With Maalot and the subsequent Fedayeen raids only a few months behind us, and with the future of the Palestinians as clouded as ever, these three books demand attention. After the seemingly senseless deaths, with no direct negotiations between Arabs and Israelis yet in sight, these works at least raise the questions that lie at the heart of the Arab-Israeli tragedy. They may also provide some answers.
To those who know Arie Lova Eliav only by reputation—that is, as the most prestigious dove in Israel—his book will come as something of a surprise. It is certainly not the work of a starry-eyed idealist who believes that good will is a sufficient condition for peace. True, he presses Israel to allay Arab distrust by taking the initiative in making concessions. However, upon closer examination many of these concessions appear quite mild, rather conservative in fact. To be fair to Eliav, we must bear in mind that, although it has been updated since, his book was written before the Yom Kippur war and that it was then the only book of its kind by a high-ranking Israeli politician.
In view of the climate prevailing within the Labour party and in Israel itself when it was written, Land of the Hart is a very radical book. We must remember that when it was published in Hebrew in 1972 Israel had unquestioned military superiority. Thousands of Soviet advisers had been dismissed from Egypt. The US government considered Russian influence in the Middle East to be in decline; it viewed the stalemate as advantageous to its own interests, and it therefore no longer pressed Israel to make territorial concessions and was content to let it act as a gendarme in the region. The Israelis shared with virtually everyone else the belief that the Arabs would never dare to go to war because they could not hope to win. Israel’s good fortune, including new emigration from North America and an economic boom aided by cheap labor, gave rise to much complacency and perhaps even some arrogance.
Not surprisingly the Israelis concluded that they had no urgent reason to change the status quo: why not hang on to the occupied territories and wait for the Arabs to negotiate without preconditions? Eliav’s book—part visionary tract, part practical guide to policy—is therefore all the more remarkable, especially when we consider that it was written by a former military officer, diplomat, and secretary general of the Labour party who is now a member of the Knesset. Whatever disagreements one may have with his specific proposals, one can only admire his passion for peace.
Eliav’s views fail to break away from the conventional Israeli perspective, above all in his treatment of the Palestinian problem. Here he follows the Labour party line which has always been to refuse to deal directly with the Palestinians and was opposed to the Palestine Liberation Organization being represented at Geneva except as part of the Jordanian delegation. He writes, for example, about the “Palestinian-Jordanian Arabs” joining to negotiate a peace treaty. Similarly, he clings to his party’s line in opposing a separate Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. “I do not have in mind a Palestinian state in the administered areas separate from the state of Jordan; I am speaking of one Arab state which will contain the majority of the Palestinians.” He has many arguments, some plausible, that a separate Palestinian state would not be economically workable.
But would Eliav have granted to another nation the right to veto the establishment of the state of Israel on the grounds that it was doomed to be unworkable economically? Why is he not troubled by Jordan’s own lack of economic “viability”? One also cannot help wondering why an author who so painstakingly describes the flaws in a Palestinian state separate from Jordan does not pause to consider the drawbacks to a state linked to Jordan. Eliav must think the Palestinians very short of memory if after years of repression under Hashemite rule and Hussein’s brutal massacre of over 3,000 of their people in the civil war of 1970 he expects them to cooperate with the Jordanians within one national entity. For all his concern and sympathy for Palestinians Eliav seems hardly disturbed by Hussein’s brutality. True, he does not rule out the possibility of a revolution and the overthrow of Hussein. But after their experience in 1970, it is hardly reasonable to invite the Palestinian leaders to return to Hussein’s Jordan while telling them that they may one day take over the state. Why is Eliav, who is so worried about the economic prospects of a new state, not worried about setting up a state based on political instability and bloodshed?
What is it then that makes this such a splendid book, deeply informed, original, often provocative? The answer lies in Eliav’s remarkable moral qualities which are strongly evident throughout. The kind of integrity we find here is hard to come by in any case, but doubly so when one considers that as the head of a party machine Eliav might have been expected to be more of a political opportunist. It is this integrity that has earned him the respect of even those most opposed to him. Eliav, who has been accused by some Israelis of “inventing the Palestinian problem,” perceives that there will never be true peace in the Middle East unless the Palestinian problem is solved, and is critical of those Israelis who would like to put off the solution of that problem: “This desire to ignore the problem of Arabs in Palestine has been a leitmotif in our lives…. It behooves us—especially those of us who say that there is no such entity as Palestinian Arabs—to ask ourselves frankly: With whom were we living and against whom were we fighting in those decades before the establishment of the State of Israel?”
Eliav’s treatment of the Palestinian resistance groups is the most understanding and magnanimous part of his book. Unlike so many of his compatriots, he does not simply write them off as killers who should be exterminated. He feels that Israelis must kill the guerrillas who attack them. “When someone is coming at you to kill you, kill him first.” But he never denies the Palestinians their basic rights as human beings. He is critical of those in Israel who dismiss the guerrillas by referring to them as “gangs” or “rabble” or “Arabooshes.” He recognizes that “we must not deprecate these organizations with respect to their courage” and he refers to the guerrillas as an “embittered people who are certain that they are fighting for a cause, and who by no means lack courage and enterprise.”
