When, about a year ago, the United Nations declared that Zionism was a form of racism, a measure of comfort for the state of Israel and its supporters could be found in the fact that an impressive degree of opposition was mounted to this “obscene” idea—as the American representative called it—both within the General Assembly itself and in the world outside. At Mexico City in 1975, where the same resolution was first introduced, it was approved with only two opposing votes: that of Israel and that of the United States. Then, at meetings of the OAU in Kampala and of the Group of 77 at Lima (in which neither the United States nor Israel could participate), it was introduced again and passed with no opposition at all. This time, at the UN, Israel and the United States were joined by thirty-three other nations in voting against the resolution, while another thirty-two abstained, leaving its sponsors with a majority but nothing remotely approaching the overwhelming endorsement to which they had by now become accustomed. This time too there were protests from private groups, especially within the United States, where much outrage against the resolution was expressed and virtually no support. Indeed, so great did the revulsion against the resolution appear that in the opinion of the British ambassador to the UN, the net result was a victory for Israel rather than a defeat.
If, however, the Zionism-racism resolution was a victory for the Israelis, it was a victory of the type of which they might with perfect precision have said: One more such and we are undone. Certainly the response to the resolution revealed that Israel was not entirely isolated. But on closer inspection it revealed a deterioration in Israel’s position which went much deeper than the gross voting statistics or the mere volume of public protest by themselves could even begin to suggest.
In order to appreciate the extent of that deterioration, it is necessary to bear in mind what the Zionism-racism resolution said about the state of Israel. The resolution did not merely condemn the state of Israel for alleged crimes against the Palestinians, or for discriminating against its own Arab citizens. What the resolution did was to denounce the state of Israel itself as an illegitimate entity. The very idea of a sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East (Zionism), let alone the actuality of one, no matter what its boundaries might be, was by definition declared criminal (racist). In the eyes of this resolution, Israel could only cease to be criminal if it ceased to be both Jewish and sovereign—if, in other words, it ceased to exist. Returning to the boundaries of 1967 or even the boundaries of 1948 would make not the slightest difference. For the resolution did not concern boundaries or occupied territories; it concerned the right of a sovereign Jewish state of any size or shape to exist in the Middle East.
From Israel’s point of view, it was bad enough that a majority of the member-states of the United Nations—under whose auspices the state of Israel had come into being in the first place—when asked whether a sovereign Jewish state had the right to exist in the Middle East, should have answered No. Yet the manner in which most of the member-states who answered Yes to this question chose to do so was in its own way almost as bad. The United States argued vehemently that the resolution was wrong in principle, that it was based on a perversion of language and a distortion of the historical record. But no more than two or three of the other countries who either voted against the resolution or abstained (Costa Rica and Barbados come to mind) acted on any such principled basis. One after another the delegates who had been instructed by their governments to oppose or abstain rose to the rostrum to make speeches “in explanation of vote”; and one after another they argued not that the resolution was wrong but that it was politically unwise. Far from defending Israel, moreover, most of the countries that refused to endorse the resolution went out of their way to assure the world that they yielded to no one in their disapproval and indeed detestation of Israel’s many crimes. In effect, while they were not prepared to go so far as to say that Israel had no right to exist, neither were they quite prepared to affirm unequivocally that Israel did have a right to exist.
For all practical purposes, then, the United States remained Israel’s only real defender. If the United States had not spoken out so forcefully in defense of Israel, there would in all probability have been no country to speak out in defense of Israel but Israel itself. Yet forceful as the American support for Israel was in the case of the Zionism-racism resolution, it held only cold comfort for Israel. The reason is that while the United States would unquestionably have opposed such a resolution under any circumstances, it is by no means clear that the opposition would have been as passionate or as effective if anyone but Daniel P. Moynihan had been the American representative at the time. The strong language in which Moynihan denounced the resolution and the tactics he used in lobbying against it originated with him and not in Washington, and they were tolerated rather than enthusiastically endorsed by his superiors in the State Department. Consequently, if not for the accident of Moynihan’s presence in the UN when the issue arose, the resolution might well have passed without serious principled opposition and by a margin approaching the near-unanimity achieved by the Arabs at Lima, Kampala, and Mexico City.1
In short, Moynihan’s behavior, far from being an accurate barometer of American policy toward Israel in general, was—and in retrospect looks more and more like—an aberration in an otherwise consistent pattern of weakening American support for the Israeli position. Officially, of course, the United States continues to affirm its commitment to Israel, and not merely in words. American military aid continues to be supplied to the Israelis in greater quantities than ever, and American votes continue to be cast in the Security Council, in the Human Rights Commission, in UNESCO, in the International Labor Organization, and in the World Health Organization against the endless parade of resolutions condemning Israel and all its works. At the same time, however, everyone senses the presence of powerful undercurrents pulling in the other direction. In the UN, Moynihan’s “lectures on democracy arid decency”—as, according to the New York Times, they are scornfully called by “several diplomats” of unspecified nationality—have given way to the “courtesy and restraint of William Scranton”Arab diplomats, the Times reports, “lauded what they said was a new ‘tone’ that Mr. Scranton had introduced in the Middle East debate’s.” And indeed there was a new tone. In the Security Council, in his very first statement as the American ambassador, Scranton praised Jamil M. Baroody of Saudi Arabia for his “inimitable wit and remarkable eloquence and, most important of all and truly and seriously his very extraordinary knowledge of history.” This was just after Baroody had demonstrated “his very extraordinary knowledge of history” by asserting, among other things. that the Zionists had forced Woodrow Wilson into World War I. Baroody then proceeded to put his “inimitable wit and remarkable eloquence” on full display the next day in a speech to the security Council declaring that the Diary of Anne Frank was a forgery and that the Holocaust would some day be exposed as a myth “just as it came out that the Germans did not eat babies when they invaded Belgium in World War I.”
