8. Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan’s 1980s brought a quantum leap in efforts to promote Israel and delegitimize the Palestinians in the United States. The prominence the Palestinians had gained over the previous decade and particularly the attention paid to them by Jimmy Carter caused considerable alarm both in Israel and among Israeli supporters in the United States. As a consequence, pro-Israeli propaganda, fueled by an efficient Israeli public-relations machine and welcomed by a sympathetic public, press, and Congress, reached a near fever pitch. Equally intense was the concerted campaign by Israel and its supporters to divert attention from the Palestinian issue by denying the legitimacy of the PLO as the Palestinians’ designated representative and even denying the Palestinian people’s separate existence.
These efforts to recast the frame of reference in its old Palestinian-less mold had a major impact on policymaking. Already a true product of the old framework, Reagan came to office a strong admirer of Israel, had no sympathy for the Palestinians, and was disinclined from the beginning to take an even-handed approach to Middle East policymaking. He then surrounded himself with advisers who were ardent supporters of Israel and who viewed it as a critical element in the Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union. Any policymakers who may not have shared the black-andwhite perspective that put Israel and the Arabs into easy, clearly defined categories—anti-Communist ally versus pro-Soviet enemy—tended to be ignored and swept along in the strong tide of pro-Israeli feeling that prevailed throughout the administration.
Thanks to the Palestinians’ new prominence, no U.S. negotiating effort could ever ignore their role completely. But the Reaganad ministration tried hard—at least implicitly supporting Israel’s attempts to destroy the PLO, attempting to shut the PLO out of peace negotiations, and in general denying
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the relevance and the existence of Palestinian nationalism. In their efforts to accommodate the anti-Palestinian position of Israel’s Likud-led government and to skirt the Palestinian issue, Reagan administration officials repeatedly missed opportunities to encourage a peace process.
In the end, the administration was forced reluctantly in its last days to authorize an official U.S. dialogue with the PLO—an irony, given its profound distaste for the PLO and its consistent effort over the years to deny legitimacy to the organization. The intifada, the West Bank/Gaza uprising launched in December 1987, and the international support and sympathy it brought the Palestinians gave the PLO the confidence to launch a major peace initiative in late 1988, openly and explicitly granting Israel the recognition that Yasir Arafat and PLO moderates had been discussing in private and in circuitous language for over a decade. Because the PLO finally agreed precisely to the formula the United States had always demanded—recognizing Israel’s right to exist, accepting UN Resolution 242, and renouncing terrorism—the Reagan administration had no choice but to begin a dialogue with the PLO.
In a real sense, the world was black and white for Reagan. There were few nuances in his register of ideas: there was good and there was evil in the world and little in between; other nations were either democracies or dictatorships and therefore either allies or enemies. Reagan was impatient with details and had little close knowledge of any area of the world, but certain broad concepts governed his view of world affairs. He was strongly anti-Communist and anti-Soviet, once calling the Soviet Union the “evil empire,” and he dealt with other nations in large measure according to how closely they were allied to the Soviets. During an interview in the midst of his first presidential campaign, he made a statement that was to define the approach his administration would take to foreign policy, with regard both to the Middle East and to the rest of the world. “Let’s not delude ourselves,” he said. “The Soviet Union underlies all the unrest that is going on. If they weren’t engaged in this game of dominoes, there wouldn’t be any hot spots in the world.” Israel’s role in the competition with the Soviets was central in Reagan’s mind. On another occasion during the campaign, he told a group of Jewish leaders that Israel was “the only stable democracy we can rely on in a spot where Armageddon could come. … We must prevent the Soviet Union from penetrating the Mideast. … If Israel were not there, the U.S. would have to be there.”
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Israel was a special emotional as well as strategic ally for Reagan. The Holocaust had impressed him deeply, and he told B’nai B’rith during a campaign speech, undoubtedly sincerely, that for him Israel was not only a nation but a symbol. Some analysts have observed that Reagan tended to see foreign affairs as an extension of his personal relationships and that, because he had a great many Jewish friends, largely from his Hollywood days, he was inclined to regard his actions and policies toward Israel as involving the fate of his friends. His “gut instincts” were extremely pro-Israeli, according to one journalist who studied his administration’s policies toward Israel closely. A “lifetime of experience,” this reporter wrote, “led him to see Jews as part of the ‘us’ group in his us-against-them mind set.” Reagan had no Arab friends and, perhaps for that reason, no empathy for Arab concerns. Arabs were not part of his “us” group.
Reagan’s first few years in office were marked by several sharp disagreements with Israel over Israeli actions the United States deemed irresponsible or too militant—for instance, Israel’s opposition to the sale of AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia in 1981, its June 1981 bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor, its annexation of the Golan Heights in December 1981, and some of its heavier bombing raids on Beirut during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. But the sanctions imposed, if any, were not severe, and Reagan’s criticism was seldom harsh. He disliked personal confrontation in any situation, and Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis notes that he was at pains to avoid conflict even when he was occasionally, as during the Lebanon invasion, genuinely angry with Israel. He invariably attempted to soften the impact of harsh words with a smiling, apologetic demeanor.
Given Reagan’s philosophical outlook on the world, the Middle East was easy for him to define for himself, without additional input from experts. He viewed Arab-Israeli issues, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, essentially from with in the conventional frame of reference as it had prevailed thirty years earlier, and his perspective did not change significantly while he was in office or afterward. He seemed simply to discard whatever information did not fit into his mind-set. Thus, as late as 1990, when he published his memoirs, he could still seriously propound the old facile tenets of the conventional wisdom—writing, for instance, of regional hatreds with “roots reaching back to the dawn of history” and of the Arabs’ supposed “pathological hatred” of Israel, as if unaware of the modern roots of Arab grievances. He still seriously affirmed the old shibboleth that “savagery … forever lies beneath the sands of the Middle East.”
Because he took his cues primarily from the strong Israeli supporters
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in his administration, and in many instances from Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Reagan seems only rarely—the immediate aftermath of the 1982 Lebanon invasion was a notable exception—even to have entertained the notion that there was a legitimate Palestinian perspective. Early in his term, he reportedly told his aides that, with regard to the Palestinian issue, he tended to accept Begin’s argument that it was a parochial issue, one of history’s “running sores” that was so localized it was easily containable—that it should, in other words, be left to Israel to deal with and not be allowed to interfere with the larger strategic issues of the U.S.-Israeli partnership.
Reagan’s strategic thinking and general mind-set reflected the views of a group of neoconservative political thinkers espousing a philosophy that blamed the Soviet Union for most mischief making throughout the world and that tended to assume the United States was losing the Cold War to superior Soviet power. Reagan took most of his specific ideas on international relations from this movement and ultimately surrounded himself with neoconservative writers and thinkers. The neoconservative movement had originated in the 1960s and 1970s among several originally liberal intellectuals concerned about the rise of the radical New Left. These individuals were strong and vocal supporters of Israel and were concerned with what they saw as an anti-Israeli drift on the left of the U.S. political spectrum. For the neoconservatives, Israel represented the kind of hard-hitting anti-Soviet realism in foreign policy that they felt the United States had abandoned in the 1970s. Viewing the Arab-Israeli conflict from a globalist perspective, they heavily promoted the idea that Israel was a vital Cold War ally of the United States and that the Palestinians were tools of the Soviet Union in its campaign of international terrorism. Palestinian nationalism, in this view, had no legitimacy, being only a Soviet invention, and because Israel was so important to U.S. interests, its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza actually served those interests.
The list of prominent new recruits to neoconservative ranks as the movement grew and gained influence in fact reads like a roster of Reagan administration foreign policymakers: Jeane Kirkpatrick, an academic who became U.S. ambassador to the UN; Richard Perle, who became an assistant secretary of defense in Reagan’s administration and was a former aide to one of the Senate’s greatest Israeli supporters, Senator Henry Jackson; Elliot Abrams, like Perle a former Jackson aide, who became assistant secretary of state first for human rights and later for Latin American affairs; Max Kampelman, a founder of JINSA, which had been formed in the 1970s to bring Israel’s security concerns to the attention of Defense Department
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officials, who became Reagan’s arms-control director; Richard Schifter, a cofounder of JINSA who was appointed assistant secretary of state for human rights in late 1985; and Richard Pipes, a Soviet-affairs expert who joined the National Security Council staff. (Pipes’s son, Daniel Pipes, is an academic and editor who has written extensively in support of Israel and in opposition to Palestinian nationalism.) Many of these people, including Kirkpatrick and Richard Pipes, were frequent contributors to Commentary magazine, edited by neoconservative Norman Podhoretz, which is what brought them to the attention of the Reagan administration.
