Now that most of the fighting is over, and only sporadic raids and counterraids continue across the River Jordan, the origins of the third Arab-Israeli War are likely to be again obscured by events, as were those of the first (1948) and the second (1956). New blunders blot out old. Arab intransigence continues; the Israelis may yet discover that a great victory, as Nietzsche wrote, may be “for human nature…more difficult to bear than a defeat.” The forces that caused the last war remain. They may soon be responsible for bringing about still another one.
Even last summer, soon after the war, the rapidity and seeming ease of Israel’s victory overshadowed the pre-history of the war, its origins in the tactics of power, and the disastrous interplay between mass psychology and leadership. Now, a year later, the picture is further blurred by current preoccupations: the plight of the innocent refugees, acts of terrorism and sabotage, and their natural consequence of mass arrests and blown-up houses. United Nations Ambassador Gunnar Jarring, wandering from one Near Eastern capital to another, has spent the last six months trying in vain to square the circle. The Arabs say, “Withdrawal first, peace (maybe) later.” The Israelis say, “Peace first, withdrawal (maybe) later.”
Yet, precisely because no settlement seems in sight, it is perhaps of even greater importance to realize what exactly happened last year. Scores of books have been written about the war itself. But to students of politics, indeed to those interested at least in preserving the cease-fire, if not in peace itself, a book on the three or four weeks preceding the last war could be of greater importance than studies of the war itself. Both books under review focus mainly on the pacts, plans, and domestic policies, the fears, prejudices, and miscalculations that helped to bring about, for a few days in June, a war so senseless as to baffle the imagination; and, though it lasted less than six days, a war so fraught with death and tragedy (more than 50,000 dead or injured and about a quarter-million refugees) as to plunge one into permanent despair and disgust over the sheer arrogance, the cupidity and recklessness of politicians.
In the Near East, as elsewhere, it has always been difficult to distinguish with any conviction the true or nearly true from the apparent logic of cause and effect. Events crowd upon circumstances. Propaganda assumes a momentum of its own. Momentary moods can be as important as permanent ideologies. Accidents play a role; they are later endowed with premeditated meaning by leaders anxious to give a clear accounting (as in Nasser’s “resignation” speech of June 9, 1967), and by historians who insist that politicians always have a program but never headaches, fits of anger, insomnia, or pathologically selective memories. The Six Day War seems to have been a special victim of this. In the West, few events since the Spanish Civil War have stirred emotions so profoundly as did this war, nor afterward divided intellectuals so deeply. Paradoxically, the near total coverage given the war by the press—“the best-covered war in history”—may have shed light on many especially emotional aspects, but it also obscured others. Robert Alter remarked in Commentary after the war that making history has become more ambiguous than ever because, in this age of mass media, reality is so deeply entangled with image-making. The Israelis, yesterday’s underdogs, are today’s conquerors, lording it over occupied Hebron, Gaza, and Nablus. The Arabs, yesterday’s bullies, are today’s victims of Israeli “expansionism.”
SOME IMAGES are short-lived; others are lasting. The Arab-Israeli problem is so encrusted with myths that there can be little hope of reconciliation before these are swept away, or, what is more likely, forgotten, as were some of the nationalist myths that confounded nineteenth-century Europe. One such myth tells us that Israel is a child of Western Imperialism. If one follows the Zionist mystique to its roots in the stirrings of nationalism and populism in nineteenth-century Eastern Europe, or considers the crucial role played by the Soviet Union in the creation and defense of the State of Israel, one is tempted to conclude that while United States support was certainly vital, indeed has since helped to pay the child’s upkeep, Israel’s wet nurse was Russia. Popular histories of Israel overemphasize the role played by the Viennese journalist Theodore Herzl as the father of Zionism. But the roots of modern Israel are not in fin de siècle Vienna. The peculiar institutions of Israeli society, its resilience in peace and fighting spirit in war, are inexplicable without their native background: the revolutionary ideologies prevalent in Russia between 1880 and 1920. From Russia came Israel’s founding fathers; there labor Zionism was born, a product as native as Narodnism, Menshevism, and Bolshevism.