The ebbing of political and ideological support so evident in the UN since the departure of Moynihan is matched by a weakening of support in other areas as well. There was a period when few difficulties, if any, seemed to attend the matter of military aid to Israel. Nowadays questions always seem to be raised as to whether the Israelis will get the kinds of weapons they need and as many of them as they need. Anxieties are also aroused by the new cordiality of the United States toward several Arab governments—a cordiality which has already been translated both into the shipment of arms to these governments and into the exertion of pressures on Israel, which grow more and more open with every passing month, to withdraw from the territories occupied in the 1967 war.
In itself this demand for an Israeli withdrawal constitutes nothing new. Even Lyndon Johnson, whose administration represented perhaps the high point of American sympathy for Israel, said that while the United States supported Israel’s existence, it did not and could not endorse Israel’s conquests in the Six-Day War. But the Johnson administration took the position that the occupied territories were to be returned—and only to be returned—as part of a settlement which would entail recognition of Israel’s existence by the Arab countries and direct negotiations among the parties to fix the precise boundaries of the now-recognized state in such a way as to insure its future security. In essence this was also the position taken by the Security Council in Resolution 242. The Israelis were to give up the territories, and the Arabs were to give up their efforts to destroy the state of Israel. The Israelis would move physically and the Arabs would move politically. According to Lord Caradon of Great Britain, who was the chief draftsman of Resolution 242, what it envisaged was “a package deal.” The resolution was “a balanced whole.” There was to be a quid and there was to be a quo. Until the Arabs moved politically, the Israelis were under no obligation to move physically. This was what Resolution 242 said, and it was the basis of American policy as well—at least until the election of Richard Nixon.
One of the first things Nixon did upon being elected President was to send William Scranton on a mission to the Middle East in the course of which Scranton—the same William Scranton who, perhaps significantly, was later chosen to succeed Moynihan as American ambassador to the UN—announced that American policy would henceforth be more “evenhanded”; and the same theme was subsequently stressed by Nixon’s first Secretary of State, in the so-called Rogers Plan. Yet in view of the fact that nothing could have been more evenhanded than official American policy had already been since 1967, the Israelis and their friends could be forgiven for wondering whether the term might not be a euphemism for, precisely, a move away from evenhandedness and toward an entirely different policy altogether.
By now, it would be hard to deny that these apprehensions were justified. But until the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, nothing significant occurred to substantiate the idea that a change in American policy was either being planned or was actually taking place. Since the Yom Kippur War, however, the difference between the old evenhandedness and the new has come more and more clearly into focus.
As Theodore Draper describes it: “The old concept used to be that there could be no peace in the Middle East unless Israelis and Arabs came to terms with each other,” whereas the new policy “has tended to interpose the United States between Israel and the Arabs.” That is, the United States has undertaken to do for the Arabs what the Arabs have been unable to do for themselves: force Israel to surrender the territories. But the United States has not undertaken to force the Arabs to accept the existence of a sovereign and secure Jewish state in the Middle East in return for those territories. Instead of insisting in truly even-handed fashion on a quid pro quo from the Arabs, the new American approach is to compensate the Israelis for the absence of any reciprocal concessions on the part of the Arabs themselves. For example (to quote Draper again): “If a return to the pre-1967 boundaries decreases Israeli security, the United States considers making up the difference with an American or American-plus guarantee. If Israel surrenders the Abu Rodeis oil field in the Sinai, let the United States arrange to get an equivalent amount of oil from Iran.”
