Formulation of Israeli Palestine Policy: A Consideration of the Variables

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VOL. 10


No. 4
P. 45
Formulation of Israeli Palestine Policy: A Consideration of the Variables


While the attempt to predict actual political behaviour is generally as risky as it is unrewarding, there appears to be value in identifying and evaluating the variables which may bear upon Israeli intentions and capabilities with regard to the Palestine question in the decade of the 1980's. This article grew out of a paper read in Amman early in 1981 in which the author attempted to assess such behaviour, paying especial attention not only to historically reinforced patterns of initiative and response but also to momentum or drift in determining factors where such motion can be discerned. The thrust of this discussion is not to attempt predictions concerning the evolution in the 1980's of Israeli policy towards Palestine or the Arab states, but rather to propose for consideration a set of variables which can be organized according to three categories. These categories include 1) the evolution of the domestic political process in Israel; 2) the pattern of social and economic development within the country; and 3) the external factors impinging upon Israeli policy-makers as they weigh their options and formulate their programmes.

The Domestic Political Process

For the past four years the formulation of Israel's Palestine policy has been characterized by an intransigence towards territorial or political concessions, coupled with an aggressiveness in appropriation of all forms of Arab property which have surprised no one familiar with the Revisionist legacy of Vladimir Jabotinsky of which Menahem Begin and the Herut are the heirs. The determination of the Likud bloc to remain with its feet planted firmly in the soil of what it calls Eretz Israel, to increase the number and size of Jewish settlements and virtually to totalize control by Israel of the capital resources of Palestine has been no secret even to the most casual of observers. [1] At the same time, turning over to Yosef Burg, a cabinet member explicitly opposed to any form of territorial accommodation in Palestine, the leadership of negotiations with Egypt foreseen by the Camp David agreement, the Likud government talked Palestinian autonomy and "self-governing authority" with the Egyptian diplomats. The contradiction perceived by many in a posture that advanced militant settlement and expropriation policies on the one hand, while talking autonomy on the other was not apparent to members of the Likud cabinet. What was new, in fact, after the middle of 1977 was that the Herut heirs of Jabotinsky were driven by the challenge of actual physical possession of Palestine to articulate much more specifically than their forebears their vision of the fate and future of the Palestinians. [2] In casting about for solutions to the problem of maintaining Jewish sovereignty over a predominantly Jewish state covering all of the Land of Israel, but containing a huge minority of Arabs, the Begin government came up with an "autonomy of persons" concept that it distinguished from that of territorial autonomy. Many observers sympathetic to the Palestinian cause branded proposals based on "autonomy of persons" a transposition to the Near East of the South African "Bantustan." I cannot help but feel that the notion springs from much more proximate roots: the Ottoman millet system. At any rate, the Likud Palestine programme presented a way out of the dilemma inherent in their determination to maintain sovereignty over the remainder of Arab Palestine, and the need to deal with the multiple inconveniences direct Jewish rule of Arabs presented.

The Likud view of autonomy attracted no Palestinian support; nor did it attract the support of any Arab state - Egypt included. During 1980 and 1981 unrest on the West Bank became more widespread and escalated in intensity, at times almost to the point of open revolt. Israelis at the time smarted under the international opprobrium and growing isolation which were the response of the majority of the world community to the perceived intransigence of their government. Increasing numbers of Israelis were asking out loud what had happened to the heady promise of peace which first appeared at the time of Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in November 1977.

By mid-1981 the Tenth Knesset will be elected. Electoral polls during late 1980 and early 1981 demonstrated an overwhelming voter disillusionment with the Likud government, whose support had fallen to about one half of what it had been in 1977. [3] Of most concern to voters was the dismal state of the economy, and in particular the high inflation rate. The second concern on voters' minds were defence issues and the conduct of foreign policy. [4] In Fall 1980, only 17.8 percent of voters who had made up their minds would have voted for the Likud, while 48.5 percent favoured the Labour alignment. [5] A full 43 percent of voters, however, had not decided. By late winter of 1980, it appeared that if only voters who had made up their minds were to vote, Labour might well win an absolute parliamentary majority of sixty-three seats, obviating for the first time in the history of the Jewish state the need to form a coalition government with all the attendant trade-offs and compromises this system has typically produced. [6] As of March 1981, however, 38 percent of voters had not made up their minds, and it was this softness in public opinion which encouraged movement in the centre-right of the political spectrum towards formulation of a new party. It appeared most likely that Moshe Dayan, with the support of certain Rafi and former Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) politicians might present a list which could capture as many as twenty seats in the election, making a new Rahel (National Unity Party) faction an element to be reckoned with. [7] 