He is also critical of those who try to justify Israel’s occupation of the West Bank by the claim that “the Palestinian Arabs in the [West Bank] never had it so good,” that they are better off than the Arabs of the other countries: “This kind of talk has a terrible ring to it and calls to mind echoes from our own exilic past—“Those Jews have it good.’ ” He warns that unless Israel commits itself to returning the occupied territories, “the work of Arabs from these areas in Israel is nothing more than the exploitation of cheap labor of one ethnic group by another….” Most important, Eliav attacks those who call for concessions not on moral but on demographic grounds, for “even if there were no demographic ghost stalking us we would still have to take a stand on principles.”
Eliav is highly critical of the inertia, complacency, political opportunism, and greed for territory which prompted many Israelis after 1967 to drop any serious search for peace. He wants Israel to take the initiative precisely “because we hold most of the good cards and not they,” and to make a unilateral declaration about what territory it is prepared to give back in return for a settlement. As to the argument that there is no one to talk to, he says that “this may be due precisely to the fact that we are not clearly stating any principles…. The Palestinian Arabs can also tell themselves: “There’s no one to talk to.’ ” Eliav is especially concerned about those who see the establishment of settlements in the West Bank as a means of creating a series of faits accomplis.
This method…affirms the feeling of the Palestinian Arabs that…all our declarations about open political options are just talk while in fact we are effecting creeping annexation of all the territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This method does not deceive a single one of us or the Palestinian Arabs, the other Arab nations, or the rest of the world.
It is a credit to Eliav’s realism that he saw as early as the 1960s that peace had to be slowly and painfully built on the basis of a mutual give and take. It is even more to his credit that he resigned as secretary general of the Labour party when he felt that many members of that party had ceased to give peace initiatives the priority they deserve.
Eliav illustrates the very best of the Zionist spirit, its humanitarianism, its idealism. He is a worthy descendant of men like Weizmann, Magnes, and Buber. His clearsightedness makes his book even more relevant today than it was before the Yom Kippur war, because now for the first time the Arab leaders may be prepared to meet him half way.
Amos Elon’s book on the Israelis,* first published in 1971, can now, I think, be read as a complement to Eliav’s book. Unlike Eliav, Elon is mainly interested in Israel’s internal history, but he shares Eliav’s obsession with the specter of mutual suicide in the Arab-Israeli struggle, as well as his understanding of the Palestinians. Few writers about Israel have equaled Elon’s sensitivity. He captures very well the mood of his nation, its hopes and pride as well as its anguish and deep pessimism. He is most impressive in his treatment of the Palestinian question. He writes:
The tragic irony is deepened by a fatal parallel. There is a symmetry between the Israelis’ traumatic memory of holocaust and the neurosis of shame and anger, humiliation and white rage, that has been generated among Arabs by Israel’s recurrent successes.
This theme recurs throughout his book. “There is an unexpected element of irony in the fact that Israeli Jews, who owe their experience as a nation to their extraordinary memory of past history, should now be forced to rely on the Arabs forgetting theirs.” He concludes: “At the root is a disastrous struggle between two rights, a clash between two irresistible compulsions, the very essence of high tragedy.” He recalls that in Camus’s La Peste Tarrou tells Dr. Rieux that in choosing between the whips and victims on this earth, there is a third possibility: compassion.
But are compassion and understanding enough? In the spring issue of the Journal of Palestinian Studies the Palestinian writer Fawaz Turki suggests an answer when he tells of his first encounter with an Israeli in a café in Paris.
I am hostile to him. I have developed a defensive, aggressive veneer to my encounter with the world. Before talking to people, I keep wanting them initially to prove their decency to me. As the injured, abused party, the onus is not on me to do that….
“I understand,” he says to me in our last meeting.
“What do you understand?”
“I understand now that we have talked, I understand a lot more. About your people, about mine.”
Maybe he did. As he walked away I wanted to run after him and say: “It is not enough that you just understand.”
This exchange reflects the mood of The Disinherited, which was also written before the October war. It is a bitter, disillusioned, almost cynical book, suggesting to those who claim to “understand” the Palestinians that understanding and even feeling guilty about the “Palestinians’ problem” is not enough. For Turki, such a sentiment is at first disarming but eventually seems an evasion. Guilt serves to give us the illusion of having made up for the harm inflicted, freeing us from having to do anything about it.