The former Secretary of Defense, James R. Schlesinger, seeking a more accurate name than “evenhandedness” for an approach involving pressures by the United States on a reluctant ally to make unilateral concessions in the face of a deadly enemy, and in exchange only for promises of compensatory American support, recently characterized the new American policy as “the Vietnamization of Israel.” In using this term, of course, Schlesinger was thinking not of the process through which the United States got into Vietnam but of the way in which we got out.
Two different explanations have been advanced for this shift from the old policy of evenhandedness to the new policy of “Vietnamization.” According to the first and more widely accepted view, the primary objective of the United States is to insure an uninterrupted flow of oil to itself and its allies in Western Europe and Japan, and this can best be accomplished by in effect bribing the Arabs with vigorous political support—a policy carrying the further advantage of increasing American influence in the Arab world at the expense of the Soviet Union. According to the second view, the primary objective of the United States is not to step up its competition with the Soviet Union, but on the contrary to avoid any future confrontation with Soviet power, and this can best be accomplished by a gradual contraction of the American involvement in such regions of potential conflict as the Middle East.
So far as Israel is concerned, however, it scarcely matters—at least in the short run, which in the case of so precariously situated a country may be all the run that is relevant—whether the first explanation is correct or the second. If oil and the displacement of Soviet influence are now the keys to American policy, they clearly seem to dictate American pressures on Israel to make territorial and eventually other concessions involving the PLO without commensurate concessions from the Arabs. (For why should the Arabs make commensurate concessions if no one is forcing them to do so?) Yet even if the overriding imperative of American policy is not to enter into serious competition with the Soviet Union for influence in the Arab world but rather to avoid the danger of serious conflict with an increasingly powerful and increasingly expansionist Soviet Union, one-sided pressures on Israel to accept a “peaceful” settlement would still be required in order to set the stage for an “honorable” American withdrawal from the area. This was what the United States did toward the end in Vietnam, and it may well be—as James Schlesinger for one appears to suggest—what the United States is preparing to do in the Middle East.
Is Israel then to be abandoned? Henry Kissinger thinks not. It would, he once said, be an act of “extraordinary cynicism” for the United States to “negotiate over the survival of Israel”—that is, to bargain the existence of Israel away for the sake of oil or détente or any other objective. Neither the United States, he predicted, nor “in the last analysis Europe” would ever do such a thing. Of course nations (the United States itself supplying one of the most recent examples) have behaved with just such “extraordinary cynicism” throughout history. Why then is Kissinger so confident that Israel represents a limiting case? Perhaps because he thinks that guilt over the Holocaust is still a potent enough factor to prevent the Western world from acquiescing once again, let alone conniving, in the destruction of an entire Jewish community. If so, he has failed to notice that the statute of limitations has, as it were, run out on the Holocaust by now.
It is true that for many people old enough to have fought against the Nazis in World War II, any threat to the physical security of Jews as Jews—which today of course means Israel—remains anathema. This explains why a figure like Jean-Paul Sartre, whose general political stance would naturally incline him toward support of the Arabs and especially of the PLO, continues to side with Israel. It also explains why the West European governments, all of which are run by members of the World War II generation, have not yet deserted Israel entirely despite their almost total dependence on Middle Eastern oil. (They all, for example, voted against the Zionism-racism resolution; and while they have all moved a considerable distance since then toward the Arab position on the PLO and on various indictments of Israel in the Security Council and other UN agencies, they are, the New York Times says, still resisting “Arab demands that [they] adopt stronger anti-Israel policies in exchange for economic ties.”)
Nevertheless, it is also true that the memory of World War II has been growing dim even for those who lived through it. And for those too young to have been marked by the experience of Nazism, Israel has for some time looked more like a nation of conquerors than like a nation of survivors. Since 1967, indeed, the anti-Israel propaganda emanating from both the Soviet Union and from the Arab world has portrayed the Israelis as the new Nazis and the Palestinians as the new Jews. Shortly after the Six-Day War cartoons were published depicting Moshe Dayan as Rommel, with swastikas on his uniform (and as an added fillip dollar-signs for eyes). More recently, there was the condemnation of Israel by UNESCO for crimes against culture—a charge meant to conjure up the burning of books by the Nazis—and more recently still the Soviet ambassador to the UN accused the Israelis of “racial genocide,” while the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (which was created by a General Assembly resolution passed on the very same day as the Zionism-racism resolution) compared “the sealing of a part of the city of Nablus” by the Israelis after a series of riots had broken out there to “the ghettos and concentration camps erected by the Hitlerites in several cities of Europe.”
