Analytical Articles on the Arab-Israeli Conflict, including Senator William Fulbright on the Great Powers and the Conflict

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VOL. 3

1973/74

No. 2
P. 177
Views From Abroad
Analytical Articles on the Arab-Israeli Conflict, including Senator William Fulbright on the Great Powers and the Conflict
FULL TEXT

THE GREAT POWERS AND THE MIDDLE EAST

An analysis by Senator William Fulbright of the implications of the Middle East conflict for American-Soviet detente was presented on the US Senate floor on November 9:

"As the Middle East crisis continues, its consequences are felt beyond the region in concentric rings. One immediate effect has been the acute fuel shortage necessitating the emergency measures called for by the President in his speech of November 7. The energy crisis is by no means solely the result of the partial and selective Arab boycott; even Canadians have chosen this moment to increase the price of their oil, and the United States imports more oil from Canada than from any other foreign country. Increased costs and shortages of fuel will inevitably result not only in dis- comfort for most Americans and hardship for many farmers and others whose livelihood is affected, but also in shortages of other, petroleum-based goods, shortages of which will accelerate inflation.

"The Middle East war has also provided grist for the mill of our redoubtable cold warriors, who have seized this occasion to attack cooperation with the Soviet Union. Assaults upon the merits of detente with the Soviet Union are not only inflammatory but sterile. They are sterile because the detractors seem to assume that there is a satisfactory alternative to Soviet-American cooperation, when in fact the only alter- native is the cold war with its endless polemics, the ruinous arms race, and periodic trips to the nuclear brink. It may well be granted that Soviet-American cooperation in the current Middle East crisis has been less than might have been desired, but does it follow that we would be better off if there had been no cooperation at all? The burden of proof has been placed on the wrong side. Instead of holding the advocates of detente to an exacting, if not impossible, standard, the detractors ought to be required to show that they have something better to offer.

"I doubt that they can, although it appears that they shall have their chance. Bowing to political reality, the administration has abandoned for the time being its effort to secure equal trade treatment for the Soviet Union. It did so to avoid a prospective congressional vote on the Jackson amendment, which would make both equal trade treatment and ordinary commercial credits contingent upon free emigration from the Soviet Union - a blatant intrusion upon internal Soviet affairs. The result is that, for the time being at least, Soviet trade will continue to be discriminated against, and we shall now see how the Jackson approach works for our national interest. We shall see, specifically, whether continued trade discrimination provides leverage for Soviet-American cooperation in the Middle East, and whether it will induce the Russians to drop remaining emigration controls and grant civil liberties to their citizens. Perhaps the Jackson approach will work, but if it should fail to bring the desired results, the congressional majorities which have insisted upon linking equal trade treatment with internal reforms within the Soviet Union may wish to reconsider their attitude toward detente and intervention in Soviet internal affairs.

"My own view is that the best - and most - we can do to advance the cause of liberties within the Soviet Union is to build an international atmosphere of security and cordiality - through trade, investment, cultural exchange, frequent political contacts and, above all, arms control. These are also the best we can do for world peace - and for peace in the Middle East.

"Whether or not the Soviet-American encounter of October 24 and 25 qualifies as the 'most difficult crisis' since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 as President Nixon said, it was serious enough to point up the surpassing importance of Soviet- American cooperation in matters of world peace, and also to point up the interest of all nations in the resolution once and for all of the Arab-Israel conflict which brought the great powers to the crisis of late October. The temptations to recrimination are strong: President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger may have over- reacted with their military alert, but that is over and done with, and the crisis ended with the joint Soviet-American sponsorship of the United Nations Emergency Force to supervise the truce.

"It is also being widely contended that the mere threat of unilateral Soviet military intervention in the Middle East proves the hollowness of detente. Are we to conclude that a cold war stance would have served us better? Would the Soviets have shown greater restraint and good faith if our relations were still frozen as in Stalin's time? It seems hardly likely. Instead of dismantling the detente, the logical implication of the crisis of late October is the need to strengthen Soviet- American cooperation.

"The fact that detente is fragile does not mean that it is futile. Quite the contrary: every time the two great nuclear powers come to a point of confrontation, the necessity of detente is reinforced. What the detractors cannot seem to get through their heads is that there is no alternative except endless conflict. We and the Russians have to get along with each other, because in matters of world peace, neither can get along without the other.