Although not themselves members of the neoconservative movement, the officials appointed to the foreign-policy portfolios in Reagan’s cabinet clearly reflected the philosophy espoused by the neoconservatives on the centrality of East-West issues, the key role of Israel in this Cold War struggle, and the lesser importance of other issues in the Middle East. Secretary of State Alexander Haig came to office believing that the United States had suffered a decline in military strength and a loss of will since the Vietnam war that was causing it to lose its preeminent position in the world and much of its influence to the Soviet Union. In the Middle East, he believed the Reagan administration’s principal task should be to rebuild the U.S. position by fighting against Soviet inroads and restoring the faith of friendly Middle East nations in U.S. reliability. Like Reagan, Haig regarded the Carter administration’s focus on so-called local issues such as the Palestinian problem, the West Bank autonomy negotiations, and Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territories as a distraction from what should be the primary U.S. goal of creating regional stability.
Believing that both Arabs and Israelis shared the Reagan administration’s concern about the Soviet threat, Haig attempted as one of his first orders of business to talk Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia into joining with Israel in what he called a “strategic consensus,” working together to deal with Soviet “interventionism and exploitation” as a first priority before Arab-Israeli peace negotiations were tackled. “Only when local states feel confident of United States reliability and secure against Soviet threats,” Haig told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 1981, “will they be willing to take the necessary risks for peace.”
Haig’s Cold War—oriented frame of reference, formed largely under the guidance of Henry Kissinger during the Nixon administration, naturally favored Israel. His desire to deemphasize the peace process and the centrality of the Palestinian issue was the approach Israel had been pressing for throughout the four years of the Carter administration. Moreover, his attempt to enlist Arab states in a strategic alliance with Israel to combat the
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Soviets indicated a failure to understand Arab grievances against Israel. Haig was so centered on U.S.-Soviet issues that he seems not to have recognized that Arabs viewed Israel as a greater threat than the Soviet Union and the unresolved Palestinian issue as a greater source of regional turmoil than Soviet interventionism. Although he was in office for only a short time and his notions of building a “strategic consensus” in the Middle East never took hold, Haig was an activist secretary of state who helped set a tone for Reagan administration foreign policy that would continue through Reagan’s eight years in office.
In contrast to Haig and most other top officials in the administration, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, although a globalist, always opposed the effort to formalize a strategic-cooperation arrangement with Israel and quickly became known among Israeli supporters as an antagonist. Against the enthusiasm for the relationship with Israel elsewhere in the administration, Weinberger’s reservations about establishing so close a military tie did not prevail. CIA Director William Casey was a Cold War hawk very much in the mold of the neoconservatives and of his longtime friend Reagan. A highly political animal, he pursued his own foreignpolicy agenda, in the words of his deputy Robert Gates, to a degree unparalleled in the history of postwar intelligence directors—who are, in theory and usually in practice, policy implementers but not policymakers. Casey’s power was made possible in great measure by Reagan’s hands-off management style and inattention to detail. He was almost obsessively fearful of what he saw as Soviet encirclement and was preoccupied with Soviet “surrogates” in the Third World, attributing international terrorism to Soviet inspiration. In his view of the world, the Palestinians stood out as Soviet agents, while Israel was a strong natural ally. Casey increased intelligence cooperation with Israel, agreeing, for instance, under an intelligencesharing arrangement to provide the Israelis with almost unlimited access to U.S. satellite photography. When Israel used this photography to plan its bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor, Casey was said to be pleased, despite the White House’s expressed displeasure.
Reagan’s first national security adviser, Richard Allen, was another foreign-policy globalist, and he soon became well known as a friend of Israel. Allen had established his general position by writing the introduction to a 1980 book by an extremely pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian defense analyst, Joseph Churba, who was working as a Reagan campaign aide. Entitled Retreat from Freedom, the book affirmed the need to maintain “Israel-American might” against Soviet advances and declared the PLO a Soviet puppet and the Arab states “inherently instable.” Calling Churba’s book
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“indispensable,” Allen laid out in the introduction the basic anti-Soviet, neoconservative philosophy by which Reagan administration foreign policy would be governed.
Pro-Israeli lobbyists and committed activists dotted Reagan’s administration at key lower levels. Michael Ledeen, who served as a JINSA board member and as executive director for several years in the late 1970s, worked in the Departments of State and Defense and on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan years. Another Reagan appointee heavily involved with JINSA was Stephen Bryen, a close associate of Richard Perle who, after Perle was named assistant secretary of defense in 1981, was appointed to the position of deputy assistant secretary in charge of regulating technology transfer to foreign nations—a particularly sensitive position given Israel’s interest in U.S. arms technology. Bryen had briefly succeeded Ledeen as JINSA executive director in 1981 and then turned the directorship over to his wife, Shoshanna Bryen, when he moved to the Defense Department. Stephen Bryen remained on the JINSA advisory board while serving in government, and Shoshanna Bryen was JINSA executive director throughout the Reagan administration and beyond. Howard Teicher was another JINSA member and advocate of Israel’s strategic importance who held a key position in the Reagan White House. A Defense Department analyst during the Carter administration, Teicher moved in 1982 to the National Security Council staff, where he served as director of Middle East affairs and later as director of political-military affairs.
The so-called “Arabist” State Department had little influence on Reagan administration policy. Both Reagan and Haig came into office highly suspicious of the Department’s Middle East officials and determined to undercut them. Reagan told a group of Jewish leaders during the campaign that he did not have “a great deal of confidence in the present State Department,” which he indicated was too much inclined to pursue its own policies and not the president’s. Haig felt that the foreign-policy bureaucracy was “overwhelmingly Arabist in its approach to the Middle East and in its sympathies” and clearly set out to ignore its policy advice.
The story of the evolution of Reagan administration policy on the legal status of Israeli settlements gives an illustration of how limited the influence of the State Department was. Reagan’s own views on Israeli settlements were apparently influenced by Eugene Rostow, a former Johnson administration official and neoconservative who as a university professor had written frequent legal justifications of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and its right to construct Jewish settlements there. Previous U.S. presidents had taken the position that Israeli settlements were illegal and a
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violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention proscribing settlement of an occupier’s own population in an occupied territory. Reagan, however, apparently adopting Rostow’s position, began to assert during his 1980 presidential campaign that the settlements were legal, even that Israel had a “right” to construct them. The State Department’s director of Israeli affairs from 1978 to 1981 has indicated that after Reagan took office, State officials, trying to devise a formula that would accommodate Reagan’s belief in the legality of the settlements while also making it clear to the Israeli government that the United States disapproved, came up with the formula that the settlements were an “obstacle to progress toward peace.” When this wording was shown to one of Reagan’s senior foreign-policy advisers, however, he responded, “Even if I agreed with this, which I don’t, I wouldn’t show it to the President.” For some time after this, the State Department took no position on the settlements, only later adopting this formulation as its standard position. No one in the administration ever again called the settlements illegal.
Given the heavy emphasis of Reagan administration policymakers on Cold War issues and the strong focus on the U.S. alliance with Israel, any expectation that the Palestinian perspective might have an influence on policymaking was quite forlorn. The administration’s frame of reference was almost entirely Israel-centered. The Reagan team did not simply ignore the Palestinians but was actively hostile to the notion of Palestinian nationalism and cooperated with Israel throughout its eight years to undermine the legitimacy of the PLO.
