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A Plan for Peace

Is America about to adopt the Israeli prime minister’s 20-year-old plan for a durable settlement between Israel and the Palestinians?

Benjamin Netanyahu
August 26, 2019
Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

Of late, a new “villain” was introduced into political discussions about the future of the Middle East. There are those who said that the responsibility for a thousand years of Middle Eastern obstinacy, radicalism, and fundamentalism has now been compressed into one person—namely, me. My critics contended that if only I had been less “obstructionist” in my policies, the convoluted and tortured conflicts of the Middle East would immediately and permanently have settled themselves.

While it is flattering for any person to be told that he wields so much power and influence, I am afraid that I must forgo the compliment. This is not false modesty. The problem of achieving a durable peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors is complicated enough. Yet it pales in comparison with the problem of achieving an overall peace in the region. Even after the attainment of peace treaties between Israel and its neighbors, any broader peace in the region will remain threatened by the destabilizing effects of Islamic fundamentalism and Iran and Iraq’s fervent ambition to arm themselves with ballistic missiles and atomic weapons. Let me first say categorically: It is possible for Israel to achieve peace with its Arab neighbors. But if this peace is to endure, it must be built on foundations of security, justice, and above all, truth. Truth has been the first casualty of the Arab campaign against Israel, and a peace built upon half-truths and distortions is one that will eventually be eroded and whittled away by the harsh political winds that blow in the Middle East. A real peace must take into account the true nature of this region, with its endemic antipathies, and offer realistic remedies to the fundamental problem between the Arab world and the Jewish state.

Fundamentally, the problem is not a matter of shifting this or that border by so many kilometers, but reaffirming the fact and right of Israel’s existence. The territorial issue is the linchpin of the negotiations that Israel must conduct with the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Lebanon. Yet a territorial peace is hampered by the continuing concern that once territories are handed over to the Arab side, they will be used for future assaults to destroy the Jewish state. Many in the Arab world have still not had an irreversible change of heart when it comes to Israel’s existence, and if Israel becomes sufficiently weak the conditioned reflex of seeking our destruction would resurface. Ironically, the ceding of strategic territory to the Arabs might trigger this destructive process by convincing the Arab world that Israel has become vulnerable enough to attack.

That Israel’s existence was a bigger issue than the location of its borders was brought home to me in the first peace negotiations that I attended as a delegate to the Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991. In Madrid, the head of the Palestinian delegation delivered a flowery speech calling for the cession of major Israeli population centers to a new Palestinian state and the swamping of the rest of Israel with Arab refugees, while the Syrian foreign minister questioned whether the Jews, not being a nation, had a right to a state of their own in the first place. (And this at a peace conference!) Grievances over disputed lands and disputed waters, on which the conference sponsors hoped the participants would eventually focus their attention, receded into insignificance in the face of such a primal hostility toward Israel’s existence. This part of the conference served to underscore the words of Syria’s defense minister, Mustafa Tlas, who with customary bluntness had summed up the issue one year earlier: “The conflict between the Arab nation and Zionism is over existence, not borders.”

This remains the essential problem nearly a decade later. The fact that the Syrians place such immense obstacles before the resumption of peace talks with us, and the fact that the Palestinians resisted for more than a year my call to enter fast-track negotiations for a final settlement, underscores their reluctance to make a genuine and lasting peace with us. To receive territory is not to make peace. Peace requires that you also give something in return, namely arrangements not to use the land that is handed over to you as a future staging area for attacks against Israel. Equally, peace requires that our Arab partners educate their people to an era of mutual acceptance, something we have failed to see in many parts of the Arab world.

To begin resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, one must begin here. The Arabs must be asked forthrightly and unconditionally to make their peace with Israel’s existence. The Arab regimes must move not only to a state of nonbelligerency but to a complete renunciation of the desire to destroy the Jewish state—a renunciation that will gain credibility only when they establish a formal peace with Israel. This means ending the economic boycott and the explosive arms buildup, and signing peace treaties with Israel. The Arab states must resign themselves to something they have opposed for so long: not merely the fact but the right of Israel’s permanent presence among them. This necessarily means that they will have to accept mutual coexistence as the operating principle in their relations with the Jewish state.

A policy of coexistence between the United States and the Soviet Union was of course promulgated in the heyday of the Cold War, and we have become so used to hearing the phrase that we are inured to its profound importance. For even at a time when the Communists were possessed by doctrines of global domination, they were saying that they understood that there was a higher interest, higher even than the Marxist cause: the survival of their own society and of the planet as a whole.

This is a rational attitude since it allows warring societies to live, evolve, and eventually resolve the antagonisms between them. The crucial idea of mutual coexistence is setting limits to conflict. Yet for close to a century Arab society and Arab politics have been commandeered by an anti-Jewish obsession that has known no limits: It harnessed the Nazis, promoted the Final Solution, launched five wars against Israel, embarked on a campaign of global terrorism, strangled the world’s economy with oil blackmail, and now, in Iraq and elsewhere, is attempting to build nuclear bombs for the great Armageddon. This obsession must be stopped not only for Israel’s sake but for the sake of the Arabs themselves and for the sake of the world.

It will not do to obscure the primacy of this existential opposition to Israel as the driving force of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Such obfuscation is fashionable in current commentaries on Israel and Arabs, in the form of a neat symmetry imposed on their respective needs and desires. These commentaries hold that Israel’s demand for Arab recognition of its right to exist should be met in exchange for various Arab demands, especially for land. Yet to treat these demands as symmetrical, as the two sides of an equation, is to ignore both history and causality. Worse, it sets a price tag on the lives of millions of Jews and their nation.

To see this clearly, imagine the situation in reverse. Suppose Israel refused to recognize Syria’s right to exist and threatened to destroy the entire country unless Syria were to evacuate a swatch of territory controlled by Syria that Israel claimed as its own. This would be widely and correctly viewed as lunacy. Yet the Arabs’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist unless it caves in to their territorial demands for lands from which they have attacked Israel is accorded serious consideration, even respect, in current diplomacy. What is overlooked is that Israel’s right to exist is no more negotiable than is the right of Syria or Egypt to exist.

The Arabs often say that the wrong done to the Palestinians is so great that they cannot come to terms with Israel’s existence until it is set aright. But this argument, too, is intended only to confound the issue. The Palestinian Arabs were offered a state by the United Nations in 1947, and they rejected it. So did the Arab states, which not only unanimously opposed Palestinian statehood but sent their armies into Palestine to grab whatever they could—for themselves. Further, when the West Bank and Gaza, which Jordan and Egypt captured in 1948, were in Arab hands, barely a whisper about Palestinian statehood was ever heard in either place. Thus, there is no shred of a historical connection linking the demand for Palestinian statehood to the Arab refusal to recognize Israel.