In one form or another this theme has struck a responsive chord throughout the Western world (the caricature of Dayan as Rommel was even published in the newsletter of SNCC, one of the most prominent of the radical civil-rights organizations of the mid-60’s). And despite the new “even-handedness” of American policy, an even greater success has been enjoyed by the idea that Israel is the spearhead of American imperialism in the Middle East (the dollar-signs in Dayan’s eyes). But the greatest success of all has been scored by the newest twist in Arab-Soviet propaganda, which is to portray the Jews of Israel (half of whose population actually stems from the Arab countries themselves—from North Africa and the Middle East) as a community of European colons and the Palestinians as a dark-skinned native population fighting for its natural rights. It was these two ideas—the Israelis as Nazis and the Israelis as white imperialists—which were brought together with such brazen neatness in the identification of Zionism with racism.
To the extent that some such version of the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict is accepted, the dissolution of the state of Israel, whether by force or by political means, will seem not an act of “extraordinary cynicism” but an act of historic justice. And this, to judge by the debate over the Zionism-racism resolution and the unrelenting ideological offensive which has followed, is how it already seems to many people in many countries. Some of these people live in countries which voted against the resolution for one set of political reasons or another, and they even include a number of American Jews who think that a Jewish state has no right to exist unless it conforms in every detail to the dictates of the contemporary liberal conscience.
Not only, then, is the memory of the Holocaust ceasing to serve as a barrier against the ultimate betrayal of Israel. It even seems powerless to prevent the emergence of a new anti-Semitism especially tailored to the reappearance after so many centuries of a Jewish state in the world. There is a reluctance among some of Israel’s friends to describe the hostility to Israel in certain circles as anti-Semitic—a reluctance based on the desire to see the Arab-Israeli conflict as a conventional international dispute amenable to resolution by conventional diplomatic means. Certainly a good part of that conflict does partake of the character of a conventional dispute. But the conclusion seems unavoidable by now that anti-Semitism has also entered the picture to an appreciable degree. For what other epithet can reasonably be applied to a current of opinion which singles out the Jews as the only people in the world who are not entitled to otherwise universally acknowledged rights? All other peoples are entitled to national self-determination; when the Jews exercise this right, they are committing the crimes of racism and imperialism. All other nations are entitled to defend themselves against armed attack; when a Jewish nation defends itself, it is committing the crime of aggression. Of the estimated thirty-five million refugees who have been displaced by war and other calamities since 1945 alone, only the three-quarters of a million displaced in the Jewish war of national liberation are expected to be repatriated. Quoting the Rev. Dr. Douglas Young, President of the American Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem, who points out that this demand runs “contrary to all treatment of all refugees through the whole world in the last ten or more years,” Theodore Draper comments: “There is something suspicious and ominous about a world which permits one rule for refugees from a Jewish state and another rule for refugees from all other kinds of states.”
Draper also quotes former Senator Fulbright on the issue of the territories conquered by Israel in 1967 which, of the many millions of square miles of territory conquered during the past thirty-five years alone, are the only ones which are expected to be returned. Fulbright said: “It is natural enough for Israel to resist the honor of being the first modern military victor to be obliged to abide by the principles and specifications of the United Nations Charter, especially when the greater powers who dominate the Security Council have set such a wretched example. Be that as it may, the principle is too important to be cast away because of the hypocrisy or self-interest of its proponents.” To which Draper replies: “In short, all the self-interested hypocrites have a right to ask of Israel what they would not dream of doing themselves.”
Another thing all the self-interested hypocrites would not dream of doing themselves but have a right to ask Israel to do is break off relations with South Africa. Almost every country in the world—including Arab and Black African countries—does business with South Africa. When Israel does business with South Africa, this means that there is a “Tel Aviv-Pretoria Axis” (the term axis calculated to associate Israel again with Nazism).
In addition to singling out the Jewish state as uniquely illegitimate, and in addition to branding the things it does in common with all other states as uniquely criminal, this current of opinion exposes its anti-Semitic character in a compulsive propagation of precisely the kind of “big lie” in which Hitler himself specialized. Thus Israel—the only democratic society in the Middle East, the only one in which the press is free and speech is free, and the only one in which minorities of every kind, ethnic, religious, and political, enjoy civil and political liberties—is condemned for violations of human rights by tyrannical and barbarous regimes in which there is no freedom of speech or of the press, in which no political opposition is permitted, and in which minorities are systematically persecuted. The PLO, to be sure, claims to be different; it speaks of an intention to found a “secular democratic state.” But there is no reason to suppose that the state which an organization of radical Arabs means to establish would be any more secular or arty more democratic than the nineteen Arab states already in existence. Every one of these states (including those, like Syria and Iraq, which are ruled by parties of the Left) makes Islam the official religion, and not a single one of them is democratic in any intelligible sense of that word.