Reagan himself had a particularly negative attitude toward the Palestinians when he came into office. Asked during an interview days after his inauguration whether he had any sympathy for the Palestinians or “any moral feeling toward them and their aspirations,” he skirted a direct yes or no answer and condemned the Palestinians for challenging Israel’s right to exist. He denounced PLO terrorism and questioned whether the PLO truly represented the Palestinians. Reagan had been fairly vocal on the Palestinian issue during his presidential campaign, repeatedly denouncing the PLO as a terrorist organization, criticizing Carter for not also doing so, and affirming his refusal to deal with the organization even if it accepted UN Resolution 242. He tended to speak in the old stereotypical terms of Palestinians as either terrorists or refugees. Trying to separate “Palestinian refugees” from the PLO, he often took the position that the PLO did not represent
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the “refugees”; he seldom referred at all to “the Palestinian people” and indicated no understanding of Palestinian national aspirations.
Most others at the policymaking level believed, with Haig, that the Palestinian issue was a distraction from what should be the administration’s principal goal in the Middle East of fighting off Soviet advances and building up Israel’s military capabilities. UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, for instance, was decidedly and actively hostile to the PLO and to the notion of Palestinian nationalism. In an unusual example of outspokenness by a sitting official, Kirkpatrick published an article in the November 1981 issue of the New Republic in which she denounced the PLO as “the deadliest enemies of peace in the area.” Kirkpatrick’s views clearly reflected the attitude of her neoconservative colleagues in government.
In the administration’s frame of reference, resolving the Palestinian issue was so unimportant, Israel’s priorities and needs took such precedence, and the PLO appeared so monstrous that administration officials found it easy to convince themselves that no one else, not even the Arab states, cared much about the peace process either or viewed the Palestinian problem as central to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. As a result, the administration tended to dismiss or ignored altogether the efforts of friendly Arab leaders in Egypt and Saudi Arabia to promote the Palestinian issue. Kirkpatrick, for instance, insisted that Egypt’s Anwar Sadat had “scorned” the notion of negotiating with the PLO; her assumption is evidence of how much the administration’s thinking was influenced by its own desire not to address the Palestinian issue. In fact, although often highly critical of the Palestinian leadership, Sadat pressed the administration hard on the issue. In August 1981, during his first visit to Washington after Reagan’s election, Sadat emphasized in public remarks the urgent need for the United States to open a dialogue with the PLO in order to strengthen moderates among the leadership, and he pointed to the PLO’s acceptance the previous month of a cease-fire in Lebanon as a hopeful sign of its willingness to work for mutual and simultaneous recognition with Israel—a sign of moderation that he said “should not escape our notice.” In his own public response, Reagan never used the word Palestinians.
The fact that virtually no one on the Reagan team appreciated the urgency of Sadat’s pleas for progress in the West Bank autonomy negotiations between Egypt and Israel and that most misread his criticism of the PLO leadership as “scorn” for the peace process is an indication of the extent to which the administration was blinded by its own globalist and Israel-centered perspective. According to Hermann Eilts, U.S. ambassador
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to Egypt throughout most of the 1970s and into the 1980s, Sadat was chagrined during his August 1981 visit to Washington to observe that although Reagan was well-intentioned, he knew little about the Middle East and was “heavily influenced by Israel.” Eilts himself felt that there was scant knowledge about Middle East political dynamics anywhere in senior U.S. government circles.
Little wonder that the administration did not notice or care that Israel was steadily strengthening and consolidating its control over the West Bank and Gaza. Settlement construction proceeded at a rapid pace; the number of Jewish settlers on the West Bank grew by 70 percent during Reagan’s first two years in office, and the Israelis laid plans to house three hundred thousand Israelis there by the end of the decade. In an effort to undermine the PLO’s influence, Israeli occupation authorities also took harsh steps in these years to suppress any sign of Palestinian nationalism—dismissing the pro-PLO mayors of several large Palestinian towns who had been chosen in democratic elections several years earlier; disbanding democratically elected councils in Palestinian towns and villages and replacing them with more compliant appointed councils; closing Palestinian universities; censoring or closing down Palestinian newspapers; and banning the distribution of books in the West Bank and Gaza. Vigilantism against Palestinians by organized elements of the Israeli settler movement, including random shootings of Palestinian civilians and grenade and car-bomb attacks on Palestinian property, also increased markedly. Israeli authorities meted out lenient punishments to the perpetrators and often encouraged more vigilantism by allowing settlers to do their military-reserve duty by patrolling Arab communities.
The Israeli government’s concerted effort to suppress all expression of Palestinian nationalism and the fact that virtually none of this effort was reported in the U.S. media guaranteed that the framework in which the PLO and Palestinians had long been viewed in the United States—as terrorists rather than as a nation desirous of establishing the institutions of self-government—did not change. Although many in Israel saw through the government’s policies, organizing protest demonstrations against its occupation practices, most at senior levels in the Reagan administration did not. Uninterested in anything that distracted attention from the Cold War, the Reagan team remained silent on Israel’s harsh policies.
It was little wonder also that senior levels of the administration took virtually no interest in the ongoing negotiations for Palestinian autonomy, allowing them to languish more or less unattended and eventually downgrading the U.S. representation at the talks. Whereas Robert Strauss
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and Sol Linowitz, Carter’s mediators, were prominent individuals who had served as representatives of the president, in February 1982 Haig appointed Richard Fairbanks, a middle-level State Department official with no Middle East expertise, as his own representative to the talks, not Reagan’s.
In August 1981 the administration did authorize an outside mediation effort with the PLO, but contacts ended when Israel invaded Lebanon in June 1982. Arafat initially approached the United States through an intermediary—John Mroz, then director of Middle East studies at a New York-based foundation—suggesting secret talks on developing a way to open an official U.S.-PLO dialogue. Arafat was frustrated that because he was prohibited from dealing directly with the United States, he had always since 1975 heard U.S. views as they were filtered through unofficial and usually non-U.S. intermediaries, and he hoped that as an American Mroz would more accurately convey U.S. thinking. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Nicholas Veliotes persuaded Haig to follow up on the overture, and Haig obtained Reagan’s personal approval for Mroz to begin talks with Arafat. Over a nine-month period, Mroz and Arafat held more than fifty meetings, Mroz reporting back to Veliotes as the designated U.S. contact point. Saudi Arabia was brought in on the effort, but the other Arab states and Israel were not informed. By May 1982, the talks had progressed to the point that Arafat was promising a PLO response the following month to a suggested U.S. plan for facilitating a dialogue, but after Israel invaded Lebanon the response never came.
Both Mroz and Veliotes have indicated that they were uncertain whether the mediation effort would have produced any results had the Israeli invasion not occurred, although Mroz say she believed at the time that an agreement was close. Harold Saunders, who had been involved in the Carter administration’s efforts to obtain PLO agreement to the U.S. conditions, regarded this effort as “a more elaborate and more official exchange” than any the Carter administration had engaged in.
Although Haig was initially intrigued by some of the mechanics of the Mroz contact, he and other senior officials were not particularly interested in pursuing a dialogue with the PLO under any circumstances. Reagan had said during his campaign that he probably would not negotiate with the PLO even if it accepted Resolution 242 because he did not believe the organization represented the Palestinians, and neither he nor most of his senior foreign-policy team significantly altered their negative attitude toward the PLO. The possibility many have raised that the United States colluded with Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon in his intention to destroy the PLO’s military and political infrastructure, giving him a “green light” to invade
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Lebanon in 1982 for the purpose of going after the PLO, is less clear. But it seems likely that some important senior officials in the administration would have been pleased to see the PLO destroyed and that the administration’s extreme distaste for the PLO, its identity of interests with Israel, and its concentration on fighting the Soviets and Soviet agents combined to create an atmosphere in which Israeli leaders knew there would be little protest from Washington if they attacked the PLO in Lebanon.