The issue of the Palestinian Arabs requires a fair and forthright solution that takes into account their full situation and the question of their civil status, alongside the cardinal issues of Jewish rights and Israeli security. But one thing must be said clearly at the outset: The grievances of the Palestinian Arabs, real or imagined, cannot be a loaded gun held to Israel’s temple. Today, after five major wars, Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with Israel and some of the other Arab states are prepared to recognize Israel, but only in exchange for a Palestinian state bordering Tel Aviv that would obviously jeopardize Israel’s existence. This prerequisite, which is now demanded in nearly every corner of the Arab world, shows the distance that the Arabs must still travel in permanently reconciling themselves to the presence of a Jewish state in their midst.

This is not surprising if one considers the enormous anti-Israel propaganda that has been directed at the Arab and Moslem masses, in which 150 million people have been endlessly told that a tiny country in their midst has no place under the sun, that it must be “excised like a cancerous tumor” and “thrown into the dustbin of history,” as I heard my Iranian counterpart at the UN say in 1984. When this notion is repeated again and again, day in and day out, for half a century, there is no reason why the Arab masses should alter their hostility toward Israel. To be sure, the Madrid Conference, despite its disappointments, also offered some glimmers of hope. Haltingly, awkwardly, Arabs and Israelis began a direct, face-to-face dialogue that started a process that may lead to peace. But Teheran had been touched by none of the stirrings toward change. Instead, it tossed up a resolution, signed by delegates from all over the Moslem world, including representatives of various PLO factions, calling once again for the annihilation of Israel. This is a symptom of a political pathology. Its essence, like that of certain psychological pathologies in the individual, is an escape from reality and the summoning of violence to act out irrational impulses. The first requirement of peace is that this fanaticism not be brooked. It should be condemned and excoriated in most vigorous terms wherever it appears. (The Islamic conference in Teheran received hardly a murmur of protest from any of the Western capitals.) It cannot be dismissed as posturing because, if left unchallenged, it contaminates the views of the pragmatists and realists among the Arabs and further inflames the passions of the “Arab street” of which the realists must be continually wary.

While there are many in the West who are prepared to admit the moral necessity of Arab recognition of Israel, there is also a widespread acceptance of the Arabs’ utterly utilitarian rejoinder: What’s in it for us? If not territorial concessions from Israel, then what do the Arabs get out of peace? Setting aside momentarily the issue of disputed territory (I will soon return to it), the Arabs have plenty to gain from the state of peace in and of itself.

First, they can avoid the escalating costs of war. As the Gulf War showed, war is becoming extremely expensive and exceedingly destructive. With the advance of military technology, precision bombing, laser-guided missiles, and the sheer firepower packed in today’s artillery and tanks, an Arab leader bent on war could find his army destroyed, his capital in ruins, his regime threatened, and if he is not lucky, his own life in jeopardy. Saddam, after all, was very lucky. What could he have possibly put up against Norman Schwarzkopf’s divisions if the American general had received the order to march on to Basra and Baghdad? At best he himself could have sought a hiding place in Iraq or escaped the country altogether, as Mengistu of Ethiopia did when his military collapsed (although given the skills in assassination of several of Saddam’s Arab adversaries, it is not clear that he would have survived very long in hiding or exile).

But war today carries not only military and personal risks, it invites unparalleled economic desolation. The bombs may be smarter, but they are also more destructive. According to a UN report, the obliteration of Iraq’s infrastructure of roads, bridges, railway lines, power plants, oil refineries, and industrial enterprises meant that “food … cannot be distributed; water cannot be purified; sewage cannot be pumped away and cleansed; crops cannot be irrigated; medicines cannot be conveyed where they are required.” In short, the report concluded, Iraq had been “relegated to the pre-industrial age.” This may have been an exaggerated assessment, but it is nevertheless sobering to realize that this was a level of damage inflicted by an adversary that was discriminate in its use of force. Iraq—which was, to say the least, less discriminate in using force—exacted an economic toll from Kuwait estimated to be as high as $30 billion. The pursuit of modern warfare therefore entails the triple risk of military, political, and economic devastation on a scale that is constantly escalating. Surely after the Gulf War the Arab leaders must ask themselves whether Israel would again sit back in the case of armed attack. And just as surely they must know that the answer is no. Further, if Israel were to face a threat to its existence, it would respond with awesome power—something that no sane person, Arab or Jew, could possibly desire. As the cost of war rises, the benefits of avoiding war and establishing peace rise accordingly. Not only does peace allow a country to avoid devastation, it enables it to build on its existing economic foundation rather than devote several years and untold resources to rebuilding ruins. And it allows it to cooperate with its neighbors for mutual betterment.

Herein lie the greatest benefits of peace: the tremendous possibilities inherent in mutual cooperation between Arabs and Israelis. While this fact was always clear to Israel, it has yet to penetrate the thinking of most Arab leaders, to the obvious detriment of their societies. For the Arab world stands to gain as much from making peace with Israel as Israel stands to gain from making peace with the Arabs.

What would peace be like if the entire Arab world truly believed in it? There is no area of life that would not be affected. Take trade, as an obvious first example. Since the Six Day War, Israel’s “open bridges” policy created a flourishing trade between Israel and Jordan across the Allenby Bridge over the Jordan River. The signing of the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel significantly expanded this trade. Such trade could be further expanded and its scope with Jordan and with other Arab countries substantially broadened. Equally, the Arab world could have access to Israel’s ports on the Mediterranean and to technology and to other advances in the Israeli marketplace.

Water, too, looms large as a potential benefit of peace. This second precious liquid (the other is oil) will be the focus of much contention in the coming years. Agreements on water will be harder to achieve in an increasingly parched Middle East, whose growing populations will put mounting demands on a limited water supply. It is thus in everyone’s interest to negotiate water agreements early on. The first to enjoy the benefits of peace in this regard has been Jordan. With only 150 cubic meters of water per capita per year (as compared to Syria’s 2,000 cubic meters), Jordan is an exceedingly dry country. Israeli-Jordanian cooperation has increased the available water supply for Jordan, and enhanced cooperation could expand available water for both countries. This is especially true in the Arava region, the long valley connecting the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. The Arava is neatly divided down the middle between Israel and Jordan, and both countries draw waters from the wells dug into its sandy soil that exceed the capacity of the aquifer to replenish itself. This is leading to increasing salinization, endangering the future water supply. A coordinated policy could greatly ameliorate the situation. Israeli and Jordanian scientists could study the problem and devise a joint water policy for mutual benefit; after all, the subterranean water table does not recognize national boundaries. Equally, peace could enable Israel and Jordan to cooperate in the construction of a single desalinization plant of appropriate scale on the Red Sea, a project that could prove far more economically sensible than separate, smaller Israeli and Jordanian facilities. Such an effort could be joined by another water-starved neighbor bordering on the Red Sea—Saudi Arabia. Syria, while on the face of it much more plentiful in water, nevertheless feels pressed by Turkey’s plans to dam the Euphrates, which provides a sizable amount of Syria’s water. This in turn has led to increased tensions among Syria, Jordan, and Israel over the existing division of the waters of the Yarmuk tributary to the Jordan River, which is bordered by all three countries. Peace agreements would of course require review of the Yarmuk arrangements originally negotiated by President Eisenhower’s emissary, Eric Johnston, in 1955; but they could also assist Syria in using its other available water much more efficiently. Israel has devised methods such as drip irrigation to ensure that 85 percent of its irrigation water actually reaches the crops (15 percent is lost to evaporation and runoff). In Syria the efficiency is less than 40 percent. With the establishment of peace, Israel could teach Syrian farmers the techniques for more efficient water usage, just as it taught Arab farmers in Judea and Samaria to increase their irrigation efficiency from 40 percent to today’s 80 percent. And Israeli engineers could also help Syria build the national projects it now lacks to carry water to arid sections of the country, just as Israel did in building its National Water Carrier.

