CAN ISRAEL CONVERT VICTORY INTO PEACE?
Though its devastating victory has left it unchallenged military master of the Middle East, it faces a critical problem: it urgently needs peace, the Arabs do not. An on-the-scene report by BLAIR FRASER
JERUSALEM — Canada had been very disappointing, the Israeli diplomat said more in sorrow than in anger. “Single-handed we have changed the whole Mideastern balance of power in favor of the West. The Soviet policy for the area is in ruins because of what we alone have done. We have created an entirely new situation in which the West can take new initiatives. But instead of treating this as a great opportunity. Canada behaves as il it were a disaster or at the very least a major embarrassment. We really expected better things of the nation that played such a great role at the time ol Suez in 1956."
When I repeated this to an American who lives in Israel, he had a sardonic reply: "Yes. we can see how-
the balance has been altered in our favor. American embassies and consulates have been sacked and burned all over the Middle East, our ships and planes are barred from all Arab ports, we've had to evacuate thousands of our people, and millions ol dollars' worth of property has been destroyed. If the Israeli have been doing this on our account, we'd rather they didn't."
But to this, another Israeli official made a rejoinder that I couldn't answer: "Suppose the battle had gone the other way. Think of the choice
the West would then have had to make: either to let Israel be eliminated and another two million Jews be slaughtered, as the Arabs said they intended, or else to let Nasser's Big I.ie become a truth and intervene to prevent the destruction of Israel. Either way. the West would have lost everything in the Middle East. Every country here and in Africa would have swung to the Soviet side, the winning side."
Then he too went on to deplore the Canadian attitude—the protestations of neutrality, the apologetic response to Nasser's insults, the reluctance even to sign a declaration in favor ol freedom of the seas. He too said he had expected a more positive contribution from Canada.
Neither man found it easy to say precisely what Canada should be doing. or should have done. They had vague suggestions for regaining the diplomatic initiative—for example, by formal request through the Security Council that Arab nations negotiate peace treaties with Israel and end a state of war that for 19 years has been mostly imaginary but intermittently real.
What worried them most, though, was no specific act or omission. Even at the height of euphoria that followed military triumph, the Israeli
knew their position was not as secure as it appeared to be. As one of the diplomats put it, "We know that for us too there cannot be a merely military solution." The problems now are political at home and abroad, and none is simple.
From the terrace of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem we could hear throughout a peaceful summer afternoon the crump of explosives in the Old City, just across the valley that used to be no-man's-land. Some of the blasts were land mines located and detonated by Israeli clearance squads. More were dynamite leveling the walls and other obstructions which, at all points of contact except the socalled Mandelbaum Gate, had since 1948 severed the arteries of communication in what once was a single city. It now has become a single city again, and whoever wishes to alter that fact must deploy troops in the field to do it.
No one can doubt this who has seen the Jews returning to pray at the western wall of Jerusalem's ancient temple, now' not to be called the Wailing Wall as it has been since the Diaspora. There is no longer a Christian shrine anywhere that could evoke such an outpouring of emotion, but perhaps it was like this on the day in 1099 when the Crusader knights first entered the Holy Sepulchre.
No matter how ferociously their representatives may speak in New York or Cairo (the ferocity of Arab rhetoric varies directly as the distance from any scene of actual combat) the people in the Old City are in no mood for further hostility. In a day’s walk with an Israeli guide through the twisting alleys of Jerusalem within the wall, and later in the streets of Beth-
lehem, we met only one man who glared at us with honest and obvious hatred. Mostly, we were greeted with rather obsequious smiles, occasionally with salutations in Hebrew. Judith Weingarten, whose father was mayor of the Jewish quarter in the Old City before 1948. went back to see the house where she had lived as a child. The present tenants, themselves Palestinian refugees, came pouring out with a babble of welcome, led by the matriarch of the family. Weeping, the two women embraced, kissing each other on both cheeks.
In a sidewalk café in Bethlehem near the Church of the Nativity. I talked w'ith half a dozen local citizens waiting cautiously but calmly for business to get back to normal. Yes. they said, there had been some damage— several houses hit by shells, 21 people killed and more injured. No actual fighting, though. The casualties were just the unlucky. They might have been accident victims of holiday traffic.
Apparently one of the younger men thought I might be getting a wrong impression. Don’t think it wasn't dangerous here, he said. Even though it didn't last long, the shelling w'as heavy, and those who couldn't take cover were in great peril. I retrained from drawing attention to the I act that all but one of the men in the group were of military age. Had they been Israeli, they would have been in the army, fighting. But it is the Arab tragedy that lew Arab rulers in modern times have dared to put guns in the hands of a citizen army.
the hands of a citizen army. With these accommodating urban folk the new Israeli rulers need expect no great trouble. They number fewer than / continued on page 62 100.000 and can be digested easily into the population of Israel, as the Arabs of Jaffa and Nazareth have been. It will be a different matter with the million or so other Arabs who live on the cast bank of the Jordan, nearly half of them Palestinian refugees. Another 400.000 refugees are encamped in the Gaza Strip on
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After defeat, the Arabs shun peace talks, still talk war
the other side of Israel, now also in the hands of Israeli conquerors. Had these people been obliging enough to run away in 1967 as they did in 1948, Israel would no doubt have made good use of the lands and homes they vacated, but this time most of them stayed put. The last thing Israel would want is to incorporate them within the
final boundaries of an Israeli state, entitled to at least a nominal equality of citizenship and forming a racial, religious and lingual minority of more than one third of the entire population. Withdrawal from the west bank, therefore, will certainly be one of the “concessions” Israeli peace negotiators will be able to offer.
