Nixon's Second Term: Policy Prospects in the Middle East

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VOL. 2

1972/73

No. 3
P. 14
Articles
Nixon's Second Term: Policy Prospects in the Middle East
FULL TEXT

 

President Nixon is now riding high diplomatically on the successes of his first term: the detente with the communist world marked by his visits to Peking and Moscow, and the Paris agreement to end the war in Southeast Asia. Having won a sweeping victory in the final electoral campaign of his long political career, he is more than ever in a position to think of his remaining acts of state in the context of his eventual place in history. By his own recent testimony, nowhere does this challenge present itself more insistently than in the Middle East, where the basic crisis remains unresolved and, as he has often remarked, the danger is greatest of an eventual deterioration into an American- Soviet conflict. Furthermore, with the energy crisis coming into public attention for the first time and two-thirds of the world's oil reserves concentrated in the Middle East, what had once been a distant and theoretical apprehension that the Arab states might one day develop a major political weapon against the United States and its industrial partners, to compensate for their military weakness against Israel, now looms as a distinct material danger - if not within Mr. Nixon's remaining years in office, then in those of his successor.

 

These being the circumstances, there are widespread expectations that Nixon may be girding his loins for a major diplomatic initiative, aimed at crowning his career with a breakthrough in the Middle Eastern deadlock. He may well be thinking in such ambitious general terms himself; and it will be surprising indeed if a renewed diplomatic effort of some sort is not forthcoming. Whether it will be of a sort that can really be expected to lead to a break- through, however, is a very different question; and in the light of the way things have gone in the Middle East and elsewhere in the past few years, it would not be altogether surprising for the Nixon administration to satisfy itself with the conclusion - privately, at least - that a breakthrough is not only unattainable at a price it is willing to pay, but not really necessary at all.

 

I. AMERICAN INITIATIVES DURING THE FIRST NIXON ADMINISTRATION

 

A forecast of the options amongst which Mr. Nixon will make his choice should be projected against the experience of American diplomacy since the 1967 war. Nixon inherited from Lyndon Johnson a general view of diplomatic objectives in the Middle East with which he did not disagree, embodied in the Security Council's Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967 and the Jarring mission: Israel should be persuaded to withdraw from the bulk of the occupied territories in return for an Arab commitment to peace, and within that context "a just settlement of the refugee problem" should be arranged. Despite impressions in some quarters, the Nixon administration's view of what this meant did not particularly differ from that of its predecessor. For example, it was not Secretary Rogers but Secretary Rusk before him who had first coined the expression that Israel's borders after a settlement should not "reflect the weight of conquest"; and Johnson had shown no greater enthusiasm than Nixon for rushing to meet Israel's requests for Phantoms and Skyhawks, although in time, with some visible hesitation, both of them eventually did. Nor did Johnson, any more than Nixon, come round to endorsing the Israeli claim that no peace settlement embodying Resolution 242 could properly be made except through a formal peace treaty, negotiated face to face.

 

The only significant difference between the Johnson and Nixon approaches was that where Johnson had left the initiative in mediation to the United Nations and Ambassador Jarring, hoping that the shock of defeat would suffice to bring the Arab states to make the necessary concessions while the desire for peaceful acceptance of her legitimacy would deter Israel from demanding too much, by the time Nixon took office it had become clear that this was not happening, and consequently he decided to resort to a series of mediatory efforts of his own. Added pressures for such a change were supplied by the growing roles of the Soviet Union and the fedayeen in Egypt and Jordan respectively, which lent a new urgency to the situation: they seemed to make it increasingly less plausible for either Nasser or Hussein to sue for peace, and at the same time to raise the dual spectre of a confrontation between the superpowers and an internal upheaval within one or more Arab states.

 

Nixon's first initiative was aimed at the Soviet Union, in an effort to enlist its aid in damping down these particular dangers and, beyond that, in keeping the Egyptian side interested in a realistic settlement while the US exerted similar persuasion on the Israelis. The essential point to note is that throughout the long series of discussions in Washington between Assistant Secretary Sisco and Ambassador Dobrynin, as well as the concurrent four- power talks at the United Nations, it was understood that the parties in the Middle East itself would be continuously briefed on the proceedings by their great power patrons. This was no move, as it could well have been, to concoct a private Soviet-American deal which they would then foist on their proteges; it was merely an exercise in multilateral mediation, or stylized group therapy, with the added benefit of an insurance policy on the side. All the inhibitions of the Egyptians and the Israelis against coming to an agreement through Jarring and the UN were thereby simply transferred to the forum of great power discussions, with no different result.