Among the other regional benefits of peace would be unfettered tourism and even broader access of Israel’s medical facilities to the Arab states. This is one of the best-known yet least discussed secrets in the Arab world. On any given day you can find in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem members of the Saudi royal family, Jordanian jet-setters, and patients from virtually all the rest of the Arab world who come for both routine and special medical treatment. What are now incognito sojourns for selected patients could become, especially if accompanied by training programs for doctors from the Arab countries, an open service that could substantially improve health care throughout the region. The Israeli presence on the West Bank has resulted in a significant improvement in this regard, dramatically reducing infant mortality and improving other health indicators. Peace could bring overall effects like this to many Arab countries, literally improving millions of lives.

This discussion of the benefits of peace remains largely theoretical because it assumes a genuine transformation of Arab attitudes toward Israel. But such a transformation is so difficult to achieve that even the establishment of a formal peace with Egypt has not produced it. Egypt continues to keep Israel at arm’s length, maintaining a “cold peace” consisting of a low-profile and extremely circumscribed relationship that has prevented the realization of the full gamut of possibilities for both countries. If peace with Israel could bring such enormous benefits to the Arab states, why has virtually no Arab leader stepped forward to explain these benefits to his people and obtain it for them? Could 150 million people be blind, almost to a person, to something so obvious?

The answer is that they are not. In every Arab society there are those for whom no explanation is needed concerning the urgent need to end the state of war, recognize Israel, and get on with the joint task of bringing the Middle East into the twentieth century before the twentieth century is out. But two obstacles stand in the way of such realism. First, while the benefits of peace are understood by isolated individuals, such a perspective is uncommon. Many Arab leaders who profess a desire for “peace” think of it as a means to an end, such as regaining lost territory or securing military supplies from the West, rather than as an end in itself. (Such payoffs to Arab governments should not be confused with the permanent benefits that real peace would bring to every citizen.) For much of the Arab world, peace is a coin with which one pays in order to get something else. As such, it is expendable at a given moment and under the right circumstances, and it need not last very long. Peace can be signed one day and discarded the next, once the immediate payoff has been pocketed—much to the astonishment of Westerners, including Israelis, who have a completely different understanding of what it means to “make peace.” (For Israelis, peace is the goal and everything else is a means to it.) Those few Arabs whose view of peace is more Western find themselves fighting against the tide in Arab countries that have never known this Western concept of peace from the day they gained independence, and which are much more familiar with the kind of peace occasionally offered by Arafat to Israel, the “peace of Saladin,” which is merely a tactical intermission in a continuing total war.

A second obstacle facing the realists is that no Arab leader or representative wants to end up like Abdullah of Jordan, Anwar Sadat of Egypt, or Bashir Gemayel of Lebanon—or for that matter like the many thousands of moderate Palestinian Arabs whom the Mufti and the PLO have butchered over this century for “betraying” the Arab cause by trying to make peace with the Jews. For seventy years, ever since the heyday of the Mufti, every move and every gesture toward peace has been stifled by fear of the radical Pan-Arab nationalists and Moslem fundamentalists.

Those who are interested in something more than a pyrrhic peace in the Middle East must recognize the harsh reality that there is always a powerful Muftist faction among the Arabs ready to veto peace. The Mufti’s politics of terror is no less with us today. So long as this branch of Arab politics is powerful enough to terrorize other Arabs into playing by its rules, making peace will be an extraordinarily difficult business. When the radicals feel confident and powerful, the intimidated moderates run to snuggle within the tiger claws of the dictators, much as King Hussein of Jordan snuggled in Saddam’s paws on the very eve of the Gulf War. Without suppressing the power of intimidation of the radicals, there can be no hope that moderates will emerge.

This principle was much in evidence in the case of Morocco. When Qaddafi was at the height of his power, having conquered most of Chad and terrorized much of the West with his threats, King Hassan of Morocco—as antithetical a figure to Qaddafi as one could conjure up in the Arab world—entered into a bizarre “marriage” between Libya and Morocco. Yet within months of the American bombing of Tripoli and the collapse of Qaddafi’s forces in Chad, Hassan dissolved the union and invited Israel’s foreign minister to an open meeting in Morocco. Similarly, when Syria came to realize in the wake of the Gulf War that the eclipse of its Soviet benefactor spelled a decline in its ability to resist American pressure, it suddenly permitted King Hussein and other Arabs to enter negotiations and even went so far as to sit at the same table with Israel itself. Pressing the radicals, curtailing their options to intimidate, and limiting their political and military clout are continual prerequisites for engaging in any realistic efforts for peace. Any Israeli diplomat who has ever dealt with the Arabs can recount endless variations on this theme. My own experience with Arab diplomats has taught me how readily some of them would make peace if they were freed from the yoke of terror. When I was deputy chief of the Israeli mission in Washington, I used to meet regularly with one such diplomat, an ambassador from an Arab country with which Israel has no relations. On one occasion we had set a meeting in a small restaurant. I arrived five minutes late and asked the waiter whether a gentleman answering the description of my Arab colleague had been there.

“Yes,” said the waiter. “He showed up, ordered something to drink, and left suddenly.”

I called him up. ‘‘Ali, what happened?” I asked.

“I came to the restaurant at the time we’d agreed on. I sat down. Who do you think I saw at the next table? The Syrian ambassador. I walked out.”

It is a sad commentary on the pace of political evolution in the Arab world that many years after this conversation took place, I am still unable to reveal the diplomat’s real name and have had to substitute a false one to protect his identity.

