I have no doubt that most Israelis wholeheartedly support their government’s policy regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, and see the continuation of the status quo in the territories, as established in the Six Day War, as a very impressive achievement.
This is the fifth year since Israel’s victory and the territorial situation established by the war remains unaltered. We are still at all the cease-fire lines, the war on the borders has subsided, and there is peace within Israel’s enlarged boundaries. The economic growth which started after the war is still in full swing; there is full employment, and the technological development of the country in continuing. The growth rate has been quickened in population as well as in the economy and in the country’s political as well as its military power. The attraction Israel holds for the Jews of the diaspora has steadily increased.
All seems well. We are witnessing a growing integration of the Arab population of the territories into Israel’s economy, and the impression, not unfounded, is that the tension between the Palestinian and the Jewish population is weakening, at least in everyday life. During this period it was also proven that the fears of renewed war, or of renewed shooting at the borders, were unfounded, at least for the immediate future. All signs, including the recent withdrawal of Russian military advisers from Egypt, indicate that the Arab camp is crumbling and that its ability to resist by force Israel’s presence in the occupied territories is steadily weakening. Moreover all attempts to impose on Israel solutions or policies against her will, whether by the superpowers or by international bodies, have failed.
In 1971 we saw an outstanding example of Israel’s strength and capacity to follow a course according to her will and to formulate her policies according to her basic positions. Sadat, like his predecessor, Nasser, by threat of war tried to compel Israel to change her policies concerning the territories but failed. His long-prepared plan to create, with the opening of last year’s UN session, maximum pressure on Israel by threats of war did not achieve any results, and the threat itself has proven unfounded, although Sadat staked his political prestige on the success of this move.
Moreover, United States policy in the Middle East and toward Israel strengthens the impression that Israel’s position in the world is solid. The US has apparently accepted Israel’s view and has retreated from its former position, as formulated by Mr. Rogers, regarding the arms supply, and has abandoned its own proposal for a solution of the Arab-Israel dispute.
The order of things seems to be reversed. The client has succeeded in taking the superpower in tow and has proved her independence of the boss. All this strengthens the impression that Israel’s policy toward the occupied territories has been brave, prudent, realistic, and highly successful. In this respect the Jewish immigration from the Soviet Union takes on special significance. The miracle of the ever-increasing Jewish immigration from the Soviet Union occurs at a time when Israel is involved in an open conflict with Russia, and despite the fact that the Jewish exodus is considered by the Arabs as a hostile act, contrary to the interests of the Arab-Russian alliance.
This migration, after fifty years in which Russian Jewry was almost totally isolated from the Jewish people, further strengthens the general sentiment that Israel has chosen the correct policy and that her commanding position enables her to continue on the course she adopted and to maintain indefinitely the territorial status quo.
It is little wonder that many look at the times as foreshadowing the coming of the promised redemption and that an atmosphere of messianic expectation has been created surrounding the events that have occurred in the last twenty-five years. Even the harshest critics of the government’s policy must admit that Israel’s prolonged stand on the cease-fire lines and her unyielding position for the last five years have brought far-reaching changes in the attitude of the Arab countries toward Israel, and in their appraisal of their ability to subdue her.
It is reasonable to assume that there has been a profound change in attitude within the Arab countries toward accepting Israel as a permanent factor in the Middle East. This change is obviously more pronounced among the inhabitants of the occupied territories, especially in the West Bank. Perhaps at this time there is a mounting feeling among the Palestinians that an understanding and a settlement must be reached with the state of Israel that will permit both sides to live together in peace and develop, for their mutual benefit, the potentials of Eretz Israel—the land between the sea and the Jordan.
Indeed, not only Israel’s military and political strength has enabled her to hold on to her territorial conquests. It can be argued that Israel was able to maintain the territorial status quo because she knew how to compromise in critical times and adopt more flexible attitudes toward the conflict. This is what happened in August, 1970. The government then accepted Mr. Rogers’s proposal to open peace negotiations with Egypt under the auspices of Ambassador Jarring, and Israel also agreed to accept the Security Council’s Resolution 242 as the basis for negotiation and affirmed her readiness to retreat from occupied territories with the conclusion of a peace settlement. Israel has not repudiated the position she announced at that time. Again last summer, when the African presidents visited Israel, the government formulated anew Israel’s political aims, in the form of a far-reaching compromise, including the assurance that she did not intend to annex the territories per se—at least not in the Sinai peninsula—but only sought secure and defensible borders.
