PEACE PROCESS BENEFITS
To the Editor:
Steven Spiegel's rationale for continuing the current peace process (made in "Continue the Peace Process? Yes, It's Leading to a New Era," MEQ, Sept. 1995) prompts three comments.
First, although he argues on the basis of statistics why Israelis should feel safer, he must know that they in fact feel more vulnerable now than at any time in Israel's history. And with reason: a wave of Arab terrorist attacks since September 1993 is directed at the very foundation of Israeli society by disrupting such mundane activities as bus riding, hitchhiking, and hiking. Two hundred Israeli deaths since the DoP was signed cannot be dismissed as inconsequential, for they have damaged both the peace process and the Israeli psyche.
Secondly, the economic and political benefits of the peace process claimed by Spiegel are largely a mirage, for many Arab states and citizenries are denying Israel those benefits. Fearing that Israel will become the economic and political center of the "new Middle East," Egypt is presently exerting pressure on the Persian Gulf states to freeze their diplomatic and economic initiatives toward Israel. This resulted in Qatar's indefinitely postponing the opening of interest offices in Israel. Egyptians view Shimon Peres's book, The New Middle East, as a confirmation of a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the Middle East. After fifteen years of peace with Israel, a recent survey of Egyptians shows that over half will not purchase Israeli goods, travel to Israel, or allow Israeli investment in Egypt. In Jordan, the dentists' union has threatened to expel any of its members who treat Israelis, and most Jordanian businessmen refuse to do business with Israelis. The Palestinian Arabs and the Syrians have indicated that should they gain control of the waters of the Golan and the aquifers of Judea and Samaria (60 percent of Israel's water supply), they would not share the water with Israel.
Thirdly, Spiegel is wrong to write that the aims of some Jewish critics of the current peace process "mirror those of Arab extremists." Virtually all Israelis sincerely want an end to terrorism and a negotiated true peace. They feel that these goals can be accomplished only by insisting that the Palestine Liberation Organization comply with its promises to denounce and stop terrorism, including the disarming of Arab extremists. In contrast, Yasir Arafat and the Arab extremist groups view terror as a tool to accelerate Israeli concessions, and are working ultimately for the destruction of Israel. The escalation in Arab terrorism, coupled with Arafat's repeated exhortations to violence and jihad, has shown Israelis the harsh reality of the DoP.
Spiegel would have Israel resemble the gambler who, faced with increasing losses, keeps putting larger amounts of money into the pot: Israel should give up increasing resources without receiving anything but more of the empty promises made in September 1993 and then broken. For example, Arafat in 1993 pledged to delete those sections of the PLO Covenant that call for the destruction of Israel, and has not done so; instead, he has included the same promise once again in Oslo II. In view of all Israel has done to enhance Arafat's position (releasing prisoners, giving the Palestinian Authority increasing control, and lobbying for it to receive foreign funding), the time has come for Israel to gain some reciprocal benefits from Arafat. This should begin with the disarming of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the ending of illegal activities by the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem.
Kenneth C. W. Leiter
Mr. Spiegel responds:
Kenneth Leiter's letter is an example of the unfortunate rhetoric that dominates discussion of the peace process. His arguments are mired in an ideological framework no longer applicable to current world and regional conditions.
He, like others opposed to the peace process, seems unwilling to recognize the dangers and disappointments that are inherent in all international politics. Conditions of anarchy are always potential; in the Middle East, not the world's most stable neighborhood, anarchy often prevails. Only when people compromise their primary objectives can this instability be overcome, and that's what has happened with accelerating frequency in recent years around the world.
Supporters of the peace process believe it is a better risk to explore new opportunities for accommodation than to remain ensnared in the status quo, with all its hostility, violence, and the interminable threat of war. Israel must certainly remain prepared for any eventuality (as the old saw has it, even if the lion lies with the lamb, you still want to be the lion), but fewer Israelis will die from the terrorism accompanying the peace process than would from the terrorism and war that would accompany a return to pre-1993 conditions. Why does Leiter argue that the discord and chaos of the previous period is safer than the promising path on which Israel has now embarked?
The new path is promising not only because it holds out the potential of saving lives but also because it brings many political and economic benefits: the end of Israel's isolation; new, publicly acknowledged relations with Arab leaders and public meetings with Israelis in Arab countries; the heartwarming world and regional reaction to Rabin's death, including dignitaries from eighty countries at the funeral; the new openings to Asia, East Europe, and the former Soviet Union; the annual economic summits; the ebbing of the Arab boycott; the expansion of multilateral tourism; the multilateral meetings on such subjects as water and the environment; the multitude of business deals; and the increases in direct foreign investment in Israel. It is difficult to believe that Israel would be safer without these economic and political breakthroughs.
A few economic figures put these changes into perspective. Israel has one of the highest growth rates in the world (it grew by 6.8 percent in 1995); foreign investment in Israel has increased by 140 percent in the last year; and unemployment is down to 6 percent -- from 11.2 percent in 1992. Does anyone believe it is mere chance that the best-ever performance of the Israeli economy coincides with successes in the peace process?
Permanent confrontation without risk is far more dangerous than a peace process with its attendant perils and disappointments. In a sense, Israel is simply doing what all of us do in our daily lives. We take medicine for our ailments, even if it has unpleasant side-effects, rather than simply suffer and allow our medical condition to worsen.
To the Editor:
In his debate with Robert K. Lifton on the issue of U.S. financial aid to Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, Morton A. Klein frames the key issue in his opening sentence: "Israel signed a series of accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on the assumption that the latter had sincerely transformed itself from a terrorist organization into a political force; and that it sought to live in peace with Israel." Whether this assumption has been met is the issue that drives the debate over American aid.
Unfortunately, Lifton does not address this question. Rather, he points out the virtues of a peaceful outcome -- begging the question, for no one disputes the advantages of peace. Rather, the debate concerns whether Arafat intends to live in peace with Israel. Consequently, Lifton must be deemed to have avoided the primary issue under debate.
In particular, Lifton makes four arguments in favor of peace, none of which bears any relationship to answering the central question of whether a reformed Arafat has discarded his earlier goal of eliminating the "Zionist entity." In a fifth section, he argues it is "not appropriate at this time" even to discuss Arafat's true frame of mind toward Israel. Lifton here dismisses any need for Arafat to show peaceful intentions, claiming that the peace process is an end in itself. But this avoids the very issue we must resolve. Further, Lifton contradicts himself when he asserts "It is clear that the PLO must revoke its odious covenant." Why so, if placing conditions on him now "are unnecessary"?
Mr. Lifton responds:
In defining the "key issue," Boris, like Klein, misses the point. Israel must divest itself of control over the Palestinians for its own needs, not to benefit the Palestinians, for it has no choice. It cannot physically transfer close to two million Palestinians from their homes to some other land. It cannot incorporate them into Israel and allow them to become 40 percent of the electorate, and so, be in a position to determine Israel's destiny. Nor can it incorporate them but deny that vote, turning Israel into an apartheid state. The only option is separation.
Israel's leadership would be foolish to base its historic decision to separate on matters of trust or on Arafat's intentions or statements. The overwhelming power of the Israel Defense Forces guarantees that Arafat's intentions, whatever they may be, are essentially irrelevant. And the Oslo agreements deliver control to the Palestinians in stages, permitting the Israelis to stop forward movement if Israel's security is threatened. Israel should use this leverage to compel the PLO to revoke the covenant because it forces Arafat to live up to his agreements, sets appropriate new directions for the Palestinian people, and eliminates a public-relations issue in the hands of those who oppose the Oslo accords.