Haig has denied that he gave Israel a green light, and he probably did not, in so many words. But virtually all evidence indicates that the general mind-set throughout high levels of the administration was such that Israel could only have felt it had at least an implicit go-ahead. As former Assistant Secretary of State Veliotes has observed, Haig’s point of view was that “we’d all be better off if we didn’t have to worry about the Palestinian problem,” and this attitude gave Sharon the freedom to act. The likelihood of an invasion was certainly no secret. Sharon had begun dropping hints to U.S. officials in 1981 about his contingency plans to go after the PLO, and he had bluntly informed a shocked special negotiator, Philip Habib, that the time was coming when Israel would have no choice but to “eradicate” the PLO in Lebanon. By the spring of 1982, the likelihood of an Israeli attack was being openly discussed in the U.S. press. There were no public warnings against it from the United States.
Although the administration may have been disconcerted by the scale of the assault, it was generally not displeased about the course the invasion took. In particular, there was no distress over the weakening of the PLO or the possibility of its destruction. A former National Security Council staffer says that as early as May 1981, a high-level Haig aide had suggested at a meeting of experts that U.S. policy in Lebanon should be directed toward bringing about the “neutralization” of the PLO, a word Sharon himself often used. U.S. special envoy Habib later told a Palestinian scholar that he believed at the time that Sharon had some sort of understanding with Haig about Lebanon; whether this was the case or not, Habib said he found it exceedingly hard before Haig was forced to resign in late June, three weeks into the invasion, to induce Washington either to restrain Israel or to support his own negotiating efforts.
The advent of George Shultz, who succeeded Haig as secretary of state in July 1982 at the height of the Lebanon invasion, and Reagan’s shock at the plight of Palestinians during the invasion at least temporarily focused the administration’s attention on the need to resolve the Palestinian problem. Shultz came to office believing that the United States had been too closely tied to Israel and too disinterested in the peace process and that it
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needed to offer the Palestinians a realistic way to achieve a solution. He had noted during Reagan’s 1980 campaign that the only area on which he faulted Reagan was the imbalance in the candidate’s pro-Israeli position. During his own confirmation hearings and in speeches just afterward, Shultz criticized Israel’s West Bank policies and spoke of the need to satisfy the Palestinians’ “political aspirations.” His first order of business after the Lebanon situation appeared to quiet down was to craft a peace initiative, the Reagan Plan, that took account of the Palestinian issue.
Reagan himself had been undergoing a slight change of heart about the Palestinians that Veliotes dates to the summer of 1981. Habib, who had been designated to negotiate an end to a series of Israeli-PLO clashes across Israel’s northern border, took the opportunity in his meetings with Reagan to impress on him the importance of resolving the Palestinian problem. Describing Reagan as an intensely personal individual who learned by talking about a topic, Veliotes says the president was deeply impressed by the direct, personal nature of Habib’s presentations and took note of Habib’s emphasis on the fact that Palestinians were more than just terrorists, as well as his conviction that the United States had to take action to solve the problem. During the Lebanon invasion, Reagan’s views were further changed by dramatic television images of Palestinian children injured and killed during Israeli bombing attacks.
The Reagan Plan came out of these changing perceptions. Within days of his confirmation in July, Shultz had convened a group of experts to devise an initiative intended, after the turmoil of Lebanon, to give the peace process new impetus by addressing the Palestinian question. Launched on September 1, 1982, in a nationally broadcast speech by President Reagan, the Shultz-authored peace plan proposed autonomy for West Bank and Gaza Palestinians during a five-year transition period leading to negotiations on a final disposition of these territories. The plan concentrated on the West Bank and Gaza and did not mention Syria at all or the need for a peace settle menton the occupied Golan Heights. Although the planignored the PLO altogether, took no note of the interests and claims of exiled Palestinians, and reaffirmed U.S. opposition to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, the initiative did break new ground in many respects and constituted the most far-reaching U.S. initiative on the Palestinian issue yet proposed.
Noting in his speech that the Lebanon crisis had dramatized Palestinian homelessness and acknowledging that the Palestinians “feel strongly that their cause is more than a question of refugees,” Reagan proposed specifics that went beyond the autonomy conceived in the Camp David accords.
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Under the Reagan Plan, East Jerusalem Palestinians would have been permitted to vote along with other West Bank and Gaza Palestinians for a selfgoverning authority, and the autonomy proposed would have included land and resources as well as people, which Israel had been strongly opposed to throughout the post—Camp David autonomy talks. The plan called for an immediate freeze on construction of Israeli settlements. Also in opposition to Israel’s Likud government, Reagan affirmed the principle of exchanging territory for peace and noted specifically that the United States believed the withdrawal provision of UN Resolution 242 applied to all fronts, including the West Bank and Gaza. Although not laying out a clear vision of a final peace, Reagan said the United States would not support either independent statehood for the Palestinians or permanent Israeli sovereignty or control over the West Bank and Gaza. The U.S. preference was for Palestinian selfgovernment in association with Jordan.
Despite the promise of the Reagan Plan, and despite Reagan’s and Shultz’s increased appreciation of the importance of pursuing the peace process and addressing the Palestinian problem as part of it, there was basically no change in the administration’s hostility toward the PLO itself or in its ill-concealed desire to see the PLO at least emasculated if not destroyed. Throughout the remainder of Reagan’s two terms, he and Shultz proved to be as deeply opposed to the PLO as Haig had ever been and as desirous of circumventing the organization.
Shultz seemed from the beginning almost fearful, perhaps for domestic political reasons, of dealing even indirectly with the PLO. Palestinian intellectual Walid Khalidi tells a story of contacts with Shultz that gives an idea of his mind-set. According to Khalidi, he and another Palestinian who was a long-time friend and business associate of Shultz approached Shultz twice before he became secretary of state with messages for the administration that Shultz willingly passed on. The first involved a message to Reagan from Arafat, passed through Shultz just before Reagan’s inauguration in January 1981. The message, informally written on one page of foolscap, contained nine points, including statements to the effect that only a Palestinian state could meet the political and psychological needs of the Palestinians and produce a stable peace, that such a state would live in peaceful coexistence with Israel under international guarantees to both states, and that such a state would not become the base for any outside power. The PLO, the statement read, was eager to start a dialogue with the new administration. Shultz later told the two Palestinians that the administration’s reaction had been favorable, but nothing further came of this initiative.
The second contact came at the start of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon
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in early June 1982. Khalidi and the other Palestinian urged Shultz to use his administration contacts to secure an Israeli standdown. Agreeing with the Palestinians, according to Khalidi, that Israel’s invasion went beyond self-defense, Shultz said he would convey his assessment to the administration. A few weeks later, when Shultz became secretary of state, Khalidi and the other Palestinian attempted to reach him again. On the strength of the attitudes the new secretary had previously expressed to them, the two men believed that his appointment opened a new opportunity “to push for an honorable and durable peace in the Middle East.” When Shultz’s old friend tried to get in touch with him, however, he was told that he should henceforth desist from trying to make any contact, even socially. An aide of Shultz would meet with the two Palestinians if they wished to send a message to the secretary, but there would be no direct contact. A few days later, Khalidi and the other Palestinian, having been told they could not be received in the State Department, met with a Shultz aide at a prearranged spot in the State Department parking lot. The two men, according to Khalidi, “turned up at the rendezvous place at the agreed time. There we were rather furtively approached by a gentleman who gave us a paper on which a name and an address were typed. He explained that if we wanted to send Shultz any message we should do so via the indicated name and address. He thereupon departed.” Over the next few weeks, the two Palestinians sent three or four messages to this address, but, receiving no response or any indication that the messages were getting through, they ceased. Khalidi takes this episode as an indication of “how mesmerized American officials are with fear vis-à-vis the pro-Israeli lobby.”
Shultz was adamant in his refusal to deal with the PLO. He is reported to have told Sharon in August 1982 that Reagan and he both believed that the PLO “must be scattered and its credibility destroyed. But unless the Palestinian problem is solved, a new PLO will arise.” Sharon’s aims were no secret; Shultz himself indicated in his memoirs that in early August the Israeli general had mentioned to U.S. diplomats the need to “clean out” the refugee camps in Beirut and, as noted, he had reportedly mentioned “eradication” to Habib. Shultz must have known that his virtually simultaneous statement to Sharon about destroying PLO credibility would only have encouraged the Israeli in his efforts to destroy the organization altogether.