While it was highly unlikely that the unpopular Likud would win a plurality in the Tenth Knesset, the possibility of an understanding with a centrist faction led by Dayan or others made it impossible to rule out absolutely a return of Menahem Begin to power. If this were to happen, one would expect to see an effort made for continuation of aggressive settlement policies, an assertion of Israeli sovereignty over all the land of Palestine, and an accelerated appropriation of capital resources by Israel and various of its institutions. The need to accommodate Rahel, however, would almost certainly entail major concessions by Likud on its Palestine policy. Moshe Dayan, indeed, resigned from the Likud coalition in 1979 specifically because he was convinced that Begin and Yosef Burg had seriously mismanaged the peace negotiations.

During 1981 Dayan, while continuing to contend that Likud's rigidities and short-sightedness had caused Israel to miss a golden opportunity to move towards peace, also insisted that Labour was ready to make unilateral concessions to Jordan that could endanger Israel's security. He accused Shimon Peres of abandoning Labour's twelve-year-old commitment to the Allon Plan; his greatest fear was that they would permit the mountain slope along the West Bank to fall into Jordanian hands, when under any conceivable agreement it should remain under the control of the Israel Defense Force. In Dayan's opinion, Israel should impose Arab civil government in the West Bank and Gaza, create a strong local police force, dismantle the military government and pull Israeli troops out of all major areas of Arab population. He would insist on the right of Jewish settlers to live anywhere in these territories. After five years the Palestinian inhabitants and Jordan would be invited to negotiate federation, either between themselves, or with Israel. [8] 

Shimon Peres won undisputed leadership of the Labour Party in December 1980 after a bitter confrontation with Yitzak Rabin, whose uncharismatic style and maintenance of an illegal foreign bank account were viewed by some party loyalists as being factors behind the party's 1977 loss to Herut and its allies. High on the Labour list along with Peres were Abba Eban and Haim Bar-Lev, the party leader's personal choices for Foreign Minister and Defence Minister respectively. Strong internal Party pressures could, however, lead to placing Rabin in the latter position. [9] 

The rise of Shimon Peres in the Israeli political system occurred largely through his skillful utilization of a long succession of posts within the Defence Ministry dating back to the early 1950's and ranging from chief of overseas military missions to Director-General, Deputy Minister, and arms negotiator. Finally, in 1974, he became Defence Minister, in which position he was credited with the rebuilding of the military forces after the devastation they sustained in the October War of 1973. [10] As a hand-picked member in the 1960's of Ben-Gurion's splinter Rafi party, Peres was intimately associated with the radical change of direction in Israel which transformed Israel from a society based upon agricultural and light industrial production to one characterized by the most sophisticated technological and industrial capacity, which in turn provided the basis for the development of an armaments industry surpassed only by the most advanced powers of Europe and America. [11] 

In spite of Peres' association with some of the pivotal decisions and policies affecting the Jewish state, Labour Party leaders and the electorate at large have tended until now to view him as an adept political manipulator more than as a statesman. His political rise is often viewed as being a function more of skillful manoeuvre than of outright achievement, and his conflicts within government and party have often been perceived as stemming from personal ambition and personal disagreement more than from questions of principle. [12] 

Since Peres' ascendancy in the Labour Party he has sought to cultivate a new image. This new image, according to a Jerusalem Post writer, includes a shift from "outstanding hawkishness to a studied vagueness on the territories and relations with the Arab world."  [13] He stresses territorial compromise and the "Jordanian option." In his own words,

The Israel Labour Party would solve the double problem of Israel's security and self-determination for the Palestinians within a Jordanian-Palestinian framework.... My colleagues and I would not wish under any circumstances to rule over the more than a million Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, not because of the Arabs nor because of the Americans, but first and foremost because of being Jewish. The "raison d'etre" of Zionism and of the State of Israel was and continues to be, the safeguarding of the Jewish nature of the State. A bi-national state would quickly turn into a society of ruling and ruled classes which contradicts the essentials of Judaism and Zionism, their deepest and most basic values. [14] 