This superb book will come as a shock to the liberal conscience for it tells in a stark, sometimes cruel, but also poignant way what it is like to grow up as a Palestinian refugee, despised, harassed, and hounded in an “understanding” world. It explores the dark rage and despair that are part of the background to the Maalot killings, not to mention the other Fedayeen raids since. The author has wrestled with the same problems, been marked by the same traumas, and shared the same view of the world as many in the resistance groups. He explains better than any other Arab writer that I’ve read the terrible memory of a lost homeland, the yearning for the return, and above all the outrage, shame, anger, and humiliation that drive young Palestinians to violence:
If I was not a Palestinian when I left Haifa as a child, I am one now. Living in Beirut as a stateless person for most of my growing up years, many of them in a refugee camp, I did not feel I was living among my “Arab brothers”…. I was a Palestinian. And that meant I was an outsider, an alien, a refugee and a burden…. It defeated some of us. It reduced and distorted and alienated others.
The defeated, like myself, took off to go away from the intolerable pressures of the Arab world…. The reduced, like my parents, waited helplessly in a refugee camp for the world, for a miracle, or for some deity to come to their aid. The distorted, like Sirhan Sirhan, turned into assassins. The alienated, like Leila Khaled, hijacked civilian aircraft.
The tragic irony is that many of Turki’s experiences resemble the experience of Jews growing up in the diaspora. People without a country, even if they are living among fellow Arabs, are destined to be “despised, persecuted, or at best ignored.” “Why don’t you go back to where you came from, you Palestinian sons of whores who sold their land to the Jews!”
Turki recounts how once, as a teen-ager returning to the refugee camp in southern Lebanon one night, he found “that a group of drunken policemen had forced their way in and beaten up my mother and two sisters, apparently for failing to produce an identity card or UNRWA card or some other wretched document. That incident may be taken as marking the day I started to hate with a passion…. I hated first the Arabs; then in an inarticulate and vague manner, the world.” Once when he was peddling chewing gum he came upon a street entertainer with a monkey. “The entertainer proceeded to tell his animal to ‘show us how a Palestinian picks up his food rations.’ I was a rough boy of fourteen, hardened to street life, but I could not suppress an outburst of tears. For that was a microcosm of the world, and I was too weak, too alone, to hit back at it, so I wept.”
While Turki has no love for Israel much of his bitterness is directed at the Arabs. He shares with many Palestinians a hatred of the Arab leaders who, despite their rhetorical support for the Palestinians, have done little to relieve their misery, and have used them to serve their own ambitions and self-agrandizement.
To the Palestinian…growing up in Arab society, the Israeli was the enemy in the mathematical matrix; we never saw him, lived under his yoke, or, for many of us, remembered him…. The irony of my plight was that as I grew up my bogeyman was not the Jew…nor was he the Zionist…, nor…the imperialist…, but he was the Arab. The Arab in the street who asked if you’d ever heard the one about the Palestinian who…. The Arab at the Aliens Section who wanted you to wait obsequiously for your work permit, the Arab at the police station who felt he possessed a carte blanche to mistreat you, the Arab who rejected you….
Nor were these feelings diminished by college or a successful career. Although most of the Fedayeen recruits are drawn from the poorer groups that remained behind in the camps (the wealthier Palestinians having long since resettled in Lebanon, the Arab sheikdoms, or the Gulf states), their leaders often come from the middle class. (Arafat has a degree in engineering from Cairo University and George Habash is a doctor trained at the American University in Beirut.) Turki himself, after three years of study in England, “returned to the Middle East more embittered, more disillusioned, more unhappy than when I left. There was a rage within me. An anger. A hate. A fury that was almost animal in its intensity.”
Needless to say, such feelings account for the appeal of the Fedayeen groups that sprang up in the 1960s. The Fedayeen have political antecedents. The opposition of Palestinians to Zionism dates back to the 1920s, and by the 1930s it had grown from sporadic Arab forays against Jewish settlers to a well-organized movement with a leadership that had shown itself capable of organizing effective strikes and boycotts. But that was a leadership mainly of notables like the Husaynis and Nashashibis, the conservative allies of the British, who benefited most from the commercial expansion brought about by the British and the Zionists. Many of the current leaders are men with military training. They are inhibited neither by wealth nor by the responsibilities of legitimacy, and have obviously been influenced by third world guerrilla movements, not to mention the example of Jewish terrorists in the 1940s. Hence their more radical temper. Notwithstanding their education, they are closer to the Palestinians in the camps who, in Turki’s words, “having nothing and with nothing to lose,” proceeded to hit back at the world, having first organized themselves into the terrorist teams that have become the “outlet for their suppressed fury.”
If The Disinherited teaches us anything it is that the answer to Maalot is not more Israeli reprisals in Lebanon which result in the deaths of more innocent civilians. Lashing out at the symptoms may satisfy the need for revenge but it cannot cure the malady. Only a Palestinian homeland in which Palestinians can fulfill their national aspirations and live in dignity can do that. But Maalot and the terrorism which preceded and followed it undoubtedly make a peace settlement much more difficult to work out. As the Israeli dove Simha Flapan wrote in the June issue of New Outlook, Maalot was a terrible blow to the Israeli political groups that were advocating peace initiatives. Continued terrorism could ensure the triumph of the hardline political forces in Israel who oppose any concessions whatever to the Palestinians. This would certainly rule out all prospects for an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
But to hang on to the territories and wait for the Arabs to deliver a settlement in a neat package is no solution either. Making peace is an arduous process. It has to be built one step at a time, in the hope that the adversary will make one too. For the first time some Palestinians are now prepared to take such a step. Turki’s book anticipates much of the debate now going on among the Fedayeen. One of the more important arguments in his book is his case for settling with Israel.