This little vignette, set in a quiet corner of Washington, D.C., contains in microcosm the story of countless foiled peace attempts throughout the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The nonradicals might entertain the possibility of negotiating peace with Israel, but they fear the violent response of the radicals. This was painfully evident in the Madrid Peace Conference and in the subsequent talks in Washington. Once again, my Israeli colleagues and I found that even the most reasonable among the Jordanians and Lebanese were constantly forced to weigh every word for fear of the PLO and the Syrians, whose threatening gaze they felt even in the most private of conversations.

The West often aggravates this situation by strengthening the hands of the worst radicals. It is often so grateful for any reasonable gesture coming from these quarters that it proceeds to enter into economic and military agreements with them. It operates on the belief that such carrots will lure a radical regime to become a less radical one—a view whose full wisdom was revealed in the Western arming of Saddam in the 1980s. The fact is that the radicals should not be armed. There should be a curb on weapons sales to the moderates as well, for the simple reason that in the Middle East today’s “moderate” could be tomorrow’s radical, courtesy of a coup, an invasion, or mere intimidation.

So long as freedom of expression, the rule of law, and real representative government are absent from the Arab world, it will continue to be next to impossible for realist Arabs to have an enduring influence on Arab policies toward Israel. For this reason, there is a direct relationship between what the West does to press the Arab world to democratize and the chances of attaining a durable Middle East peace. In the cases of Germany and Japan, of Russia and the Ukraine, of Latin America and several African dictatorships, the powerful relationship between democratic values and the desire for peace has been obvious to American policymakers, who for years have tied American trade and other forms of assistance to domestic policy reforms and democratization. For example, the United States imposed sanctions on China after the massacre in Tiananmen Square that suppressed the movement for democratization in that country. Similarly, when the president of Peru suspended democratic institutions in 1992, the United States undertook a full-court press, including economic sanctions, in order to prevent backsliding to authoritarian rule in a Latin America it had tirelessly worked for decades to push into democracy.

Only the Arab states have been entirely exempt from such pressure—much to the dismay of a handful of reformist Arabs in exile in London who have seen their fellow Arabs abandoned to the unrelenting totalitarians of Syria, Iraq, and Libya, and to the unreconstructed dictatorships that form much of the rest of the Arab world; and much to the dismay of Israel, which must consider the possibility that these regimes will at any moment return to savaging the Jewish state alongside the treatment they mete out to their own people.

It might be argued that the West has been slowly inching toward broaching the subject of democracy with the Arab leaders. But in the wake of the Gulf War, which the United States waged to save a helpless Saudi Arabia from Saddam and to resurrect a Kuwait that he had conquered, it is clear that this is not the case. Never has a ruler been as helpless as was the exiled Emir Al-Sabah of Kuwait, sitting in Riyadh waiting to have the West extricate his country from Iraq’s gullet. If ever there had been a moment to extract a commitment to basic human rights, or a constitution, or a free press, this was it. None was asked for.

Other than the fact that the Arab world possesses a good part of the world’s oil supply, the West seems to have granted the democratic exemption to the Arab world for reasons virtually indistinguishable from those the British Colonial Office held at the end of World War I: a kind of smug condescension that the Arabs are “not ready” for democracy, that democracy is somehow incompatible with their Islamic heritage, that “their own traditional forms of government” should be considered “right for them,” and so on as though, for example, torture, amputation, slavery, a manacled press, and absolute rule by a family of a few hundred cousins is anything but a tyranny by any standard. Most bizarre are the attempts by Westerners to convince themselves that the Arabs should have their democratic exemption because what they already have is as good as democracy, as in the periodic journalistic accounts of Saudi Arabia as a quiet, gentle kingdom—a kind of Tibet in the sands.

Arab culture and Islamic civilization are no better excuses for an exemption from democracy than were Japanese culture in 1945 and Russian civilization in 1989—although neither of these had been democratic societies before. For an enduring peace to be built in the Middle East, America must stop coddling the various Arab dictators and autocrats and begin pushing them to adopt the most rudimentary guarantees that will allow those willing to live peacefully with Israel to come out of the closet, publish their opinions, organize political parties, and ultimately be elected to positions to make good on their beliefs. Some argue that democracy cannot be introduced into the Arab states because it will bring the Islamic fundamentalists to power. But of course the idea cannot simply be to establish majority rule, and thereby hand power to the tyranny of the mob. To advance democracy in the Arab world, the West must promote the concepts of individual rights and constitutional limits on governmental power, without which the existence of any genuine democracy is impossible. Without real and concerted steps in this direction, the perennial search for Arabs willing to make a permanent (as opposed to a tactical) peace with Israel will be ultimately futile.


I wrote the above before I was elected Prime Minister, and my views have substantially remained unaltered. But I have come to recognize that neither the United States nor the Western countries are likely to act toward the goal of democratization in the Arab world. Nor is it possible for Israel to do so, for any action on our part would be falsely interpreted as an attempt to destabilize neighboring regimes, changing one ruler with another—something we have absolutely no desire to do. Consequently, we must assume that for our generation and perhaps the next, the task of peacemaking is with the Arab world as it is, unreformed and undemocratic. The prevalence of radicalism in the Middle East—and the danger that, in the absence of any democratic traditions, a nonradical regime can turn radical overnight—means that peace in the Middle East must have security arrangements built into it. I have already noted that for the foreseeable future the only kind of peace that will endure in the region between Arab and Arab and between Arab and Jew is the peace of deterrence. Security is an indispensable pillar of peace for any resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Ending the state of war is a must, but that will not end the possibility of a future war. An Israel lacking security would eventually invite an act of aggression that would destroy the peace. The question we must therefore ask is, what are Israel’s minimal security requirements that can sustain its defenses and thereby sustain the peace?

This question need not be answered in territorial terms alone. The adoption of security arrangements between Israel and the Arab states, such as a hotline between Damascus and Jerusalem, or procedures to alert the other side to planned military maneuvers, can reduce the possibility of war. Buffer zones might be created to prevent the stockpiling of weapons next to particularly sensitive borders. Such zones would be free of heavy military equipment such as tanks and artillery and could be accessible to the officers of the other side. Of necessity, the configuration of these zones would have to take into account the tremendous disparity in the dimensions of Israel as compared with those of its Arab neighbors.

But however useful such devices may be, they cannot meet a contingency in which Israel’s enemies decide to violate the rules and invade. In the case of Israel, as we have seen, military distances are so tiny and warning times so short that without minimal strategic depth to absorb an attack and mobilize its reserves, Israel’s existence would be placed in jeopardy. Nor can its need for strategic depth be filled by international guarantees. Even if the guaranteeing powers summon the will to act—which, despite a formal promise, the friendly American administration did not do on the eve of the Six Day War—there looms the question of whether they could physically dispatch the forces in time. Kuwait, a country almost exactly the size of Israel (minus the West Bank), was overrun in a matter of six hours, but liberated only after a six-month buildup of huge forces shipped from West to East. Israel cannot be asked to play the role of Lazarus. It will not rise from the dead, to whose ranks its defeat would surely consign it. For unlike Arab Kuwait, no one doubts that if the Jewish state were ever conquered by Arab armies, it would be effectively, irredeemably destroyed. The problem with international guarantees for Israel is therefore exactly what Golda Meir said it was: “By the time they come to save Israel, there won’t be an Israel.”

