Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of May 13, 1998


By Yossi Ben-Aharon

If American interests require stability and the prevention of tension in this region -
and I am sure they do - then the Clinton administration is pursuing this goal in the wrong way.

On March 13, 1969, then-ambassador Yitzhak Rabin was called in to meet then-US secretary of state William Rogers and his assistants. The meeting between Rogers and Rabin turned out to be an important milestone in US-Israel relations. For the first time since the Six Day War, the American administration decided to draft a blueprint for an Arab-Israel settlement and to adopt it as a basis for discussions with the Soviet Union, in the context of the policy of superpower detente which the Nixon-Kissinger administration was advancing.

When we read the top secret "Oral Statement," we could barely contain our rage. The authors of the "statement" maintained that "the type of relations existing between neighboring states that have long lived in peace is unattainable at this stage in history." They then went on to say that "the US believes the... boundaries with the UAR (Egypt) should be the former international boundary and with Jordan should closely resemble the lines existing before the June 1967 war."

That event triggered a head-on confrontation between the Israel embassy and the administration. But the US government was not deterred. It went on and conveyed its position to the Soviets and to Egypt's president Nasser. The Arab and Soviet governments turned it down. They refused to countenance any bilateral agreement with Israel and insisted on a UN-imposed withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 lines, to be guaranteed by the UN and buttressed by security arrangements.

Facing an all-around rejection of its proposal, the US administration gave up its attempt. But Washington could not leave matters as they were. It had to maintain its hold on developments. It had to demonstrate the extent to which it was trying to satisfy Arab demands and reach an agreement with the Soviets on regional stability. In December 1969, Rogers gave a speech in which he disclosed the essence of the "Oral Statement." That speech became known as the "Rogers Plan." A decade passed and the Rogers Plan gathered dust on State Department shelves. Only after Sadat and Begin decided to deal directly with each other, peace was finally concluded. President Carter provided hospitality and bridging proposals.

However, successive American administrations continued to author and publish their own detailed plans, in spite of consistent rejections by the Arabs and strong protests from Israel. Israelis argued that in order for peace to be reciprocal, balanced and of a lasting nature, it must evolve through a true process of mutual give and take. The Americans seemed to agree - and then went ahead and published another plan, or initiative, or proposal.

WE are now facing another cycle of developments reminiscent of 1969. The Arab side has sensed that the US government is still beholden to the superficial equation of territory for peace, in spite of negative experience accumulated over the years. They have tried again - and succeeded for the nth time - to enlist American pressure on Israel to relinquish land in return for papers and empty promises.

In the Sixties and Seventies, State Department officials used to explain that the "even-handed" policy was necessary because of competition with the Soviets in the Cold War era and growing American dependence on Persian Gulf oil. Both reasons are no longer applicable. If American interests require stability and the prevention of tension in this region - and I am sure they do - then the Clinton administration is pursuing this goal in the wrong way. Even the appearance of a split between the US and Israel will precipitate further Arab demands, as was the case in 1969 and a few times since. An impression of a weakening Israel will invite an escalation, if not war.

American policy-makers refuse to understand that real progress can be achieved only by creating a solid US-Israel front. Such a front should require the Palestinian Authority and its supporters to carry out their obligations under existing agreements to the letter.

Only after all undertakings are carried out and tested on the ground can the issue of further withdrawals from territory be broached. Israelis are sick and tired of making territorial concessions that beget only further demands, coupled with more terror and violence, while peace keeps fading beyond the horizon.

(c) Jerusalem Post 1998

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