In 1947, Russia again played a key role. Without the support of the Soviet Union and her allies, the United Nations probably would not have resolved to partition Palestine and set up an independent Jewish state. The first arms deal between a Soviet-bloc country and the Near East was concluded in 1948 between Czechoslovakia and Israel. Prominent leaders of the Palestinian (later Israeli) Communist Party acted as go-betweens. Without Czech ammunition and airplanes, delivered through a series of Hungarian, Yugoslav, and Bulgarian supply bases and training camps, Israel would probably have been wiped out by the invading armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. At least twice during the 1948 war, Egyptian targets, including Cairo itself, were bombed by Israeli aircraft based in Yugoslavian and Bulgarian airfields. Recently, Israeli Communist Party chief Shmuel Mikunis stated in a rare interview that, during Dimitroff’s funeral in Sofia in 1949, Soviet Marshall Voroshilov told him that Soviet bloc military aid to Israel was the result of a personal order by Stalin.
Most Israelis and many of their sympathizers abroad refuse to admit that two rights have clashed over Palestine. It is a persistent Zionist legend that the Arabs will eventually see the light in social and economic progress introduced by the Jews, and then gladly trade their nationalism for symphony orchestras, schools, and hospitals. While this may not be such a bad alternative to anybody’s nationalism, it is highly unrealistic to expect it in the Near East, just as it would be in Europe. On the other hand, there is not only the rivalry between Arab and Israeli, but rivalries between Arab and Arab (Syria still claims Palestine for her own province), Moslem and Non-Moslem Arabs, Russian and Chinese communists, and, of course, The United States and the Soviet Union.
Moreover, the old debate about the rightness or wrongness of Zionism still confounds all discussion. Should there be a Jewish State? Why should the Arabs atone for Nazi crimes? During the past decade this argument has become irrelevant and certainly impractical, and today it has become largely obsolete. Immigration to Israel has come to a standstill. Two-and-one-half million Israelis are now a nation, cohesive and resourceful, whatever the argument over Zionism. For Israelis, the issue is not one of theory, but one of physical survival, of individuals as well as of a community. There is no other place to go, as there was for the French community in Algeria.
MR. DRAPER’S Israel and World Politics is a serious, critical analysis of behind-the-scene moves in Washington to save the peace during the three weeks preceding the war. He brings much scholarship and skill to his task. His study covers well the origins of the conflict and, as a record of the vagaries of diplomacy, it is of special value. Mr. Draper has written a damning indictment—based largely on public statements—of Egyptian and Syrian statesmen, and an even greater indictment of the Soviet Government. The Soviet Union, either deliberately or through colossal miscalculation, played a major role in causing the war, first by arming the Arab countries, and then by inciting Nasser to ward off a non-existent threat of Israeli attack against Syria. While it is true that the Israelis were highly upset by Syrian artillery bombardments of border villages, and by Syrian support of El Fatah saboteurs, there is not the slightest indication that Israel was poised to attack Syria. This was confirmed at the time by United Nations observers.
Any concentration of Israeli troops necessarily had to be confined to a narrow valley barely forty miles long and surrounded by mountains. At the time of the Soviet complaint, Mr. Eshkol invited the Russian ambassador to accompany him north to see for himself, but was turned down. If this miscalculation was the first step toward disaster, we can only surmise the Russians’ motives for taking it. They may have been victims of faulty intelligence, like the Americans at the Bay of Pigs. They may have miscalculated subsequent moves by the Arabs, such as the closing of the Tiran Straits. Perhaps they miscalculated the reaction of Israel. Some months after the war, the German news magazine, Der Spiegel, printed a story quoting Western intelligence sources who allegedly had broken coded messages from Russian Ambassador Tschubakin in Tel Aviv to his superiors in Moscow. According to this report, Tschubakin apparently had misled his government. He was said to have convinced his government that Israel, because of internal political strife, a year-long recession and unemployment, growing emigration, and other problems, was on the verge of internal collapse and probably unfit to fight. Nothing has been heard of Tschubakin since his return to Moscow last June.
WALTER LAQUEUR’S book, The Road to Jerusalem, is a brilliant account of events during the three weeks preceding the war and, better than any book published so far, records the high drama, the folly, intrigue, and confusion of the time. It is a case history in reckless escalation, illustrating how little, after a certain point is passed, men still control events. A man-made Golem, switched on, takes over. Arab revanchism and Israeli fear, having fed upon each other for years, assumed a momentum which took the war out of the hands of diplomatists and generals, and made it inevitable.
