‘The Triumph Of Hope Over Experience’: Israeli Weariness Begets Strategic Peril

The agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization formalized at a White House ceremony today amounts to a phenomenon Samuel Johnson once described in connection with second marriages: "the triumph of hope over experience." Unfortunately, this hope appears to be the product principally of a democratic society’s understandable weariness with the relentless violence and other costs of occupying territory critical to its security.

In light of the Jews nine decades of bitter experience with Palestinian enmity, however, unflinching realism — and not possibly misplaced hope born of Israeli desperation — must be applied by both Israel and the United States to the strategic implications of this deal. The Center for Security Policy believes that the following are among the ominous implications that suggest the Israeli-PLO deal will prove to be in neither the interest of Israel nor of other nations, notably the United States, that have a stake in Israel’s security and stability in the Middle East:

Who Will Fill the Vacuum? Under the terms of this accord, Israel will in short order be ceding effective control over most of the West Bank to Palestinians. In the first instance, they will be represented by the PLO. Indeed, a major impetus behind this deal was the Israeli government’s belief that it needed to shore up the putatively "moderate" PLO against the ascendant forces of radical, Iranian-sponsored Islamic extremists, including Hamas.

This presumes that there is an appreciable difference between the two groups. In fact, while its rhetoric is more bellicose, Hamas has to date actually been responsible for fewer attacks on Israelis than has the PLO. A more realistic approach would dictate adoption of the sort of "dual containment" strategy enunciated by a senior American official last May in describing U.S. policy toward Iran and Iraq:


"The Clinton Administration’s policy of ‘dual containment’ of Iraq and Iran derives in the first instance from an assessment that the current Iraqi and Iranian regimes are both hostile to American interests in the region. Accordingly, we do not accept the argument that we should continue the old balance of power game, building up one to balance the other."(1)


Even if the PLO’s chairman, Yasser Arafat, has been miraculously transformed from a terrorist thug into a democratic statesman committed to peace with Israel, what happens if he is removed from the equation — as his opponents in the Palestinian movement have sworn to do? There is no succession arrangement or identified successor that would assure continuity of peaceful policies.

In any event, elections to a "Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority" (read, parliament) are to be held within nine months. If the results of recent Arab election in the region are any guide, in the absence of genuine democratic institutions (e.g., a free press, freedom of expression and assembly, etc.), such elections tend to amount into "one man/one vote/one time." The well-organized and -disciplined campaigns of Islamic extremists financed by Iran and other state-sponsors make it likely that the most dangerous elements will prevail. This clearly would have been the case, for example, in Algeria if the military-backed government had not intervened in the midst of that countries elections and declared a state of emergency.

Repercussions Elsewhere in the Region: As a practical matter, a new Palestinian entity on the West Bank — particularly one under unabashedly radical leadership — will also have the undesirable effect of destabilizing the neighboring kingdom of Jordan. After all, the Palestinian majority on the eastern side of the Jordan River can be expected to seek an end to the Hashemite dynasty and association with Palestinians on the western bank. Such a development would, in addition, send shock waves through other, relatively moderate regimes in the region — notably Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait and the Emirates, nations already under siege from Iranian-sponsored Islamic extremism.

What is more, the fall of Jordan to Palestinian radicals aligned with the new entity on the West Bank would mean that a land-bridge to Israel’s borders would be restored. As a result, such populous, well-armed and unreconciled adversaries as Iraq and Iran could theoretically get into position quickly to move troops and materiel into dangerous proximity to Israeli cities. At a minimum, Jordan’s small but modern and sophisticated military would be at the disposal of the Palestinian regime.

An Existential Threat to Israel from the West Bank? Under these circumstances, serious doubts would arise about the Rabin government’s confident prediction that no threat to the existence of the State of Israel could be mounted from what might be called the "de-occupied territories." Notwithstanding obligations to demilitarize Gaza and the preponderance of the West Bank that will shortly fall outside Israeli control, the Palestinian authorities would, as a practical matter, be able to import whatever weaponry, "advisors" and other threatening capabilities they wished via ports and airfields under their exclusive control.

Nations like Iraq, Iran and Libya will surely be only too happy to underwrite such steps. For that matter, the infusion of vast, undisciplined sums from the United States, other nations and multilateral institutions may make it possible for the initial — or subsequent — Palestinian ruling cliques to do so on their own.

In short, given the proximity of West Bank areas that will be under de facto Palestinian control to major Israeli population centers (10 miles from Tel Aviv and 2 miles from the Israeli parliament and other government buildings in Jerusalem) and the strategic value of the Judean and Samarian high ground being ceded to them, it is perfectly possible that threats to the very survival of the Jewish State could once again emanate from the "territories."

Consequently, the failure of the Rabin government to give its military authorities an opportunity to review the proposed deal prior to its consummation is nothing short of reckless and irresponsible. As a result, the Chief of Israel’s Military Staff, Gen. Ehud Barak, was obliged to tell his Parliament that he does not know how he is going to handle the security situation that will ensue. Such a statement should give serious pause to all Israelis and their friends elsewhere.

What Will Israel Be Able to Do If the PLO Does Not Comply or Today’s Strategic Circumstances Radically Change? Unfortunately, the probable answer is: Not much. First of all, if past experience with international agreements between democratic and non-democratic governments (notably, U.S.-Soviet arms control deals) is any guide, the tendency is for the former to ignore — or seek to play down — unpalatable evidence of violations by the latter. For their part, other nations and multinational institutions seize on any ambiguity to argue that punitive responses are not warranted and must be precluded.

This outcome is all the more likely if, as some Palestinians are now proposing, international monitors are installed along the borders of Israel and the Palestinian entity. As in Bosnia, such monitors (or "peacekeepers") tend to become shields protecting the aggressors from retaliation rather than instruments for assuring the safety of the targets of such aggression.