To represent the conflict between such regimes and a country like Israel as a struggle of oppressed Third World peoples against Nazi-like aggressors is a stunning inversion of the truth. But it is also a testimony to the persisting vitality of anti-Semitism which, expelled more or less successfully from domestic society in the countries where once it flourished, now reappears, suitably translated into the current language and modalities of international life, to deal with the phenomenon of a Jewish state among other states as it once dealt with Jewish individuals and communities living in states dominated by other religious or ethnic groups.
An additional bonus of the “big lie” in this case is that it undermines the other basis on which the abandonment of Israel by the Western democracies and the United States in particular might be considered an act of “extraordinary cynicism”: the fact that Israel is a democratic country. To some extent, at least—and perhaps to a greater extent than toughminded analysts think—the American commitment to Israel has rested on and been strengthened by this fact. Public-opinion polls indeed have shown that the reason most Americans are sympathetic to Israel is not that it is a Jewish state but that it is “a small democratic country which is trying to preserve its independence” against heavy odds and against the hostility of the Soviet Union. Schlesinger expresses a similar sentiment when he asks: If the United States will not defend a democratic country like Israel, whom will we defend? Obviously, then, if democracy in Israel can be “exposed” as fraudulent, abandoning our commitment to the Israelis becomes easier and all the more thinkable.
Most people in the Western countries, to be sure, remain unpersuaded by the portrayal of the Israelis as Nazis or racist imperialists, or the concomitant transmutation of the Arab states into victims of aggression and the PLO into fighters for freedom and democracy. Yet even in the minds of many of the unpersuaded, the moral burden has now been placed on the Israelis who are challenged to prove that they are not guilty of all “the affronts to humanity” with which the Arabs, as usual using language reminiscent of the indictments drawn up against the Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, keep charging them in various agencies of the UN: “mass arrests,” “confiscation and appropriation,” “ill-treatment, deportation, expulsion, displacement and transfer of . . . inhabitants,” and so on. Not surprisingly, some of the mud has stuck. At a recent conference of American intellectuals convoked to discuss measures which might be taken against the expulsion of Israel from UNESCO, for example, many of the participants were so anxious to dissociate themselves from Israel’s “policies” that they scarcely found time to deal with the subject the meeting had been called to consider, which was the outrage committed by UNESCO against Israel.
More generally, and in consonance with this spirit, a new understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict has lately taken hold which makes it possible for many people in the United States and Europe to encourage exactly what Kissinger was once so certain neither the United States nor Europe would ever do—“negotiate over the survival of Israel,” and to believe themselves to be acting, moreover, not out of “extraordinary cynicism” but with a clear and perfect conscience.
Unlike the thinking behind phenomena like the Zionism-racism resolution, this new understanding has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. It is based, rather, on the premise that the major obstacle to a peaceful settlement in the Middle East is not the refusal of the Arabs to accept the existence of a sovereign Jewish state in their midst, but the “intransigence” of the Israelis. Although the Arabs, in this view, may once have entertained the hope of overrunning the state of Israel and driving its Jewish inhabitants into the sea, and although there are still extremists among them who continue to dream such dreams, moderates who are at least willing to tolerate if not embrace the state of Israel have been gaining the upper hand in the major “confrontation states,” and even within the PLO. What these new Arab leaders want is the return of the territories captured by Israel in the Six-Day War and the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza under the moderate leadership of Yassir Arafat. If—the argument concludes—Israel agrees to this, the Arabs will live in peace with Israel.
Hence, in this new interpretation, Israel’s refusal to surrender the occupied territories and to recognize the PLO is now the only obstacle standing in the way of a resolution of the conflict in the Middle East. Pressuring the Israelis is therefore not merely good for the Arabs or for the United States; it is also good for Israel. Far from being an expression of cynicism, such one-sided pressures are a favor to Israel, a way of saving the Israelis from their own most short-sighted instincts.
This, roughly, is Kissinger’s own view of the situation; it is the view of the State Department; and it is evidently the view of the White House as well. It is the view of an ever larger number of Congressmen and Senators, including several who have in the past seemed very friendly toward Israel. (“In the first of a series of hearings on Middle East policy,” the Washington Post reported a few weeks ago, “Senator Javits and others who recently visited the area . . . described Arab leaders as relatively flexible on crucial points of an eventual agreement in the area, including the right of Israel to exist. But most of the Senators described Israeli leaders as intransigent in their approach to an agreement.”) The same view is prevalent within the Council on Foreign Relations and other institutions of what used to be called the foreign-policy establishment. It is also the view most often expressed or reflected nowadays in the national press, from the New York Times to Time, from Newsweek to the Washington Post. And it is the view of that increasingly vocal and increasingly visible fraction of the American Jewish community to whom support of Israel is conditional on Israel’s good behavior as measured by the liberal pieties in fashion on any given day.