 

In this vital respect the Rogers Plan of 1970 was much the same again. It is true that Rogers, in a December 1969 speech, had become a little more precise than anyone in Washington had been in the previous two and a half years in spelling out an American interpretation of the meaning of Resolution 242 - the Israeli withdrawal would have to be virtually complete, the old Egyptian-Palestinian frontier should stand, the Arab states must accept a contractually binding peace document and not just a unilateral declaration - but the future of Jerusalem, Gaza, and the Palestinians was left carefully unspecified. When in June 1970 Secretary Rogers formally proposed a cease- fire and the renewal of the Jarring mission, he offered no more concrete interpretation of eventual peace terms than before. More particularly, despite the striking fact that now for the first time a conspicuously unilateral American mediation was in process - even to the extent of detailed discussions by American representatives in Cairo with the Egyptian government concerning the modalities of the cease-fire - and although the Soviets might worry that an "American Tashkent" would result at the expense of their influence and prestige in the region, in actuality the Rogers Plan was no more than a back door to the good offices of Dr. Jarring, where the whole question of an agreed settlement had started out so unsuccessfully some years before.

 

Again, as with the four-power and two-power talks, there was the side benefit of insurance: a cease-fire was a cease-fire, and it was to hold up in the years that followed. The dispute over violations of the "standstill agreement" forestalled the reactivation of Jarring, but not, apparently, any intended move by the US or the Soviet Union to change the bargaining positions of the adversaries. And when Dr. Jarring did return to the scene early in 1971 with his own substantive proposals to Egypt and Israel, only to be rebuffed by the latter, he had no ammunition with which to follow through, nor did anyone lend him any, any more than had been the case three years earlier at the outset of his mission when he had played the simple role of a postman.

 

The final effort of the first Nixon administration was the abortive "interim settlement" proposal of 1971 for the reopening of the Suez Canal. This initiative was limited in scope, but it was significant for the unprecedented depth of involvement in the substance of the terms of settlement into which it drew the United States, and for the hopes it raised in many minds that an agreement would be successfully reached, especially with the visit of Rogers himself to Cairo and Jerusalem in May and the feverish activity of Sisco afterward, which gave a clear indication that the US this time was not only engaged in setting a negotiating process in motion but actively talking out the terms with both sides.

 

In the end, of course, it all came to nothing, not simply because Egypt and Israel failed to agree on the terms, but because, as eventually became evident, Nixon and Rogers had no intention of going beyond the instrument of friendly persuasion. More than that, they had no more than a half-hearted notion of advancing their own ideas to the Egyptians on their own responsibility, a fact that came to light with the acrimony that arose over the so-called "phantom memorandum." The Israeli government protested loudly when it appeared that American representatives in Cairo had made detailed suggestions, including lines drawn on a map, to the Egyptian government without clearing them with Israel; the Israelis complained that this contravened their understanding of procedures with Washington. Evidently they had believed that this exercise would be similar in this respect to that of the Sisco-Dobrynin talks of 1969. President Sadat, in a subsequent press interview, was to complain of Washington's mysterious disavowal of the memorandum and noted that when he asked what role the US expected to play in the Egyptian-Israeli "proximity talks" that Sisco proposed as a follow-up, the reply was that it would be a "catalyst" - inferentially an active mediator perhaps, but no more than a mediator nonetheless. [1] The foredoomed proximity talks never came to pass.

 

According to Sadat's version of the whole episode of the "interim solution," Rogers and Sisco indicated general satisfaction with Egypt's position (e.g., her declared willingness to sign an eventual peace treaty with Israel and to station UN or four-power troops along a line across Sinai) and seemed ready to make a forceful case to the Israelis; consequently he considered himself double- crossed when the summer passed by without result and with complete silence from Washington as to the outcome of Sisco's talks in Jerusalem. Whether this version is accurate or not, it is scarcely surprising that it received a brief public denial at the State Department and that the most Rogers was willing to say in a speech at the UN was that the two parties had remained adamant in their disagreement. For whatever energy Messrs. Rogers, Sisco and others were prepared to expend in travelling to and fro, and even in heated arguments behind closed doors in Israel, there was no time at which they or Mr. Nixon were prepared to make their own views of the merits of the Egyptian and Israeli positions public - to say nothing of bringing material pressures to bear on Israel. And there the unhappy Sadat's "year of decision" ended, indecisively. As 1972 was a presidential election year in the United States, no further initiatives followed, the expulsion of Soviet forces from Egypt in July 1972 notwithstanding. The months following the November election were filled with the Vietnam negotiations.