Shultz tended to be a policy manager rather than a policy conceptualizer, and, as a loyal servant of Reagan, he operated out of the president’s frame of reference, in many ways taking his starting points and his definitions of the world from Reagan. The story of how Shultz evolved from being a
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sometime critic of Israel and defender of Palestinian “political aspirations” to what by 1987 AIPAC officials were calling “a friend beyond words” to Israel who had “transformed U.S. policy” and raised the relationship to a new level is the story of a man disinclined to take bold steps, who knew little about Arab political dynamics and was easily angered when the Arabs refused to play the roles he scripted. Confronted when he entered office with a crisis in Lebanon not of his making, Shultz responded with a poorly conceived policy, reacted intemperately when it went wrong, and ultimately took refuge in an administration mind-set so completely focused on Israel and its needs that in the end no other perspective was admissible.
Everything that could possibly have gone wrong in Lebanon did during Shultz’s first eighteen months in office, although the period began on an optimistic note. The administration issued the Reagan Plan when the Lebanon crisis appeared to have quieted down and, from Washington’s perspective, the atmosphere for peace appeared promising: the fighting had subsided; PLO forces had been evacuated from throughout Lebanon under an agreement negotiated by Habib, and the organization was badly weakened; Syria’s military had also been weakened; Israel’s siege of Beirut had been lifted and a multinational peacekeeping force of French, Italian, and U.S. troops stationed around the city; a new president of Lebanon had been elected; and the Soviets had lost prestige and credibility because of their quiescence throughout the crisis.
Within days of the Reagan Plan’s publication, however, this promising proposal was a dead letter, and the Lebanon situation, which the United States had hoped to put on the back burner again, had collapsed. Although the initial Arab reaction to the Reagan Plan was cautiously favorable, Israel, angered at not having been consulted in advance, objected to virtuallye very aspect of the proposal and soundly rejected it. The Israel is under scored their objections by immediately approving the construction of ten new settlements on the West Bank.
Like the peace plan itself, the Lebanon situation also began to unravel immediately. Within a month of the plan’s issuance, the multinational peacekeeping force had been withdrawn, in the mistaken belief that all was calm; Lebanon’s president-elect Bashir Gemayel had been assassinated, apparently by pro-Syrian elements; Israel had moved its troops back into Beirut; Lebanese Christian militiamen loyal to Gemayel and allied with Israel had, with the knowledge of Israeli forces in the vicinity, entered the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut and systematically
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murdered at least eight hundred men, women, and children, possibly many more; and, following the massacre, the multinational force, led by a U.S. Marine contingent, had been returned to Beirut. These developments were the prelude to a further series of disastrous events over the next year and a half, during which, without intending to do so or understanding how to extricate itself, the United States became more and more deeply embroiled in Lebanon’s morass, allowed itself to be diverted from pursuing an Arab-Israeli peace settlement, and became not only more closely allied with Israel but deeply estranged from the Arab world.
Concluding after the Sabra and Shatila massacre that the Lebanon situation would have to be tackled before an attempt could be made to begin Arab-Israeli peace talks and deluded by the U.S. success in negotiating the evacuation of PLO forces from Lebanon, Shultz turned his attention to an attempt to secure the departure of Syrian and Israeli forces from the country as well. By explicitly linking progress toward a peace settlement to progress in Lebanon, however, the United States encouraged the Israelis and the Syrians, those most opposed to the Reagan Plan and least eager to work on a peace arrangement for the West Bank, to make as much trouble in Lebanon as possible. The effect was to delay a resolution of the West Bank/Gaza problem while Israel consolidated its control over these territories.
Both because the United States allowed its attention to be diverted to the Lebanon situation and because it was unprepared to confront Israel, which clearly wanted to forestall movement toward peace negotiations, Shultz never pursued the Reagan Plan after Israel’s rejection and allowed a promising Arab initiative to die on the vine as well. The administration was clearly disturbed by Israel’s continued efforts to expand settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza, but all the U.S. signals carried a different message to Israel. As had occurred during the Lebanon war, U.S. protests were weak, specifically disavowing sanctions, and for all intents and purposes the administration never again mentioned the Reagan initiative to Israel. Turning to a policy of trying to influence the Israelis by placating them, Shultz and other officials began speaking vaguely of the “leverage given by the possibility of peace” and held out “the objective of peace” as the principal U.S. inducement to Israel, but there was no serious effort to obtain Israeli compliance.
Despite the fact that the Reagan Plan specifically excluded the possibility of independence for the Palestinians or a role in negotiations for the PLO, the PLO and Jordan did not initially reject it. Because the plan seemed to provide a promising basis for discussion, they continued to consider it for
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several months before finally rejecting it in April 1983, in large measure out of concern that the United States would not be able to bring Israel to the negotiating table. The Arabs had gauged U.S. seriousness about dealing with the Palestinian issue by how it handled the Lebanon problem and concluded that if the Americans were unable to get Israel out of Lebanon, they would have no success getting it out of the West Bank either. Some scholars believe that had there been any reason for the Arabs to expect meaningful U.S. support in the form of pressure on Israel to accept the Reagan Plan, Jordan and the PLO might have been more willing to respond favorably and move beyond ambiguous positions. During the months of meetings between King Hussein and Arafat over whether to accept the Reagan Plan, considerable discussion focused on the likely U.S. response to further Arab concessions. The Arabs, particularly the PLO leaders, were highly skeptical of U.S. sincerity about pursuing peace, but the fact that much of their discussion centered on the possible interplay of Arab concessions and the U.S. response indicates that any reasonable expectation of U.S. movement might have produced greater Arab movement. But in the Reagan years, there was no such expectation.
It is a measure of the extent to which the U.S. attitude on Middle East issues was oriented toward the Israeli perspective that responsibility for the failure of the Reagan Plan has generally been placed on the Arabs and not also on Israel for its outright rejection of the plan or on the United States for its own inertia in pursuing it. Shultz and Reagan themselves blamed the Arabs. Many scholars and perhaps the majority of nonscholarly commentators have also placed the onus on the Arabs. The scholar Steven Spiegel, for instance, in his book The Other Arab-Israeli Conflict, concluded a section analyzing the Reagan Plan and reaction to it with the remark that “once again an American Mideast initiative was sacrificed on the altar of intra-Arab rivalry.”
The Arabs had actually responded to the Reagan Plan only a week after its issuance with an initiative adopted at an Arab summit held in Fez, Morocco. The United States rejected the Fez Plan, however, despite the fact that it signaled a significant change in Arab attitudes and might have constituted a serious basis for discussion with Washington. With the exception of Libya, all Arab states and the PLO signed on to the Fez Plan. The plan—advocating a UN Security Council guarantee of the right of all states in the region to live in peace and a guarantee of freedom of worship for all religions at holy places—called for Israeli withdrawal from all territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; the dismantlement of Israeli
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settlements in the occupied territories; a guarantee of the right of selfdetermination for the Palestinians; and establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. In a preamble, the Fez declaration made reference to a peace plan issued in 1965 by Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba, which had urged acceptance of the 1947 partition plan as the solution to the Palestine problem. Although the Fez Plan did not specifically advocate the right of any state to exist, by urging that all states be allowed to live in peace and accepting the legitimacy of partition, it implicitly recognized Israel and accepted a two-state solution for Palestine.
Given past Arab attitudes, this plan was a highly conciliatory gesture and a significant concession. “Its essence,” Palestinian intellectual Walid Khalidi has observed, “was acceptance of the existence of Israel … guar anteed acceptance by the Arabs“—which had always been Israel’s principal demand of the Arabs and a concession that had never before been granted by the Arab side in public and at “such a collective authoritative level.” The Arab leaders themselves regarded the plan as a major breakthrough—a “major milestone in the annals of the Arab world,” Jordan’s King Hussein pronounced; “little short of revolutionary,” according to Khalidi.