When one considers that the literal survival of Israel may very well ride on the issue, one is bound to be astonished and even flabbergasted at the thinness of the evidence which so many people have taken as proving that the Arabs are finally ready to accept the existence of a sovereign Jewish state in their midst and to desist from any future effort to wipe it out. The best that can be said for this evidence is that it is ambiguous and inconclusive. Sadat has made statements in English or French for Western consumption suggesting or hinting—never declaring unequivocally—that he is’ now willing to live in some peaceful or at least non-belligerent arrangement with a sovereign Jewish state. Yet for every such statement, he has made another (or is it ten others?) in Arabic, and sometimes even in English or French, pledging never to settle for anything less than the “rights” of the Palestinians as defined in the PLO charter; and the PLO charter explicitly calls for the dissolution of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state and its replacement by a Palestinian Arab nation in which only those “Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion” (no one is quite sure whether this means 1947 or 1881) would be permitted to remain as a tolerated religious minority.
As for the other so-called moderate Arab leaders, few have gone even as far as Sadat, and none has ever gone any further. Bourguiba of Tunisia has earned his reputation as a moderate through the authorship of a strategy designed to destroy Israel by stages, beginning with a political offensive which strongly resembles what has been occurring in the past few years and ending with a final assault against a reduced, weakened, and isolated Israel. Assad of Syria, only yesterday a partisan of the “rejection front,” has gained his reputation as a convert to peaceful coexistence with Israel by whispering hints into the ears of a succession of American diplomats, politicians, and newspaper columnists who obligingly return and spread the word, adding that “naturally” he cannot be expected to say such things in the open; and Arafat has been transformed from a bloody terrorist into a moderate by means of the same technique. All public statements by these Arab leaders reasserting their commitment to the dissolution of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state are dismissed as “rhetoric” which every sophisticated observer knows better than to take seriously.
As against these hints and whispers there stands not only the continually reaffirmed commitment of all the Arab countries to the PLO and its declared aim of doing away with the state of Israel by the combined force of political pressure and arms. There also stands the evidence of the Zionism-racism resolution. Through this resolution the Arab countries, with not a single exception, unmistakably announced their conviction that a Jewish state in the Middle East, no matter where its boundaries might be drawn, was morally and legally unacceptable. Senators “visiting the area” might be told differently, but the rest of us—the rest of the world—were told that returning the Sinai to Egypt, the Golan Heights to Syria, and the West Bank to the Palestinians for a new state of their own ruled by the PLO would not make Israel any more legitimate or morally acceptable in the eyes of the Arab countries than holding on to these territories and refusing to negotiate with the PLO have done.
And why indeed should it? The Arabs did not begin to oppose Israel after the Sinai, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank were occupied or after the Arab refugees had been transmuted into a Palestinian nation in exile. They opposed Israel from the very start and made repeated attempts to destroy it. In the words of Walter Laqueur: “The basic issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict is not the border problem or a Palestinian state—the conflict existed before there were occupied territories and before there was a demand for a Palestinian state.” The real issue, writes Elie Kedourie, is the right of the Jews, “hitherto a subject community under Islam, to exercise political sovereignty in an area regarded as part of the Muslim domain.” Professor Kedourie asks why the Arabs, who have steadfastly refused to grant this right to the Jews, should suddenly relent just when Arab power and influence have so greatly increased. It is a good question, and one might phrase it in another way to sharpen the point still further: why should people who have dreamed of achieving an objective for so long without much hope of success give up on that objective just at the moment when success for the first time seems attainable?
In sum, the idea that it is the intransigence of the Israelis which has prevented a peaceful settlement in the Middle East is yet another stunning inversion of the truth. The only thing about which the Israelis have been intransigent is their right to live in peace as a sovereign Jewish state among their Muslim Arab neighbors. For this they have always been ready to make territorial and other concessions, and they still are. There is of course a small if strident minority of Israelis who wish at all costs to hold onto all the territories forever. But the polls and every other indication show that the great majority of Israelis are still willing to do whatever may be necessary to achieve a secure and lasting peace. Not only do they know that peace would be desirable in itself; they also understand that retaining territories in which so many Arabs live would in the long run pose a demographic threat to the Jewishness of Israel and (because of the repressive measures which the simple maintenance of order under such circumstances would require) a political threat to its democratic character as well. It is not, then, the Israelis who are the intransigent party in this conflict. The real intransigents in the Middle East are the Arabs who for twenty-eight years have been unwilling or unable to reconcile themselves to the presence of a sovereign Jewish state in their midst, and who on the evidence are no more willing today than they ever were before.