Also negotiable will be the vast empty desert of the Sinai peninsula where Nasser's Russian tanks were destroyed. Israel is unlikely ever to allow another Egyptian garrison at Sharm el Sheikh whence it might again try to blockade her port of Eilat, but the Sinai desert itself is of no great value to anybody except for the purpose to which Nasser has twice put it, an assembly area for tank forces against Israel. If Sinai could be reliably demilitarized, Israel could easily afford to let it go. Even these concessions, however, will be hard to sell to Israeli voters. Israel is not a dictatorship. Its government has to get itself re-elected. Therefore, there arc definite limits on its freedom to negotiate.
Giving up the Old City of Jerusalem, for example, would be unthinkable. Any government willing to do it would be defeated, if not overthrown by immediate rebellion.
Another irreducible minimum is a great addition to convenience and military security. Already the bulldozers and the asphalt-laying machines are at work on the direct road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which runs through what used to be Jordan and behind what used to be the Jordanian fortress village of Latrun. This strategic bulge will not be handed back. Neither will the 12-mile strip of territory that Israeli forces now occupy just inside the Syrian border. Here, for some incomprehensible reason, the frontier of old Palestine as drawn by the British after World War I runs along the foot of a steep escarpment just north of the Sea of Galilee. From the top of this bluff Syrians could lob shells into Israeli farmsteads with slingshots or Roman catapults if they chose. They had been shelling the border kibbutzim for years, at their whim or convenience, until the Israeli attack of June 9-10.
The Arabs: talk and wait
I drove through this Syrian border area on the afternoon the cease-fire was concluded. There evidently had been some shelling on both sides— some Israeli farmhouses were damaged, many fields were blackened and a few were still burning, Syrian fortifications had been systematically destroyed. On the Syrian side, the few farms and villages we saw were empty; the people had fled. They are not likely to be allowed back. As peace terms go, these are not too drastic, especially after such an ignominious defeat. Nevertheless, they will not be easy to impose. T his is what worries the Israeli, and this is where their disappointment with Canada comes in.
The problem is to get the Arabs to the peace table. They seem resolved to do nothing—continue the war of words, replete with grandiose talk about fighting to the last man, and wait for the Great Powers to force Israel back to the boundaries of 1949.
In that case, say the Israeli bravely, they will have a long wait. We shall flatly and finally refuse to move back from where we are until we have negotiated and signed a peace treaty with each of our Arab neighbors in turn. We will not deal with them together— they intimidate each other. We will not deal with any third party. No
mediators need apply. Until the Arabs are willing to sit down with us themselves, we shall simply maintain the status quo.
Israel has the physical strength to maintain the status quo indefinitely. On the surface everything is normal in Israel today. Perhaps as a gesture of contempt the blackout was lifted in Tel Aviv on the very night Israeli forces invaded Syria, and lights went up the following night even in the border villages of Galilee. Roads were still clogged with military traffic moving north as forces from the Jordan front replaced the combat troops who had won the short fierce battle with Syria, but the convoys ran with headlights blazing. Farmers from local kibbutzim were hauling light field guns with ordinary farm tractors up the steep bluff that used to be the Syrian frontier. They looked quite capable of holding the new border while cultivating their fields at the same time, as indeed they had been doing through recurrent periods of crisis for years.
Sinai will need no garrison—the lunar landscape of that waterless desert is its own defense against occupation. The Israeli troops along the eastern bank of the Suez Canal will present a supply problem but not an insuperable one. As for the little outpost of Sharm cl Sheikh where all the trouble started, it is quite harmless as long as it is empty and the Israeli navy and air force can see that it stays that way.
In Jordan the cease-fire line is the river itself from Galilee to the Dead Sea. no more an obstacle now than it was in Joshua's day but an easy line to hold — especially against a tiny helpless nation that has just lost two thirds of its army. To guard these enlarged borders will require a greater than normal outlay of money and energy on military exercises, but the effort has already been reduced far below the level of full mobilization.
Even the political problem is not too difficult so long as the west bank of the Jordan remains an area of military occupation. Israel cannot digest a million hostile Arabs as new Israeli citizens, but Israel is quite capable of subduing a disarmed population of that size and keeping it in subjection until peace is signed, no matter how long that may take. In dealing with enemy aliens the question of juridical equality does not arise. Moreover, any Arabs who do give trouble on the west bank or in Gaza can simply be expelled, either across the river to Jordan or across the canal to Egypt. Meanwhile, the refugee camps need not be too great a burden. The United Nations has been supplying them with food for 19 years and can continue to do so.