In any event, it is fatuous nonsense to assert — as Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Peres are doing — that Israel will be able to restore its former control over the region if its trust in Arafat and the PLO proves misplaced. In the absence of a clear-cut casus belli and in the face of international insistence that the new status quo be preserved at all costs, Israel will confront the Hobson’s choice of nonetheless acting militarily — and subjecting itself to universal condemnation and perhaps stiff sanctions — on the one hand and being effectively precluded from taking corrective action on the other.

Is it Realistic to Expect the Palestinians To Settle Only for What They Get Under This Accord?"This is the Phased Plan we all adopted in 1974. Why should you oppose it now?" Since the Phased Plan was a devious two-step strategy for destroying Israel — first, thr As recently as 1 September, Yasser Arafat told Palestinian critics of the agreement that ough the creation of a Palestinian state on any territory vacated by the Israelis and second, through the use of that state to mount a final campaign against a diminished Israel — such a statement gives lie to Arafat’s ostensible conversion to a man of peace.

At the very least, it seems reasonable to expect new demographic pressures will create intense pressure for additional Israeli territorial concessions. Quite apart from the contribution made to such pressures by the Palestinians’ high birth-rate, a further population surge in the "de-occupied territories" will come if Palestinians exercise their long-declared "Right of Return." This may involve upwards of 800,000 Arabs who will insist on establishing new residences and associated communities and infrastructure throughout the West Bank with financial assistance from the European Community, the United States and elsewhere. A further factor may be the likely desire of concentrations of Arabs in Israel-proper to join the new Palestinian entity.

Jerusalem is a case in point. While Israel formally maintains that the city will remain united and under Israeli control, the Palestinians have made no bones about their intention to establish Jerusalem as the capital of their new state. As Arafat put it on 2 September, "ThePalestinian state is within our grasp. Soon the Palestinian flag will fly on the walls, the minarets and the cathedrals of Jerusalem."(2)

Even though the Declaration of Principles defers to the future discussions about the status of Jerusalem, it nonetheless establishes an ominous precedent in allowing Palestinians in Jerusalem to vote for representation in the new Palestinian "council." No less ominous is Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin’s statement to a Labor Party group last week to the effect that consideration should be given by Israel to turning an unspecified sector of Jerusalem over to Palestinian self-administration.

What Are The Implications of This Deal for the United States? President Clinton has already pledged additional — as yet undisclosed — security guarantees to Israel in the wake of this agreement. Israel has traditionally, and properly, endeavored to rely upon its own military capabilities for the Jewish State’s security. If she returns to the pre-1967 borders and faces on the West Bank far more formidable adversaries than in the past, the temptation to look to external sources of protection may be as irresistible as is the American government’s apparent willingness to make such commitments.

As a practical matter, however, Golda Meir’s famous comment in response to similar offers from President Richard Nixon — "By the time you get here, we won’t be here" — is, if anything. Even setting aside the United States’s abysmal performance in living up to a number of security guarantees in the past (notably, to South Vietnam), concerted attacks against a state of Israel’s tiny dimensions could do incalculable harm to the Jewish State before significant U.S. force might be brought to bear. Under present and foreseeable circumstances, the question arises: Is it any more responsible more true today for Israel to rely upon such American guarantees than it is for the United States to make them?

Another implication of the Israeli-PLO agreement concerns expectations of sizeable new U.S. financial support intended to help assure its success. While the precise size of these commitments is not yet clear, the World Bank is said to be discussing $4.5 billion in assistance to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank — 20 cents of every dollar of which will come from U.S. taxpayers. In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars are expected to be sought directly from Washington’s foreign aid accounts. Where will these funds come from and at what cost to other priorities? Even more important, given recent experiences with abuses of foreign aid by such recipients as Iraq and the former Soviet Union, what confidence can the United States have about the uses to which such funds will be put, possibly by very different Palestinian actors than those involved in today’s accords?

Finally, it is extremely unclear what are the implications of this accord for the war against international terrorism. Are all those who have perpetrated heinous crimes in the name of Palestinian liberation supposed to have the slate wiped clean? What will be the status of nations, for example Syria, whose support for such movements has caused them to be listed as state-sponsors of terrorism and denied certain benefits of relations with the United States?

The Bottom Line

The foregoing identify only a few of the serious, as yet unaddressed, and possibly fatal flaws of the Israeli-PLO accord. The Center for Security Policy believes that such liabilities cannot responsibly be ignored or minimized in the present euphoria about the completion of the Declaration of Principles. Doing so will only exacerbate the already considerable security risks for Israel and her friends associated with this latest "triumph of hope over experience."

At the end of the day, Israel may well discover that there are worse things than contending with the wearying burden imposed by the intifada.(3) The costs of having Israel’s back once again against the wall and of fighting terrorists — or worse — from such a position could vastly exceed those involved in occupying and maintaining control over strategic territories between the Jordan River and the sea. Unfortunately, if the attendant elimination of any margin for error causes Israel to rely more heavily upon preemptive strategies (perhaps including nuclear weapons), the whole world may have occasion to rue the Israeli decision to take such enormous risks in the hope of securing an elusive peace.

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1. From a speech by Martin Indyk, Special Assistant to the President for Near East and South Asian Affairs, 20 May 1993.

2. This formulation bears a frightening resemblance to a phrase found in a leaflet disseminated in Gaza by Hamas on the same day: "We are announcing a war against the sons of apes and pigs which will not end until the flag of Islam is raised in Jerusalem."

3. In this regard, see the brilliant column by Amb. Jeane Kirkpatrick, a distinguished member of the Center for Security Board of Advisors, in today’s Washington Post, entitled: "A Deadly ‘Deal.’"

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