The United States did not see it that way. Rather than encourage the plan or probe for points of agreement and areas of possible flexibility in the objectionable portions of the Arab position, the Reagan administration essentially disdained the initiative. National Security Council staffer Teicher described it in a later book as not breaking any new ground on the question of recognition of Israel, indicating he had missed the significance of the Arab concessions. Shultz later characterized it as having made the peace process more difficult because of its endorsement of Palestinian statehood. When an Arab League delegation visited Reagan to discuss the plan in October 1982, the United States would not allow a PLO representative to accompany the other Arabs, even though this was the first time the PLO had publicly given its implicit recognition of Israel.
The fact that the United States could ignore a plan that the Arabs regarded as so major a step is an indication of how firm the Reagan administration’s mind-set was. Two Israeli journalists, commenting on Israel’s equally negative reaction to Arab overtures, captured the limited U.S. frame of reference as well. Speaking of an earlier Saudi Arabian initiative, on which the Fez Plan was based, journalist Amos Elon wrote, “Are we so accustomed to war that we are simply afraid of peace? Are we so taken aback, so angered and unsure of ourselves that we do not even bother to examine whether the Saudi plan … is a first step, an opening to a process of
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negotiation?” Another well known Israeli journalist, Yoel Marcus, noted pointedly that if the PLO were suddenly to offer to negotiate with Israel, “the government would undoubtedly declare a day of national mourning.” These two commentaries describe a frame of reference in which the very notion of Arabs and particularly Palestinians offering peace was so foreign as to be frightening. There simply was no room in this mind-set for a PLO that might have been ready to make peace with Israel.
The conclusion to be drawn from the U.S. handling of its own Reagan Plan and the Fez initiative is that, whatever they might have said about the importance of resolving the Palestinian issue, Reagan and Shultz were not interested enough to risk an argument with Israel. Reagan’s basic attitude on the Palestinian issue, it will be remembered, was that it was just a “running sore” that could be ignored. Although apparently persuaded by the Lebanon war and by Shultz’s early activism that the issue should probably be addressed, he backed down at the first sign of difficulty. Shultz himself had not been prepared for Israel’s vehement reaction and was clearly not prepared to press the Israelis hard. He had come to office with a reputation among Israelis and Israeli supporters and in the press for being pro-Arab and was concerned, according to some White House sources, not to confirm Israeli suspicions. Some in the State Department have explained his conversion from occasional critic to strong champion of Israel as a deliberate move intended to escape attacks in the media by pro-Israeli elements. Others have indicated that by the time the United States had extricated itself from the Lebanon morass, Shultz felt so embattled and was so frustrated over his dealings with the Arabs that he simply found it more comfortable to deal with Israel, despite the fact that he was frustrated with Israel as well; he is said to have found “emotional, intellectual, and policy haven with Israel.”
By the time Jordan and the PLO finally turned away from the Reagan Plan in April 1983, seven months after it had been issued and Israel had rejected it, the Reagan administration, now deeply involved in attempting to negotiate a peace treaty between Lebanon and Israel, had already put aside its interest in a West Bank solution. In later years it halfheartedly attempted to find a West Bank leader or leaders who would agree to abandon allegiance to the PLO and speak for the Palestinians, and in Reagan’s second term Shultz proposed to defuse Palestinian discontent by “improving the quality of life” in the occupied territories through a small aid program and encouragement of private investment. But until the outbreak of the intifada in December 1987, very near the end of Reagan’s presidency, no serious
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attempt was made to address the Palestinian political issue or to ease the conditions of Palestinian life under the “iron-fist” policy the Israelis imposed in the mid-1980s.
For the remainder of Reagan’s presidency, the administration and particularly Shultz had what must be called a mental block about the PLO. Administration officials constantly spoke—in an oddly disconnected way, as if there were no existing spokesperson for the Palestinians—about how difficult it was to find someone to represent the Palestinians. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy, for instance, speaking at a forum in 1988, said, “Who represents the Palestinians is something the Arabs need to deal with”—not recognizing that the Arabs had already dealt with the question. The failure in general to recognize the reality of Palestinian allegiance to the PLO and often even to say the words Palestine Liberation Organization or PLO, as if the problem would vanish if it were not mentioned, was typical of the way the administration dealt with the issue throughout two presidential terms.
During a meeting in March 1988, at the height of the intifada, with a prominent Palestinian American, Shultz himself spoke about the “dilemma” of finding someone to represent the Palestinians. The Palestinian American recalls the conversation as puzzling and found the way Shultz was able to ignore reality jarring. Acknowledging that Jordan could not represent the Palestinians in peace negotiations, Shultz began talking about the need to find credible and representative Palestinians to speak for the Palestinian people. The Palestinian American remembers:
So I said, “But everybody knows who represents Palestinians.” And he said, “Who?” And I said, “The PLO.” … He put his hand up, … and he said, “I don’t want to talk about the PLO.” I said, “Why not?” And … he said, “It’s too complicated.” … That’s literally what he said—it’s too complicated, and it’s too involved. … And I said, “Well, you know, it isn’t for the Palestinians.” And he said, “Well, let’s not talk about it.” So I said, “Fine.” I mean, what’s one to say? He just didn’t want to talk about it. It was strange. We were at a dead end right there.
It is clear that Shultz’s blind spot had to do specifically with the PLO rather than with the Palestinians and their aspirations. He had always had an understanding at some level of Palestinian needs and had never totally lost the feeling he came into office with that resolving the Palestinian issue was essential to a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Whatever empathy Shultz may have had for the Palestinians’ situation at occasional moments during the Lebanon invasion or later during the intifada did not, however,
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overcome his determination to shun the PLO. His inability to see past what he considered the PLO obstacle interfered directly with U.S. policymaking.
The United States, Israel, and the world were genuinely shocked by the Sabra and Shatila massacre in September 1982, but there was in the reactions an element of denial and unconcern that throws an interesting sidelight on the mind-set through which Palestinians were generally observed.
Shultzwas “shakenandappalled” and believed that Israel had been complicit in the massacre. As part of the agreement on the evacuation of the PLO in August 1982, the United States had officially guaranteed the safety of Palestinian civilians left behind, having received formal assurances from both Israel and the leadership of the Lebanese Christian militias that civilians would not be harmed. When the United States precipitately withdrew its peacekeeping contingent, however, leading to the withdrawal of the French and Italian elements of the multinational force as well, there was no one to enforce the guarantee, and the massacre occurred ten days later. U.S. officials felt a moral responsibility for having permitted the circumstances in which a massacre could occur.
Reaction to the massacre nonetheless showed a lack of concern for the Palestinians, having to do, it must be assumed, with their generally unsavory image as terrorists. In the United States, despite the sense of moral responsibility, the massacre was soon forgotten and never had an impact on policy. In Israel, although a special judicial committee of inquiry found Defense Minister Sharon and commanders on the scene responsible and Sharon was dismissed from the cabinet, no judicial punishment was imposed on anyone shown to have been involved.
British journalist Robert Fisk, who was in Beirut at the time and is a careful observer of how the conventional wisdom affects thinking on Palestinian issues, has described an incident that demonstrates the widespread image of Palestinians as terrorists and the mind-set this stereotype can produce in those absolutely convinced of its veracity. Fisk walked through both the Sabra and the Shatila camps after the massacre was discovered. While in Shatila, he was ordered repeatedly by a group of Israeli officers to leave but refused.
One of the three soldiers put his hand on my arm. “There are terrorists in the camp and you will be killed.” That’s not true, I said. Everyone there is dead. Can’t you smell them? The soldier looked at me in disbelief. … [Israeli soldiers patrolling the camp] believed—they were possessed of an absolute certainty and conviction—that “terrorists” were in Chatila.
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… I walked alongside these soldiers. … After some minutes, they grew used to my presence. So I met Moshe, Raphael, Benny, all carrying their heavy rifles down the road past Chatila, all fearful of terrorists. Terrorists, terrorists, terrorists. The word came up in every sentence, like a punctuation mark. … But hadn’t the PLO left Beirut? Had he not seen the evacuation or read about it in the papers? “They didn’t leave,” he said. “Lots of them are still here. That is why we are here.” But everyone in this area of Chatila was dead. “I don’t know about that. But there are terrorists everywhere here.”