Israel’s defenses therefore must be entrusted to its own forces, which are willing and able to act in real time against an imminent invasion or attack. When seeking, as we must, a peace based on security, we must necessarily ask what secure boundaries for Israel would be. Clearly, the Six Day War boundaries are the boundaries not of peace but of war. But how much broader does Israel need to be? As we have seen, the crucial question is not only additional increments of strategic depth but the incorporation of the Judea-Samaria mountain ridge, which forms a protective wall against invasion from the east. It is not feasible for Israel to relinquish military control of this wall. A similar situation prevails for the Golan Heights, which dominate the north. When these territories were in Arab hands, the result was war, not peace. One simply cannot talk about peace and security for Israel and in the same breath expect Israel to significantly alter its existing defense boundaries.

Arab leaders’ promises that the Palestinian Arabs would have the whole of Palestine in 1947, the whole of Israel in 1967, and the whole of Jordan in 1970 all proved to be impediments to resolving the problem of the Palestinian Arabs, each one leading to the rejection of rational compromises and to further calamity.

Jerusalem, too, has been the subject of renewed Arab demands. Arafat has long and often said that there will be no peace so long as the PLO flag does not fly over the city. The West has often taken this statement at face value, and every peace plan to date that Westerners have offered has been in some fashion gerrymandered to allow an Arab flag to fly over some section of Jerusalem—usually over what the media like to refer to as “’fuab East Jerusalem.” Of course, there is nothing exclusively or even mainly “’fuab” about eastern Jerusalem. This part of the city consists of those portions of Jerusalem that the Jordanian Legion was able to tear away by force in 1948. Many Jews lived there at the time, but the Jordanians expelled them. Today these sections of the city have 150,000 Jewish residents and a similar number of Arab residents. (Unlike the Jordanians, who expelled the Jews when they conquered this portion of the city in 1948, Israel left the Arab population intact and offered it Israeli citizenship.)

Eastern Jerusalem includes the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, and the City of David. It was the capital of ancient Israel for twelve centuries, the very heart and soul of all Jewish aspiration to return and rebuild the Land of Israel. Israel could not under any circumstances negotiate over any aspect of Jerusalem, any more than Americans would negotiate over Washington, Englishmen over London, or Frenchmen over Paris. Israel is prepared to offer the Arabs full and equal rights in Jerusalem—but no rights over Jerusalem.

The tremendous significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people—as well as the indelible physical facts of Jewish neighborhoods such as Gilo, Ramot, Ramat Eshkol, French Hill, Pisgat Ze’ev, and Neve Ya’akov built in eastern Jerusalem since 1967—make the notion that somehow Jerusalem will be redivided sheer fantasy. Yet it is not only Arabs who cling to this fantasy. In practically every foreign ministry in the West, including the U.S. State Department, there are maps that do not include East Jerusalem as part of a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. Indeed, most governments refuse to recognize even West Jerusalem as part of Israel, on the grounds that “the final status of Jerusalem remains to be negotiated, “in the hope that it will be internationalized—this in recognition of its “special status,” reflecting its unique importance not only to Judaism but to Islam and Christianity as well. But it is only under Jewish rule that Jerusalem has become a city open to all faiths, with the holy sites of all religions protected equally for the first time in history. The Jewish belief in the universal meaning of Jerusalem has made it today a truly universal city. To pry the city away from the one people that has ensured unimpeded access to it for all, to put it under a UN-type administration, would not merely violate the historic right of the Jewish people to its one and only capital. It would assure a descent into factionalism, where shrill partisans of Islam like the followers of Khomeini and Qaddafi would return the city to the divisions and sectarian strife that characterized it before 1967—something for which no rational person could possibly wish. This is why Israel, within the context of a peace agreement with the Arabs, is prepared to guarantee free access to Moslems wishing to make pilgrimages to their holy places in Jerusalem, but will in no way alter Israel’s ability to maintain Jerusalem as a peaceful and open city under Israeli sovereignty.

It will be objected that in keeping sovereignty over Jerusalem and the remaining territories, Israel is expecting the Arabs to renounce their claim to what they consider part of their domain. This is precisely the case. An entire century of Arab wars has been waged against the Jews because the Arabs have refused to in any way temper their doctrine of never giving up what they claim to be Arab lands. In fact, in its entire recorded history, the Arab nation has never given up a single inch of land willingly, for the sake of peace or for the sake of anything else. This fact was confirmed to the point of absurdity after the cession of the entire Sinai (more than twice the size of all of Israel), when Egypt refused to reciprocate by ceding Israel a few hundred yards on which the Israelis had partially built a luxury hotel—leading to a crisis of several years that finally ended when Israel gave up the land in 1989.

But the time has finally come to recognize that peace will be possible only when both sides are willing to strike a compromise that gives each the minimum it needs to live. The Zionist movement and the State of Israel are by now well acquainted with compromising on ideology for the sake of coexistence and peace, having done so at least four times in this century. In 1919 the Zionists bitterly gave up on their claim to the Litani River (now in southern Lebanon), which was to have been the main water source for the new Jewish state. In 1922 four-fifths of the Jewish National Home was made off-limits to Jews so that there could be a territory, Jordan, reserved for the Arabs of Palestine. This was much more painful, for it meant giving up on a large portion of biblical Israel and agreeing that the Jewish state would be only forty miles wide. But for the sake of peace, the Jews have given up on this claim as well, and they asked the Palestinian-Jordanian state four times the size of Israel to give them nothing in return. In the 1979 treaty with Egypt, Israel compromised many of its most cherished principles for the sake of peace. In giving up the Sinai, it conceded vast lands, transferred thousands of Jews from their homes, razed houses, schools, and farms that had been built from the desert over fifteen years, and utterly renounced every one of the Jewish historical, strategic, and economic claims to land where the Jewish people had received the Law of Moses and become a nation. In 1989, Israel gave Taba, near Eilat, to Egypt for the sake of peace and once again, in the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel ceded land to the Palestinians.

For three-quarters of a century the Jews have repeatedly compromised on substantive strategic, historical, and moral claims in order to placate their Arab neighbors in the hope of buying peace. It is impossible that peace should be attained by asking the Jews to compromise on everything and the Arabs to compromise on nothing. The Arabs, possessing lands over five hundred times greater in area than Israel’s, must now do a small fraction of what Israel has done: For the very first time in their long history of expansionism and intolerance, they must compromise. For the sake of peace, they must renounce their claims to part of the four ten-thousandths—.0004—of the lands they desire, which constitutes the very heart of the Jewish homeland and the protective wall of the Jewish state. If the Arabs are unwilling to make even this microscopic one-time concession, if they are still so possessed by the fantasy of an exclusively Arab realm that they cannot bring themselves to compromise on an inch of land to make the Middle East habitable for the Jewish state, it is hard to make the case that they are in fact ready for peace.