But as Israel well knows, these are short - term considerations. Even though no power great or small is both willing and able to dislodge Israeli forces today, to maintain itself forever under a state of active siege is impossible even for such a Spartan state as Israel. In spite of her military triumph, Israel is in urgent need of peace, and. in spite of their humiliating defeat, the Arab nations are not.
Egypt will not suffer for lack of Sinai and Gaza. Syria can endure without pain the loss of a narrow' strip of infertile farmland above Galilee.
As for Jordan, when weakness reaches a certain point it becomes a kind of strength, and Jordan's weakness has been of that order ever since the state came into being. Incapable of thriving or even existing without active help from abroad. Jordan can bequeath the problems of today, like those of yesterday, to the powerful friends who have kept her alive.
Israel, on the other hand, is heavily dependent on the goodwill of the international community. Juridically,
her very existence rests upon resolutions of the United Nations since 1947. She still has a gap of about $500 million a year between exports and imports, which must be plugged with loans and gifts from somebody. The only w-ay this gap can ever be closed, by a nation with no substantial natural resources except human skills, is through development of trade —especially with the young nations of Asia and Africa that need cheap manufactured goods.
Thus Israel is more vulnerable than she appears to be to Soviet threats of economic sanctions. Only four percent of Israel's exports now' go to the Soviet bloc, which supplies less than two percent of her imports, but the countries to which Israel must look for commercial growth are susceptible to Soviet leadership and still more to the United Nations. Sanctions imposed with the authority of the UN could have painful effect.
Also, Israel is almost neurotically
anxious to present a good image to the world. This image, created by the most skillful public-relations work the world has yet seen, is that of a peaceful, inoffensive little beachhead of modernity, a secular missionary of 20th-century techniques in the medieval darkness of the Middle East. However remote this idyllic picture may be from the reality of the Spartan
state which is stronger than the whole Arab world put together, it is no less sedulously cherished by Israel.
This fact undoubtedly accounts for the overeagerness of Israeli press officers during and immediately after the six-day war. Even though Egyptian planes had been destroyed on the ground, obviously caught off guard by a superb achievement of surprise, Israeli briefings continued blandly to refer to the assault as a response to Egyptian movements against Israel.
When the terrified Syrians were trying their best to stave off the inevitable Israeli assault, the official word in Tel Aviv was that Syrian guns had opened fire along the border.
The Jerusalem Post solemnly described the border kibbutz of Gadot as “totally wrecked" by Syrian artillery. When I visited Gadot the same day, our Israeli army guide drew our attention to the two houses that had suffered shell damage among a cluster of dwellings apparently intact. There
was nothing to indicate when the damage had been done, but friends of mine had been shown similar evidence of harassment in Gadot some weeks before.
Briefing officers did not seem to realize that, this time, nobody cared who fired the first shot. Nasser by his admission began the war when he imposed his blockade on the Gulf of Aqaba, and no pretext was needed for counterattack. Nobody ever supposed that the Syrians would be let off without a drubbing, they who had done more than anyone else to start the trouble with their persistent border raiding and their raucous clamor for war. They were not going to escape by mere inaction when the war they wanted finally came.
This is the big difference between 1967 and 1956. Then the United Arab Republic was the target of an unprovoked attack, not by Israel alone but also by Britain and France — the alleged provocation, nationalization of the Suez Canal, had taken place months before and had not in fact damaged the vital interests of the attacking powers. Now the provocation was direct and immediate. The last previous attacks by Israel, on Jordan last November and on Syria in April, had been followed by resumption of the uneasy calm that has passed for peace in the region since 1949. Nasser's expulsion of the UN force and his closure of the Gulf of Aqaba were bolts from a blue sky, and Israel's response was inevitable.
New role for Canada?
That is why Western diplomats in Tel Aviv are inclined to agree this time, with Israel's plea for initiatives on her behalf. Until now the West has been willing to accept or at least to tolerate Arab pretences that Israel does not exist. Western countries have paid the lion’s share of supporting refugees the Arab countries refuse to resettle. They have functioned as mediators between the Arab countries and the nonexistent enemy. And in all these activities Canada has been prominent.
It’s not unreasonable to suggest Canada might be equally prominent in a new kind of activity—an attempt to confront the Arab world with present-day reality. Our usual and favorite role of peacemaker is no longer open to us — Nasser saw to that when he denounced Prime Minister Pearson as an “idiot” in the early stages of the current dispute — but Canada is still a presence in the Middle East. The bags of flour I saw handed out to Arab families by Israeli officers, in the Old City of Jerusalem, had “Gift of Canada” stamped upon them in large green capitals. And unlike every other nation present in the Middle East, Canada has no direct interest to serve there.
These are slender qualifications, too slender perhaps, for the urgent tasks of diplomacy in this tormented region, but Canada at least is still in touch with both sides. And until somebody in touch with both sides takes some initiative toward bringing them together, the Middle East will continue to be the active volcano that has erupted three times in 20 years, and next time may bury us all. ★