 

Two alternative interpretations of American policy during Nixon's first four years suggest themselves. The first is that the President and his Secretary of State were victims of an illusion that had been conspicuous in American public discussion and official policy over the previous two decades, to the effect that Israel and the Arab states, whatever their public declarations, shared a fundamental common interest in an eventual peace settlement that had unfortunately been obscured by the accretions of grievance, mistrust, ambition and antipathy. Therefore somewhere there lay the essentials of a solution, waiting to be unearthed like some delicate archaeological discovery, with infinite patience and expert handling, but only in the right season and after multiple layers of earth had been removed and a distracting mass of secondary artifacts that littered the site had been carefully distinguished and laid aside.

 

This view, as possessed not so much by the man in the street as the men in executive office, does not underestimate some of the difficulties: the Arabs are seen as verbose, belligerent, unreasoning, unreliable, petulant, suffering from an inferiority complex, maddeningly difficult to pin down on practical arrangements; the Israelis are arrogant, self-centered, demanding, uncooperative, compulsively neurotic about their security and heedless of the interests of their adversaries; the Russians lurk in the background, using the conflict to undermine American strategic interests and promote their own unsettling influence, always preferring to keep the pot simmering rather than to promote a solution. But still, within this sober view there rests the abiding assumption that with skill and tact it should be possible to cajole the adversaries to the point where they will accept their mutual interest in a peace agreement.

 

Consequently most of the emphasis of American (as well as UN) diplomacy since 1967 has been less on persuasion than on clarification of the ambiguities of Resolution 242 and related formulae: what kind of Arab assurances of acceptance of Israeli sovereignty, in exchange for how complete an Israeli withdrawal? If less has been said of the third main ambiguity -what kind of "just settlement of the refugee problem," or more realistically, what status and role for the Palestinian people, this is not due simply to heedlessness but to a judgement that the right formula for this problem must be devised within a Jordanian-Israeli one, and therefore must await progress on other fronts.

 

A second line of interpretation is that Nixon's initiatives had a much more modest objective and were never seriously expected to lead to any real settlement but only to gain time, to defuse the dangers of superpower confrontation, to provide the Egyptians with some incentive to minimize the build-up of Soviet forces and their preparations for a fourth round, and perhaps even eventually- in the tangled negotiations of 1971 for an "interim settlement"- to bring Egypt to the point of sticking her neck out for the sake of peace, and then leaving her stranded with the realization that her whole position was hopeless since the US would not, and the Soviet Union could not, deliver the goods. By the end of 1971, after all, Nasser and then Sadat had accepted what became an indefinite cease-fire, broken openly with the Palestinian resistance movement, displayed readiness for a separate Egyptian-Israeli settlement, accepted the principle of a peace treaty, eliminated the more pro-Soviet wing of the regime in Cairo and paid their respects to the US as the ultimate power broker of the region-all for nothing. When in the spring of 1972 Sadat broke diplomatic relations with Jordan in response to Hussein's announced plan for a Jordanian- Palestinian federation, it seemed like a bankrupt gesture, a grasping at the straw of returning to the old Egyptian game of power politics in the Arab arena that Nasser had played to great effect before 1967 but that had now become meaningless. And when in July Sadat ordered the removal of Soviet forces from Egypt, thereby punishing Moscow for what Washington had declined to do for him, bankruptcy seemed complete.

 

If this fitted Washington's purpose, the purpose was not to humiliate Sadat for his own sake, but to emasculate the frustrations of Israel's leading antagonist and to screen out the Soviet Union. Sadat would now be reduced to the status of Hussein. Where Sadat had eliminated the Russians, Hussein had eliminated the fedayeen, and had obtained no American help against Israel in exchange, yet still found himself dependent in the end on American patrimony. It was as if the US had succeeded in reaping the benefits in the Middle East that the Soviets had reaped by presiding at the Indo-Pakistani Tashkent settlement of 1965, without even having to bother to engineer a settlement.

 

But this interpretation, carried to such conclusions, surely goes too far in ascribing clairvoyance, Machiavellian cunning, and single-mindedness to a Nixon administration that in all probability was merely attempting to muddle through. The wish to buy time, and to defuse the Arab rage and the Soviet build-up, was surely there, but so was the hope that by casting around persistently, the elements of a settlement could somehow be found. The real import of the Machiavellian interpretation lies on the ex post facto level: in looking to the future, and with the failure of its earlier initiatives to unearth any archaeological treasures, the Nixon administration may conclude that it has already arrived at the best of all possible worlds, that time is on its side and that it will suffice to try to buy more time with occasional small incremental payments.