Peres continues, nevertheless, to suffer from certain problems of credibility both inside Israel and abroad. It is not forgotten that he played a critical role as Defence Minister in fostering the early settlements of Gush Emunim. [15] Such a history clashes with his 1981 assertion that to deal with Israel's economic crisis his first priority would be to slash funds for settlements in the occupied territories. [16] When asked to be more specific about the terms he would offer Jordan, Peres insists that he would not see himself as a ''contractor for dismantling settlements" in the West Bank; elsewhere he claims that current settler deployment would "not necessarily" determine future borders. [17] 

Abba Eban, the unofficial Foreign Minister-designate of the Labour Party, spoke frequently and eloquently during 1980 and 1981 of the issues distinguishing Labour's Palestine policy from that of the Likud. According to Eban, it is a cardinal principle of Labour policy that it does not envisage permanent Israeli rule over the Arabs of Judaea, Samaria, and Gaza:

To say that Arab rule over the inhabitants of Nablus is "foreign" while Israeli rule there is natural is to say something so close to insanity that the austere, pragmatic tradition of the Labour movement cannot sustain it even within the indulgent standards of electoral rhetoric. [18] 

Most Israeli leaders oppose direct rule of Palestinians because of the costs - moral, political, sociological, economic - to Israel. Eban comes closer than other political figures to viewing continued rule over Arabs as wrong because of what it is doing to the Arabs. He nevertheless favours maintaining Jewish settlement of Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and of a perimeter on Arab land along the 1948 "green" line. With regard to the large number of settlements created in other parts of the West Bank and Gaza, Eban stated, "I don't think our party knows itself what it would do once it had operative responsibility about realities which exist which we have not created." [19] 

The views of former Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, situated clearly within the framework of Labour's Palestine solution, were at once more negatively cast and more fully spelled out than those of Eban or Peres. Rabin, emphasizing security needs as explicitly as Moshe Dayan, regaled listeners during 1980 and early 1981 with frequent reiterations of his "Four No's": no withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, no negotiations with the PLO, no Palestinian state, no division of Jerusalem. Like other Labourites he favoured the "Jordanian option," spelling out a proposal for joint Israeli-Jordanian trusteeship over the West Bank exclusive of Jerusalem. Internal security responsibility would be shared, while Israeli forces would remain deployed for strategic and defense purposes. Jordanian officials would take steps necessary to "foster Palestinian autonomy." Failing agreement with the Jordanians, Rabin would move to create an "autonomous administrative authority" whose competence would apply to land as well as persons. However, the land concerned would amount to about seventy-five percent only of the West Bank and would exclude defence perimeters along the 1948 line and the Jordan River. While no new Jewish settlements would be created, existing settlements would not be dismantled. Internal security would remain an Israeli responsibility, while control over water supplies would be jointly shared by Israel and the new "autonomous administrative authority." [20] 

It is well to bear in mind that the individual and party perspectives on disposition of the Palestine problem emerge from a more or less coherent context of political culture and public opinion. What I call the progressive militarization of the Israeli political system and the governing elite cuts across party lines. It is interesting to recall that before 1967 Israel was governed by men and women whose deepest roots and instincts were civilian: Ben-Gurion, Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir. From the very year of their 1967 victory, and with the overwhelming consent of Israeli public opinion behind them, the Israeli leadership began a policy of prolonging occupation of what had remained of Arab Palestine and of buttressing that occupation with the foundation of military and civilian colonies. The possibility of resolution was subordinated to what the leadership perceived to be Israel's security requirements. Yigal Allon, a partisan of pre-emptive wars and in-depth strategic security arrangements, pressed forward his plan of ensuring Israel's permanent possession of those pieces of territory he thought indispensable to national security by settling them with Jews. By 1969 the Labour leadership, fearful of the international implications of public acceptance of General Allon's plan, had accepted it by informal gentleman's agreement known as the "Oral Law." [21] 

