By the time this reaches readers about two weeks hence, they and the world will have been on exactly the kind of hair-raising roller coaster that tested the nerves of Center, Sadat, and Begin—and their aides—during Camp David. The newspapers and the radio waves will have been full of recriminations, upsets, despairs, bursts of hope, and accusations of duplicity.
We are heading into a kind of planetary. wrestling match, replete with the most frightful grimaces, exquisite howls, agony, and sudden eye-gouges between among and within all the far-flung capitals involved. Every twenty-four hours or less all hope will have been lost. But I hope, believe, and incautiously predict that things are going to turn out for the better. These are the vicarious and symbolic wars in which bargains are reached in bazaars—and peace made. The process is underway, the baby is being born. And for that we must be grateful first of all to President Carter. It is his triumph.
Every participant will have suspected every other participant’s veracity, and all will be right. Everybody’s been lying. The climax was the lovey-dovey act with which Carter, Sadat, and Begin ended the summit. If the walls were tapped, the secret police know the private air was full of obscenities. Sadat and Begin got themselves jailed and between jailed and jailer there is something other than love. Once sprung, Sadat and Begin have been doing their best, very politely of course, to put the knife into each other. But the film-flame, the charades, the joint session of Congress are in a sense truer than the shabby realities. This is the beginning of peace between Israel and the Arabs and that is a prime event of history.
Never was mendacity—not just ambiguity—so unavoidable. Each major participant is talking out of both sides of his mouth in the effort to reconcile the theoretically irreconcilable. Each political leader is trying to mollify and hoodwink the diverse parts of his own constituency and keep them reasonably quiet until the deed can be done. The leaders in each capital concerned are all talking with forked tongues to mutually hostile elements. If Carter has to do a balancing act between Jews and Arabs—a feat even and seems to have given up centuries ago—King Khaled of Saudi Arabia, the Santa Claus of the Arab world, has to maintain friendships with forces, symbols, and men as far apart as the PLO and Egypt, Arafat and Sadat. But it will be sorted out, I believe, because meshugah as they and we all are, peace is to everybody’s advantage, and Carter’s persistent hand has set them firmly toward it.
The key, the clue, in the midst of all this confusion, the point to keep in mind on the roller coaster, a source of hope every time all is lost, may be found in a paragraph this morning, Wednesday, September 20. In an alarming dispatch in The Washington Post, about the hostile reactions from the two Arab Kingdoms. whose cooperation is now essential, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Those readers who persevered masochistically through sharp and largely justifiable criticisms in the official cabinet-level communiques from both capitals found an obscure Arab correspondent. Rami G. Khouri, cabling this qualifying “but-however” dispatch from Amman. There, after all, Mr. Khouri tells us. “The officials said that the Camp David agreements certainly contained some positive aspects.” So amid the bloodthirsty cries about Sadat’s “treachery” we find “positive aspects” admitted. What are they? Khouri goes on—
…the focus on the need for an independent Palestinian negotiating role and Israel’s willingness to talk about the ultimate status of the occupied areas, thereby admitting that those areas could revert to Arab sovereignty.
Here we come to the cardinal contribution Menachem Begin made, though his whole career and Ideology suggested he never would make it. Here we come to the reason why the agreements are not a sellout by Sadat of his Palestinian brothers, or simply a separate peace. And here we come to the reason why the Arabs cannot reject the agreements, and the peace process, without rejecting what they all along said they wanted—self-determination for the Palestinians, the cornerstone of a stable peace for the Middle East and an end of the Arab-Israeli feud, so costly on both sides. This is a battle the Arabs have won, and when fully implemented it will fully balance the real peace, the open borders and friendly relations Israel has demanded and the agreements promise. These were the two fundamental parameters of a just agreement as Carter outlined it months ago: a homeland for the Palestinians and a genuine peace for the Israelis. The road to achievement is still long and rocky, but the goal is in sight, the reward of patient negotiation and compromise. It is political lunacy now for Arafat to talk of stepped-up terror, and against America, too!
In the past few months there have been two views of Begin, one hopeful, one hopeless, and both had a substantial component of truth. One was that this leader of Zionism’s ultra-nationalist right-wing—with his mystical attachment to “Judaea and Samaria” and his admiration for Gush Emunim, the illegal settlers there—could not be budged. The other was that he might do a de Gaulle. He might make a statesmanlike about-face as de Gaulle did when he was confronted by reality in Algeria and put into effect the very programs the French left-liberals and penceniks had long advocated. The latter is what is happening, but it’s hard to see because Begin is a hard bargainer, a tactless and arrogant man, striving hard to preserve his political base in his own country even as he drags it irreversibly toward a solution his following has always opposed.
So he keeps on saying that he’s not going to do what he clearly is going to do—unless he stops the peace process he has helped set in motion. And that is politically impossible, because Israel overwhelmingly wants peace, though its Archie Bunkers—as its famous novelist Amos Oz terms them in an interview in the current issue of the dovish Israeli New Outlook—would like peace (as Oz says) without paying anything for it, if they could get it, which they can’t.
So Begin is making annoying claims which he cannot mean seriously, though he’d like to get them if he could: if he could, he’d annex Amman to Tel Aviv. His wing of the Zionist movement, after all, long advocated a greater Israel to include all of Jordan, since it was all part of the original British mandatory Palestine, and if the Bible is to be used to rewrite the map almost 3,000 years later, Israeli tribes lived on the East Bank as well as the West. Begin’s fellow “revisionists” even spoke of an Israel “from the Euphrates to the Nile,” which presumably would include the Suez Canal. But Begin is not that much of a fanatic any longer: he’s an old man and an old fighter who loves his country and his people, and would like to cap his career by ensuring their survival by peace, whatever the necessary price.