But what about the other side, the question of the Arabs in the zones of Judea and Samaria? The fact that Israel is extremely circumscribed in the territorial compromises it is capable of making necessarily raises the question of the future of these people. By hanging on to territory, Israel, it is said, might gain the security inherent in better terrain, but it would encumber itself with a hostile population.

True enough. But this dilemma has been put behind us by the implementation of the early stages of the Oslo Accords. Israel transferred to Palestinian control most of the territory in the Gaza district, which encompasses all the Palestinian residents of that area. Further, in the West Bank, Israel transferred to Palestinian control the lands that encompass a full 98 percent of the Palestinian population (the remaining 2 percent are composed in part of nomadic Bedouin who move from place to place). Thus the question of Israel’s retaining a hostile population has become a moot point. As of 1995 the Palestinian Arabs of Gaza and the West Bank live under Palestinian rule. The remaining issues to be resolved are not over the human rights of the Palestinians or their civil enfranchisement. That is an issue that they have yet to resolve among themselves: Individual rights, freedom of the press, pluralism, and democracy are matters that the Palestinians have to resolve between themselves and the Palestinian Authority that rules them. Israel, however interested an observer, has no part in this debate. The Israelis and the Palestinians must resolve two pivotal questions:

1) the disposition of the remaining territory of Judea and Samaria; and

2) the political status of the self-governing Palestinian entity and its relationship to the State of Israel.

Resolving the territorial issue, though an extremely complex matter, has been made somewhat less difficult because of the fact that the remaining territories are largely uninhabited by Palestinians (more precisely, they are inhabited by Jews). This terrain includes, however, areas that are crucial for Israel’s defense and vital national interests. Accordingly, Israel seeks a final peace settlement with the Palestinians that would leave it with indispensable security zones. First and foremost, it requires a land buffer that includes the Jordan Valley and the hills directly overlooking it and that would extend southward to the ridges above the Dead Sea. At its deepest point, this buffer will be about 12 miles wide, a minimal depth given the fact that Israel faces a threat from a potential eastern front, which might include thousands of Iraqi, Syrian, and Iranian tanks. During the Cold War, NATO’s generals assessed that they would need 180 miles of strategic depth to ward off a similar threat from the east. Alas, Israel must live with strategic depth that is less than 10 percent of that, but it cannot shrink this depth any further. Second, Israel must have a zone of separation between the Palestinian areas and the crowded coastline where most of its population lives. This zone, whose widest point is a few miles, is narrower than the eastern buffer, but is important in any future arrangement for minimizing terrorist infiltration from the Palestinian areas to Israel’s major cities. Furthermore, Israel must retain a security cordon around Jerusalem to ensure that the city is not choked by adjoining Palestinian areas. Israel must also keep its early warning stations at the heights of the Samarian mountains, facilities that offer indispensable warning against air and ground attacks from the east. In addition, Israel must maintain broad corridors of territory to facilitate movement from the coastline to the Jordan Valley buffer in times of emergency. Those corridors, not accidentally, include much of the Jewish population in Judea-Samaria. Israel must protect the Jewish communities and facilitate the citizens’ ability to live and travel securely. Equally, Israel must make sure that the main aquifer that supplies some 40 percent of the country’s water, running at the lower part of the western slopes of the Judean and Samarian hills, does not come under Palestinian control; it is, after all, impossible for the country to live with its water siphoned off or contaminated by the Palestinian Authority. Israel must take into account other special security requirements, such as controlling the areas abutting the Tel Aviv or Jerusalem airports to prevent terrorists from firing at civilian aircraft from these positions. Finally, Israel must keep places sacrosanct to Judaism and the Jewish people within its domain and guarantee unfettered access to them as was done in the Hebron agreements, which left the Tomb of the Patriarchs under Israel’s control.

These are Israel’s minimal requirements to protect the life of the state. Obviously, full control of the West Bank, including the Palestinian areas, would have given Israel much greater security in an insecure Middle East. Yet retaining the minimal elements of defense enumerated above will enable Israel to transfer to the Palestinians additional areas that are not included in these categories, thereby expanding the Palestinian domain without significantly hurting Israel’s security. Equally, Israel is prepared to make special arrangements facilitating safe passage of Palestinians through its own territory, thus enabling direct Palestinian travel between Gaza and the West Bank.

It is largely for these considerations that I negotiated the interim agreement at the Wye River Plantation in 1998 with President Clinton and Yasser Arafat. My principal objective at Wye was to limit the extent of further interim Israeli withdrawals so as to leave Israel with sufficient territorial depth for its defense. As stipulated under the Oslo agreement, Israel was to withdraw in three successive “disengagements” from additional territory in Judea-Samaria, which would be handed over to the Palestinian Authority prior to the negotiations on a permanent peace agreement, or “final settlement.”

The Palestinian side had already received 27 percent of the territory from the Labor government. Based on its experience of negotiating with that government, it expected Israel to cede in these withdrawals the bulk of the territory. As Arafat’s deputy, Abu Mazen, explained to a senior official in my government upon the signing of the Hebron agreement in 1997: “What about the 90 percent of the territory you promised us?” The response was: “We didn’t promise you anything of the kind.” Whatever officials of the previous Labor government had whispered in Palestinian ears was irrelevant. What was relevant were the signed contracts we inherited from Labor, and these did not obligate Israel to such dangerous withdrawals. Indeed, since the Oslo Accords did not quantify the extent of redeployment, we proceeded to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, or more specifically with the United States, on much smaller redeployments. Ultimately we agreed in Wye that the first two redeployments would amount to 13 percent of the territory. We also agreed with the U.S. that Israel would officially declare that the third redeployment, which the U.S. recognized as an Israeli prerogative not subject to negotiation, would not exceed an additional 1 percent.

Thus, instead of a process in which Israel would retreat to the virtually indefensible pre-1967 line even before final settlement negotiations were concluded, I sought and achieved a different result at Wye: that most of the West Bank would remain in our hands pending the start of these negotiations. Israel would retain some 60 percent of the territory with all the West Bank’s Jewish population; the Palestinian Authority would have some 40 percent of the area with virtually the entire Palestinian population. Naturally, this is a much improved position for Israel to negotiate from; one that bolsters our defenses against external attack and the threat of terrorism, while leaving us in an advantageous position for the final settlement negotiations.

