requirements for regional harmony.

The Rationale for Strategic Cooperation

The period between September 1982, when the Reagan plan was unveiled, [4] and May 1983, when the ill-fated Shultz plan for Lebanon was proposed, was a period of reflection in U.S. Middle East policy circles. The foreign policy establishment was considering whether U.S. strategic interests in the region (oil, trade, and investment), which required a stable sphere of influence, would be better promoted by a measure of even- handedness, or by near total reliance on Israel, as the only reliable pillar of U.S. interests. A principal difficulty stemmed from the fact that both Israel and conservative Arab states shared Reagan's concern about a Soviet "threat"; however, they disagreed on issues of priority and causality. The Arabs and their dwindling number of supporters in the Washington policy apparatus argued that regional stability was a safeguard against revolution and Soviet influence, and that required a durable solution of the Palestine problem. Israeli supporters dismissed the Palestine question and highlighted the Gulf as the source of instability.

By mid- 1983, the Reagan administration, which was embarrassed by the debacle in Lebanon and its own role in the war, was no longer defensive about its special relationship with Israel. It felt no special obligation to act as if a Palestinian settlement was necessary and proper, and launched an offensive against Arab states whom it accused of having stalled the "peace process." Saudi Arabia was blamed for failing to arrange a Jordanian- Palestinian formula and Syria for refusing to accept Shultz's attempted diktat of 17 May 1983 in Lebanon. [5] The Reagan plan was thus laid to rest.

The special relationship was then transformed into a strategic alliance between the U.S. and Israel. In October 1983 President Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 111, thus fulfilling his campaign promise that Israel, as a "unique strategic asset," would receive major concessions in the areas of weapons, trade, aid, and technology. Aid from the United States was converted to outright grants and was no longer earmarked for special projects, Israel was given unique access to U.S. military technology and markets, and was accorded a NATO-like status.

Secretary of State Shultz became the administration's chief proponent of close strategic cooperation with Israel, going far beyond his predecessor Alexander Haig. Haig's framework for a Middle East policy had been "consensus of strategic concerns," which was to bring together a conservative constellation of regional powers that would include Israel. [6] Shultz's framework instead assigned Israel a pivotal, global role in addition to its regional duties on behalf of the status quo in the Middle East. With Shultz in power, the U.S. conducted its Middle East policy on the basis of the "consensus of strategic concerns" plus the special relationship with Israel. Israel's value to U.S. national interests, defined in global cold war terms, began to outweigh the importance to U.S. interests of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. By 1983, the Reagan administration had accepted the Israeli view that the Palestine question was not the principal cause of instability in the Middle East. Henceforth, that issue would not be allowed to interfere in the special relationship between a superpower and its strategic ally.

The strengthening of the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel and the corresponding marginalization of the Palestine question in the aftermath of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon was based on several factors.

First, Israel's war aims in 1982 were not incompatible with U.S. policy objectives in the region. The reduction of Syrian influence in the region as well as the destruction of the PLO infrastructure were seen as positive developments by an administration that considered these forces to be Soviet clients. For Nixon and Kissinger, the PLO had been simply a Soviet surrogate, which had to be nipped in the bud. Unable to accomplish that objective, however, the United States was satisfied to see Israel complete its mission in the summer of 1982.

Second, the political map of Lebanon produced by the Israeli invasion had the potential to produce a pro-Western regime with a U.S. -trained military, capable of knitting the heterogeneous factions into a political community. An anti-Syrian, right-wing government in Lebanon with normal ties to Israel was seen as a natural extension of the Sadat-Mubarak regime. in Egypt, a vindication of the Camp David diplomatic approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and a testimony to the ascendancy of the United States and the erosion of Soviet influence in the Middle East.

Third, the Israeli invasion was expected to afford an opportunity to implement the politics of "moderation." Jordan was to be equipped with a rapid deployment force for use in the Gulf region, while Saudi Arabia would help arrange postwar conditions in the region. Washington felt free to revive strategic cooperation with Israel without embarrassment and without fear of Arab reprisal, given the defeat of the "radical" forces.

Marginalization of the Palestine Question through Anti-Terrorism

The peculiar emphasis that was placed on combating international terrorism in Reagan's foreign policy reinforced the special relationship and further marginalized and de-legitimized the Palestinian national movement. The Reagan administration readily and uncritically accepted Israel's premises about conflict and stability in the region: that Palestinian "terrorism" (rather than legitimate Palestinian demands), together with Islamic fundamentalism, constituted the great threats to the Middle East. The United States, whose global position was undermined during the 1970s in Angola, Ethiopia, Iran, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and Cambodia, allegedly because of a Vietnam syndrome, which inhibited U.S. military commitments abroad, was declared ready to resume intervention. Hence, the pursuit of strong-arm policies in Grenada, Lebanon, and Nicaragua, as well as the launching of a crusade against international "terrorism," with Libya, Iran, Syria, and the PLO as primary targets were all designed to rally a reluctant U.S. public around the resumption of interventionism.