In the spring of this year, this measure of flexibility was accompanied by an expression of uneasiness about the political deadlock and an emphasis on the urgent need to start negotiations. This expression of uneasiness was perhaps connected with the imminent negotiations with the United States and was more a tactical move than a change in direction. Israel was perhaps impressed by the criticism in the United States over her position on the reopening of the Suez Canal. Israel has, apparently, withdrawn from the four points, heretofore considered non-negotiable, as conditions for the reopening of the canal. They were:
1) that negotiations concerning the opening of the Suez Canal should be considered as separate and independent of the question of a final settlement;
2) that a partial retreat of Israeli forces from the east bank of the canal was conditional on Egypt’s agreement to declare a permanent cease-fire;
3) that with the opening of the Suez Canal Israel’s right of passage in the canal should be conceded, even prior to a final settlement;
4) that the east bank of the canal should be permanently demilitarized and no Egyptian military force be permitted to cross to the east bank.
Israel now seems content with the last condition only. At any rate, we can still remember what Dayan said before his visit to the United States in January this year: that this was the time to start negotiations and that if this opportunity is missed Egypt would be forced, even against her will, to start a war. Dayan reiterated this view in an interview with the Observer in which he expressed the hope that the two “clients” of the superpowers—Israel, the American client, and Egypt, the Russian client—would eventually reach an agreement based on an understanding between the superpowers. He assumed that such an understanding was necessary in order to force the clients to sit down in one room to discuss a settlement in the Middle East and clarify their differences.
Although we have gotten accustomed to Dayan’s speeches with their surprises and radical changes of opinion, these expressions startled many. Was the characterization of Israel and Egypt as “clients” part of a realistic evaluation of the situation, or did Dayan think that such a formulation was necessary to reach a peace settlement? Did Dayan think that the only possible way for a solution to the problems of the region was open or disguised coercion by the superpowers, and did he not consider whether this approach might spell disaster to us and to the whole area? Did it not occur to him that there existed a real alternative to turning the states of the Middle East into “clients,” that is, Israel’s initiative and willingness to relinquish her aims for the annexation of a substantial part of the territories in exchange for a stable peace settlement?
I am forced to doubt whether the intentions of all these flexible steps, adopted or pronounced by the government, were meant to further peace negotiations, which, necessarily, would involve far-reaching concessions regarding the territories. The talk of a flexible policy recalls the words of the queen of hearts in Alice in Wonderland that “one need run very fast in order to remain in the same place.” If this was not the intention of that policy, then, from a practical point of view, it was the result—the ability to continue to maintain the status quo established after the Six Days War, even if this meant renouncing all prospects of achieving a settlement with the Arab states.
Israel Surrenders Birthright
Though this policy has the support of the majority of the population, it is a policy that courts disaster; that, for a mess of pottage, forfeits the birthright of Israel and the Jewish people. For the sake of argument, I start with the assumption that Israel could maintain the territorial status quo against a hostile Arab world for twenty, thirty, or even one hundred years without serious danger to her physical existence. It is precisely this prospect that seems to me disastrous for Israel and for her future.
Israel’s policy in the Israeli-Arab dispute is guided principally by a fear of the risks and hazards involved in any change in the status quo. This leads the government to prefer to maintain the status quo for as long as possible in order to avoid a clash of opinion within the government itself and with the public. But the government has never considered the real price that the Israeli society is paying by freezing the status quo. Furthermore, the government’s conception of what concerns Israel’s security is a series of simplistic stereotypes, lacking real political thought and based on assumptions that fail to weigh the mutual interdependence of security and all other matters affecting the society and the state. In these circumstances it becomes our duty to point out the real price involved in keeping the status quo.
Price of the Status Quo
The continuation of the present situation means, first of all, the continuation of an arms race with the Arab countries and the Soviet bloc. This situation has not been basically changed by the dramatic events occurring now in Egypt. Even after the withdrawal of Soviet military advisers there is little likelihood that Sadat or any other Egyptian leader can accept the territorial status quo as permanent, or agree to major territorial changes in order to make peace with Israel. The situation will remain unstable and explosive and all the parties concerned in the conflict will feel forced to maintain maximum strength in military preparedness.