"Perhaps there has been some misunderstanding of the meaning of detente. It does not mean that the two superpowers have come to see everything eye to eye: on the contrary, we remain political rivals with inimical political systems. Detente in its essence is an agreement not to let these differences explode into nuclear war. We may hope to mitigate our ideological differences through time and human contact, but we dare not force the pace lest we undercut the purpose of maintaining peace. That is what is so wrong and mistaken about the Jackson amendment: it would force the pace, and would do so almost certainly to no avail. Perhaps there is something in our Puritan heritage which causes us to feel that if we cannot have perfect harmony, we do not want any at all. Instead of treating our various dealings with the Soviet Union as simply problems to be solved, we have tended to approach each encounter as a new morality play. The sorting out of good guys from scoundrels may be mordant fun for moral crusaders, but its uses are limited - and so too are its moral dividends. I do not know - or much care - whether the Russians' motives are idealistic or opportunistic as long as they behave sensibly and cooperate with us for peace. Nor am I prepared to excommunicate them from the human race if they cooperate, with us on one occasion and then compete with us on another; I am in favour of seeking out areas of cooperation wherever they can be found and building upon them to what- ever extent that is possible.

"I might say, parenthetically, that I feel somewhat the same way about the Nixon Administiation: as long as the President and his advisers are working for improved relations with the Soviet Union and for a viable, compromise peace in the Middle East, there seems little to be gained from speculation on their 'ulterior' - or domestic - motives. In some of the more heated debates one hears these days in this polarized, agitated political community, one is reminded of the preacher in Tom Sawyer who delivered a sermon 'so prosy that many a head by and by began to nod - and yet it was an argument that dealt in limitless fire and brimstone and thinned the predestined elect down to a company so small as to be hardly worth the saving.'

"The Russians have shown once again in the recent Middle East crisis that they hardly qualify for the 'predestined elect.' That is hardly news. But they also showed that they are not Attila's hordes or the devil's minions; they demonstrated again that they tend to be prudent in a crisis and that they are quite as resolved as we to keep the Middle East conflict within bounds. Their short-lived move toward unilateral intervention in Egypt was apparently conceived in haste as an emergency measure to save the Egyptian Third Corps from destruction by the Israelis after the initial truce broke down and the Israelis drove rapidly to seize more territory. It is hardly likely that we would have done less if the Israeli army had been trapped and threatened with annihilation.

"The lesson of the Middle East crisis is not the incompleteness of detente, which is and always has been quite evident. The true lesson is the necessity of great power cooperation, through the United Nations, to put a quick and equitable end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. As long as that conflict goes on, the great powers - and the world - are threatened with nuclear confrontation. It cannot, therefore, be contended that the issue is only one for the belligerents themselves. That would be the case if the Soviet Union and the United States were willing to abandon their respective clients, withhold all further arms, and consign them to each other's mercy to work out, or fight out, their differences as they will. But the Russians are not likely to abandon the Arabs, and we are certainly not going to abandon Israel. Over the course of the last twenty- five years we have become politically and morally committed to the survival of Israel. But we are not committed to the retention by Israel of her conquests of 1967 and 1973. It is up to us, and up to the Russians, working through the United Nations, to apply whatever degree of persuasion we can, or whatever degree of pressure we must, to bring about a compromise peace based upon the principles of the Security Council resolution of November 1967. It would then be the responsibility of the Soviet Union and the United States, through the United Nations, to guarantee the settlement.

"The fourth Arab-Israeli war has created a new situation in the Middle East. The Arabs did not win this war, and were probably about to lose it when the truce came. But they have demonstrated to themselves and to the world that Arab armies can fight with tenacity and make effective use of modern, sophisticated weapons. They have confronted Israel with an exceedingly bleak prospect for the future if a settlement is not now reached, That prospect is for still another war, and then even another - not lightning wars like that of 1967 but wars of attrition in which the Arabs would have a mounting advantage deriving from their vastly greater numbers, their growing technological capacity, and the enormous financial re- sources of the oil producing states of the Arab world.

"The oil producing states have barely begun to use their leverage and one hopes that they will not. Saudi Arabia and the other oil producers of the Persian Gulf have been reasonably restrained thus far, but even the limited production cut- backs already instituted threaten the United States and other countries with fuel shortages this winter. The Middle East Economic Survey reports production cuts of more than a million barrels a day overall, or some 20 per cent of total Arab production. Dependent on the Arab world for not much more than 10 per cent of its oil consumption, the United States is unlikely to be severely injured by the current cutback, but we must certainly take warning for the future. Our dependence upon Arab petroleum is increasing rapidly, and will continue to increase for some years to come even if we embark upon a costly crash programme for the development of alternate energy sources. Furthermore, it is a virtual certainty that the Arab oil producers would make ever more drastic use of their oil weapon in a fifth, sixth or seventh round of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"Editorialists may fulminate against 'oil blackmail,' but here too we are ill- served by self-righteous moralizing. The use of economic sanctions in international politics is not an Arab innovation. We ourselves have not shrunk from economic 'blackmail' in dealing with such countries as Cuba, Chile, North Vietnam, and for that matter the Soviet Union by with- holding credits and most-favoured-nation trade treatment. There is no objective moral difference between American trade sanctions as a lever on Soviet emigration policy and Arab oil sanctions as a lever on American policy toward Israel. Arabs, like Americans, believe themselves to be using sanctions for a moral end.