It began like a standard scene in a Western, a game of poker in a sleazy saloon. As the games theorists would put it, this was a play of imperfect information; and from the start the bluffing was overdone. Israel could not afford to lose a single game. The Arabs did not have enough money for the stakes and should never have played, still less issued a challenge in the first place. Indeed this game should never have taken place, but none could withdraw once the play had started.
Many factors combined to set off the war of 1967. Few were surprised when it actually came; but it is doubtful whether anybody in power really wanted it, except perhaps for a handful of ineffective guerrilla leaders supported by the Syrian Government and Army. The Syrian Government had been, since 1966, run by a curious collection of hotheads. Their radicalism was mostly emotional and did not always follow a consistent pattern. They were at loggerheads not only with powerful political and religious forces within Syria, but with Jordan, and occasionally with Iraq and Egypt as well.
Syria was far more belligerent than Egypt, Jordan, or Iraq. King Hussein was preaching realism. Nasser was publicly saying that the Arabs were not yet ready to fight. In Syria, El Fatah men were being trained for acts of sabotage and sent across the Israeli border by Army Intelligence officers. Syrian artillery units, exploiting their superior positions on the Golan ridge overlooking Israeli farmland, frequently bombarded border kibbutzim and villages in the valley below. What was Syria really up to? Militarily, she was weak, as was later shown by her rapid defeat despite a formidable Soviet-built defense line. Perhaps she was hoping to launch, without danger to herself, a Popular War against Israel, combining El Fatah infiltrators with an armed underground of Israeli Arabs. If so, the latter part of the scheme never materialized. Perhaps she was consciously risking attack upon herself, on the assumption that Egypt would get her out of trouble, much as the Serbs had once relied on Russia. The Serbs prior to World War I liked to say, “We are 200 millions—together with Russia.”
WE SHALL PROBABLY never know the whole truth. It may well be that in 1967, as in 1914, the junior partner of an alliance dragged everybody in, perhaps by carelessness, perhaps by deliberate design. Calculation always appears sharper in retrospect, but it seems probable that in the events that led up to the war, accident and improvisation played a far more decisive role than one thought at the time. If we say that Syria really wanted war, who else did? Certainly Hussein of Jordan did not want it. The Israelis, led by the most pacific and conciliatory government since 1948, did not want it. They were unprepared; and it can be said that they were saved in the end by their morale, and by their ability to put less equipment to better use, although their adversaries had almost twice as many planes, tanks, and men. A week before the war, El Al passenger planes were requisitioned and used, seats removed, to fly in urgently needed military equipment from Europe.
Did Nasser want the war? It seems he stumbled into it knowing, as he himself had said a few months earlier, that his army was not yet fit to face Israel. Could he possibly have had a master plan that would lead to war? There are strong indications that he did not. He was probably greatly encouraged by the success of his initial steps, which he may have taken in the hope of getting away without Israeli retaliation: the dismissal of the UN Emergency Force, the closure of the Tiran Straits to Israeli shipping, which cut off Israel’s southern Red Sea port of Eilat.
For years the Israelis had been saying that closing the straits meant war. Yet Israel did not move. Nasser had clearly won the first round. After a long period of setbacks, his position as leader of the Arab world was suddenly restored by a series of brilliant moves which Israel might have wanted, but was probably unable, to oppose. Then he must have lost his head. If his original intention had been only to go through the motions of a confrontation with Israel in order to achieve limited aims (such as either saving Syria from Israeli aggression by threatening a retaliatory attack in the South, or removing the consequences of the 1956 Suez War by dismissing the UNEF and closing the Straits of Tiran), events began to move so rapidly that there was no turning back or controlling the tide toward war.