Reagan's perception of Israel as a "unique strategic asset" was reinforced by that foreign policy climate, which was dominated by the political thought of neo-conservatives such as Norman Podhoretz, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Richard Pipes, and Irving Kristol. It was also promoted by right-wing journalists like William Safire and George Will, and hawkish strategists like Richard Allen, Robert McFarlane, Alexander Haig, Elliot Abrams, and above all George Shultz. The foreign policy consensus they shaped was premised on the notion that a "legacy of restraint," known also as the Vietnam syndrome, had to be eradicated, lest the United States lose its position as the preeminent superpower. They challenged America to rehabilitate intervention and to "stand tall" against communists, terrorists, and would-be challengers of U.S. domination. Israel's rhetoric about terrorism was, therefore, accepted by the administration without question. Israel also became a conduit for channeling U.S. money and weapons to a variety of unsavory regimes and movements [7]: Israeli military technology was exported to repressive forces in Central America, southern Africa, and East Asia. Over the last eight years, the secret mining of Nicaraguan harbors, the ill-defined military mission in Lebanon, the double dealings with Iran to subsidize the contras, the campaign of disinformation about Libya, and the transfer of advanced military technology to South Africa in contravention of the 1986 U.S. Anti-Apartheid Act constitute but a modest portion of the Reagan administration's global agenda that had an Israeli connection.

As long as that foreign policy climate prevailed, Israel was insulated from pressure for a territorial settlement. Its utility in U.S. global strategy far outweighed its obligations to peace in the region. Thus, the continuation of the status quo in the occupied territories was linked to heightened conflict in the world. By the same token, the urgency for reconsideration of that status quo was likely to develop only in the context of detente.

Altered Realities of the Conflict: The Global Environment

The latter period of the Reagan presidency was one of profound change in the Middle East and in the world at large. This change has altered the three levels of the Arab-Israeli conflict-the local, regional, and international-in such a manner that the assumptions of the U.S.-Israeli convergence of interests can no longer avoid reconsideration. The anti-cold war thinking and foreign policy reforms adopted by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 were bound to have an impact on the Middle East impasse. The emphasis on cooperation, collective security, and political instead of military solutions, has already given Mr. Gorbachev and the Soviet Union a new international image as an arbiter of peace.

Largely absent from the Middle East "peace process" since its 1972 ouster by Kissinger, the Soviet Union is now returning to the region-not as the sponsor of local surrogates or clients-but as a superpower eager to play the role of a moderator. Moscow has already taken initiatives aimed at restoring diplomatic contacts with Israel, establishing diplomatic relations with conservative Arab states in the Gulf, improving relations with Egypt-all as part of a strategy calculated to broaden its diplomatic options. Moscow was instrumental in bringing about the unity session of the Palestine National Council in April 1987 in Algiers and in persuading the PLO to revise its position on the nature of the international peace conference and other preconditions for peace, such as the controversial issue of Israel's right to exist.

The new Soviet approach is likely to restrain further developments in the U.S. -Israel special relationship, having gone a long way toward meeting the U.S. position, and bringing with it a regional alignment, most of whose components are normally pro-West. This alignment, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the PLO, conceives of a framework that envisages the exchange of territory for peace, a solution which the U.S., Europe, and the Soviet Union have urged to varying degrees. Furthermore, the Soviet Union, having just concluded or brokered agreements ending regional conflicts in Afghanistan, southern Africa, Cambodia, and Central America, will be in a strong position to argue that the imperatives for an international settlement in the Middle East are no less urgent than elsewhere.

Supporting this endeavor will be the countries of Western Europe, which warmly received Arafat's peace initiatives. A case in point was the invitation extended to him by the socialist members of the European Parliament in September 1988 to give a major address on the Palestinian perspective on peace. Other European contributions have been the stand of Margaret Thatcher, who commented that Arafat's statements qualified the PLO to take part in the peace process, [8] as well as the efforts of Sweden, whose foreign minister, Sten Andersson, played a crucial role in the process that led to the U.S. decision to open a dialogue with the PLO in December 1988. Support for the PLO in Europe was further demonstrated in January 1989, when Yasir Arafat was received in Madrid by the outgoing, present, and next presidents of the EC's foreign affairs committee. Indeed, support for mutual recognition as a requisite for a durable peace settlement in the Middle East has become so entrenched in the European (as well as the Soviet) perspective that it has become difficult for U.S. policy-makers to ignore.