The determination to hold out on frontiers whose location was not concurred in by the nations sharing them, and to impose military government upon a reluctant and resisting population required that Israel be constantly stronger militarily than those peoples and states upon whom it was imposing its will. During the decade of the 1970's, the Israeli armed forces (regular and conscript) increased in size from 77,000 to 280,000 while quality and quantity of ground and air armaments improved dramatically.[22] The following table shows the extraordinary progression of the economic commitment Israeli society has made to its military expenditure in millions of constant 1973 dollars; the second row shows the same figures as a percentage of gross domestic product: [23] 



The figures confirm an almost 1,300 percent increase in annual military expenditures between 1960 and 1978, and a 500 percent increase since the year before the June War. The proportion of gross domestic product devoted to the military, which stood in the six to nine percent range before the June War, increased to the range of about one third in the 1970's. This dramatic increase in material commitment to the military has accompanied an equally dramatic rise to prominence of military figures within the ranks of the nation's governing elite. Increasingly, it is men with predominantly military backgrounds who attract the interest of the political parties and the confidence of the voters. A roster of political leaders of the 1970's is almost identical with the roster of the heroes of the battlefields of Israel's many wars: Dayan, Rabin, Allon, Weizman, Sharon, Haim Bar-Lev, Begin (who led the Irgun Svei Leumi), and Peres, whose career and rise to power took place almost exclusively within the Defence establishment. While there are a few military leaders whose sentiments are definitely dovish, the most important point here is that those of the majority are not and that these latter hold key positions within parties of the entire political spectrum from Herut to Mapam. There are those who argue that in the case of Israel the rise to political prominence of generals is not equated with the process political scientists call militarization. Don Peretz of the State University of New York at Binghamton contends that their rise does not constitute militarization because the generals represent a wide spectrum of political views once they reach political office. [24] Amos Perlmutter insists that the regime has not been militarized because the constitutional apparatus has been left intact. [25] It seems to me that in the case of Israel since 1967 the progressive appropriation by the nation's top military leaders of the important governing positions, coupled with the overwhelming evidence of their success in convincing the nation of the validity of their major theses, is very compelling. It would seem unlikely, under these circumstances, that a government favouring a political solution rather than one based mainly on generals' reasoning would emerge in Israel in the near future.

There is little reason to believe that a return to power of the party which annexed East Jerusalem and a large part of the surrounding West Bank in June 1967, and in the next ten years planted seventy colonies in Sinai, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank would be noticeably more flexible than the Begin government in accommodating Arab concerns. That this is so is due not only to the fixation on strategic and security interests propagated by the military leadership, but also upon the mind-set of Israeli public opinion. It was not Menahem Begin's Palestine policy that cost his cabinet its majority in January 1981, but his economic policy. Public opinion polls showed voters far more concerned about economic issues than about any other single matter. [26] A Jerusalem Post poll at the same time indicated that the great majority of Israelis favoured settlements on the West Bank. Almost 70 percent approved settlements in some cases. Fully 40.9 percent favoured settlements in all cases and under any conditions, while only 26.3 percent of the sample disapproved of them completely. [27] When one considers the enormous expense to the Begin government of indemnifying the displaced Sinai settlers, and the public outcry against this displacement, one becomes aware of the considerable pressures under which Israeli politicians labour while considering policies for dealing with the occupied territories. [28] 

Patterns of Social and Economic Development

Israelis across most of the political spectrum have shared a general consensus which places the highest priority on military preparedness, approves the planting of colonies in conquered Arab land, and probably accepts the essence of Yitzak Rabin's "Four No's." It has been a peculiarity of Israeli political behaviour that up to now the national predilection with security needs has permitted little, if any, input of domestic needs and priorities upon the evolution of foreign policy. This is very unlike the behaviour one has come to expect in the United States, Britain, France and other countries where foreign policies may be absolutely determined by special domestic considerations. Understanding, for instance, the bases of American policy towards Vietnam, Poland or Palestine is impossible without reference to the specific domestic interests which are operative in each case. In Israel up to now, while there have been vocal elements favouring more flexible and accommodating approaches to settlement with the Palestinians and Arab states, these elements have tended to represent intellectual and ideological tendencies not in any organic way related to the perceived interests of distinct classes or interest groups within the society. In the United States Blacks came in time overwhelmingly to oppose continued American involvement in Vietnam because they believed such involvement diverted national resources better dedicated to ameliorating the lot of the poor, and because a higher proportion of young Blacks than whites was being wounded or killed on the battlefield. In Israel, such connections between the welfare of ethnic groups or classes and specific defense or foreign policy lines have not been made tellingly or consistently. The signs are manifold however, that the first tenuous links between Palestine policy and domestic interest may just now be materializing. The pursuit of a policy requiring maintenance of frontiers that are not mutually recognized and rule of an alien and resisting population is extraordinarily expensive. I alluded above to the quintupling of military expenditures since 1966 and to the fact that during the seventies the fraction of GDP devoted to military expenditure hovered in the range of one third. [29] Over recent years the percentage of the state budget consumed by the military has shown similar progressions. [30] 