 

II. OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE: (1) PRESSURE ON ISRAEL

 

Ever since the 1967 war it has been obvious to all that the one American option that could have done the most to change the whole structure of diplomatic bargaining and break the deadlock, but that has been consistently eschewed, was to give Israel's arm a really sharp and determined twist. Whether Presidents Johnson and Nixon judged that this was not necessary, that it would backfire in the short run, that it was undesirable in the long run, that Israeli hegemony was preferable to a settlement anyway, or that such a manoeuvre was simply unrealistic on domestic political grounds, they and their advisers were surely well aware that it represented a crucially important choice logically available to them. More than that, it represented the one means by which the United States could try, if she wished, not only to take the lead in arranging a settlement, and indeed play an almost unilateral role, but also control the pace and much of the substance of the negotiations, as well as the modalities of guaranteeing the results. No one in Washington, any more than in Israel or the Arab world, has forgotten the decisive role of President Eisenhower in 1957; nor do they fail to realize that this time, on paper at least, a much more definitive settlement would be the prize, given the context of Resolution 242 and the repeated declarations of Cairo and Amman accepting the principle of a permanent and formal commitment to peace.

 

Furthermore, despite the reluctance of anyone in Washington to acknowledge it publicly and despite all that Mr. Nixon has done to strengthen Israel's military capacity, it has been clear since 1970 and perhaps even since 1968 that the chief obstacle to a settlement in official American eyes has been the unwillingness of Israel to contemplate anything like a return to pre-1967 borders. Even during the Johnson era the distaste in Israel for Resolution 242 and the arbitrary Israeli position in Jerusalem made their mark; since then, even the build-up of Soviet forces in Egypt did not preclude Secretary Rogers from pursuing his initiatives. The unhappiness in the State Department was almost embarrassingly obvious when Israel raised a storm over Soviet-Egyptian "standstill" violations in 1970; so eager was Washington to bring Israel back to the Jarring talks it granted further arms shipments simply to gain that concession. During the 1971 negotiations it was not for nothing that Sisco had to spend a prolonged and fruitless period behind doors in Jerusalem, rather than Cairo, trying to nail down the agreement that in the end eluded him. The whole tenor of the 1970-71 diplomatic contacts, from the Rogers Plan onward, was one of Israeli apprehension and Egyptian and Jordanian hope that the United States would decide to lay down the law to Israel. For it was in Israel that the US sought and failed to gain the key concessions, after winning them in Cairo. Why, in the summer of 1971, was not the "interim settlement" pressed on Israel by more than verbal means? By now it must be clear to even the most naively hopeful people that the search for peace is not simply the unravelling of a tangled knot or the fitting together of a picture puzzle or the unearthing of a potsherd, and that it may require the forceful insistence that people do what they do not wish to do.

 

What would the imposition of peace entail? In its simplest and most modest - perhaps inadequate - form, it would merely require a one-step ice- breaking operation in which the US would demand an Israeli acceptance of the principle of full withdrawal. Were this accomplished successfully, hopefully it might suffice to set the negotiating process in motion, perhaps with the aid of the ongoing mediation of Secretary-General Waldheim or of the United States itself, perhaps also with a break in the previous Arab unwillingness to meet face to face with the Israelis. Arrangements for demilitarized zones and the stationing of international peace-keeping forces, Israeli navigation through Tiran and Suez, the disposition of the Gaza Strip and even East Jerusalem, the compensation and resettlement of Palestinian refugees and the signature of a peace treaty might - according to this hope - prove possible through voluntary agreement, without the further twisting of arms on either side, once the territorial question were resolved in the Arab states' favour. It may be argued that on matters other than territory the concessions would be overwhelmingly from the Arab side, but that Egypt and Jordan have made clear their willingness to concede heavily in those domains if only they could recover their territory. The rehabilitation of the Palestinians would then become mainly the task of King Hussein, presumably by granting them a choice, as he has proposed, between autonomy and independence in the West Bank and Gaza. The evacuation of the Syrian Golan Heights, and presumably their demilitarization, would await the readiness of the Syrian government to adopt the path chosen by Egypt and Jordan.

 

A less sanguine view would require the continuance of heavy American pressure on Israel and the two Arab states alike, beyond extracting the initial territorial concession from the former, so as to ensure that the Israeli concession was more than nominal and that the Arab side did not seek to make too much of it. In order to prevent an Arab expectation that other advantages as well could be wrung from Israel with the aid of an over-eager United States, it would become necessary for the US to spell out in advance the character of the whole package and to play an active role of informal arbitration throughout the whole process of negotiations. For even after the most substantial questions were settled, some matters of great symbolic importance and sensitivity, such as arrangements for East Jerusalem or the return of token numbers of Palestinian refugees to Israel, could probably not be negotiated at all without the pointed and forceful suggestions of an influential outsider. And even beyond the signature of peace terms, that outsider would presumably need to be prepared to remain close at hand in the background for years to come, to underwrite the relationships of the parties through a succession of disputes and crises as unforseeable situations arose.