Altered Realities: The Domestic Environment

Washington's sudden awakening to the fact that the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza was untenable came in February 1988, after five years of total diplomatic inactivity. The United States' fifteen-year monopoly of the stalled "peace process" had effectively prevented other actors from participating in a serious search for a negotiated settlement. Consistent with that posture, Secretary Shultz embarked in 1988 on a series of visits to the region, which failed to produce a settlement. His plan was a confirmation of the U.S. custodianship over the Middle East, a reminder that the region is United States turf. As such, it was designed to pre-empt any serious international proposals for peace.

It almost seemed as if Mr. Shultz was trying to save Israel in spite of itself, to protect Israel's tarnished image inside the United States. He endorsed Israel's right to contain the intifadah, but differed with the Likud leadership over the proper means of suppression. Hence his assistant secretary for human rights, Richard Schifter, told a congressional panel:

In our view, Israel clearly has not only the right, but the obligation, to preserve or restore order in the occupied territories and to use appropriate levels of force to accomplish that end. [9] 

This statement, which coincided with unprecedented Israeli measures including banning the press and sealing off the entire West Bank and Gaza, differed from Henry Kissinger's famous counsel to Israel only in tone, not in substance. [10]  

While Schifter was giving Israel a green light to restore "law and order," State Department Spokesman Charles Redman was expressing "regrets" over Israeli restrictions and its balancing of "harsh security measures" with "violent demonstrations." [11] The State Department's approach reflected an attempt to sanitize Israeli practices, which the U.S. government was finding difficulty in defending inside the United States.

Although public opinion is passive, its role in the formulation of public policy in participatory systems is crucial. There are strong indications that a gap has been growing recently between public opinion and the content of public policy in the United States with respect to the Palestine-Israel conflict, largely due to the intifadah. Yet Palestine, as already shown, has never been high on the official agenda. As long as it did not interfere in America's policy objectives in the region, peace initiatives seemed unnecessary. Despite its deficiencies and the lack of resolve to assure its success, the Shultz plan was, in part, a response to altered domestic realities. The subsequent U.S. decision to talk with the PLO, in response to Arafat's acceptance of U.S. conditions, also seemed to accord with the views of a majority of Americans.

A public opinion poll conducted in January 1988 revealed that 36 percent of Americans believed that Israel had reacted to the Palestinian uprising too harshly. [12] Another poll conducted in January 1988 found that 31 percent of Americans favored a Palestinian state federated with Jordan. [13] By March 1988, a Gallup poll determined that 41 percent favored the "establishment of an independent Palestinian state," without reservation. [14] 

In January 1988, a general call for peace was endorsed by 74 percent, of whom 74 percent favored a PLO role in the negotiations. [15] The same poll showed that 48 percent favored "direct contact" between the U.S. and the PLO, of whom 56 percent did not even stake their approval on PLO recognition of Israel's right to exist, as required by the Kissinger formula. This percentage increased in March, when a Gallup poll showed that a substantial 57 percent of Americans (versus 27 percent who disagreed) favored direct negotiations between the U.S. and the PLO, while 66 percent favored direct negotiations between Israel and the PLO. [16] A Los Angeles Times poll conducted during the spring of 1988 found that 34 percent of non-Jews favored a reduction of military aid to Israel and 65 percent thought that there was "an element of racism in the attitude of Israelis towards Arabs."

These figures do not, of course, imply that while the U.S. government has been on a collision course with the Palestinians for years, the U.S. public has been sympathetic to their aspirations. Analysis of public opinion polls ranging from a neutral base comparison year of 1981 through mid- 1988 reveals a consistent trend of U.S. public support for Israel. When asked in 1981 whom the U.S. should support in the Arab-Israeli conflict, 47 percent favored Israel and only 11 percent favored the Arabs. In January 1988, 43 percent favored Israel while only 11 percent favored the Arabs. [17] The new factor in the equation is the intifadah, which is seen as a non-violent insurrection juxtaposed against Israeli repression that reminds Americans of Chile or South Africa. Moreover, the conflict is now seen in the U.S. more in Palestinian-Israeli, rather than Arab-Israeli terms. Although support for Israel held steady in 1988, it also rose dramatically for the Palestinians. A Gallup poll showed that the percentage of those expressing sympathy with Israel was 43 percent in May 1988 and 46 percent in December 1988. The corresponding figures for the Palestinians were 20 percent and 24 percent, respectively. [18] If we compare these figures with the 11 percent support for the "Arabs" in January 1988, the roughly 100 percent increase of support for the Palestinians can be accounted for by the fact that the question, which produced 11 percent support in January, referred to "Arabs," while that which produced 20 percent and 24 percent later in 1988, referred to "Palestinians." That increase, we should point out, resulted largely from a change in the category of the uncommitted, and thus did not reflect an erosion of public support for Israel.