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The percentage of the budget going to military expenditure rose dramatically after the 1967 war, peaked in the re-building years after the October War and tended to settle back toward the thirty percent range at the end of the decade of the seventies. While the thirty percent level would not be unusual in a country such as the USA or the USSR, a nation with a per capita income as modest as that of Israel was in fact spending far beyond its means and putting enormous pressures on the economy as a whole. The current expenditure in any one year on the defense establishment was only a part of the total picture. In 1980, of a total state budget of 653 billion pounds, the defense outlay was 210 billion and the debt service an enormous 194 billion. The largest part of the latter figure was ascribable to previously incurred military expense which meant that a figure well in excess of one half of the budget was going for past or present military projects. [31] 

While the Finance Minister, Yigael Hurwitz, in 1980 was questioning the need for such an enormous military expenditure, [32] other Israelis inside and outside of the government were looking carefully at the economic costs of Likud's settlement policy. In answer to queries, Hurwitz maintained settlements were costing the state seven billion pounds in 1980 (about $100 million), or 1.5 percent of the state budget. The newspaper Haaretz, however, claimed on the basis of its own investigation that many costs – for education, transportation, power, water, security patrols - were spread through other budget categories. There were additional hidden costs associated with personnel, tax exemptions, and indemnifications of displaced Sinai settlers. As a result, settlements in 1980, according to Haaretz, were actually costing the Israeli taxpayer about 22 billion pounds (more than $300 million). If one deducted the military and debt service costs from the total state budget, these 22 billion pounds accounted for 9 percent of the civil budget of Israel. [33] During the summer of 1980, groups of Oriental Jews staged a sit-down strike in southern Jerusalem, demanding that the government divert resources directed towards settlement in the occupied territories to housing for Israelis inside Israel.

The distortions in the economy could be expressed in terms of human as well as monetary resources. An Israel which once prided itself upon a defensive capability derived primarily from its ability to mobilize its able-bodied citizenry in a timely and effective manner, is increasingly dependent upon a large standing army of regulars and conscripts. The number of men and women under arms in 1980 was in fact three times what it had been in the early seventies. [34] About twenty-four percent of Jewish males between the ages of eighteen and forty-five were in uniform in 1980, either as regulars or as fulfillers of three years' compulsory service. Another eleven percent were enrolled in the various police, border, and intelligence services. Somewhat more than fifteen percent of the labour force as a whole was employed in the armaments industry. In total, close to half of the active labour force could be said to be involved directly or indirectly in the defense establishment. [35] 

Imports of capital, particularly from the United States, tended to alleviate to a limited extent the economic distortions created by the abnormal size of the defense and settlements budgets. The fiscal 1982 budget submitted by the administration of Jimmy Carter included almost $2.2 billion in loans and grants for Israel. This figure, comparable to those of the preceding several years, was certain to be maintained or increased by the Reagan administration. Of the $2.2 billion, $900 million consisted of loans for military purposes, $500 million was in grants for military purposes, and $785 million was in grants for economic aid. Against this inflow, however, was balanced the $700 million annual payment due on past debt to the USA. The official [36] net inflow of US aid was thus $1.5 billion, of which only $585 million was in the form of grants. [37]

Israel was left with budgetary deficits almost unprecedented by global standards. A deficit of $4 billion was incurred in 1980 against total state expenditures of $10 billion to $11 billion. For 1981 the predicted deficit was $5 billion. [38] Much of the shortfall was made up by printing more shekels. The result was that Israel attained in 1980 the highest inflation rate of any major nation. It passed through the month of December 1980 with inflation nudging 200 percent. By February 1981 it had receded to about 135 percent. [39] While the Bank of Israel was predicting a reduction during calendar year 1981 to the 100 percent range, it was difficult to see on what basis such a prediction could be made, since the fiscal policies of the incoming government were as yet unknown.