Whatever Kissinger or anyone else may intend, therefore, in abandoning the old policy of evenhandedness and embarking instead on a course of one-sided pressures on Israel, the United States is “negotiating over the survival of Israel.” For if the change in American policy is dictated by the need to assure an uninterrupted flow of oil from the Middle East to the United States and the other advanced industrial nations, there are no grounds for believing that it can succeed on the diplomatic cheap. Given the intransigent determination of the Arabs to do away with a sovereign Jewish state in their midst, and given their belated discovery that the oil weapon is so potent an instrument for accomplishing this purpose, why would they stop using it after the first victory (the return of Israel to the 1967 boundaries) or even the second (the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank) were won? With Israel reduced and weakened, the way would be open for a military coup de grâce. Even if Israel’s existence were guaranteed by the United States or some combination of countries, the Arabs would have no great cause for concern. After all, if the United States and the other Western nations are so afraid of an oil embargo now, and so reluctant to use force against the threat or even the actuality of one, why would they be any the less fearful then?
The logic is as inexorable as it is terrible: a Middle East policy based on oil is a policy based on the eventual abandonment of Israel. To make matters almost morbidly ironic, if such a policy is also supposed to pay off in the coinage of a victory over the Soviet Union in the competition for influence in the Arab world, the indications are that it will fail. Already the much-trumpeted triumph of the new “evenhandedness” in leading to a break between Sadat and Brezhnev more and more begins to seem rather less conclusive than advertised, as the facts become known concerning the uninterrupted flow of arms from Moscow to Cairo after the putative break was announced.2 Even Jordan, traditionally the most pro-American of the Arab countries, is now making moves in the direction of Moscow for the purchase of arms which, the Jordanians say, they can get from the Soviet Union at a lower price.
But if, conversely, the purpose of the new policy is to prepare the way for a “guaranteed” settlement and an “honorable” American withdrawal from the Middle East in order to preclude the danger of future confrontations with Soviet power, the ultimate abandonment of Israel is just as inexorably indicated. For why, having gone to such lengths to minimize the risk of clashing with an adversary of greater determination in the use of force than we are now evidently able to mount, would we suddenly decide to rush back into the breach again? Paper guarantees, as the South Vietnamese are only the most recent people to have learned, are a very weak reed indeed for weakened nations to lean upon.
Nor would a joint Soviet-American guarantee be any better for Israel. Even if it could be negotiated, which is highly doubtful, it would not eliminate either the problem of Israel’s security against an Arab attack or the problem of a possible confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union in case an attack were to occur. Such a guarantee, as Draper points out, “would give the Soviet Union a veto power or at least a potentially fatal power of obstruction; the United States would be faced with the alternative of negotiating with the Soviet Union or hurriedly breaking with it on the operation of the guarantee.” In the former eventuality, the guarantee would for all practical purposes be nullified; in the latter, the danger of confrontation between the two superpowers would once again arise.
Vietnam, however, is not the only ghost hovering over the idea of a Middle East settlement guaranteed by the United States or some combination of outside powers. The ghost of Munich is also there. Less than a year after a treaty was negotiated at Munich under which the Czechs agreed to “return” the Sudeten regions to Germany and were promised in exchange that Britain and France would come to their aid in the event of an armed attack, Hitler sent his armies across the new boundaries of Czechoslovakia; at that point the British and the French found reasons not to honor their commitment and Czechoslovakia was overrun. Munich has accordingly become the preeminent symbol of exactly the kind of “extraordinary cynicism” Henry Kissinger had in mind when ruling out the possibility of “negotiations over the survival of Israel”—the kind of act, he said, through which the world is “morally mortgaged.”
Yet one of the many lessons Munich teaches is that even nations, perhaps the most amoral of human creations, are reluctant to mortgage themselves morally, and will consequently act with extraordinary cynicism only when they can persuade themselves and others that what they are doing is in truth morally justified. Thus in the months leading up to the Munich agreement, the papers in Britain and France were full of articles badgering the Czechs. Their country was criticized for mistreating the German minority in the Sudeten regions, for being an artificial creation, and for posing a danger to world peace: a combination of charges which simultaneously justified forcing the Czechs first to give up the Sudeten territories and then, a bit later, acquiescing in the dissolution of what was after all a “a misbegotten state.”
