The Middle East Research Center, Ltd. (MERCL)

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By Richard A. Hellman
President, Middle East Research Center, Ltd.

We generally have applauded Israel's efforts to engage her neighbors in the pursuit of peace, but increasingly have been concerned in recent years over the potential effects of those efforts on the security of Israel and the Middle East and on other vital, long term, U.S. interests in the region. Our concern has been amplified greatly by the resumption of heavy public and private involvement by Americans close to the White House in Israel's elections for the Knesset and for prime minister.

Our concern stems specifically from the apparent lack of a coherent vision by the State Department as to how the agreements they are promoting between Israel and such Arab neighbors as the Palestinians and Syrians would protect Israel's security and strength as a U.S. ally, or the stability of the Middle East and other vital U.S. interests.

To allay this concern, and in keeping with the Congressional leadership's expressed desire to be more fully involved as a partner in shaping U.S. Government policy, we feel that several critical problems should be explored by the Congress as soon as possible. This would help the State Department develop a coherent vision of the desired outcome for U.S. policy interests from any continuation of the Madrid/Oslo/Wye process. Some of the key elements of policy which need to be explored toward this end follow.

First, while Palestinian Authority leaders push for statehood and try to dredge up such dead letters as U.N. Resolutions 181 on partition and 194 on the return of refugees, no one has defined what the optimal final result from the viewpoint of U. S. interests should be. We must consider the fact that:

* Many ethnic groups of far older vintage than "Palestinian Arabs west of the Jordan River" do not enjoy national status, even in liberal, democratic, Europe (e.g., Basques, Flemings, Scots, and more).

* Some 95% of the Palestinian population already enjoy more democratic self-rule in their daily life than any other Arabs.

* The push for full independence is not justified by the record. All those who have assessed the track record of Chairman Yassir Arafat, the Palestinian Authority, and the PLO objectively have found substantial noncompliance to date with the accords they have already signed. These deficiencies include, e.g., official incitement to violence and terror; a great excess of all types of arms beyond those authorized and agreed to, including anti-tank, anti-aircraft and other heavy weapons; a virtual army at least twice the size of the authorized "police force"; little or no effort to disband the existing terror organizations or to seize illegal arms as promised; revolving door justice for murderers; fraud, waste and abuse of foreign aid; and pervasive violations of the most elemental human rights of their own people.

* Meanwhile, Arafat and other top P.A. officials continue to make it clear that whatever they do not achieve by negotiation will be taken by war, including Jerusalem and most, if not all, of pre-1967 Israel. This is hardly the kind of rhetoric which inspires confidence in their peaceful intentions, or that Egyptian or Jordanian rulers have voiced in seeking peace.

Thus we perceive that a Palestinian state is by no means a fait accompli - or a "done deal", if you will - nor should it be from the standpoint of U.S. national interests. The Congress should examine the entire issue afresh, i.e., whether a new over-armed, terror-sponsoring, irredentist, Arab mini-state allied to, e.g.,Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya - which is what the Palestinian entity clearly promises to be - would accord with U.S. interests in the region.

Second, the fate of Jerusalem, with all that it means to Americans, especially deserves new oversight by the Congress, and probably further legislation, in view of the Administration's refusal to implement the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act. This law was passed almost unanimously by the Congress in 1995 but enacted without President Clinton's signature. Jerusalem must not be left up for grabs, with the potential that it may revert to the terrible status of the 1948-1967 period. Some may forget that Arab occupation of the holy shrines of all faiths and misrule over the people of the three predominant religions then spelled an almost total denial of rights, protection, and religious practice to the Jews and severe restrictions on Christian and even Moslem religious observance.

Furthermore, Congress needs to look at U.S. policy regarding Israel's northern border with Syria and Lebanon. Amazingly, as a result of the State Department's shortsighted and misguided policy, Israel, which offered to enter into unconditional new talks with Syria and Lebanon, and even to withdraw unilaterally from the Southern Lebanon security zone, has received no praise or encouragement for its initiatives. On the other hand, Syria's Hafez al Assad, the authoritarian violator of human rights, sponsor of terror, partner in narcotics trafficking, and occupier of Lebanon has been termed a "partner for peace."

Surely we all desire Middle East peace with security, none more than the Israelis, but Congress must do much more to help the State Department develop a coherent U.S. policy likely to achieve that goal. The results of fuzzy, unclear thinking in Foggy Bottom are all too evident in the ongoing Kosovo fiasco. Let us pray that Israel and the other nations of the Middle East are spared more of the same.


Richard A. Hellman, President of the Middle East Research Institute Ltd. and of CIPAC, lived and worked in Israel for seven years and has studied the strategic and geopolitical situation of Israel in the cultural and historical context of the Middle East for many years.

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