Moscow, writes Mr. Laqueur, had probably intended only to mobilize Egypt to ward off what seemed to her an imminent Israeli attack upon Syria. It was to be a “limited exercise in brinkmanship, not in war.” What went wrong? Russia was interested only in an Egyptian show of strength; it is doubtful that Moscow had advance notice of Nasser’s subsequent steps. Nasser’s aim seems to us now to have been to throw United Nations inspectors out of the Straits where they had been since the aftermath of the Suez campaign of 1956, a presence that had been at that time a prerequisite for Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. But once he had succeeded in throwing out the UN, Nasser had to reimpose the blockade. In 1956 one of the main reasons for the Israeli attack had been a blockade. Could he have refrained from imposing one now? The answer is probably no. His Arab adversaries had ridiculed him for years, accused him of sitting idly by and hiding behind the United Nations Emergency Force, while Israel used the “Arab” straits.
Was this the point at which war became inevitable? Mr. Laqueur says no, and, I think, rightly. Although Israel had warned in 1957 that any re-closing of the Straits would constitute a casus belli, her immediate response was not to attack, but to seek help elsewhere. Foreign Minister Abba Eban went off to complain to Paris, London, and Washington; on May 23 there was still a marked reluctance in Israel “to die for Sharm el Sheik.” The Israeli cabinet was deeply divided, unable to decide. None of the ministers was ready to swallow a permanent blockade of Tiran, but some were still hoping that international action might force Nasser to withdraw.
Did Nasser then conclude that Israel was bluffing? There are indications that he did. If Israel had been bluffing about the Straits, perhaps she actually was not so strong as he himself had assumed only a month before? A paper tiger? Nasser was undoubtedly following the Israeli press. Had not former Prime Minister Ben Gurion himself accused Prime Minister Eshkol recently of a grave—though unspecified—“failing” in security matters? Nasser would not have been the first totalitarian leader to misinterpret the public controversies of a democracy as weakness and disease in the body politic. It is difficult to believe that he could have so miscalculated Israel’s reactions or the balance of power, but, as Mr. Draper points out, “if generals and politicians did not make mistakes there would never be any losers in war.” President Nasser then, Mr. Draper believes, was deliberately drawing Israel into war; Israel was responding exactly as Nasser intended her to do. Mr. Laqueur, however, disagrees, and suggests that, except for his decision to concentrate troops in Sinai to prevent Israel from attacking Syria, Nasser’s decision was not based on rational calculation. “He acted in a fit of anger and annoyance,” Laqueur writes.
WHATEVER the explanation, the seizure of Sharm el Sheik was followed by an even greater Egyptian troop movement into Sinai. This concentration of armed force on her border provoked a general mobilization in Israel. The real issue for Israel was no longer freedom of shipping in the South, but, as it seemed then, survival itself. It is easy to dismiss these fears now as unfounded, in view of the war’s outcome. But it did not seem so to Israelis at the time. Nasser had made it all too difficult even for those Israelis who were less alarmist. On May 28, emphasizing Egypt’s resolution to put an end to Israeli “aggression,” Nasser said, “Israel’s existence is itself an aggression.” In Jordanian Jerusalem, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Achmed Shukeiry, told reporters that it was “most likely” that the Jordanian army might begin the battle. King Hussein had placed his troops under Egyptian command in a show of Arab unity. Asked what would happen to “native born” Israelis if the Arab attack succeeded, Shukeiry answered: “Those who survive can remain in Palestine. I estimate that none of them will survive.”
No Israeli government could take these threats lightly; none could dismiss the possibility that Nasser might try to use non-conventional weapons. His forces had employed poison gas in Yemen. No one could be sure that his Soviet-built SAM missiles would be abandoned, as they later were, in the desert, nor that his vast, Soviet-trained, superbly equipped army would run away after thirty hours, abandoning more than $300 million worth of equipment. Most Israeli politicians and all army leaders were sure of eventual victory, but estimates of casualties were between 10,000 to 150,000, a bloodletting which Israel was thought incapable of surviving. Under the impact of such estimates, former Premier Ben Gurion advised the government to sit tight, to order the Army to dig in and wait for a more opportune moment. But by June 1, this had become a minority view. The majority of cabinet ministers, including Foreign Minister Eban, a dove, had become convinced that no international aid would be forthcoming.