An element of denial and disbelief was prevalent throughout the media as well. For instance, while Time magazine immediately ran the massacre as a cover story, its competitor Newsweek chose the death of Princess Grace of Monaco in a road accident, rather than the massacre, as its first postatrocity cover story. When Newsweek did put the massacre on the cover the following week, its story concerned the effect on Israel, not on the Palestinians. The cover headline read “Israel in Torment”; subsidiary articles concerned “The Anguish of American Jews” and “The Troubled Soul of Israel.” Whereas the New York Times published an editorial forthrightly condemning the massacre, the Wall Street Journal minimized it, treating this atrocity as little different from others occurring in Lebanon over the years, excusing Israel’s role, and lamenting the attempt by “enemies of the U.S. and Israel” to convert what was a revenge attack by Christian Arabs into a “political victory for the left.”
Fisk also recounts a revealing conversation among some U.S. correspondents who could not absorb the fact of the massacre. When he returned from the camps to the Associated Press (AP) office from which he filed his dispatches to London, the AP bureau chief, Steve Hindy, was arguing with AP correspondent Bill Foley about what Foley and another correspondent had seen.
In a frame of reference in which Israel has always been the focal point, its Palestinian enemies are almost by definition less important; there can be only one focal point. If the conventional wisdom gives Israel a central emotional and political place, there cannot also be a central place for anyone else. Thus, it becomes easy to dismiss Palestinians as terrorists and, having done so, to feel less outrage if they are victimized. The word terrorist, Fisk observes, “had become a murderous word, a word that had helped to bring about this atrocity”—a word also that made ignoring the political fate of the Palestinians because they were “terrorists” that much easier for policymakers already accustomed to viewing Palestinians from an Israeli perspective.
The United States essentially gave up the policy initiative in the Middle East after its Lebanon debacle, retreating into inaction and a closer alliance with Israel that allowed the Israelis to take the policy lead and gave them a free hand to proceed with settlement construction and a crackdown on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. U.S. policy in Lebanon had been a series of miscalculations, some based on Israel’s actions and policy advice, but by the time the U.S. Marine contingent was withdrawn in 1984, the United States had concluded that the only way to ensure stability in the area was to work closely with Israel. Shultz was angry with the Arabs for not having cooperated with his efforts in Lebanon and extremely gun-shy about again becoming involved in mediation efforts in the Middle East, and so he turned to Israel. In October 1983, President Reagan signed a National Security Decision Directive formalizing the administration’s decision to raise the level of cooperation with Israel. Undersecretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger was sent to Israel a few days after the directive was signed to discuss closer strategic ties, and a month later the strategic alliance was sealed with the signing of a memorandum of understanding.
Even Israel was surprised by the move. It was an unusual twist of logic to forge closer strategic ties with Israel in the immediate aftermath of Israeli actions that had involved the United States in a civil war in which it had no direct interest. But the rationale behind rewarding Israel gives a picture of how tightly the Israel-centered frame of reference bound the thinking of policymakers and limited their ability to see beyond Israel’s interests.
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Shultz, for instance, described in his memoirs a catalog of U.S. grievances against Israel with regard to Lebanon but in the end was able to think only of the U.S. need “to lift the albatross of Lebanon from Israel’s neck.” Similarly, Teicher describes the genesis of the policy of closer ties with Israel as a perceived need to “restore Israeli confidence in American reliability.” The United States had made so many mistakes in Lebanonand had so often criticized Israeli policy in Reagan’s first two years, Teicher writes, that Israel’s “confidence in the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security had weakened.”
This policy marked the beginning of a period of unprecedented closeness in the U.S.-Israeli relationship. The November 1983 memorandum of understanding established a joint military-political planning group that met regularly and effectively institutionalized the relationship. Thomas Dine, executive director of the principal pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, quoted Shultz as saying that his goal was to build institutional arrangements in such a way that if in the future a secretary of state was less than wholly supportive of Israel, he would not be able to overcome the bureaucratic ties that existed between Israel and the United States.
AIPAC was a major force behind the intensive drive to forge closer ties with Israel, and in a real sense AIPAC became a partner in U.S. Middle East policymaking in the mid-1980s. But this was a symbiotic relationship; AIPAC channeled U.S. policy, but it could not have been successful had the administration not in the first place been operating from a frame of reference centered on Israel. Led after 1980 by Dine, an energetic former congressional aide who aggressively pushed expanded contacts with Congress and a vastly expanded program of policy analysis, AIPAC made a major effort to increase its membership, its budget, and its influence in Congress and among policymakers after failing in an attempt to block the proposed sale of AWACS surveillance aircraft to Saudi Arabia in late 1981. Although AIPAC lost the AWACS battle in a head-to-head confrontation with President Reagan—who regarded the sale as an important part of the administration’s program of building strategic consensus and came to see the battle in Congress as a test of his own prestige—the struggle actually became a victory for the pro-Israel lobby, for it tended to demonstrate graphically just how limited policymaker freedom of action was on sensitive issues involving Israel. On the one hand, the struggle showed that a determined administration can do enough arm-twisting and cajoling to push an issue opposed by Israel through Congress, but, on the other hand, it demonstrated the heavy and exhausting expenditure of political capital that can be involved in such a fight. In fact, no one in the Reagan administration was willing to attempt such a fight again. “We blew three fuses with those
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guys,” one former White House official said, “and we don’t want to go to the mat with them again.”
AIPAC’s grass-roots support grew immensely after the AWACS fight. Both its membership—primarily among U.S. Jews but including as well a small number of evangelical Christians—and its budget quadrupled between 1980 and 1987. Its propaganda effort also increased. Dine believed, according to one source, that policymakers need to be supplied with arguments and that anyone who wrote books and papers that policymakers read would effectively “own” the policymakers. When he took over the directorship of AIPAC, he hired two Middle East experts of a pro-Israeli bent who began publishing a series of position papers focusing on Israel’s strategic value to the United States. One of these AIPAC experts was Martin Indyk, an Australian who would later cofound and direct a pro-Israeli think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which had a major influence on Bush administration policymaking, and would serve in several key positions inside the Clinton administration.
As Begin had argued unsuccessfully with Carter, the AIPAC experts and others who now advocated closer strategic ties with Israel explicitly discarded the notion that the U.S. commitment to Israel was a moral one, for this implied that Israel was dependent on and possibly even a liability to the United States. The AIPAC papers, directed not at the membership but specifically at policymakers, found a particularly receptive audience inside an administration already convinced of the need to guard against Soviet aggressiveness and already convinced of Israel’s strategic value. By 1987, the United States had formally designated Israel as a “major non-NATO ally,” which gave it access to military technology not otherwise available.
Congress became so pro-Israeli under AIPAC’s tutelage in this period that as two Israeli journalists have observed, it embraced virtually every legislative initiative suggested by the lobby. Lobby officials boasted, probably without exaggeration, that any legislation important to Israel started with a dependable base of two hundred supporters in the House and up to forty-five senators. Members of Congress relied on AIPAC as a source of information on all issues related to Israel and the Middle East, often asked AIPAC to draft speeches, and consulted the lobby group on pending legislation, including annual budget bills. By the mid-1980s, it had become so accepted that Congress was almost automatically pro-Israeli and particularly that Jewish members of Congress would always support Israel that the following statement in a 1985 book by correspondent Wolf Blitzer raised no eyebrows. After describing former Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff’s frequent criticism of Israel during the Carter administration and
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support for Carter’s policies, Blitzer wrote that, despite occasional lapses like Ribicoff’s, “most Jewish members of Congress accepted their special responsibilities” to Israel.
AIPAC’s heightened activism gave it power in policymaking circles throughout the Reagan years. Administration officials took to consulting and sometimes negotiating with AIPAC in advance of presenting legislation in order to help assure passage. The lobby became so powerful and so ambitious that it even attempted openly to exert influence on the staff choices of presidential candidates. As early as a year and a half before the 1988 election, almost all the several Democratic and Republican candidates had already submitted to interviews with AIPAC to answer questions about their policy positions on the Middle East.