 

Once the initial ice were broken on the territorial question, the form of US pressure on Egypt and Jordan would be obvious: only the US would be in a position to insist that Israel follow through. Even in the absence of any progress at all, the mere potentiality of American pressure on Israel, hypothetical as it is, has been enough to keep the Egyptian and Jordanian governments knocking at Washington's door. The vital question is what kind of pressure the US can think of putting on the Israeli government, and how effective it might be. Leaving aside the wider questions of its desirability in principle, the kind of precedent it would set in American foreign policy and the degree of interest on President Nixon's part in exchanging the present Middle Eastern status quo for the uncertain future introduced by an imposed settlement, even the strongest advocate of putting pressure on Israel is bound to admit that it would entail considerable risks and would not be assured of even short-term success.

 

Pressure would presumably contain three essential components. The first and most obvious is arms supply. The US would announce flatly to Israel that no further military equipment, including spare parts, would be provided - let alone financed -until Israel formally accepted the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, declared her readiness to evacuate the occupied territories in exchange for the conclusion of peace and acknowledged the legitimacy of an Arab interest in the future of Jerusalem. She would also, initially or later, be called upon to acknowledge in principle some share of her own of responsibility for the plight of the Palestinians. Other forms of military cooperation, such as the exchange of intelligence and the training of Israeli military-related personnel in the United States, would be suspended.

 

Secondly and equally important, the American President would plunge into an energetic campaign to convince the American public of the inadmissibility of Israel's territorial claims and of the inappropriateness of the assumptions, so widely propagated and casually accepted within American society, that the Middle Eastern conflict has been simply over the right of a peace-loving Israel to exist in the face of genocidally-minded neighbours, that the commitment of the most directly involved Arab states to find a way out of the conflict should not be taken seriously, that the Palestinians' past and future are no concern of Israel's, nor relations with the Arab world as a whole a concern of the United States.

 

A sustained presidential campaign of this sort should not -obviously could not - deteriorate into an acerbic, electoral-style partisan detraction of the Zionist cause by the White House, but would need to focus on the positive message that a settlement in the Middle East is possible and can be made to endure, that Israel can remain secure without occupying Arab lands, that the essential object of winning Arab acceptance of Israel as a neighbour is possible if Israel for her part can undertake the statesmanship of seeking to accommodate legitimate Arab needs and that in the meanwhile, Americans will do well to avoid an emotionally charged partisanship on behalf of either side. Some of these points have reportedly been made at times by Secretary Rogers in private to Israeli leaders and their most prominent American supporters; the object in a presidential campaign would not be to change the minds of the Israeli government but to reduce their hitherto almost unchallenged access to the mind of the American public and through it to the Congress. The mere beginnings of such a public campaign by Eisenhower in 1957 had an electrifying effect, and undoubtedly added much to the frame of mind of the Ben Gurion government which finally consented to withdraw from Gaza and Sharm al-Shaikh - not because the American press, Congress, or the public all lined up uncritically behind the President but because his position earned at least a viable minimum of credibility.

 

The third component of American pressure would be the right negotiator, with the necessary Presidential backing as well as personal prestige. Under normal circumstances the Secretary of State would hold these qualifications as a matter of course, but with the eclipse of his office in the shadow of Dr. Kissinger and with the failure of his efforts of 1970-71, during which he not only failed to receive any endorsement from the White House but on occasion was actually undercut, it is doubtful that Mr. Rogers is now the man. John Connally (who turned up somewhat mysteriously in Saudi Arabia in February 1973) appears ideally suited in many respects but has two disadvantages: he is close to oil companies and thereby risks being pegged in some circles as insensitive to Israeli interests; and he is a potential presidential candidate. He may be the man to twist Arab arms, if such a time should come, but not those of Israel. An obvious man to do the latter would be Henry Kissinger, equipped with his aura of success in various world capitals - and his Jewish background.

 

The very mention of Kissinger's name brings to mind many of the immediate and long-range difficulties with the notion of an imposed settlement. It should be made clear that his Jewish identity is not one of these: if the Elders of Zion had ever existed and were seeking to place a man at the President's elbow, he would turn out to be a rather different individual. Kissinger has shown no great interest in Middle Eastern problems in the past. In any case he is far too professionally minded to lose sight of the essentials of American global requirements, which he views in a tightly disciplined and integrated framework rather than as a collection of romantic predilections.

