It is suitable to open a current political discussion on the troubled Middle East with a reference to the literary world. The sentencing to death of someone like Salman Rushdie by Islamic fundamentalists is a reminder that Israel has always been fighting for survival in the actual zone of collision between Western civilization and a violent Islamic political subculture. The amazing experiment in transplanting the 7th-Century concept of jihad, or holy war, to the 20th Century was tried on the Jewish state of “nonbelievers” while it was still in its cradle.
This incessant attempt to annihilate Israel has found new ways, now aiming at the establishment of a PLO terrorist state in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza district. It would, no doubt, serve as a launching pad for expansion: first eastward, eliminating King Hussein, and then westward, liquidating Israel, with the backing of more than 11,000 tanks and 1.9 million soldiers stationed in the four Arab countries east of the Jordan River. No Israeli or American in his right mind should agree to the establishment of another version of Libya only 50 miles south of Syria, either directly or by proxy or by default. And since Israelis understand the nature of this threat, most of them would rather be unjustly criticized than be poetically eulogized.
Regrettably, the surge in U.S. diplomatic activism has not positively contributed to the cause of peace in the Middle East. Starting with the American tendency to consider the Soviet-born concept of an international tribunal on the Middle East, it continued in the March 4, 1988, Shultz document, which voided the essential transitional period embodied in the Camp David accords; this suggested that the United States is considering divorcing itself from the accords. It culminated in the U.S. initiation of dialogue with the PLO mur derers, legitimizing both the Arab violence directed against Jews in the Land of Israel and the PLO terrorist raids across the Israel-Lebanon border. All in all, by yielding to Arab pressure, the United States signaled to the Arab jihadists that time is on their side, thus rendering the situation far less ripe for solution than it could be. The Soviet foreign minister’s recent embrace of both Syria and the PLO and his harsh words about sanctions proved again that anything you can do he can do better.
In view of these dire straits, the creativity of the Camp David compromise, as initiated by Israel a decade ago, is outstanding. As too many people reject it outright, it may be helpful here to give a quick sketch of the framework for peace in the Middle East as agreed to by the United States, Israel and Egypt:
- Israel will be responsible for its security in the whole area west of the Jordan River.
- The Arab inhabitants of Samaria, Judea and Gaza will enjoy autonomy through a freely elected self-governing authority.
- As a substantial confidence-building measure, that authority will be in effect for a transitional period of five years. Within this period, the final status of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza district will be negotiated. The agreement on the final status will be an integral part of the comprehensive peace treaty between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
We have a clear position concerning Judea, Samaria and the Gaza district: They are part of Eretz Yisreal, the Land of Israel; it belongs, by right, to the Jewish people; we must keep it, we intend to keep it and we shall keep it. However, we are aware that others have their own claims for the same areas.
In this context, the Camp David compromise offers the transitional period as a mechanism to defer resolution of the complex issue of sovereignty, with the hope that building mutual confidence will render the situation more manageable and the problems riper for solution. It is important to note that the framework is open-ended. There is nothing in the accord itself that precludes any agreed solution for the final status of the disputed areas.
It has become fashionable to label the Camp David achievement as junk. Not only is this shortsighted, it also indicates a short memory. It may surprise some that as late as January, 1988, in an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Anaba, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak offered the following pertinent observations:
“Camp David includes two documents, one for the solution of the Egyptian-Israeli problem and the other, which is the general framework of principles according to which the Palestinian problem is to be solved in all its aspects. That is, this is not a binding agreement but a method for a solution on which we shall agree through general points. The first document ended in the Egyptian-Israeli treaty and the return of the Sinai to Egypt. As for the second document, concerning the resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects, when we discussed it with the Israelis, I realized that our brothers attacked Egypt because she tried to reach a solution of the Palestinian problem. Had we continued the talks on the second framework of Camp David, we would have been in a better situation, in stages.”
Yes, indeed. In the last decade, no substantially new ideas were offered to alleviate the difficulties in our corner of the Middle East. The Camp David compromise still rises high above any of the non-starter formulas, being practical, gradual, generous and wise. It should be given a fresh look and a new chance.