I am lured by the agony of wanting, now, in my own lifetime, the chance to know what it feels like…to be…a native of a land that is my own…. We are…confronted by the choice of a future as a nation-state or with destroying ourselves, like the long tormented Samson, by pulling down the pillars on ourselves and those around us.
We had the chance in 1937 and again in 1947 and, let us be honest, I say to my Palestinian brothers and sisters that we failed on both occasions essentially not because of what the colonialists and imperialists and Zionists and Arabs did to us but because of what we ourselves did not do…. Can we wait?
How much more can we pay?… If you give twenty years of your life in a refugee camp, you have paid a high price. If you are asked to sacrifice another twenty, the price becomes intolerable. If you are asked to make your unborn child take on your burden, you are committing an injustice.
Do we, as some in our own family have advocated, view our struggle as a long, long one indeed…? Or do we, still others in our own family have argued, bargain for the establishment of a viable independent Palestinian state?… We are offered part of our homeland back; we have been robbed of the rest. We can examine the offer…. We can talk and reason and listen…. But let us not pass up our chance.
This statement is significant not simply because Turki suggests that he is willing to accept a peaceful solution based on a separate Palestinian state in the West Bank but because he admits that had the Palestinians been more conciliatory in the past a great many of their current national aspirations could have been fulfilled, as when he cites the chances lost in 1937 and 1947. Until 1937 it would still have been possible for the Palestinians to obtain a binational state. Many of Israel’s founding fathers, notably Weizmann, Buber, and Magnes, would have been happy to agree to such a state had the Palestinians been willing to acquiesce in unrestricted Jewish migration. Indeed Herzl’s dream of a democratic secular Hebrew nation—with strict separation of church and state in which full citizenship would not have been restricted to Jews but would be extended to Moslems and Christians as well—bears much resemblance to Fatah’s ideal today.
Whose views among the Palestinians does Turki reflect when he admits past mistakes and argues for a separate state? Here we must consider the politics of the resistance groups themselves, for although small in number, and not necessarily representative of the people in the occupied territories, they are at the center of the Palestinian stage. Before the October war the main division among the Palestinian guerrillas was between Fatah on the one hand and, on the other, Habash’s PFLP, Hawatmeh’s PDFLP, Colonel Jibril’s General Command, and the Syrian group called Saiqa. Fatah was generally regarded as more moderate than the other groups because it concentrated on the issue of Palestinian nationalism and did not show much interest in revolution and social reconstruction. This was largely because most of Fatah’s leaders were Sunni Moslems who were reluctant to press for secularism, partly because of their own lingering religious attachments and partly in order not to offend the religious sensibilities of their financial backers, the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
The other Palestinian groups, who wanted to carry the struggle to the rest of the Arab world and were for secular radical solutions, often had leaders who were either not Palestinians or not Moslems. In the PFLP George Habash was Greek Orthodox, Wadid Haddal a Christian, Hani al Hindi a Syrian. In the PDFLP Nayif Hawatmeh was a Christian Transjordanian and Sami Dabi a Christian Lebanese. The General Command was led by two officers who had previously served in the Syrian army. Saiqa was led by Syrian Baathists, the Arab Liberation Front was created by Baathists in Iraq.
Since many of these leaders have been active under radical Arab regimes outside Palestine, it was predictable that they would talk of extending the revolutionary struggle to surrounding Arab countries. Coming from religious minorities many of them feared being relegated to second-class citizenship by the Sunni majority and, using Marxist rhetoric, they pressed for secular policies. Yasir Arafat, much closer to the Sunni majority, had a broader base of support than Christians like George Habash or Nayif Hawatmeh.
But since the October war many of the more radical Fedayeen, including PDFLP and Saiqa, have joined the Fatah camp. Their views have sometimes taken a direction not very different from Turki’s, both in admitting past mistakes and accepting a separate state. Without formally abandoning their belief in socialist revolution, they showed a willingness to collaborate with the increasingly powerful conservative Arab countries for a settlement and have favored accepting a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza rather than fighting for all of Palestine.
It is true that many of these statements were qualified and considered to be “tactical”; Fatah always insisted that the ultimate goal was a secular democratic Palestinian state. Nonetheless the statements were momentous because they held out some promise that once the resistance leaders turned up at Geneva, they would have to sign along with other Arab nations a peace treaty granting Israel de jure recognition. They also created hopes that once a Palestinian state was set up, its leaders would be forced not only to build a country but also, because of its economic interdependence with Israel and its need to use her road and port facilities, to maintain good relations with her.