"There is, however, a political distinction, and one might as well be brutally frank about it. The United States is a superpower which can get away with the use of economic sanctions because of its power. On the other hand, Arab oil producers are militarily insignificant, gazelles as I suggested once before, in a world of lions. I was most gratified on an earlier occasion to have my apprehensions of possible military intervention in the Persian Gulf dismissed as unfounded: the Senator from Washington (Mr. Jackson) thought my apprehension 'most unfortunate' and 'utterly irresponsible.' Despite these assurances, I would hope that the oil producing states will continue to show restraint and treat their oil wealth as an international responsibility, if only for their own protection. Just as they feel impelled to use oil for political purposes to which they attach great importance, they must take account of the pressures and temptations to which the powerful industrial nations would be subjected if their economies should be threatened by severe and protracted energy crisis.

"For its part the United States can readily avoid conflict with the oil producing states of the Persian Gulf. Most of these states, and especially the largest and richest, Saudi Arabia, desire close and friendly relations with the United States. There is no direct conflict of interests between these or any other Arab states and the United States. The only issue between us is the Arab-Israel conflict, which it is in our interests to resolve in any case. We come back, therefore, to the necessity of an early, compromise peace. We ourselves have three basic interests in the Middle East: a secure, peaceful Israel; friendly relations with the Arab states and a reliable source of oil; and the avoidance of conflict with the Soviet Union. These interests are neither incompatible nor unattainable - if we pursue a rational policy. Our requirement is peace and the time for it is now, before another military truce hardens into another untenable and illusory status quo. The precise terms will have to be worked out in protracted negotiations, but the general requirements are clear: the recovery of lost lands by the Arabs and security for Israel. Concessions - great concessions - will be required on both sides. The Arabs cannot demand to have all of their requirements met as a precondition before they even start negotiations. Nor indeed can they expect to have every last inch of the territories lost in 1967 restored in a final settlement, although I would hope and expect that territorial changes would be confined to those 'insubstantial alterations required for mutual security' referred to in the Rogers Plan of 1969.

"The Israelis, for their part, must give up the chimera of absolute military security through the occupation of territory. Recognizing that the absolute military security of one nation means absolute insecurity for its neighbours, Israel is going to have to reconcile itself to compromise, and time is no longer on her side. Whatever else the recent war has shown, it has shown that Israel's military supremacy is a diminishing asset. As Israel's elder statesman and first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, recognized some time ago, 'real peace with our Arab neighbours - mutual trust and friendship - that is the only true security.'

"All concerned must recognize, and at long last take steps to redress, the great wrong done to the Palestinian people. Whatever form a new political dialogue takes, the Palestinians are entitled to participate as a recognized national group. The outcome could be a new Palestinian state or confederation with Jordan, combined with arrangements for repatriation, resettlement and compensation. Whatever the settlement, the dispossessed and long- suffering Palestinians must be equal partners in shaping it.

"It is not my purpose here to outline a detailed peace plan for the Middle East. I have suggested schemes in the past, and so have many others, and some of the suggestions made have seemed both equitable and practical. The missing elements have been good sense and good will. Possibly - just possibly - the recent war will have instilled some measure of these into the thinking of both sides. One surely hopes so, but to the extent that good sense and the spirit of compromise are lacking among the belligerents, it will become the responsibility of outsiders to bring them to bear.

"That is where Soviet-American detente comes in. The greater the cooperation of the great powers, working through the United Nations, the greater the likelihood of an equitable, viable, compromise peace. Such a peace in turn, guaranteed and supervised by the great powers, working through the United Nations, would further strengthen the detente itself, while also removing the one great obstacle to our good relations with the oil producing states of the Arab world. The political factors involved - Arab-Israel, energy and detente - can be mutually reinforced in a constructive direction, just as they have been mutually debilitating in the past. Like the Balkans before 1914, the Middle East has been the potential flash-point of great power conflict. To the extent that the Middle East is stabilized, so too will world peace be stabilized. Perhaps when wisdom and patience have brought us to that high plateau it will become feasible to look beyond peace, toward the other possible benefits of detente."