16 October 1991
Excerpts from Speeches by
DOUGLAS J. FEITH
Member of the Center for Security Policy’s
Board of Advisors
FRANK J. GAFFNEY, JR.
Director of the Center for Security Policy
the National Leadership Conference
of the State of Israel Bonds Organization
14 October 1991
Feith — The Historical Perspective on "Land for Peace":
I do not subscribe to the Administration’s diagnosis or its proposal for treatment [of the Arab-Israeli conflict]. I don’t believe the Administration will succeed in ameliorating, let alone resolving, [this] conflict because it does not appear to grasp the reasons why the parties are fighting.
* * *
It was thought that the vast territories newly made available for the fulfillment of Arab ambitions for independence would make it easier to win acceptance within the region of a Jewish State in Palestine. As Lord Balfour put it in a speech in 1920 [quote]:
"I hope that … [the Arabs] will not grudge that small notch, for it is not more geographically, whatever it may be historically — that small notch in what are now Arab territories being given to the [Jewish] people who for all these hundreds of years have been separated from it."
But the Arabs did grudge "that small notch."
* * *
The Arab opponents of Zionism agreed that history is the basis of a people’s rights to a land. But they said that history gave the Jewish people no right whatever to create a homeland or state in Palestine. The Arabs asserted that Palestine is Arab land. And it is interesting to note that they rejected emphatically the idea that the Arabs of Palestine are a separate nation, insisting instead on the unity of the Arab nation and the necessity to abolish the "unnatural divisions" between Palestine and the neighboring Arab lands. For example, the General Syrian Congress passed a resolution in July 1919 stating [quote]:
"We reject the claims of the Zionists for the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in that part of southern Syria which is known as Palestine, and we are opposed to Jewish immigration into any part of the country. We do not acknowledge that they have a title …
"We desire that there should be no dismemberment of Syria, and no separation of Palestine … from the mother country; and we ask that the unity of the country be maintained under any circumstances."
* * *
There has, unfortunately, been no substantial change in the essence of the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1921. The Jews believe they have a right to a state in a part of their ancient homeland and their Arab opponents believe the Jews have no such right. The conflict has never evolved beyond the issue of legitimacy — the legitimacy of Zionist claims to a Jewish National Home in the Land of Israel. Even today, though the rhetoric of some of Israel’s enemies has grown subtler, Arab opposition to Israel remains rooted in the conviction that Palestine is Arab land and a Jewish State has no right to exist there.
* * *
It is uncomfortable for Western politicians — makers of deals, practitioners of compromise, artists of the possible — to acknowledge that the Arab-Israeli conflict is a war of principles. They much prefer to believe that, when Arab leaders refuse to deal with Israel, they are merely posturing to get a better bargain — a concession, an extra slice of land. If Western statesmen openly recognized the problem as a clash of principles, they would not be able to market hope through the launching of peace initiatives. They would not be able to promise their publics that a little pressure here and a little cajoling there can make the problem go away. This helps account for why many statesmen prefer to focus on the secondary aspects of the conflict — matters like the settlements or specific parcels of land.
There is a long history of Western leaders focussing on secondary issues and willfully shutting their minds to the fundamental conflict over Palestine.
* * *
We are living in an age of gigantic, historic errors. Within the last few months we have seen the dictator of Iraq err his way into the devastation of the military machine that successive Iraqi regimes over decades spent scores of billions of dollars to construct. We have seen the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union bring about the unintended destruction of Soviet control over Eastern Europe, the Soviet Communist Party and the integrity of the Soviet Union itself. We have seen the President of the United States terminate the Gulf War with excessive haste on the erroneous assumption that Saddam could not survive to do much additional harm. And now we are watching the Bush Administration prescribe "land for peace" as the tonic that will cure what ails the Middle East. This latter error is, in my opinion, dangerous for the United States, but more so for Israel. Israel’s existence, after all, is within America’s margin for error.
Gaffney — The Security Perspective on "Land for Peace":
I need not tell this audience that the Middle East is not a region friendly to traditional Western values (such as free speech, freedom of religion or democratic pluralism). This fact makes Israel a pariah state in her part of the world quite apart from the antipathy felt to the religion at its core, Judaism.
* * *
Since 1967, Israel has relied upon a combination of qualitatively superior armed forces and strategic depth. Those familiar with Israel’s military history have long appreciated the importance of technological superiority. The value of such an approach in saving the lives of ones own forces and minimizing the unintended and undesirable — or "collateral" — damage to enemy civilian populations in the contemporary Middle Eastern battlefield was most recently and powerfully underscored by the U.S. performance in the Gulf war.
Unfortunately, U.S. and allied arms sales in recent years have begun to affect deleteriously the certainty with which Israel can maintain technological superiority over its far more populous potential Arab foes. This development would suggest that the other pillar of Israeli security — strategic depth — would be of greater importance than ever before.
Remarkably enough, it has been argued by senior U.S. government officials, among others, that the Gulf war actually demonstrated once and for all the irrelevance of strategic depth in the age of ballistic missiles. Such officials contend that Israel, of all nations, should understand this reality in light of its having suffered the terror of no fewer than forty Scud missile attacks.
* * *
…It is not self-evident that strategic depth is passe as a concept — either elsewhere in the world or in Israel. For example, the difference between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the recent war with Iraq was not that one was invulnerable to ballistic missile attack and the other was not. While it is true that Saudi Arabia did lose some 100 casualties to Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles, the fact is that the Saudis lost no territory. Neither did they experience Iraqi pillaging or raping on their soil. To the contrary, on balance, Saudi Arabia prospered from the war in absolute terms and certainly relative to their brothers in Kuwait. I would submit that the difference was one of strategic depth.
As a practical matter, Saddam Hussein had to move his massed armored forces through Kuwait to get at Saudi Arabia in any meaningful way. Without the warning — and the time to mobilize and obtain U.S. help — that strategic depth afforded (a fact compounded by Saddam’s miscalculation and/or his inept generalship), the recent history of Saudi Arabia would likely have been quite different.
* * *
…Given Israel’s unique situation — notably, its susceptibility to being split in two by a concerted, violent attack at its narrow center — strategic depth actually means more to it than it might to other nations.
* * *
Under present and foreseeable circumstances, it seems implausible that Israel can expect to have peace in the absence of secure borders. Given the aforementioned fundamental and unremitting hostility of the Arab nations to the Western traditions, values and institutions with which Israel is closely associated — hostility only exacerbated by their hatred of Judaism and Zionism — a lack of strategic depth seems certain to prove an irresistible temptation to aggression against Israel.
* * *
The Arab nations have plenty of land — including the 78% of the former Palestinian Mandate they acquired decades ago. Consequently, if they genuinely seek peace, they will not be opposed to Israel having secure borders. Alternatively, if the Arab nations remain opposed to Israel enjoying such borders, it is the surest sign of all that they remain uninterested in a genuine and lasting peace with the Jewish state.