Since last spring, both Arafat and Hawatmeh, who had condemned adventurist terror and had claimed they were open to compromise, have supported terrorist raids. This made the distinction between militants and moderates appear meaningless to many Israelis. Is the distinction spurious? One can still find sharp differences between the positions of Fatah, the PDFLP, and Saiqa on the one hand and the PFLP, the General Command, and the Iraqi-sponsored Arab Liberation Front on the other. The former remain more conciliatory notwithstanding their recent support for terrorist attacks. On September 26, in fact, Habash’s PFLP withdrew from the PLO’s Executive Council, accusing Arafat and the other PLO leaders of conspiring with the US to arrange a settlement based on a separate Palestinian state. The PFLP said that the Arab Liberation Front and the General Command had also decided to withdraw.
The terrorism sponsored since last spring by the more moderate groups in the PLO is not merely a response to pressures from the militants within the movement who have accused them of selling out, although such pressures have been fierce and have led to fighting among the Palestinians themselves in the Fedayeen camps. The terrorism was also, the moderates claim, designed to remind Israel, the US, and, not least, the Arab countries that the Palestinians have the power to wreck any peace settlements that exclude them. The resistance knows it can never succeed without the help of the Arab states, but it believes that its leverage as a potential spoiler rests on its being able to sustain small-scale terror that would seriously jeopardize the chances of settlements. Since this disruptive potential seems to the Palestinians to be their chief asset, it is not surprising that they chose to launch attacks once a settlement seemed to be impending.
The gains scored by the Arab nations after the agreements of last winter appeared to the Palestinians as baits to lure Egypt, Syria, and Jordan respectively to reach a settlement with Israel on the basis of UN resolution 242. This resolution, which concerns itself only with relieving the plight of the refugees, provides no explicit part for the Palestinians to play in a peace settlement. It would put the fate of the West Bank in the hands of Hussein, not the PLO. Hussein’s equivocation about the independence of the West Bank and the refusal of the Israeli government even to acknowledge the possibility of a Palestinian state separate from Jordan were hardly reassuring. PLO leaders knew that they would be Hussein’s main target if he recovered the West Bank. The only issue which ensured Arab support—the liberation of the occupied territories—would have been eliminated.
They feared that international interest in the Arab world and in their cause would wane, and that they would lose the financial and military backing of the conservative oil sheikdoms. No doubt Algeria, Libya, and Iraq would have given them arms, money, encouragement, but their resources would not have been nearly so ample as those of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and they would have insisted on intransigent revolutionary policies. Not only Jordan but also Lebanon would have been free to liquidate the Palestinian militants in the camps, for Lebanon has restrained herself in the past largely because of Egyptian and Syrian pressures. Since a settlement hinges on Palestinian acquiescence, the Arab countries could be expected to tolerate or even encourage a Lebanese massacre of the organized Palestinians in the camps, similar to the one undertaken by Hussein in 1970. The fear of being isolated and then eliminated haunts the PLO.
But I have little doubt that leaders of Fatah and of the other more moderate groups have for some time reconciled themselves to a settlement. They know that they have no other realistic options to offer the Arab countries. What they feel they cannot tolerate is a settlement that excludes them, a settlement that it might be impossible to undo. So the decision was made to continue supporting terror attacks within Israel. But this strategy can backfire, and to some extent it has already done so: not only by hardening Israel’s position and by causing Sadat to waver in his support but by increasing the risk that the Palestinians in the camps might turn against them. This is precisely what the Israeli government hopes to achieve when it bombs the Lebanese camps, killing scores of civilians.
The Fedayeen have not been able to create effective mass organizations in the occupied territories comparable to those in Vietnam among the peasantry. They have many sympathizers but the number of active fighters has always been relatively small and was further reduced since their defeat by Hussein in the civil war of 1970. Because they have since had no secure territorial base from which to operate, and no political strategy on the West Bank itself, they have increasingly relied on terrorism on an international scale. This has resulted in a drop in active support by the Palestinians in and outside the camps and a rise in the role of a few terrorist “experts.”
For me killing innocent civilians and their children is morally unjustifiable, whether it takes place at Maalot or in the refugee camps in Lebanon where Israel continues to bomb civilians. The Fedayeen have defended terrorism by pointing out that only since 1967 when Fatah emerged as a fighting group, ready to risk death, have the Palestinians been able to make the world conscious of their existence as a nation, as distinguished from a group called “the Arab refugee problem.” But the recent strategy is full of risk; it is in many ways a double-edged knife. While it announces to the world that no settlement can ignore the Palestinians it throws up a wall of bitterness between them and the Israelis. When I saw Mrs. Golda Meir this summer she put this to me in a way that catches much of the current mood in Israel. “We will never negotiate with those people whose hands are dripping with blood.”