 

A small and speculative but perhaps telltale observation is that in each of his Vietnam press conferences of October 1972 and January 1973, Kissinger alluded pointedly to the hope of restoring "peace in America" as a result of achieving peace in Asia. A practitioner of power politics he may be, yet mindful of the price a government pays abroad for the divisions it faces at home. While this is not Kissinger's own domain, the remark does point to a fear that any President must take into consideration. Even if Nixon as a second- term President cared nothing for his party's loss of electoral favour, the heat and anger of public debate that a "get tough" policy toward Israel would surely generate and the prospect of revolt from a Democratic Congress already up in arms over the President's arbitrary impoundment of appropriated funds, are bound to make him wonder whether he could even control, let alone justify, a controversial Middle East policy. What would he plan to do if Congress seized the initiative over his veto and voted for new arms shipments to Israel, accompanied by a resolution endorsing her bargaining position?

 

Then again, the President might still contemplate such risks if he judged the price worth the result. He has, however, repeatedly advanced the idea beginning before he took office - that the risk of war in the Middle East was the most important thing to avoid and that the best assurance of preventing it was to keep Israel militarily stronger than her adversaries. As he said on July 1, 1970, "once the balance of power shifts where Israel is weaker than its neighbors, there will be war." [2] This did not mean an endorsement of Israel's stubbornness on the territorial question, but it did mean an insistence that the US would do nothing to undercut her bargaining power.

 

Part of this concern was evidently related to the Soviet presence in Egypt, which Kissinger, in a much-quoted remark, expressed the desire to "expel." Another less publicized concern, but voiced privately in Washington frequently enough, and attributed to Kissinger among others, was that Israel's stubbornness could be expected to increase whenever she felt militarily threatened and that the way to soften her stance was to accede to some of her arms requests, especially whenever fresh Soviet arms flowed to Egypt. (The notion that extra arms merely strengthen Israel's capacity to sustain a stubborn policy does not seem to have the same currency.) The Israeli nuclear programme, about which Washington officials say as little as possible but worry a good deal in private, is a part of this picture: satisfaction to Israel in conventional arms is seen as a deterrent to the completion, and in some great crisis perhaps the use, by Israel of atomic weapons. [3] 

 

In short, according to this viewpoint, putting an arms-supply squeeze on Israel would raise the danger of preemptive Israeli military action against her neighbours, with the further risks of escalation, Soviet involvement and the loss of the very control over events that the US had sought to cultivate. This apprehension must be applied not only to the problems of initiating a pressure campaign against Israel, but to the whole prolonged period during which negotiations would take place.

 

In the longer run it must be said that imposing peace on Israel through pressure on her to accept what she considers unacceptable, does not fit well with the Nixon Doctrine, nor with Nixon's vision of a world-wide balance of power reincarnating the 19th century Concert of Europe. While the Nixon Doctrine looks forward to reducing America's direct involvement in other parts of the world, it also assumes the fostering of conditions in each of them in which American interests will receive protection, under stable circumstances, at the hands of reliable local powers. In the Middle East the creation of those stable circumstances may require a considerable adjustment in the Arabs' favour - the status quo is not as stable as what a settlement could provide - and whatever some may think, it would misrepresent the Nixon Doctrine to speak of Israel as a policeman designated to enforce American interests in the region, although in some situations it could come down to that. But a settlement imposed on Israel by material threats, rather than freely negotiated, would not be seen as a stable situation. It would implant permanent suspicion into American-Israeli relations, and it would threaten to draw the US into a long- term close involvement in the Middle East, either to restrain Israel or to protect her. Within the logic of the Nixon Doctrine it would be easier for the US to take her distance from the area in the absence of a settlement, provided Israel remains secure and her Arab opponents remain neutralized, than under an imposed settlement that Israel has an ongoing incentive to upset.

 

The Nixon Doctrine was not conceived for the sake of regional intimidation or exploitation (whatever eventual potentiality it may offer for that) but for disengaging America from the absurd commitment to support every local vendetta that may be pursued in the name of anti-communism. The Doctrine does not, however, turn America's back on what it assumes to be a continuing worldwide competition with the Soviet Union for position and influence. In this competition the military equation is conceived as a constant underlying factor, and Soviet ties with various Arab states - together with the presence of the Soviet fleet in the Mediterranean - appear most importantly as an effort to turn the flank of NATO and to establish access to Africa and the Indian Ocean. American friends in the neighbourhood - Greece, the CENTO countries, Saudi Arabia, Israel - may not be the object of any particular threat from the Soviet Union itself, but take on importance insofar as they pose counterweights to the Soviets' partners - to wit, the "progressive" Arab states. In recognition of this service, Washington expects to accord delicate treatment to her friends, an approach which leaves room for urging - even pleading with - them to modify certain policies, but not for forcing them to do so.