The beginning of a shift in public opinion was also visible in media coverage. ABC Nightline's week-long series from Jerusalem, in which three Palestinians and four Israelis participated in a "town meeting" setting in Jerusalem, was perhaps the first Palestinian-Israeli debate of the conflict on national television. Millions of viewers in the United States saw the Palestinians, perhaps for the first time, as a national group with normal aspirations for a dignified existence and a determination to pursue their goals in a reasonable manner.

The American press reacted to Israeli repression with uncharacteristic criticism. A survey of twenty newspaper editorials revealed this trend during the month of December 1987. One theme of the criticism focused on Israel's special moral obligation, given the history of Jewish persecution. For example, the St. Petersburg Times of Florida wrote:

As a nation whose very existence was meant to atone for two millenniums of persecution culminating in the Holocaust, Israel inherited the burden of conducting itself according to high moral principles. [19] 

The Omaha World Herald said that "Israel, of all nations, should be sensitive about oppression." [20] The Arizona Republic went as far as implying a prohibited analogy with Nazi behavior:

Israel has evolved from a nation founded by the remnants of Hitler's death camps into a country dependent on forced labor . . . The inmates, have become the guards. . . who could have imagined that one day the survivors of Auschwitz would . . . strap young Arabs to the fronts of jeeps as human shields. [21] 

Other newspapers compared Israeli behavior to that of the apartheid regime in South Africa, normally considered taboo in the discourse on the Middle East. The Miami Herald wrote, "Thoughtful Israelis foresee and shudder at their nation becoming analogous to South Africa." [22] 

Some editorials placed the blame for Israeli intransigence, which led to the present deadlock, on the Reagan administration. For example, the Grand Rapids Press accused the administration of having been "almost servile in its deference to the Israeli government," asserting that "the U.S. had let the Mideast peace process sit idle and has done nothing to discourage Israeli provocations in the occupied territories or hasten the establishment of a homeland for the Palestinians." [23] Other editorials reminded Israel of its obligations under the special relationship. The Charlotte Observer wrote that "Israel, which depends so heavily on American money and support, must take appropriate steps toward achieving peace so as to maintain its critically important international image." [24] 

Another domestic arena for U.S. policy towards Palestine is the American Jewish community, which continues to supply the major organized political force behind the strategic alliance and against Palestinian rights.

Expressions of discontent with Israeli practices began to surface in the U.S. Jewish community in the latter part of 1987 and became somewhat more frequent in 1988. The American Jewish Congress adopted a resolution in September 1987 which labeled the occupation as "benign," but which warned that its continuation would lead to

repressive measures that, in the long run, cannot but distort and corrupt the values we associate with a Jewish state . . . The Jewish commitment to personal dignity, to human freedom, to social justice and to the rule of law all argue against the permanent governance of another people by a Jewish state. [25] 

Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, cabled the Israeli president saying that Israel's policy was "an offense to the Jewish spirit" and that it "threatens to erode the support of Israel's friends here in the U.S." [26] Albert Vorspan, the senior vice-president of the organization, warned Shamir that "Israel should not always expect reflexive support from American Jews." [27] Vorspan wrote that "American Jews are traumatized by the events in Israel" and that the occupied territories have become "Israel's Vietnam, Kent State, and Watts rolled into one." [28] S. Hyman Bookbinder, a spokesperson for the American Jewish Committee, expressed similar sentiments and concerns about an anti-Israel backlash in the United States when he said that Rabin's policy of might, power, and blows "has caused great chagrin, great dismay among their best Jewish supporters." [29] In a letter to the New York Times, prominent Jewish intellectuals Irving Howe, Arthur Hertzberg, Michael Walzer, and Henry Rosovsky called upon Israel to express readiness "to end the occupation in such a way that, with necessary territorial adjustments, Israeli security and Palestinian national aspirations can be satisfied." In Congress as well Israel's supporters seemed troubled by the consequences of the Israeli policy of "might, force, and blows." For example, senators known to be ardent supporters of Israeli policies, such as Carl Levin (D-MI) and Rudy Boschwitz (R-MN) initiated the process that led thirty of their colleagues to sign a letter critical of Shamir's summary rejection of Shultz's initiative in the spring of 1988. The letter expressed the view that "peace negotiations have little chance of success if the Israeli government's position rules out territorial compromise." [30] 

Another group of well-known supporters of Israel in the House of Representatives such as Barney Frank of Massachusetts, James Scheur of New York, and Howard Berman, Henry Waxman, and Tom Lantos of California attempted to follow up with another letter, which did not materialize. [31] Apparently, Shultz himself intervened so that the administration would not appear to be behind these efforts to pressure Israel. The New York Times quoted a State Department official as saying that "what we don't want is the appearance that we are orchestrating pressure, because we're not." [32] 