Some ministers of the present government would disagree with Mrs. Meir on this issue. The minister of information, Ahron Yariv, as well as the minority platform of ministers Moshe Kol, Avram Offer, and Victor Shemtov have indicated a willingness to negotiate with the PLO if it will recognize Israel. But even they are limited by public opinion in what they can say or do. Just returning the West Bank to Hussein, let alone allowing the Palestinians to choose between a separate state in the West Bank or a confederation with Hussein, is likely to raise a storm of controversy. Visiting the Knesset during my first day in Israel I was amazed to hear the members of parliament discuss the question of whether or not the Palestinian problem existed. It seemed to me ridiculous that it took Israelis twenty-five years and four wars to recognize the existence of a Palestinian problem. But then it took twenty-five years and four wars for the Arabs to come around to recognizing the existence of the state of Israel. Were I an Israeli, Arab deliberations over recognizing Israel would no doubt have seemed equally absurd. Both parties have been irrational in their denial of realities.
I later expressed my disappointment with the Knesset debate to Mrs. Shulamit Aloni, a government minister who was elected on a dovish “civil rights” platform. I criticized the government’s lack of courage and realism, which was exemplified by Prime Minister Rabin’s refusal to negotiate with the PLO as interlocuters in their own right at Geneva and his insistence that Israel would not tolerate a third state in the area. Mrs. Aloni replied that I did not realize what a great step forward it was for the Knesset simply to be debating the Palestinian problem: such a debate had not been held since the days of Ben Gurion. She added, “You have to understand that we too have our Jihad in Israel and that if we move too far ahead of public opinion this relatively moderate government—it has only a slight majority—could fall.”
At the time, I was unconvinced. I felt that she was merely rationalizing the regime’s faintheartedness. But I later understood what she had meant when I visited the new religious settlement of Kiryat Arba in the occupied territories on the outskirts of Hebron. There a man told me: “That you should speak to me about returning the West Bank seems natural enough, but from my government such talk is treason. Any minister who advocates such a thing is a criminal and should be shot.” General Arik Sharon, now a leader of the right-wing Likud, assured me that “if the government gives back the West Bank there will be a civil war.” Later I met a man from the Likud who said, “The day the government decides to give back the West Bank I will go down in the street, lie down before the cars, and let myself be run over. It would be the beginning of the end of Israel and I would prefer not to live to see that.”
From these statements it should be clear that the difficulties that annexationists place in the way of the government are formidable, although the government has more room for maneuver than might at first seem the case: none of the political parties, either on the right or on the left, is rigidly unified. Eliav himself succeeded in getting a number of Likud members to sign a statement opposing annexation on the West Bank. Moshe Una, a former member of the religious party Mafdal who lives in the religious kibbutz of Sde Eliahu, told me: “Of course God promised us the West Bank but he did not say that his promise had to be fulfilled in 1974.”
But the fact that civil war over the Palestinian question is openly talked about in Israel—although not outside it—and that recently the army had to turn back thousands of religious Jews when they marched on the West Bank shows how difficult it will be to change Israeli policy.
Clearly it will take strong American pressure to persuade Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, let alone deal with the PLO. Rabin, as Israeli officials made clear to me, would welcome a little arm-twisting from Kissinger in order to be able to convince the Israeli public of the necessity of making territorial concessions on the West Bank. The Rabin government also counts on the US to keep up its traditional support of Jordan and its enthusiasm for a deal with Hussein. So far the US has not disappointed the Israelis. But it has kept in touch with the PLO and has carefully refrained from openly denouncing it or excluding it.
Here Kissinger may well be worried about his relations with Sadat, who has himself been shifting his views. When Sadat met with Hussein last July, they issued a joint statement recognizing the PLO as representing all Palestinians except those who were Jordanian. The result was an uproar of protest from the guerrilla groups who saw the way being prepared for a return of the West Bank to Hussein. In August, Arafat went to Moscow and got stronger Russian backing both for the PLO and for the policy of a separate state. In September Sadat shifted again and made it clear that he supported the PLO.
The Russian support has certainly been of immense help to Arafat. But Sadat did not simply take his cue from Moscow, from whose pressures he has been trying to extricate himself for the past three years. Anxious to get on with a settlement, impatient with Palestinian bickering and terrorism, he believed that only Hussein could pry loose the occupied territories from Israel. He then found himself in a cross fire of criticism not only from the guerrillas but from their supporters in Cairo and every other Arab capital except Amman.
Should the principal Arab governments, including the Gulf states, the Egyptians, and the Syrians, unite behind the PLO against Jordan, the US would probably change its policy. Israel would be under heavy pressure to negotiate the return of the West Bank directly with the PLO. Hussein would have to yield. Indeed there have been rumors recently that he might agree to some form of collaboration with the PLO. In mid-October Jordan could not avoid voting to invite the PLO to the UN as the “representative of the Palestinian people.”