 

III. OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE: (2) PLAYING FOR TIME

 

In the absence of strong pressure on Israel, it seems unlikely that the United States can hope to bring about any break in the Middle East deadlock. There are, however, a number of things it can consider doing so as to sustain the illusion of purposeful activity. Depending on whose illusion it is – someone else's or their own - this may be a good or a bad thing for the United States. For the time being it is hard to see what harm can come of it to Israel, nor what good to the Arabs.

 

First, there is the possibility of trying to arrange a separate peace between Israel and Jordan - something King Hussein has at times said he would never consider, but at other times has hinted that perhaps he might. The idea of such a deal evokes the memory of King Abdullah, which in turn reminds us of its most immediate drawback: Abdullah was assassinated. Still, it could be tried. There is nothing inevitable about the assassination of controversial heads of state, or else Hussein and many others would have disappeared long ago.

 

The underlying danger goes well beyond Hussein's personal safety. Even if nothing happened to him, a separate peace with Israel might simply prove unworkable. Rather than following suit as desired, the Egyptian and Syrian governments, supported by others, could well put the Jordanian regime in an intolerably isolated position. Moreover, its own Palestinian subjects would be likely to reinforce its isolation from within the country. While many Palestinians might go along with a compromise peace with Israel so long as it offered them a chance to salvage their lives and was recommended to them by several Arab governments, for Hussein to compromise with Israel and simultaneously double-cross his fellow Arab rulers would surely stir up misgivings and a good deal of angry opposition. The failure of a separate peace could wash away much else besides: the Hashemite throne, the Israeli-Egyptian cease-fire, the last traces of Resolution 242 and the Soviet-American detente.

 

For these reasons it seems unlikely that such a peace will be signed, although with American encouragement it is conceivable that it may be bruited about for a time. There may be a temptation in Washington to give such encouragement on a tentative basis, either to stimulate anxiety among the Egyptians and elicit new concessions from them (e.g., face-to-face talks with Israel), or else simply to keep King Hussein on the string. Meanwhile it is clear that one thing Mr. Nixon is not about to do is to give up on Hussein as an interlocutor and seek an arrangement behind his back between Israel and leaders of the West Bank population.

 

If a separate Israeli-Jordanian peace is not pursued, there remains the possibility of reverting to the Egyptian front and dusting off the proposals of 1971 to open the Suez Canal, or else a new Rogers Plan for renegotiation of an overall peace agreement. Dr. Jarring may well feel used up by now, especially after the Israeli display of resentment over his alleged overstepping of his mandate in February 1971. But there remains Mr. Waldheim himself, who has not yet taken his first full plunge into the frothy waters of the Middle East.

 

Nixon is likely to receive advice from some quarters to keep the US in the background and encourage other intermediaries to do the running: if not the Secretary-General, then perhaps a group of small powers who enjoy good relations with both Israel and the Arab world. Turkey, Iran, Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria are possible examples. One argument in favour of such a course is that whenever the US attempts to mediate, the contending parties, mindful of the US as a grand-scale dispenser of punishments and rewards in the world, immediately tend to escalate their demands and harden their positions, thus causing any existing basis for agreement to dissolve. An argument against trying this is that there is no reason to expect it to succeed. A more realistic justification is that since the chances of agreement are virtually nil anyway, it is better to leave it to lesser parties who have little at stake to make the unpalatable proposals and earn the inevitable blame.

 

Some may suppose that the passage of time and the consolidation of Israel's presence in the occupied territories will bring Jordan and Egypt to abandon the hope of gaining outside leverage to remove Israel and conclude that the only alternative is to show up at the negotiating table, face to face and hat in hand, to sue for peace on whatever terms Israel is magnanimous enough to grant them. This is, after all, precisely what the Israeli policy since 1967 has aimed at: "to reduce the Arabs' alternatives to one." Of course, it may be that the Arabs can wait indefinitely too; but if they do so quietly and ineffectually, with no more than an occasional hijacking or artillery barrage, then President Nixon may well ask himself why it is worth any trouble to upset the status quo. As a report from Washington stated, "Middle East experts have stressed that there seems to be no cause for urgency and that a strong case could be made for preserving the status quo." [4] 

 

IV. THE DRIFT There are three dangers that President Nixon might be expected to think about in his calculation of the prospects of a policy of playing for time. One is the risk of further Soviet penetration of the Arab world. A second is the spectre of Arab exploitation of the energy crisis, by manipulating the flow of oil and dollar reserves. Third is the more amorphous but still disquieting possibility of general deterioration within Arab society.