He too surely felt what Ezer Weizman expressed in the tortuous days at Camp David. One night, according to the “reprise” of Camp David as skillfully reconstructed by Edward Walsh (Washington Post. September 20), all the exhausted and embattled participants wanted to relax with a movie. One of Carter’s staff, perhaps not so foolishly, gave them a World War II movie, Patton. When it was over. Weizman, an old member of the Irgun, as rightist as Begin but more flexible—and unlike Begin in real rapport with Sadat—said, “If this thing falls apart, this is what we are going to have—another war.” That’s why Congress for a moment forgot all partisanship and cheered so fervently at the joint session on Camp David. No one there could be unaware of the human suffering which would be spared if Camp David’s work were to bear fruit.
Begin, too, responded to these realities, and it should not be forgotten when he talks, seemingly as recklessly, of keeping troops on the West Bank forever, of not relinquishing sovereignty, of suspending new settlements on the West Bank only for three months or less. This is nonsense, and he must know it. But he cannot feed his followers and the Israeil parliament too much at one time. The first task is the yate in the Knesset to relinquish the settlements in Sinal, a bitter pill for the devoted colonists who have made what they thought were new homes in a desert which had already begun to bloom.
It is unthinkable that the Knesset will reject liquidation of the settlements as part of a permanent peace package. The sacrifice of the few thousand colonists, the strains of moving to new homes, are minuscule beside the thousands who might die even in another Mideast “small” war.
The Sinal removal will spell out dramatically a lesson that must also affect the West Bank Jewish settlements. Gush Emunim’s proclaimed goal of making the more than one million Arabs a minority in the occupied territories has always been an empty threat, a provocation to the Palestinians and an obstacle to peace, but not a genuine possibility. There are not one-twentieth that many Jews in Israel and the world ready to uproot their lives for pioneering in hostile territory, and there is no place in put them if there were. The pioneering “kibbutz” movement was never more than five percent of the Jewish immigration to Palestine: it provided the idealistic élan but was always marginal. Now the spectacle of the colonists being moved from Sinai as part of a peace settlement will dampen any wide enthusiasm for venturing into the West Bank, where Jewish settlements may have to be removed too—or stay on as potential hostages in Arab territory. The Sinal removal may be the end of Oush Emunim, no matter what new arduous hilltops they may occupy in desperation.
Begin’s claims to future West Bank settlements may prove no more than demagogy, but Carter must stand firm against them at all costs. The Palestinians would consider full autonomy a mockery if their meager territory were to be opened without their consent to encroachment by Israeli fanatics bent on displacing them. This prospect made it more difficult for Vance’s mission and for the voices of moderation in the Arab world.
Begin in his desire for a separate peace with Egypt may be trying to provoke the other Arabs again into that sterile rejectionism which has cost them so dearly in the past. They would be better advised to make the most of the new accords. Begin has now said and done things which cannot be expunged, and which impose a logic of their own in the Camp David agreements and in the situation they have created. The agreements cannot be read with legal, myopic eyes; they are dynamic triggers of change. It is not so many years since Golda Meir, no rightist but a Labor Socialist Zionist, resolutely and mercilessly refused even to admit that there was such a thing as a Palestinian people.
Begin has admitted they are there. For the first time Zionism has officially recognized that there are Others in the Land, ancient brothers with whom it must be shared if there is to be peace. So, in the peace negotiations, the “Framework” says there is to be a Palestinian delegation, and that the end result is to be subject to a vote by the Palestinian inhabitants of the so-called occupied territories. They are to elect an administrative council for what Begin says would be “full autonomy.” What it means is not clear, but the explosive hopes it sets in motion are clear. For the first time in history, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will have what they never had under the Turks, the British, or the Jordanians and Egyptians—freely elected representatives to speak for them, at home and in the world, a state within a state at once, and ultimately, if they so choose, an Independent state, or part of a federation with their neighbors.
All this, by the terms of the Frame-work, is to be within the orbit of the United Nations and Resolutions 242 and 338. The New Palestine is to rise from the ashes of defeat and frustration legitimated—as Israel was thirty years ago—by the world organization. Provisions are made to implement United Nations resolutions on the “displaced persons” of the 1967 war—let us Jews remember our own “displaced persons” and have sympathy for our Arab brothers in this—and for the refuges (another word with a sad and ancient Jewish history) from the other wars. The military government on the West Bank and in Gaza is to be replaced as soon as possible by a police force recruited from their inhabitants. Free press and free speech are necessary components of free elections. Israel does not demand the right to peer into the hearts and minds of the candidates to see if they are “PLO sympathizers.” This is positive progress toward a new coexistence between the two peoples.
There will be a screaming cacophony of confusion as the details are hammered out. But the opportunities are there, and they must not be lost to sight. The time has come for the Palestinians to give up the bomb and turn to the ballot. Hussein and Khaled and Assad and Arafat not only have a right to bargain as hard as Begin, but had better do so, or the wily old guy may undermine the peace he, too, wants. But peace is within the grasp of Arabs and Israelis. Carter put it there, Sadat courageously broke the ice. Begin, however unwillingly and crustily, responded, and responded beyond out expectations. These are the perspectives that may help us all keep our cool in the tumultuous seas upon which the negotiators now embark, toward that haven they have all so long desired.
October 26, 1978