We also achieved a second objective at Wye: We incorporated the principle of reciprocity into the agreement. Palestinians would get 13 percent of Judea-Samaria (West Bank) territory in three successive stages only after they implemented their own commitments undertaken at Wye. No more free lunches.

The first stage in the implementation of Palestinian commitments involved mostly formalities, such as naming Palestinian delegates to various joint committees and issuing decrees against incitement and the possession of illegal weapons. The Palestinians met these obligations, and we promptly discharged ours: We withdrew from 2 percent of Area C and transferred 7 percent of Area B, hitherto under joint Israeli-Palestinian security control, to full Palestinian control.

The second stage—which covered the next four weeks—was a different story. At this point the Palestinians were obligated to repeal the articles in the Palestinian Charter, which called for Israel’s destruction, and take the first concrete steps against the terrorist infrastructure. On December 14, they repealed the charter—a genocidal document without parallel in today’s world—in a Gaza gathering addressed by President Bill Clinton.

Many claimed that from a strictly legal viewpoint the repeal was invalid. According to the charter’s own provisions, it can be amended only in a special session of the Palestinian National Council by a vote of two-thirds of the membership—conditions that were not met in Gaza. But the purpose of the exercise—to make the rejection of the charter irreversible—was achieved. After renouncing the charter in a public display before the world’s cameras and in the presence of the U.S. president, it would be impossible to claim that it was still a valid document.

But the Palestinians seemed to feel that rejecting the charter was all they had to do. And they expected us not only to reward them for disavowing genocide, but to ignore their failure to discharge their other obligations.

To us, the other commitments undertaken at Wye were at least as pertinent, for they constituted the first concrete steps to be taken by the Palestinian Authority against the terrorist organizations. The Palestinian Authority was supposed to arrest wanted terrorists and have representatives of the U.S. verify their incarceration; implement the law prohibiting membership in terrorist organizations; collect illegal weapons held by civilians and hand over such prohibited weapons as mortars, anti-tank missiles, and land mines held by the Palestinian Authority police; cease daily incitement to violence; stop organizing anti-Israeli riots; submit a report on the number of Palestinian Authority police in excess of the 30,000 permitted by the Oslo agreement; and maintain “comprehensive, intensive, and continuous” cooperation with Israel on security matters.

The Palestinian Authority complied with none of these commitments. They did, to be sure, display a few assault rifles and handguns, presumably confiscated from civilians, and they detained some wanted terrorists and Hamas political leaders. But after Arafat himself asserted that there were at least 30,000 illegal weapons in Gaza alone, the collection of a few illegal guns for the benefit of network cameras appeared to be little more than a public relations exercise. And the arrest of Hamas operatives was of little consequence. Some of the most notorious participants in planning and executing suicide bombings against Israeli civilians (some of whom were American citizens) were among the scores of Hamas detainees released by the Palestinian Authority within weeks after their arrest.

Adhering to the principle of reciprocity, the Israeli government announced that there would be no further withdrawals until the Palestinian Authority complied with the agreement. This was the guiding principle of my policy from the day I formed the government in 1996, and I was not about to abandon it at this crucial time. Insistence on reciprocity became particularly pertinent after the Wye conference, because Arafat and other Palestinian leaders took to threatening to unilaterally declare a state on May 4, 1999, regardless of what happened in the negotiations. By thus predetermining the result of the Oslo process, they made a mockery of the negotiations. To hand over territory under such circumstances would have been an act of national irresponsibility. The Palestinians’ refusal to combat the terrorist groups ensured that the relinquished land would be used to facilitate attacks against us and to shelter terrorists. And their threat to declare a state—which by the very manner of its establishment would be hostile, dangerous, and unbound by any agreement with us—rendered the forfeiture of territory on our part nothing short of reckless.

I made it clear that Israeli redeployment could only follow the faithful and complete implementation of Palestinian obligations, and that conclusive negotiations over territory would have to await the final status talks.

The negotiations over territory will be the most complex and difficult in Israel’s history. They will involve balancing Israel’s national interests, foremost of which is security, with the Palestinians’ wish to increase their own territorial domain. These negotiations will determine whether Israel will have the territorial bulwarks necessary to defend itself and safeguard a future peace. But they are only one of the two crucial issues for permanent peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The second is the question of the status of the Palestinian entity. Many in the world have blithely accepted the notion that the Palestinians must have their own independent state. They have not asked themselves what powers would accrue to such unbridled Palestinian self-determination. Could the Palestinian state make military pacts with Iran, Iraq, or Syria? Could it be allowed to place troops from these countries on the hills above Tel Aviv? Could it build an army of its own? Could it arm itself with the most sophisticated weapons, such as ground-to-air missiles that can shoot down the planes of the Israeli air force, thereby endangering Israel’s very existence? Could it bring in untold numbers of Arabs, nonrefugees as well as refugees, under the banner of the “right of return,” position them along the seamline with Israel, and begin to infiltrate the country? Clearly, a Palestinian entity with all these powers is a recipe not for peace but for disaster.

My view of an equitable and secure arrangement for the status of a Palestinian entity is based on a simple principle: The Palestinians should have all the powers to run their lives and none of the powers to threaten Israel’s life. This means that the Palestinian entity can enjoy all the attributes of self-government, which include its own legislature, executive, judiciary, passports, flag, education, commerce, tourism, health, police, and every other power and institution controlling the collective and individual life of Palestinians within the Palestinian entity. In fact, the Palestinians have by now received nearly all of these things in the first two stages of the Oslo Accords. What remains to negotiate are those few powers relating to external security. In a permanent peace settlement, the Palestinians should have all the powers to administer Palestinian life; some should be shared with Israel, such as those relating to the environment (since mosquitoes, for example, do not recognize territorial divisions), and still a few other powers, primarily those relating to external security, should be retained by Israel. Thus, the Palestinian entity should not be able to form military pacts with sovereign states, or build and arm a standing army, or import weapons without Israel ‘s consent. Israel must maintain control of the airspace, vital for its very survival, and the international entry points through which dangerous arms and terrorists could penetrate into the Palestinian areas and from there into Israel itself. The issue of the Palestinian refugees must be settled responsibly. The overwhelming majority should be given full rights and rehabilitation in the respective Arab countries where they reside. Israel should not be put at risk of being flooded with refugees sworn to its destruction.