Some Israeli leaders said that even if Israel, for the sake of peace, accepted the blockade of the Straits and temporarily received its oil from Venezuela, as President Johnson suggested to Eban, war was inevitable. Nasser, encouraged by his success, would surely take a further step. Some ministers felt that even if the United States, Britain, and other maritime powers succeeded in opening the Straits, Israel could not afford to appear in Arab eyes as dependent on outside force and good will to defend her most vital interests—a Near East Formosa. Israel, they felt, owed her security mainly to the credibility of her own forces to deter, and if necessary, repel, Arab infringement on her vital interests. Such considerations were decisive in moving the cabinet to order the army to attack. It did, gaining the decisive advantage of tactical surprise. As Mr. Draper puts it, there was hardly ever a war where the question of who fired first was more irrelevant.
What if Israel had reacted differently? Could she have avoided the war and still maintained a peace? The advantages of hindsight are usually questionable; but this is not an altogether idle speculation if discussed within the framework of existing options. To move Israel to withdraw from Sharm el Sheik in 1957, President Eisenhower had stated that, in the event of a renewed blockade, it should be “dealt with firmly by the society of nations.” Perhaps if the “society of nations” had acted more promptly and firmly, the growing inevitability might have been arrested before it was too late. But the United Nations proved impotent; Washington officials had misplaced their commitment to Israel, and only some urgent telephone calls between former President Eisenhower and the White House confirmed it. Though committed, the United States had no clear policy. For her, too, events moved too fast. Perhaps if the United States had taken it upon herself henceforth to police the Straits of Tiran for an indefinite period, Israel’s doves in the end would have prevailed. But such a US undertaking, as is well brought out by Mr. Draper’s careful reporting, was not forthcoming. The slowness and eventual ineffectiveness of Western efforts to lift the blockade confirmed Israel in her conviction that, unless she took action herself, no one would. The experience is likely to have a profound influence on her future. It has increased her feeling of being alone, which had always been strong. More than ever before Israel may now be tempted to develop an independent nuclear or other unconventional deterrent. Less than ever will she willingly base vital interests on international promises.
Professor Laqueur thinks that the war might have been prevented, but “not for very long…for the struggle was not about refugees, or the Jordan waters, or the Straits of Tiran, or even about Israel’s frontiers.” Important as these were, the essential issue was between what seemed to Israel her survival and to the Arabs their pride and dignity. Laqueur believes that “Israeli restraint alone would therefore have been insufficient to avert a war.” The continuing success of Nasser’s aggressive feinting would undoubtedly have led to new thrusts—such as the dispatch of Fedayyeen guerrillas across the border, renewing the attacks that had been stopped only with the Sinai campaign of 1956—and eventually to a new explosion. Whether the Egyptians themselves would have been so encouraged by their success that they would have mounted a fullscale attack is a moot question today. Given the geographical circumstances, it seems unlikely that the Israelis would have been willing to wait for the answer.
AS A RESULT of the war, Israel has more than trebled the territory under its control. Sir Isaiah Berlin once said that Israel had “more history than geography.” It now has both. Before the war, Tel Aviv was in direct firing range; today Ismailia and Port Said are. Israel holds the East Bank of the Suez Canal. Its armies are 45 kilometers from Amman, 50 from Damascus, 100 from Cairo. Israeli withdrawal before the unlikely conclusion of a peace treaty seems even more unlikely. Retrospectively it can be argued that, if Israel is indeed expansionistic, as the Arabs have always claimed, the Arabs themselves have been her best allies. Had they agreed in 1919, not to turn Palestine into “the” Jewish homeland, but to incorporate “a” national home for the Jews, as stipulated by the Balfour Declaration, a Jewish minority, moderate in size, probably would in time have been absorbed into an Arab-Palestinian state.
Had the Arabs not rejected British proposals for a Palestine Legislative Council a few years later, the Jews would have at best emerged a minority within the general Arab framework, similiar perhaps to the Maronites in Lebanon. If, in 1937, they had agreed to the Peel Commission report which proposed partition of Palestine into a tiny free city—a Danzig-type Jewish State—and a large Arab one, they would probably have swallowed the autonomous Jewish area within a generation. If they had accepted the Woodhead Commission proposal of 1938 for an even smaller Jewish autonomy; or the White Paper of 1939; or the plans of 1946 to admit no more than a final 100,000 Jewish immigrants; or the United Nations partition plan of 1947; or the armistice lines of 1949; or even the status quo of 1966…. If, if, if.