 

The first two of these dangers are of the sort that any American government, and none more than the current one, will readily take into consideration; but the particular conclusions that it draws in terms of policy toward Israel are not necessarily the ones that Arabs would imagine. The Soviet expulsion from Egypt, for instance, seems to have fostered the moral that the Soviet Union has little to offer the Arabs: the Egyptians realized that the Soviets were unwilling to become closely embroiled in Israel, particularly in view of the strength of the American commitment to the latter. Moscow's interest in a global detente with the US proved greater than its interest in capitalizing on the Egyptians' or other Arabs' helplessness.

 

It is too early to tell what the Nixon administration will make of the prospectively heavy American dependence on Arab oil. It is an administration that is not deaf to the voices of oil companies. A diplomat with long experience in several Arab countries, Mr. James Akins, has been assigned since 1967 to the State Department's Office of Fuels and Energy, a good vantage point from which to ponder the link between oil and Palestine. Mr. Akins and others are well aware of the rising bargaining strength and skill of OPEC and of such studies as that prepared in the fall of 1972 for the Arab League by Dr. Yusif Sayegh on the possibilities of using oil for political leverage against the US and Britain. [5] The proposal of the Saudi Minister for Petroleum Affairs, Shaikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani, that Saudi Arabia be permitted to invest in the oil marketing business in the United States, has been accepted in principle by the US government.

 

But what conclusions will all of this lead to? By far the largest producers in the Middle East are Iran and Saudi Arabia, both conservative and closely tied to the US politically, and the first of them on friendly terms with Israel. An extensive pattern of Saudi investment in American industries may well be looked upon as a guarantee of continuing political cooperation rather than as a potential anti-American weapon. All that can be safely assumed on behalf of Arab oil leverage in the next few years is that the US will strive to head off further outbreaks of violence between Israel and the Arabs and that it may take a back seat in diplomacy. As for anything beyond that, as yet, there are simply no signs of any agonizing reappraisals in Washington.

 

It is the third danger, that of social and political deterioration within the Arab countries, that may prove to be the most serious for the US yet the least likely to attract much interest from the government. The point is not that the radicalization of growing numbers of Arabs (especially the younger and better educated, whose weight will be particularly felt in coming years) is primarily the result of America's Palestine policy, nor even necessarily the result of the Arabs' own defeats by Israel, except in the case of the Palestinians themselves. There are too many other problems within Arab society, related to the strains imposed by modern life on culture and social structure and to the failures of economic development and political leadership, to allow us to imagine that much of the process of alienation we are now witnessing would not be with Us even in the absence of Israel. What is more to the point is that over the past quarter of a century the Palestine crisis has crystallized the accumulating unhappiness of a whole generation, and continues today to channel it in a rising stream against certain targets that under other circumstances would not be so vulnerable: the United States, their own governments and the established but shaky fabric of institutions and classes in their own society.

 

The failures vis-a-vis Israel in the last few years alone proceed down the scale from that of the Palestinian resistance movement to win victories on the battlefield, to its inability to win more than arm's-length acceptance by the Arab governments, to the absence of more than a marginal and paternalistic provision for Palestinian self-determination in any of the peace proposals in which Arab governments have shown interest and finally down to the poor prospects that even those proposals, minimal as they are, will gain Israeli acceptance and be put into effect.

 

Taken together, these failures are a powerful symbol to galvanize a spirit of nihilism and despair and to direct it in the future not only against the United States and even the Soviet Union, but also against the whole domestic structure of authority on which any real social progress in Arab lands must depend. As that happens, the security of oil arrangements may prove to be only the first (if most spectacular) casualty for American interests, and Americans may well come to wish that their government had taken decisive steps to stem the drift and give the forces of moderation in Arab society a chance to recover their grip on affairs while there was still time.

 

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Malcolm H. Kerr, who is the author of The Arab Cold War and other works on the Middle East, is Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angel

1 Newsweek, December 13, 1971. 

2 For discussion see William B. Quandt, "The Middle East Conflict in US Strategy, 1970-71," Jouirnal of Palestine Studies, I, 1 (Autumn 1971), p. 45.

3 See Fuad A. Jabber, "Israel's Nuclear Options," ibid., pp. 36-38. 

4 Bernard Gwertzman in the New York Times, February 7, 1973, p. 16. 

5 For a detailed summary see The Arab World Weekly (Beirut), December 9 arid 16, 1972.