These arrangements would leave the Palestinian entity with considerable powers, and certainly all the ones necessary for self-government. Yet they are not compatible with the idea of unlimited self-determination, which is what many normally associate with the concept of statehood. Statehood has a dynamic of its own, which implies powers that self-government does not necessarily warrant. Among other things, it will enable the Palestinian Arabs to join the United Nations, where they will easily receive the support of most governments and quickly free themselves of any limitation that they may contractually assume to obtain our consent. That is why when I am asked whether I will support a Palestinian state, I answer in the negative. I support the Palestinians’ ability to control their own destiny but not their ability to extinguish the Jewish future. As I have indicated earlier in this book, I believe that this functional solution, giving the Palestinians all the powers necessary for self-administration and Israel those essential powers necessary to protect its national life, is a model for the kind of solution that could be replicated in many similar disputes around the world. It offers the only reasonable alternative between two unacceptable options: military subjugation on the one hand, and unbridled self-determination on the other. The first option is morally unacceptable, the second a prescription for catastrophe. But at the heart of the solution that I advocate is not only a fair and durable division of territory and powers but also a reasoned hope that the Palestinians will recognize that no other solution will be acceptable to the overwhelming majority of Israelis; and that this realization in turn would foster over time a gradual, if grudging, reconciliation with the permanence of Israel’s existence and the need to come to concrete terms with it. It nullifies the hope of using the Palestinian areas as a base to launch the future destruction of the Jewish state, while offering the Palestinians a life of dignity, self-respect, and self-government.


But it is not only Israelis and Arabs who have roles to play in bringing a lasting peace to a region so important to the entire world. As the Camp David Accords demonstrated, the moral, strategic, and financial assistance of the West can play a decisive role in making peace possible. An important step was taken with the commencement of multilateral talks under the auspices of the peace talks begun in 1991. This international support was later reaffirmed and expanded under the Oslo Accords. Foreign involvement in areas such as the development of water resources and protection of the environment would be of major significance to the region, and it would alleviate some of the sources of tensions that could easily contribute to renewed hostility and war.

In particular, there are two areas demanding substantial commitments from Western governments, without which the possibility of achieving peace would be seriously, and I believe irrevocably, impaired. The first is the resettlement of the remaining Arab refugees. As we have seen time and again, the various refugee districts scattered throughout the Middle East are the breeding ground for misery and hatred. Without them the PLO would have a hard time even existing, and a major source of instability would have been removed from the region. In this effort, the continuation of the problem is not a matter of disinterested morality to the states of the West. They too have a stake in dismantling the camps as a step toward ending the long campaign of terror that the rulers of the camps have waged against Israel and the West. Western assistance will be necessary to undertake the large-scale construction of housing projects and infrastructure necessary to transform the camps into towns, as well as educational projects and investments in businesses intended to raise the standard of living. The Western countries should also offer to absorb those refugees who prefer a new home in North America or Europe to continuing to live in Israel or the Arab states. Among them, the Western countries could handily absorb even the entire refugee population if necessary, settling the matter once and for all.

It is true that the Arab states possess sufficient funds to easily pay for this effort themselves, but given their past record of refugee relief (the entire Arab world contributes less than one percent of UNRWA’s budget·), it will be a triumph if they can be prodded into assisting at all. Such Arab involvement in the resettling of refugees should be demanded, both because the Arab states are responsible for originating and sustaining the refugee problem and because their participating in resolving it would signify a real commitment to ending the conflict with Israel.

But the West, including the United States, has so far refused to put its foot down even on a matter as straightforward as ending the Arab fantasy of one day implementing the “right of return.” When asked if the United States still supported UN Resolution 194 from December 1948 (in the middle of the War of Independence), which called for the return of the refugees, the United States couldn’t muster the simple word no. It stammered for three days and finally came up with a circumlocution (“The Resolution is irrelevant to the peace process”) that leaves the Arabs still with the hope of one day thrusting upon Israel the burden of absorbing the hundreds of thousands of people whom the Arab regimes have cruelly maintained as lifelong refugees. On the refugee issue, as with other outdated or unjust UN resolutions (like the 1947 UN Partition Plan allotting the Jews only half of the present-day Israel, and the resolution calling for the internationalization of Jerusalem), the United States and European nations must alter their formal positions and flatly declare the resolutions to be null and void.

An essential area for international development is in the field of nonconventional arms development in the Arab countries. Nearly a decade after the victorious assault against Saddam Hussein, nuclear weapons facilities are still being found in Iraq, and there are probably plenty more where these came from. As the request to clean out Iraq has proved, it is exceedingly difficult to strip a country of the know-how and technology to build weapons of mass destruction once it has them. The only possible way of forestalling the day when Arab states will have the capacity to wipe out Israeli cities (and those of other countries) at the touch of a button is to secure a real, enforced moratorium on the transfer of such weapons and expertise to Iran and the Arab world—and this means the imposition of sanctions on countries that are found to be in violation of the ban. Without such concerted international action and in the absence of the democratization of Middle Eastern regimes, it will only be a matter of time before one of the dictatorships in the region acquires nuclear weapons, imperiling not only Israel and the Middle East but the peace of everyone else on the planet.

It is possible to present all of these steps as a peace plan comprised of three tracks: bilateral measures between Israel and Arab states; international measures taken by the nations of the world (including assistance to joint projects involving Israel and the Arab states); and measures taken to improve the conditions under which Jews and Arabs live side by side in peace with each other. Each of these elements obviously requires careful articulation and much elaboration, which only painstaking negotiations can produce. Such negotiations understandably might alter certain components and possibly add others. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the approach described in this chapter ought to serve as a blueprint for the achievement of a realistic and enduring peace between Arabs and Israelis.

In addition to the proposals for a resolution of the question of the disputed areas, a comprehensive approach to an Arab-Israeli peace must include formal peace treaties between the Arab states and Israel; security arrangements with the Arab states to protect Israel from future attacks and to enable all sides to monitor compliance with the agreements; normalization of relations (including an end to the Arab economic boycott of Israel); cessation of official anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist propaganda in Arab schools and government media; an international regime to ban the sale of nonconventional weapons or materiel to the radical regimes of the Middle East; internationally assisted refugee housing and resettlement projects; and regional cooperation for water development and environmental protection.

This is the path to an Arab-Israeli peace in the Middle East as it really is—turbulent, undemocratized, and as yet unreformed of its underlying antagonisms. Those antagonisms will be extremely slow to disappear. This is why a genuine reconciliation, in addition to having buttresses of stability, security, and cooperation built into it, must contain a strong element of gradualism. Such a graduated approach would allow both sides to alter their conceptions about achieving peace, should the basic political and military conditions of the region undergo a substantial transformation—for the better, one would hope.

While endless ink has been spilled in calling for various futile resolutions to the ongoing strife between the Jewish and Arab peoples over the disposition of Palestine, the proposal made here takes full account of Israel’s security needs, while granting control over their own needs to the Arabs living in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. Though it is certain to arouse furious opposition from irredentists in the Arab camp, as well as from purists on the Israeli left and right, I believe that it offers a real hope of a lasting peace—and one in which any realist in any camp can wholeheartedly believe.


From the book A Durable Peace: Israel and its Place Among the Nations by Benjamin Netanyahu. Copyright © 2000 by Benjamin Netanyahu. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Benjamin Netanyahu is Prime Minister of Israel.