The Israeli leaders fear that a West Bank state would become a Soviet satellite, with missiles installed near Jerusalem. Any visitor to Israel can understand this fear. But to foreclose any chance of relations with the PLO because of it is to make a predictive historical leap that also forecloses the existing possibilities for peace. The doves in the Labour party have always argued that the principle of demilitarization, which was crucial to the truce agreements with Egypt and Syria, must also apply to any withdrawal from the West Bank. Those Israeli ministers and political leaders who are now willing to consider talks with the Palestinians insist on arrangements under which the West Bank would not be a military threat: Israel would reserve the option to intervene at the first sign of a serious danger.
This is the kind of cautious realism that could attract support in Israel, on the West Bank, and even within the PLO itself. It presupposes a West Bank state supported by the US and the less “radical” Arab states as well as the USSR, a state that could not exist without economic ties to Israel—hardly “another Cuba.” The PLO is in a better position than most liberation movements to get the backing both of the superpowers and of the surrounding countries, without being dominated by any one of them. What the Rabin government refuses to do, however, is to take any steps that could encourage the PLO to show the degree of moderation it could be capable of. Yariv did try to do this last spring when he said that Israel would deal with the Palestinians if they recognized Israel and renounced the use of force. His statement was immediately repudiated by the government. If Rabin and his top ministers strongly and openly adopted Yariv’s position, it would, I believe, have an effect on the PLO. It would act as an incentive to compromise at a time when Arab governments and some West Bank leaders are themselves putting pressure on the PLO to reduce its demands to make them more presentable in the forthcoming talks with the US, not to mention at Geneva.
I asked Yariv why the Israeli government had repudiated his statement a few days after it had been made. Because, he claimed, the PLO had not issued any favorable answer. But since his statement came only after seven years of occupation and since the cabinet as a whole still rejected the PLO as a negotiator in its own right, it was unrealistic to expect a grateful reaction immediately. The PLO too must be given time to change. When Arafat announced that the Palestinian position would be announced “five minutes before the hour” he meant that he had to be sure of US and Israeli support for a separate Palestinian state before he could abandon the traditional maximum objectives of the Palestinians.
In the debates now going on the more moderate leaders in the PLO make three arguments for accepting a separate state: 1) it would be a defeat both for Hussein and Israel, the former because he would lose the West Bank and the latter because it would halt Zionist expansion; 2) it would enable the PLO to receive international recognition, end its isolation, and make it less dependent on the Arab governments; 3) other means could be found to continue the struggle, such as seeking ties with progressive Israelis and seeking to change Israel from within.
Before the PLO gives up its claim to a democratic secular state, however, it will have to show both the guerrillas and the West Bank residents that it has made some serious gains. If Israel agrees to return the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians, relieving them of the prospect of a struggle with Hussein, the PLO will have to reciprocate by making concessions to Israel. Recognition will have to be one of them.
This would put in question the future of Jordan, where more than half the population is Palestinian. Although a faction led by Crown Prince Hassan reportedly favors ceding the West Bank to the PLO, and although Hussein may be forced to accept this, all the Palestinian groups still want a unified state on the East and West Banks. A West Bank state or a confederation with Jordan would for them be temporary compromises.
How would the 650,000 Palestinians on the West Bank feel about living at peace with Israel? Here Clara Halter’s Les Palestiniens du Silence has much to tell us. Halter lets the Palestinians speak for themselves in interviews—with a labor leader, a former Jordanian officer, schoolboys, doctors, writers, among others. The West Bank Palestinians emerge in this book as people confronting at least three potentially hostile forces: the Jordanians, the Israelis, and the resistance groups who are far from representing the views of many of them. Indeed her book shows that any solution to “the Palestinian problem” has to take into account several very different constituencies, not only the PLO but also the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, the Israeli Arabs, and the Palestinian diaspora, including the people in the camps, each with very different demands and political tendencies.
Most striking of all in these interviews is the moderate way in which the West Bank people spoke. Thus Raymonda Tawil, one of the best known and most politically active persons in the West Bank, told Clara Halter: “I recognize the rights of the Jewish people. Must I blindly abide by everything that the Palestinian resistance says just because I am a Palestinian? Don’t I have a mind of my own? I am neither with Jordan nor with Israel, I am a Palestinian. But there is now an Israeli people, must we deny it? Can we deny it?”
Later she says, “When I talk about a democratic secular Palestine, at bottom I don’t believe in it. It’s an ideal, a Utopia, possibly the best solution. But I know very well that it is impossible to do away with Israel. I think it is possible to set up two states side by side. Because I have lived in Israel; and strange as this may seem many people in the West Bank are now starting to think along those lines….”
Dr. Haidar El Shafi, former president of the parliament of Gaza and former member of the supreme council of the organization for the liberation of Palestine, expressed a similar view:
Certain Palestinians remember that the Jews have long been persecuted in the West and elsewhere…. They think that the Jews who came here are not to blame, despite the present expansion of Israel. They envisage the possibility of a coexistence with the Palestinian people. They accept the principle of an Israeli state provided Israel does not repress their own national aspirations….