These criticisms of Czechoslovakia bear, as Walter Laqueur has pointed out, “an uncanny resemblance” to the criticisms which have been leveled at Israel in the past few years. As Czechoslovakia, a democratic country, was accused of mistreating the German minority in the Sudeten regions, so Israel, also a democratic country, is accused of mistreating the Arab minority within Israel itself and also, of course, in the occupied territories. As the creation of the Czechoslovak state after World War I was called a mistake by Hitler and Neville Chamberlain, so the creation of the Jewish state after World War II is called a crime by contemporary totalitarians and their appeasers. The insistence by the Czechs that surrendering the Sudeten regions to Hitler would leave Czechoslovakia hopelessly vulnerable to military assault was derided, especially on the Left, as a short-sighted reliance on the false security of territory and arms; so a similar insistence by the Israelis with regard to the occupied territories is treated today with lofty disdain by contemporary descendants of these believers in the irrelevance to a nation’s security of territorial buffers and arms. And as the effort of the Czechs to hold out against Hitler’s demands for a surrender of the Sudeten regions was called a threat to the policy of “conciliation between the totalitarian states and the democratic states,” and therefore a threat to world peace, so Israel’s “intransigence” over the occupied territories and the program of the PLO is said to be leading to a new Arab-Israeli war which will in turn lead to another oil embargo, a disruption of the policy of détente between the United States and the Soviet Union, and even a nuclear war.
What this “uncanny resemblance” between the attacks on Israel today and the attacks on Czechoslovakia in 1938 seems to suggest is that the Western powers may indeed be preparing to act with the same “extraordinary cynicism” in the Middle East as they did in Central Europe nearly forty years ago. And what it also suggests is that they mean to do so while pretending to themselves and others that they will not thereby be “morally mortgaged” but on the contrary morally justified.
Just as Israel is not Vietnam, however, Israel is not Czechoslovakia. Israel might well be forced into a Paris-type or a Munich-type agreement, but unlike the South Vietnamese in 1975 and unlike the Czechs in 1938, the Israelis would not thereafter allow themselves to be overrun. The lsraelis would fight. They would fight with conventional weapons for as long as they could, and if the tide were turning decisively against them, and it help in the form of re-supply from the United States or any other guarantors were not forthcoming, it is safe to predict that they would fight with nuclear weapons in the end. No one doubts any longer that they have such weapons, and no one can doubt that they would unleash them in the final extremity. It used to be said that the Israelis had a Masada complex—that, like the Jewish Zealots of the 1st century whose mountain fortress in the Judean desert was about to be stormed by an irresistible force of Roman legionnaires, the Jews of Israel today would commit suicide rather than submit to subjugation by their enemies. But if the Israelis are to be understood in terms of a “complex” involving suicide rather than surrender and rooted in a relevant precedent of Jewish history, the example of Samson, whose suicide brought about the destruction of his enemies, would be more appropriate than Masada, where in committing suicide the Zealots killed only themselves and took no Romans with them.
It follows that the new American policy in the Middle East is not only immoral and ineffective but mortally dangerous as well. For the specter so often invoked of a nuclear war breaking out in the Middle East because of the “intransigence” of the Israelis is yet one more stunning inversion of the truth concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict. The real danger of nuclear war lies in the opposite direction. It lies in the ideas which have been placing the Israelis under such intolerable moral pressures in the past three years, blaming them and hectoring them, putting them in the dock and on the defensive, magnifying their every fault and discounting their every virtue; and it lies in the policies which are calculated to strengthen the hands of their enemies while isolating and weakening and finally forcing the Israelis into a desperate corner where only the memory of Samson will serve.
If a nuclear war should ever erupt in the Middle East then, be it on the head of all those in the United State and elsewhere—inside government and out, in the foundations and in the universities, in the councils and in the press—who under cover of self-deceptions and euphemisms and outright lies are “negotiating over the survival of Israel” instead of making the survival of that brave and besieged and beleaguered country, the only democracy in the Middle East and one of the few left anywhere on the face of the earth the primary aim of their policies and the primary wish of their hearts.
1 The contrast between these earlier votes and the one in the General Assembly obviously disposes of the often-repeated charge that Moynihan’s tactics “made things worse” for Israel. The truth is mat as a result of those tactics, opposition to the resolution grew as it passed through the parliamentary process on its way to final approval. In the Third Committee, where it was first introduced, the opposing vote (negatives plus abstentions) was 56; in the next stage (a vote to post pone), opposition increased to 61; and in the vote in the General Assembly itself, it rose to 67.
2 See Uri Ra’anan’s “The Soviet-Egyptian ‘Rift,’” in last month’s COMMENTARY for a detailed accounting of these facts.