On the other hand, had Israel after 1949 been more sensitive to the fate of the Palestinian refugees—had it permitted more to come back or compensated the rest for their abandoned property rather than allow the neighboring states to exploit the problem for political ends—perhaps some of the intense hatred of Israel that prevails among the Arab masses and ties the hands of more moderate leaders would slowly have abated. Instead, hatred and fear fed upon each other.
After the 1967 war, among the vast chorus of Arab commentators in surrounding states, only Professor Cecil Hourani of Beirut seemed to recognize the strange alliance between Israel and Arab extremists (Encounter, October, 1967). Elsewhere, in public at least, one hears only of a temporary “setback”; eventually Arab numerical superiority must prevail. But this seems like another pipe dream. If the last war was decided by Israel’s technological superiority, the next one—even without nuclear weapons—probably will be as well. Casualty rates are likely to grow, but the outcome seems certain. Given the prevailing growth rates, the technological gap between Israel and her adversaries is likely to grow even wider. The recent study The Year 2000 speculates on the extent of this gap within the next thirty years. By the year 2000 Israel, with a GNP of $5839 per capita, is expected to be entering the “Post-Industrial stage,” a cybernetics-controlled “learning society.” On the other hand, Egypt, with an expected GNP of only $480 per capita, remains, because of its birth rate, at the bottom of the ladder, a “partially industrial” society.
It is true that GNP alone is not enough; high technology weapons can be supplied by others. But if it proved anything, the 1967 war showed that it is not enough simply to supply an underdeveloped country with high-technology weapons in order to make it militarily strong. Egypt lost to an adversary who, though much smaller, was more developed technologically and socially, as well as in literacy education. Egyptian tank forces and pilots were certainly trained by Soviet instructors in the use of sophisticated modern weapons. It is one thing to use such knowledge in times of peace, on parade grounds or maneuvers; to use it under wartime conditions of real stress is a different matter. The strange lesson of 1967 is that weapons alone are not enough; they do not function independent of the conditions of society. Military discipline is not established by simply giving orders; alertness, efficiency, individual dedication, and courage grow out of a shared sense of social purpose. This seemed missing in Nasser’s army. There is no other explanation for the extent of its defeat. What failed was less the army than the social structure of Egypt; it collapsed under strain, despite—or perhaps because of—fourteen years of Nasserist socialism. According to Israeli army officers, the army of “semi-feudal” Jordan fought a better battle.
IT CAN BE ARGUED that widespread guerrilla warfare is still possible, and does not depend on GNP. But, as is shown in Vietnam, successful guerrilla warfare depends on a shared sense of social purpose. As Israeli observers see it, comparisons with Vietnam or with Algeria, however tempting, are too superficial to be taken seriously at this stage. Israel is not Vietnam, nor Cuba under Batista; it is a modern, egalitarian state with an effective people’s army of enthusiastic volunteers. Israelis are not Algerian colons; they have no France to go to. Nor have Arab guerrillas so far shown the necessary talent, dedication, and daring that are prerequisites of successful resistance. To the contrary, there have been a curious lack of solidarity between members of guerrilla units and an amazing readiness on the part of most apprehended El Fatah men to squeal on their brethren; many of them have accompanied Israeli helicopter units as guides into Jordanian territory to point out hideaways. So widespread have these acts of treachery been that prominent Israelis have been led to question the very existence of a genuine, sufficiently powerful fighting motive. This may be optimistic, but at the moment it is difficult to see how things will change. Two essential conditions seem missing: passive civilian support and the opportunity to set up guerrilla-controlled areas, as bases for “descents on cities.” Before and since the war, El Fatah fights have picked on civilian targets; only rarely have they attacked the Israeli army. Prior to the war, the 250,000 Arabs of Israel did not emerge as allies, or even as passive supporters of El Fatah; saboteurs were forced to enter Israel from Syria or Jordan and quickly withdraw abroad. Since the war, an additional million Arabs on the occupied West Bank, in Gaza or East Jerusalem, have also refused to be a part of such actions. By and large, guerrilla activities remain hit-and-run affairs from across the new cease-fire lines.