On another front, progressive groups like the Jewish Peace Fellowship and the New Jewish Agenda held many demonstrations outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington and many Israeli consulates around the country. The split in the Jewish community over Israel was dramatized by the New York conference, which was sponsored by Tikkun in December 1988. Among the themes voiced in that meeting were: "Wake up Israel; negotiate now; break the lock of AIPAC; and create J-PAC: A Jewish Peace Action Committee that would support Israel by affirming the Palestinian right to establish an independent state." [33] What is perhaps more interesting is the absence of campaigns by the Israeli lobby opposing the opening of the U.S.-PLO dialogue. The public remarks of representatives of the major Jewish organizations have been rather low-key in their acquiescence in the U.S. decision.

Conflict and Convergence in U. S. -Israeli Relations

The preceding does not imply that we are on the verge of a new era of international cooperation, which will render the cold war a relic of a by-gone period, as some euphoric journalists would have us believe. Nor does it imply that the U.S. has abandoned its general hostility to the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.

For example, Secretary of State George Shultz's 1988 proposal for a ''comprehensive settlement" in the Middle East precludes the Palestinian people's rights to "self-determination without external interference," to "national independence and sovereignty," to "return to their homes and property," and to select and designate their own representatives. [34] It referred to these basic issues in vague terms. For example, it stated that "Palestinians must achieve control over political and economic decisions affecting their lives." This constitutes neither sovereignty nor administrative autonomy. Likewise, the Shultz plan adds that "Palestinians must be active [but not necessarily independent] participants in negotiations to determine their future." Also "legitimate [but not necessarily national] Palestinian rights can be achieved in a manner which protects Israeli security." [35] 

In the second major development of 1988, the U.S. has done no more than agree to talk to the PLO, and George Shultz emphasized that "the first item of business on our agenda in that dialogue will be the subject of terrorism." [36] Reaffirming the U.S. position on direct negotiations and the role of the PLO in these negotiations, he said:

We hope that that dialogue may help bring about direct negotiations that will lead to peace. How those negotiations are structured, who is there to speak on behalf of the Palestinians, is a subject that's a difficult one; we've worked on it a long time, and I imagine it will continue to be difficult. [37] 

Recent diplomatic history of the region, however, reveals a number of so-called reassessments, undertaken by successive administrations, including Reagan's. These were intended to remind Israel that occasional historical changes may alter the context and forces affecting U.S. and Israeli interests in the region, provoking divergence in their style, conceptions of security, and the cost and nature of alliances. Such divergences are not atypical of those between settler colonial regimes, which must survive on the land, labor, and resources of indigenous people, and the more mobile and flexible metropolitan interests, which must accommodate shifting alliances and emerging political and economic forces. In other words, the U.S. is more capable of adapting to shifting alignments than Israel.

The rhetoric of U.S. policy toward Israel began to shift in response to this emerging gap between the two countries which surfaced as a result of the intifadah. For example, on 11 June 1988 in an address before the New York Council on Foreign Relations, Undersecretary of State Richard Murphy raised the issue of the cost of suppressing the intifadah. His speech was appropriately titled, "Middle East Peace: Facing Realities and Challenges." [38] He noted a glaring disparity between Israel's defense expenditure, which amounts to 19 percent of gross national product, and the average, which is 5 percent for other countries in the world. Such a disparity can be maintained only by a permanent U.S. subsidy. The situation was succinctly described by Hebrew University professor Yaron Ezrahi in the following way:

Israel has been jarred into reality . . . our leaders were living in the most incredible and unrealistic universe, constructed entirely by their own hands. In this universe, American support was treated as though it were a divine right. Israel did not invest seriously in political initiatives vis-a-vis the Palestinians, and it was indifferent to the changes in American public opinion. Now we are paying the price. [39] 

The altered realities have also moved the U. S. toward a public re-examination of the concept of rights and an updating of the adjectives that describe these rights. In addition, the belated discovery of the damaging consequences of an impasse impelled Washington to sound the proper warning about prolonged occupations. Thus, Secretary Shultz challenged Israel on 5 June 1988 to see that "continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and frustration of Palestinian rights is a dead-end street." [40] His discourse during his 1988 shuttles, while conforming to the linguistic parameters of diplomacy, did not conceal U.S. anxiety about the consequences of the impasse. Seemingly even-handed terminology was sprinkled about to lend credibility to U.S. mediation: He promised an ''equitable settlement of the land issue" and tried to assure the Arabs that resolution 242 calls for the "exchange of territory for peace." [41] The settlement must address "legitimate Palestinian political rights" so that Palestinians and Israelis "learn to treat each other decently, respect their mutual right to live in security, and fulfill their political aspirations."