This in general was the tone of most of Halter’s interviews. Some wanted an independent Palestine consisting of the West Bank and Gaza. Others, especially the merchants who have interests on both sides of the Jordan, prefer federation with Jordan. Still others wanted to overthrow Hussein and create a unified Palestinian state consisting of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan. None spoke of the secular democratic state advocated by the resistance groups. What one West Bank Palestinian told me this summer when I visited a refugee camp in Bethlehem could stand for the views of many. “Israel today,” he said, “is like the illegitimate child of a fallen woman—one cannot kill the child because it is not responsible for the acts of its mother. Israelis today are not responsible for the thievery and vandalism of their forefathers.”
Living under Israeli occupation, these Palestinians were far more conscious of the reality of Israeli power and therefore more skeptical of the possibility of dismantling the Israeli state. But they had also had the opportunity to see for themselves that the Israelis were not monsters. Some Israelis, particularly in the press and among the opposition parties, had proven helpful allies. Many of the West Bankers were relatively well-to-do people whose interests would clearly be jeopardized by the radical politics of the resistance groups. One failure of this book is that it did not include more interviews with the poorer Palestinians, whom I suspect might have taken a harder line. But many of the people Halter spoke to were potential leaders. Her admirable book demonstrates what a tragic error the Israelis made when they refused to allow open political activity and organization to take place in the occupied territories.
The restrained views of these West Bank Palestinians are also shared by Arab Israelis and middle-class Palestinians in the diaspora. The former are conscious of the reality of Israeli power and have reconciled themselves to it, the latter are more conservative than the Fedayeen, because they have done so well in the countries to which they have immigrated. A recent study by the Christian Science Monitor writer Trudy Rubin examines the views of middle-class Palestinians who have made successful careers abroad. Most of them said that they would not be willing to return to the West Bank and start from scratch, but a Palestinian state would help them to solve their problems of “identity.” Many complained that the Lebanese resent them for their financial success and for the commando activities of the Fedayeen.
A state is even more essential for Israeli Arabs, whom Israelis distrust as a potential fifth column and whom the Arabs see as traitors. While they have achieved some economic security, they remain politically impotent, frustrated. Except for the Communist party in Israel, they have no way of expressing themselves politically. The so-called “friendly Arabs”, on the Mapai lists are mainly seen as opportunists, while nationalist parties like Al Ard have been banned as threats to the state of Israel. A separate state in the West Bank would give these Israeli Arabs political roots and links with their Arab brethren abroad. They would be able to take pride in its achievements just as diaspora Jews do in Israel’s.
Of the Palestinians, Eliav writes, “Their minds are completely twisted; their pain will not be eased all at once; there is no miracle cure for their illness. But we are in a position to start applying first aid.” And in his interview with Clara Halter the Israeli novelist Amos Oz said, “Let’s give the Palestinians the possibility of creating their state…there won’t be peace but we must to it anyway. Why? Because it may be that there will be generations less traumatized, less scared, less neurotic.”
When he talks of creating a “possibility”—and he means doing so while safeguarding his country’s survival—Oz is going as far as he or most of the other Israeli doves can go. He is asking for the openness to the prospect of coexistence with the Palestinians that his government refuses. But if the PLO is intent only on imposing a Palestinian secular state on the Israelis, who will die to prevent it, and on the West Bankers, who are not demanding it, then the future offers only more death and tragedy. An irredentist policy backed by Soviet arms, which the Israelis understandably fear, would be a disaster for both the Palestinians and Israel, as well as for the entire Middle East—the Palestinians could be killed by the thousands and Israel drawn into a ruinous series of wars. I believe that most of the influential Palestinian leaders realize this.
But Israel’s alternative to a separate Palestinian state will not work. If the West Bank is returned to Hussein, the resistance will launch more Fedayeen raids from within the West Bank itself, notwithstanding the repression to be expected from Hussein’s Bedouin army. Hussein will have great difficulty controlling the PLO because these raids require relatively little money or skill at organization. And the PLO will find stronger support on the West Bank from people who had tasted hopes for a nation of their own and found themselves thrown back under Hashemite rule. The Israeli army will then move into the West Bank to “restore order.” If the Arab states intervene on Jordan’s behalf there will be war; if they don’t there will be a return to the status quo with renewed and more embittered Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Even if one Palestinian group or another is defeated or wiped out, this movement has by now gained too great a momentum to be stopped.
So long as the West Bank is controlled by Hussein or by Israel, there is no chance for peace. Peace will come only when the people who have suffered the most in this conflict—the Palestinians—are able to lead a decent national existence in their own state. The Palestinians themselves should be allowed to determine freely the kind of government they want and what its relations with Jordan and Israel should be; and until they are allowed to do so who can represent them except the PLO, whose members and leaders believe, with reason, that they have earned the right to do so by risking their lives to achieve nationhood?
November 14, 1974