THE PRICE of continued Arab intransigence is in the meantime paid by the million Arab Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation. It is no wonder that more moderate voices—including those of some former Jordanian cabinet ministers, prominent politicians, and parliament members—are being more frequently heard in the Israeli-held Jordanian territories west of the Jordan River. There are signs that after fifty years of almost uninterrupted trouble combined with foreign rule, whether British, Jordanian Bedouin, or Israeli, the people in Nablus, East Jerusalem, and Hebron are tired. For the first time since 1948, distinguished Arab political figures are openly calling for peace. Few have as yet publicly spelled out their terms. Those who have done so, such as Anwar Nusseibeh of Jerusalem, a former Jordanian Defense Minister and Ambassador to London, have proposed a peace settlement based on the UN Partition Plan of 1947. While this may now seem unrealistic, it must be remembered that, prior to the 1967 war, only President Bourguiba of Tunisia dared to voice a similar proposal. For the first time since 1948, perhaps even since 1935, Jordanian Arabs and Jews are talking to one another; and for the first time there is agreement at least on the need for agreement. There is freedom of movement for West Bank citizens across the cease-fire line with Jordan; it is said the West Bank politicians have repeated their peace plans in their frequent consultations with King Hussein.
IS HUSSEIN READY? What can Israel offer him? The Israeli cabinet has been split between those who would offer much and those who would offer very little. It evaded a disruption of the national coalition by not deciding anything. Instead, it has stuck to its original position that no terms will be disclosed except at the peace table. Most Ministers, however, have voiced their opinions privately. It seems obvious that Israel will never return to its former borders. The accent has been on plans for new “secure” borders. Yigal Allon, the new Deputy Prime Minister, and apparently Mr. Eshkol’s preferred choice as his successor, has been peddling such a plan since August of last year when it was first submitted to the Cabinet in the form of a long confidential memorandum. Leaked to the press shortly afterward, the Allon Plan has been the subject of much discussion ever since. It is hard to decide whether its sudden acceptance this summer by a majority of Cabinet members, including apparently Mr. Eshkol himself, indicates a reversal of contrary views previously held by some ministers; or whether, in view of the extreme unlikeliness of it ever being accepted as a basis of peace by the Arabs, those Israeli leaders who now endorse it see it as a move in international public relations to prove that Israel, after all, has a constructive solution in mind.
Allon proposes the formal annexation by Israel of a narrow strip of land along the River Jordan basin connecting the Sea of Galilee with the Dead Sea. This would be intended to serve as a defense belt against possible future attacks from Jordan. The population of the West Bank, west of this strip, would be given the choice of either setting up an independent entity, with or without close cooperation with Israel, or of rejoining the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In return for ceding the five-mile strip along the Jordan, Israel would be ready to grant Jordan a free port in Haifa or Ashdod as well as to guarantee access through a corridor leading to the port. Similar corridors through the Israeli defense strip, jointly controlled by both sides, would connect the West Bank with the East Bank of the Jordan. It can be argued that Allon’s planned defensive belt is militarily irrelevant; the next war, even more so than the last, will be decided by air and armored strikes and not by infantry offensives against which the Allon defensive strip might prove useful. Even in June, 1967, the proximity of Jordanian armor and artillery less than ten miles from Tel Aviv did not prevent an easy Israeli victory.
The counter-argument is that a strategic strip along the Jordan River basin would at least guarantee the effective demilitarization of the West Bank. Such a demilitarization might not be so important now, but would be vital, in Israeli eyes, in case of a change of regime in Amman or even an Egyptian takeover there. The debate continues, but Israel’s leaders doubt that Hussein or any other Arab leader will agree to make peace under any conditions but complete Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories, including East Jerusalem. And even this is doubted by many. Such pessimism is the reason behind Premier Eshkol’s recent statement that it has become pointless for Israel to make offers of peace. They are, as he put it, like hammers with no anvil since the Arabs do not respond. While some recent public declarations by Arab leaders seem to strengthen this view, it may very well be that future Israeli generations, forced again and again to wage wars, will blame the present Israeli regime for not having tried hard enough to meet the Arabs halfway. Even the Allon plan, though returning most of the densely populated Jordanian areas, cannot seem to the humiliated Arabs anything approaching the offer of a generous victor.