The Future Prognosis

The Reagan-Shultz legacy to the incoming administration may not have been reversed by the decision to open a dialogue with the PLO. And it should be made clear that the PLO paid a high price for the dialogue, having met not only Kissinger's conditions for it but also Reagan's codicils. The latter included accepting Israel's "right" to exist rather than merely its right "to live in peace," as well as a "renunciation," rather than a "condemnation" of terrorism. Both of these additions, which impelled Shultz to boast, "I did not change my mind, they changed theirs," could be used by the legal minds of the new governments in Washington and Tel Aviv to extract new concessions from the Palestinians. In fact, according to the first disclosure in the West of the classified protocol of the initial negotiations between the United States and the PLO in Tunis, the United States apparently considers the intifadah a form of terrorism. Citing the Egyptian magazine al-Musawwar as its source, the Jerusalem Post quotes the U.S. delegation as saying to the PLO:

Undoubtedly, the internal struggle that we are witnessing in the occupied territories aims to undermine the security and stability of the State of Israel, and we therefore demand cessation of those riots, which we view as terrorist acts against Israel. This is especially true as we know you are directing from outside the territories those riots which are sometimes very violent . . . we want to emphasize that the word "terrorism," as we understand it includes all Palestinian military action against Israel, whether against Israeli targets, installations, or people . . . This concept includes military action undertaken by Palestinians inside the occupied territories. [42] 

Mr. Shultz's root difficulty with the Palestinians, however, was not terrorism or their refusal to grant Israel the right to exist, but rather his perception of their destabilizing potential in a region over which the United States claims tutelage. This study has shown that the Kissinger conditions and the Reagan codicils for talks with the PLO were part of a conscious political decision meant to obstruct a negotiated settlement, out of deference to a strategic relationship with Israel. Such a settlement, in turn, was intended to fulfill the strategic aim of defeating the last vestiges of Arab "radicalism." The acceptance by the PLO of the U.S. conditions is thus seen by the United States as a vindication of its steadfastness and a fulfillment of the primary goals of its Middle East policy.

The firm commitment of George Bush to the strategic alliance with Israel is not likely to erode in the near future. His party's platform during the 1988 campaign commits him to opposing the creation of an independent Palestinian state, deemed as "inimical to the security interests of Israel, Jordan, and the U.S." Such opposition, however will not necessarily lead the Bush administration to stop the Palestinians from pursuing that option. Although the Reagan plan of 1982 perceived peace as being achievable neither on the basis of the formation of an independent Palestinian state, nor on the basis of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza, Camp David, on the other hand, left both options open for negotiations. Given that these two documents constitute the U.S. diplomatic framework for addressing the Palestine-Israel conflict, any new initiatives by the Bush administration may be expected to fall somewhere along that spectrum, which is capable of accommodating the post-1988 Palestinian minimalist position as well as the post-intifadah Likud position.

The common denominators of the Camp David/Reagan Plan framework consist of "full autonomy," transitional periods, elections for a "self- governing authority," and some kind of association with Jordan. The Bush administration is not likely to encounter any serious disagreement with Israel regarding those issues. The intifadah has already impelled Rabin and Shamir to advance proposals consonant with these parameters. Rabin has proposed elections of Palestinian officials from the occupied territories, who would presumably negotiate with Israel the establishment of a self- governing authority. Shamir, who had previously rejected Camp David, recently spoke of a two-stage settlement: an interim condition which includes "full autonomy" to be followed, after a transitional period, by direct negotiations between Israel, the Palestinians of the occupied territories, and Arab countries. Israeli troops will be withdrawn from the urban centers into pockets in the occupied territories sometime during the transitional period. [43] These proposals are not inconsistent with the long- standing U.S. position; and when elaborated, and disseminated throughout the U.S., they could assuage congressional opinion to some degree. If Israel's present campaign to terminate the U.S.-PLO dialogue in Tunisia fails and the talks continue, the U.S. may be expected to press for the elections which Rabin has called for. That would be geared toward the short-term objective of defusing the intifadah without getting too deep into the murky debate of the "terrorism" issue. It would also be designed to serve the longer term objective of Camp David and the Reagan Plan with regard to the sovereignty question.