Signs of the effect of economic dislocation ran through most sectors of the economy. Investment in industry, which had been declining at an annual rate of .6 percent in the 1976-79 quadrennium, plunged 20 percent during 1980. While GNP grew by a fractional .9 percent thanks to large capital inflows, industrial production fell by 5.5 percent. Private sector consumption dropped 4.6 percent during 1980 and in spite of widespread indexing of salaries, signs of disaffection hit many sectors of the society as personal income dropped by 9 percent. [40] 

Evidence is ample that the cost of imposing a military government on a resisting population and attempting forcibly to Judaize that portion of Palestine which is still Arab, and of maintaining by force frontiers unacceptable to its neighbours is making it progressively more difficult for the Israeli leadership to provide the material standards, and the viable economic and institutional environment required as minimums by its own citizens. With inflation at intolerable levels and economic growth and investment in negative ranges, the human implications are threatening. Unemployment rose 67 percent in 1980, while a perennial housing crisis worsened steadily.

Israel turns out annually about 20,000 university graduates (with bachelor's degrees or higher degrees). Some of these graduates are amongst the best educated people in the world. Yet the country creates about half the number of professional, scientific, and managerial positions necessary to absorb this human harvest. While many countries were beginning in the 1970's to experience a "glut" of the professionally overqualified, the phenomenon elsewhere was seldom as pronounced as in Israel. Ironically, the economy does provide a constantly expanding field of opportunities for the generally lesser educated Arabs from the occupied territories. A study of 1,000 secondary students at Haifa showed that 40 percent of males and 30 percent of females would consider emigrating. Another study found that 11 percent of Israelis over eighteen years of age said they were prepared at that moment to emigrate. The main explanation they gave for this readiness was the "economic difficulties of Israel." There were indications, however, that something more than economic difficulties were involved in some cases. Some observers were beginning to note the growing resistance to military service in general, and especially the resistance to service in the occupied territories. Some conscripts were simply refusing to serve beyond the Green Line. [41] One reaction of Israelis to multiple difficulties was emigrating. The National Institute of Statistics revealed on December 28, 1980 that 31,000 citizens had left Israel during that year - a fourfold increase over 1979. If past experience was a guide, half or more of these could be considered permanent emigres. According to Shmuel Lahis, Director-General of the Jewish Agency, about 60 percent of the emigres had advanced educational or professional training and were between ages twenty and forty. At the same time, with immigration having fallen by 38 percent during 1980 as a whole and falling at accelerating rates as the year ended, Israeli politicians and Zionist leaders around the world were expressing grave concern. [42] 

Traditionally, Israelis viewed themselves as survivors - survivors of the most awful period in human history. As survivors, the "never again" mentality has made it virtually impossible for them to stint on what they perceive as the defensive needs of their society, no matter what the cost and even when this obsession with defense translates itself objectively as offence against their neighbors. Yet there are increasing signs that significant elements within the country are beginning to see a correlation between the diminishing viability of the Israeli system on the one hand, and Israel's determination to use force to maintain its version of a Palestine solution on the other. I do not think one should expect this emerging awareness to result in the immediate future in practical gestures toward the Palestinians or the Arab states. There is a process involved, and this process has yet to run its course. On the other hand, the evidence seems clear that some young people, elements of the lower socio-economic classes, certain salaried groups, to name a few, are beginning to see inconsistencies in Israeli policy that have long been perceived by elements of the intelligentsia. It may be that the best hope for an equitable solution of the Palestine problem lies in allowing this process to mature.

The External Factors

Political process and internal social and economic development have the potential in varying degrees and over time to transform Israeli policies. Such policies could also be influenced by a pair of variables: United States policy towards Israel and the policy of Arab states towards Israel and/or the United States. While the European initiative much discussed during the early months of 1981 was attracting journalistic attention on four continents, it seemed likely that this effort would be successful only to the extent that it influenced the policies either of the Arab states or of the United States.