Few people in Israel now recall the solemn statements of Eshkol and Dayan in June, 1967, that Israel did not seek territorial gain; even fewer would care to remind them of those statements. General Dayan himself has recently taken his most inflexible stand to date in off-the-record remarks to his Parliamentary Labor Party caucus which were leaked to the press in June. “I see the Jordan River as our frontier,” he said, “and the mountain range west of the Jordan River as bases to protect our frontier.” He also said that Israel should remain in Sharm el Sheik and parts of Sinai; and he rejected the November resolution of the Security Council which the government had clearly, if reluctantly, accepted. However slim the chances for peace, they certainly cannot be helped by such thinking. Although Dayan’s statements were quickly disavowed by the government, their effect on public opinion could be profound. If the situation is allowed to drift, they may well become public policy.
Some Israelis, including Uri Avnieri, a Member of Parliament and publisher of the weekly HaOlam HaZeh (a combination of Confidential and The New Republic), and a number of independent intellectuals, are prepared to look for fresh solutions. A few have proposed immediate withdrawal. Avnieri has proposed a Palestine federation between Israel and the West Bank Arabs. Others have advised Israel to renounce Zionism; still others want to try to “integrate” into the area in the hope of winning the friendship of the Arabs by becoming like them. These are all the opinions of minorities, as are those of the extremists at the other end, members of the Movement for the Whole Israel who are opposed to all withdrawal even in return for peace. They favor the permanent establishment of a greater Israel. Most Israelis, according to a public opinion poll taken in the spring, have been persuaded by none of these groups. They have been willing to exchange territory for peace.
THE CHANCES for settlement seem to have grown dimmer in recent months as Israel’s minimum terms appear to have grown and as Egypt’s shattered army arsenal has been replenished by the Soviet Union. Threats of annihilation and “liberation” resound again from Radio Cairo, and recently from Nasser’s own lips. Short of a miracle, there is little reason to expect Israel to take the risk and withdraw without the watertight guarantees which nobody is prepared to give. Even if Hussein were ready to come to terms, would Nasser allow it?
But then the question arises: “How strong is Nasser?” Early last April, when Israel finally consented to forego “direct” talks with the Arabs, and agreed to “indirect” negotiations through UN Ambassador Jarring, the Egyptians “almost agreed” to send emissaries to Cyprus. Similiar talks, “indirect” but held under the same hotel roof, in 1949 had led to the signing of the Israel-Egyptian armistice agreement at Rhodes. This time, however, student riots and strikes broke out in Egypt, and nothing came of the Cyprus “indirect” talks. Early in May, again it seemed that Ambassador Jarring had succeeded in getting the sides together for talks in New York on the same “indirect” basis. It remained extremely doubtful whether any basis for agreement could be reached.
The talk of desirable solutions will continue, but at this juncture at least, none seems even remotely acceptable to both sides. It is possible to imagine a solution imposed from outside by mutual agreement of the great powers. But this too seems improbable. The deadlock is likely to continue. We know nothing of the human heart if we imagine that Israelis will easily forget fifty years of near-total Arab enmity and twenty years of threats of annihilation; it is also native to believe that repression can make the Arab masses confident, or esteem Israel, or forget that Palestine was “stolen” by the Zionists. For decades the Jews have tended to belittle the force of Arab nationalism, and have consoled themselves with the thought that the Arabs could live very well without the tiny piece of Arabia that is Palestine. The Arabs too have indulged for decades in the luxury of underestimating the enemy. They have ignored the fact that to preserve any sense of reality, there must be a sense of the relativity of enmity, as indeed of friendship as well. There is some hope, albeit not much, in the increasing contact between Israelis and Jordanian Arabs on the occupied West Bank as well as with East Bank residents who are now being granted visitors’ permits. If it is true that total enmity is possible only where there is complete lack of communication, the West Bank situation, if it lasts, holds some hope. One day both Arabs and Israelis may begin to doubt whether an enemy to whom one can talk is really an enemy at all.
If this hope too is just another pipe dream, the present deadlock is bound to continue. And both sides are condemned to inflict death, pain, and hardship on each other.
August 1, 1968