However, it is on this question of sovereignty, the final disposition of the West Bank and Gaza, that there is a likelihood of disagreement between the U.S. and Israel. The "association clause" in the Reagan plan has already been resurrected by George Bush, who said in December 1988 that confederation with Jordan may be the proper solution. High on the Bush agenda would be the restoration of resolution 242 to an acceptable interpretation, given the new local, regional, and international imperatives discussed above. That resolution was bruised by Shamir when he told the visiting former Secretary of State Shultz that it was "exhausted" by the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. [44] According to Abba Eban, Shamir's interpretation led to the collapse of the Shultz plan and contributed to the disengagement of Jordan from the West Bank. [45] From the American vantage point, the sovereignty issue must be discussed in terms of resolution 242, which considers the West Bank and Gaza as occupied territories. The projected elections mentioned above would be designed to contribute to this objective by accentuating the status of these occupied territories under international law.

Given that formulation, the Bush administration could present this argument to the PLO in Tunis in order to secure its blessing for the elections and for a form of Jordanian association, to which Arafat himself made positive reference in his address to the UN General Assembly in Geneva in December 1988. In doing so, the U.S. would be attempting to restore Jordan and the Israeli Labor Alignment to the "peace process," to counterbalance the Likud with a new and restored Jordan option-one that has a PLO adjunct. Since Washington has already honored its commitment to talk to the PLO, it would probably expect the Alignment to do likewise, in an effort to maximize pressure on the Likud to settle within the parameters of the Camp David/Reagan Plan formula, with a PLO dimension. However, demands such as Palestinian statehood, the right of return, and total Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders is likely to be considered out of the question by Washington.

This analysis is contingent on the constancy of the local, regional, and international factors discussed in this essay: the maintenance of the status quo in the occupied territories, in Israel, and within the PLO; the present Arab alignment, whose principal actors are Jordan, Egypt, the PLO, and Iraq; and the current level of relations between the superpowers. The U.S. PLO substantive dialogue has added to the improvement in U.S.- Arab relations, but it may have also created unrealistic expectations from the Bush administration. The next phase in U.S. Middle East diplomacy is likely to include more pressure on the Palestinians and Arab states than on Israel. The U.S. has not yet committed itself to accepting the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians, to accepting the Soviet Union as cosponsor of negotiations, or to initiating the convening of an international conference. These procedural items will no doubt have a price. There are already signs that indicate the reappearance of Kissingers' men at the top foreign policy level in Washington. Not only has Lawrence Eagleburger been appointed to the position of undersecretary of state, next only to James Baker; he was also the co-chair (with Walter Mondale) of a 1988 seminar held under the auspices of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The recommendations of that seminar, entitled Building for Peace, counseled caution with regard to any early initiatives and with regard to convening an international conference as the proper forum for negotiations. [46] 

The Bush administration was afforded by its predecessor some maneuverability, which could be 'used to open a dialogue with Israel for the purpose of bridging the gap regarding the limits and obligations of the special relationship and the dictates of U.S. and Israeli interests in the region. The debate will not center on the rationale and substance of that relationship but on its manifestations and procedural requirements. The Palestinian uprising has reshaped and clarified the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1988; Mr. Bush's challenge is to reconcile the U.S. and Israeli responses.


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Naseer Aruri is professor of political science at Southeastern Massachusetts University. 

1. For a discussion of U.S. opposition to the international consensus on Palestine, see Naseer Aruri, "United States Opposition to an International Peace Conference on the Middle East, 1967-1985," International Journal of Islamic and Arabic Studies 2, no. 1 (Winter 1985): 87-98.

2. The basic features of the Shultz initiative were: 1. Negotiations between an Israeli and Jordanian-Palestinian delegation will begin on arrangements for a transitional period. There negotiations were to continue for six months. 2. Seven months after transitional negotiations begin, final status negotiations will begin and proceed for one year. 3. The transitional period will be three months. 4. An international conference will launch the negotiations but will not approve solutions or veto agreements. Palestinians will be represented in a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Negotiations between this joint delegation and Israel will proceed independently of any other negotiations. See, State Department Bureau of Public Affairs, "U.S. Policy in the Middle East" (Selected Document no. 27), June 1988, 2.

3. Jimmy Carter's phrase as reported in New York Times, 1 April 1976.

4. The salient features of the Reagan Plan were: 1. Palestinian and Israeli sovereignties over the West Bank and Gaza is precluded. 2. Final peace will be sought in association with Jordan. 3. Resolution 242 applies to all fronts but the actual withdrawal depends on the "extent of true peace and normalization."

4. Jerusalem remains one city.

5. Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza will be placed under the new Jordanian-Palestinian government.

6. The Palestinians will have "full autonomy" including authority over the "land and its resources, subject to fair safeguards on water." For a discussion of the Reagan Plan, see Naseer Aruri and Fouad Moughrabi, "The Reagan Middle East Initiative," Journal of Palestine Studies 12, no.2 (Winter 1983): 10-30.