The most important constant affecting articulation of American policy toward the Arab-Israeli dispute is that American governments of all political complexions treat this dispute in the first instance as a domestic issue, and only secondarily and sporadically as a foreign policy issue. Positions are generally formulated as a function of the wishes of the Israel lobby and with a constant eye to the wishes of broader American public opinion, which, to the extent that it is concerned with the Middle East, has been and still is predominantly pro-Israeli. Only when the objective realities of the foreign policy setting intrude with extraordinary urgency do American presidents risk offending the Israel lobby and public opinion in general by taking positions offensive to Israel. Americans and others sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have been regularly predicting for at least twenty years inevitable movement of the American public away from its lop-sided support of Israel. American perceptions of the situation have, indeed, been changing. Roper Polls have found that since 1973 when 47 percent of the sample professed more sympathy for Israel and only 7 percent more sympathy for the Arabs (the rest were undecided), by March 1980 those expressing greater sympathy for the Israelis had fallen to 37 percent while those favouring the Arabs has risen to 10 percent. [43] Gallup Poll results between 1967 and 1979 were even more conclusive of movement. In June 1967 sympathy for the Israelis and Arabs stood at 55 percent and 4 percent respectively, while the comparable figures for January 1979 were 42 percent and 15 percent. [44] The more important figure without doubt is the almost fourfold increase in expressed support for the Arabs. Of even greater potential significance is the shift during the late 1970's in the opinion of American college graduates. In October 1977, according to CBS Poll, 49 percent of American college graduates expressed greater sympathy for Israel while 34 percent were more sympathetic towards the Arabs. The figures in the same poll for the general public were 54 percent and 27 percent respectively. By April 1978, after the Sadat initiative, the general public still favoured Israel, if by a reduced margin. The college graduates, on the other hand, supported the Arabs over Israel 40 percent to 36 percent. Former Foreign Service Officer Richard H. Curtiss wrote that "if it is true that opinions held by educated elites are precursors of opinions of the public in general, possibly the single most significant development of the period was a dramatic reversal in the perceptions of the Middle East protagonists by university educated Americans, who in earlier years were stronger supporters of Israel than the public at large." [45] 

While it is now at least plausible to entertain the expectation of a major pro-Arab tilt of the American public's perceptions over a period of years, it is difficult to see how such a tilt would influence American policy-makers except in the very long term. Even if half or more of the public were to become convinced of the advisability of supporting all or some of the Arab points of view, this sentiment would be a "soft" sentiment, without the deep emotional commitment of the pro-Israel faction and especially without the extraordinarily effective lobbying apparatus this faction has created.

As members of the Ronald Reagan administration began to clarify the general outlines of their Middle East policy, it became increasingly evident that their focus, unlike that of the Carter administration which came to see the Palestine problem as the major Middle East issue standing in the way of more or less permanent stabilization, was the threat of Soviet expansion in the region and the security of Western access to petroleum resources. While at one level the new administration's policy could be viewed as more pragmatic, more "even handed", since it minimized the ideological commitment to protect a "democratic" and "beleaguered" Israeli ally, it constituted in many ways a major victory for the pro-Zionist faction, which had been arguing for four years or more that the Palestine problem was not the most important issue in the region. While the emerging Reagan policy could be pictured as favouring the interests of certain Arab regimes whose policies were considered moderate and whose stability was viewed as necessary to the preservation of American interests by accommodating more readily their military and technological needs, there appeared little hope that the administration would be led to press politically unpopular initiatives concerning the West Bank, Gaza, or Jerusalem.

If the Arab states were to adopt a common policy on the Palestine question and to translate that policy by consistent measures of a political, diplomatic, or economic nature designed to make it worthwhile for the USA or other patrons of Israel to reassess their positions, the chances that external pressures could be brought to bear on the formulation of Israeli policy would be increased. It does not appear at this moment, following upon the defection of Egypt from the Arab coalition, the increasing isolation of Libya and Syria, the emergence of a Saudi-Iraqi-Jordanian axis and other regionally divisive events, that such a unified policy is possible. If the policy is not possible neither are the measures of implementation. This being the reality, it is not surprising that American statesmen have little incentive at this moment to make a central issue of the Palestine question. Such a statesman might well ask why he should jeopardize his political career at home by showing more concern for the Palestinians than do the Arab governments. He would also conclude that American goals in the region could be assured more effectively by selective support of those regimes inclined to cooperate with the USA and by various forms of opposition to those not so inclined. It seems increasingly unlikely that the American administration will find it in its interests to put undue pressure on Israel to settle the Palestinian question in ways acceptable to the Palestinians or a majority of Arab governments.


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John Ruedy is Professor of History at Georgetown University. 

1 See, for instance, the New York Times, May 20, 1977, p. 3, where Begin vows to remain and continue settling the "land of liberated Israel"; also William Claiborne, "Israel Rushes to Build 10 Settlements," Washington Post, Jan. 25, 1981, p. 1, in which the impending termination of the Likud mandate is seen as the impetus for rushing forward with irreversible "facts".

2 Time, April 25, 1979, p. 43. 

3 Jerusalem Post (International Edition), October 19-25, 1980, December 28, 1980-January 3, 1981.

4 Ibid., March 1-7, 1981.

S Ibid., October 19-25, 1980.

6 Ibid., February 15-21, 1981.

7 Ibid., March 1-7, 1981; Washington Post, March 7, 1981. 

8 Ibid.

9 Jerusalem Post (International Edition), October 19-25, 1980.

10 Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel (New York: Herzl Press, 1971). 

11 Time, April 18, 1977, p. 24; Shimon Peres, David's Sling (New York: Random House, 1970).

12 Jerusalem Post (International Edition), December 21-28, 1980, p. 12.

13 Ibid.

14 Zionist Yearbook, 1980, (London: The Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, 1980), pp. 30-32.

15 Jerusalem Post (International Edition), December 21-28, 1980, p. 12.

16 Time, January 26, 1981, p. 39.

17 Jerusalem Post (International Edition), March 1-7, 1981, p. 21.

18 Abba Eban, "Emphasizing the Positive," in New Outlook, September/October 1980, p. 5.

19 Christian Science Monitor, February 10, 1981, p. 10. 

20 "The Credibility Stakes," Jerusalem Post (International Edition), October 19-25, 1980, p. 11.

21 New York Times, April 4, 1976, p. 1.

22 The Military Balance, 1972-77 and 1979-80 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies).

23 World Armaments and Disarmament: SIPRI Yearbook 1979, (London, 1979,) pp. 40-43. 

24 Don Peretz, The Government and Politics of Israel (Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1979), pp. 126 et seq.

25 Amos Perlmutter, Politics and the Military in Israel, 1967-1977 (London: Frank Cass, 1978), pp. 1-4. 

26 Jerusalem Post (International Edition), March 1-7, 1981, p. 5.

27 Ibid., February 22-28, 1981, p. 3.

28 See, for instance "Dayan's New Gamble", ibid., March 1-7, 1981, p. 12. 

29 See pp. 51-52.

30 Europe Yearbook for years 1965 through 1980.

31 New Outlook, September/October, 1980, pp. 17-23.

32 New York Times, June 22, 1980, p. 32. 

33 As condensed in New Outlook, September/October, 1980, pp. 21-22.

34 See pp. 51-52.

35 New Outlook, May 1980. 

36 Some funds for Israel are channeled through a variety of American cabinet departments whose payments do not appear in the official foreign or military aid totals. According to a Jerusalem Post article (International Edition, March 1-7, 1981, p. 7), the Bank of Israel predicts a capital inflow in "US grants and loans during 1981 of $3.2 billion." This would seem to indicate a commitment of US moneys about one billion dollars greater than the official $2.2 billion figure.

3'7 Jerusalem Post (International Edition), February 15-21, 1981, p. 18.

38 Ibid., March 1-7, 1981, p. 7.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid.; also December 14-20, 1980. 

41 Hirsh Goodman, "Settlements: The Bain of Our Lives," New Outlook, May 1980, pp. 22-24.

42 Le Monde, January 1-2, 1981, p. 1. 

43 As cited in Richard H. Curtiss, Too Often Promised Land: American Public Opinion and the Arab-Israeli Dispute, Department of State, 1979-80, p. vii. 

44 Ibid., p. 1.

45 Ibid., p. 21.