5. For a discussion of the "Shultz Agreement" on Lebanon, see Naseer Aruri, "The United States Intervention in Lebanon," Arab Studies Quarterly 7, no. 4 (Fall 1985): 59-77.

6. Haig's strategy was outlined in a testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 17 September 1981, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, "Secretary Haig: U.S. Strategy In The Middle East," Current Policy, no. 312.

7. On Israel's role in U.S. global strategy see Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle (Boston: South End Press, 1983); Jane Hunter, Israeli Foreign Policy: South Africa and Central America (Boston: South End Press, 1988); Israel Shahak, Israel's Global Role: Weapons for Repression (Belmont, MA: AAUG Press, 1982); Milton Jamail and Margo Gutierrez, It's No Secret: Israel's Military Involvement in Central America (Belmont, MA: AAUG Press, 1986).

8. Boston Globe, December 1988.

9. David Ottaway, "State Department Official Defends Israel's Use of Force," Washington Post, 30 March 1988, A-21.

10. According to a confidential memorandum by Julius Berman, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Henry Kissinger told eight Jewish leaders at a breakfast in early February 1988 that "Israel should bar the media from entry into the territories involved in the present demonstrations, accept the short-term criticism of the world press for such conduct, and put down the insurrection as quickly as possible-overwhelmingly, brutally and rapidly," letter dated 3 February 1988 typed on stationary imprinted with Kaye, Scholer, Fireman, Hays & Handler. Also see the news story by Robert McFadden in New York Times, 5 March 1988.

11. Ottaway, op. cit.

12. Mark J. Penn and Douglas E. Schoen, "American Attitudes Towards the Middle East," Public Opinion, May/June 1988, 47.

13. Penn and Schoen, 46.

14. Gallup Organization, "A Gallup Survey Regarding the West Bank and Gaza Conflict between Israel and the Palestinians," Princeton, N.J., 11 March 1988.

15. Penn and Schoen, 46.

16. Gallup Organization, op. cit.

17. Penn and Schoen, 45.

18. George Gallup Jr. and Alec Gallup, "Talks with PLO Support," San Francisco Chronicle, 16 January 1989.

19. St. Petersburg Times, 29 December 1987.

20. Omaha World Herald, 21 December 1987.

21. Arizona Republic, 17 December 1987.

22. Miami Herald, 21 December 1987.

23. Grand Rapids Press, 25 December 1987.

24. The Charlotte Observer, 28 December 1987.

25. "Resolution of the Jewish Congress on the Middle East Peace Process," American-Arab Affairs, no. 22 (Fall 1987): 120-23.

26. New York Times, 25 January 1988.

27. New York Times, 21 March 1988.

28. New York Times, 8 May 1988.

29. New York Times, 26 January 1988. See also James Franklin, "U.S. Jewish Leader Criticizes Israelis For Crackdown on Press," Christian Science Monitor, 5 March 1988. Reference is to Theodore Ellenoff, president of the American Jewish Committee. See also Linda Feldmann, "U.S. Jews In

Turmoil over Violence in Israel," Christian Science Monitor, 4 March 1988.

30. Washington Post, 8 March 1988.

31. New York Times, 25 March 1988; see Rob Wright, "Rep. Frank Urges Israel to Withdraw from Territories," Boston Globe, 9 March 1988.

32. New York Times, 11 March 1988; see also Joseph Harsch, "Shultz's Slow Steady Mideast Moves Builds on U.S. Jews' Support," Christian Science Monitor, 18 March 1988.

33. See article by Mark Muro, "And Now: A Jewish Intifadah," Boston Globe, 25 December 1988, A-24.

34. These elementary rights are enshrined in many UN resolutions, including Resolution 3236 (XXIX), 22 November 1974; Resolution 181 (11), 29 November 1947, known generally as the "Partition Resolution"; and Resolution 194 (111), 11 December 1948.

35. From U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, "Statement by Secretary of State George Shultz Addressed to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories in East Jerusalem," 26 February 1988, Current Policy, no. 1055.

36. For the text of Shultz's news conference, see the New York Times, 15 December 1988, 18-A.

37. Ibid.

38. Richard W. Murphy, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, " Middle East Peace: Facing Realities and Challenges," Current Policy, no. 1082.

39. New York Times, 19 December 1988.

40. U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, "U.S. Policy in the Middle East."

41. U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, "The Administration's Approach to Peacemaking," Current Policy, no. 1104.

42. Jerusalem Post, 6 January 1989.

43. New York Times, 2 February 1989.

44. Abba Eban, "242 Revisited," The Jerusalem Post, 25 November 1988.

45. Ibid.

46. Mary Curtius, "Israel Wary of Path Bush will Take," Boston Globe, 27 January 1989.