The administration’s close cooperation with Israel and AIPAC’s heavy involvement in policy formulation foreclosed the possibility that the Palestinian point of view might penetrate policymaker considerations. State Department Middle East experts, almost completely cut out of the decision making process, lamented that where once there was a two-track policy, now only Israel’s interests were considered. AIPAC’s presence in the policymaking process had a stifling effect on debate. Not only were most officials who would speak for the Arab perspective excluded from policymaking councils, but fewer and fewer officials of any political bent were willing to raise options known to be anathema to AIPAC or likely to encounter strong resistance in Congress. As a result, as one official remarked at the time, “a lot of real analysis is not even getting off people’s desks for fear of what the lobby will do.”
The Reagan administration’s unusually close ties to Israel also tended to have a chilling effect on debate inside Israel, discouraging opposition to the Likud government’s annexationist policies and undermining the efforts of the sizable number of Israelis who would have been prepared, if they had received some encouragement, to resist the Likud’s uncompromising stance on the Palestinian issue and the peace process. The Israeli electorate was more or less evenly split in the 1980s between those opposed to any movement toward peace negotiations and those ready to make some compromises on West Bank issues in order to move the process forward. Direct and obvious pressure by the United States might have tended, particularly with a leader like Begin, to unite Israelis to resist, but psychological pressure might have had a telling impact. As former State Department official Saunders has noted, just the knowledge among Israelis that Israel’s extreme positions might jeopardize U.S. support in the peace process would probably have strengthened the hand of moderate Israelis. Israeli scholars and
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diplomats have indicated repeatedly that in fact U.S. acquiescence in Israel’s uncompromising stance tended to encourage the Likud’s resistance to compromise. Some believe, for instance, that there could have been as how down between the two Israeli camps as early as 1982, in the aftermath of the Lebanon invasion, if a serious plan for resuming the peace process had been placed on the table and vigorously pursued. The Reagan Plan constituted such a plan, but the administration’s failure to work for Israeli acceptance stifled an internal contest in Israel. Others believe that the absence of U.S. pressure delivered to Israelis the dangerous message that there was no cost to retaining the occupied territories and undermined any pressures on the leadership from inside Israel to change the status quo.
In late 1982 New York Times editorial page editor Max Frankel wrote a series of columns reporting that opposition Labor Party leaders had privately indicated to him that they wanted the United States to exert pressure on Begin’s government and hasten its end by reducing the level of economic assistance. Labor officials denied Frankel’s allegations, but there seems to be little doubt as to their authenticity. Some saw the Labor overture as nothing more than a cynical election ploy, but the appeal was more likely a plea to the United States for help in moving Israel toward moderation and peace negotiations. Labor’s plea found virtually no listeners in the United States. Congress increased aid levels over those requested by the administration in December 1982, and the White House responded to Frankel’s columns by assuring Israel that Washington would never use pressure to advance the peace process.
By the mid-1980s, the frame of reference in which Middle East policy was pursued had become constricted to an unprecedented degree. Everything converged during the Reagan years to create this quantum tilt toward Israel. It is common to attribute all pressures in this direction to the power of the pro-Israel lobby and the electoral strength of the U.S. Jewish community, but this explanation is probably too facile. Unquestionably, AIPAC grew exponentially in size and power during the Reagan years, and it was a strong limiting influence on policymaking. But, far from causing the administration’s pro-Israeli tilt, AIPAC was able to grow precisely because the administration provided a friendly, fertile atmosphere in which its activists and analyses had a ready audience. AIPAC helped to focus policymaking, providing certain themes, such as Israel’s strategic value, that channeled policymaker thinking, and by its vigilance and activism it helped to guarantee that the administration followed a firm and unwavering pro-Israeli course. But with an administration of the Reagan team’s mind-set, the lobby did not make or control policy, largely because it did not need to. AIPAC
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helped to give increased definition to the country’s and the Reagan administration’s frame of reference in this era, but it did not create that frame of reference, and ultimately it would not have thrived without the administration. The lobby was only as strong as those it leaned on were inclined to bend.
Two trends in U.S. public opinion on Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict emerged in the 1980s. One trend was toward increased criticism of Israel, particularly after its invasion of Lebanon. The second was largely a reaction to the first, a concerted effort by Israel and its U.S. supporters to counter the unfavorable image; this trend was facilitated by the fact that Americans had a large and basically unchanging reservoir of affection for Israel and tended to make excuses for its actions. Ironically, although the level of public criticism of Israel had never been higher than during the early and mid-1980s and the Palestinians received increased media attention and public sympathy during this time, the level of media sympathy for Israel and the degree to which Israel’s supporters attempted to guide press treatment of Middle East issues remained extremely high.
The United States began to see a different, less benign side of Israel during the Lebanon invasion, with nightly television pictures of Israeli planes bombing civilian targets in Beirut and news of the Sabra and Shatila massacre occurring while Israel controlled the city. Israel’s tight censorship of reporting from Lebanon antagonized reporters. To counter this unfavorable impression, Israeli supporters in the United States went into high gear to bring back the image of old. In 1983, the American Jewish Congress organized a conference in Jerusalem to seek ways to improve the Israeli image. Chaired by a U.S. advertising executive and attended by advertising, communications, and public-relations experts from the United States and journalists from both Israel and the United States. the conference launched a hasbara, or propaganda, campaign to sell Israel to the U.S. media. The themes to be emphasized were Israel’s strategic value to the United States, as well as its affinity with Western culture and values, its security problem and physical vulnerability, and its fervent desire for peace in contrast to the Arabs’ supposed opposition to peace.
Among other activities, the Hasbara Project organized an internship program for Israeli career diplomats to train them in the United States in communications and public relations. The Israeli government also made its own much more direct effort to influence media treatment of Middle East issues. Menachem Shalev, press officer for the Israeli consulatein New York
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in 1985 and 1986, told a reporter that he and other Israeli press attaches regularly received “favors”—in the form of sympathetic coverage of Israel or help in getting negative stories killed—from U.S. Jewish news bookers and producers who he claimed were more loyal to Israel than to their employers. Shalev said his principal function was to help shape the U.S. media’s perceptions of Israel and the Arabs. To this end, he was in constant contact with journalists, called news and talk-show producers daily to determine what stories and guests they intended to have on, and then, in a “kind of joint formulation of ideas,” suggested story lines or different or additional guests.
The efforts specifically made to counter Israel’s unfavorable image had a powerful impact. Some of the reporters and networks who had been harshly critical of Israel during the Lebanon war were subjected to such strong pressures by pro-Israeli media monitors that they softened the tone of their coverage or explicitly apologized. Shalev observed that after “the hullabaloo over Lebanon [coverage], the press doesn’t do anything without calling us for comment.” The mere knowledge that supporters of Israel were ready to call newsrooms and write letters to the editor about critical coverage of Israel tended to produce self-censorship among the press. For instance, NBC correspondent John Chancellor broadcast a report from Beirut in the midst of an Israeli bombing campaign against the city in July 1982 and referred to “savage Israel” and “an imperialist state that we never knew existed before.” A week later, however, broadcasting from Jerusalem, he said his Beirut report had been a “mistake” and that he now believed Israel had not intended to lay siege to Beirut but had “bumbled into” it.
In fact, the mind-set in most of the media was so pro-Israeli, the residual affection for Israel so strong, that direct pressures often only reinforced an existing tendency among the media to soft-pedal criticism. Whatever Israeli warts may have been revealed by the Lebanon invasion, the press still tended to accept the Israeli spin on stories more or less unquestioningly basically because this was the way most journalists felt, whether they were Jews or non-Jews, and also the way in general that their readers and listeners felt. A retired CBS executive said in the mid-1980s that although every good journalist makes an effort to be fair and unbiased, “over the years, I’ve detected—and it was certainly true of my own news judgments—that Israel is given the ‘benefit of the doubt’ whenever possible.” An ABC News correspondent attributed the pro-Israeli slant in television newsrooms to the perception of editors that there was a “tremendous interest in and sympathy for Israel” among audiences.
The corollary of this sympathy remained, as had long been the case
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among journalists, an element of hostility to the Palestinians and most Arabs. What some journalists called a subtle and some a not-so-subtle prejudice against Arabs was so common in newspaper and television newsrooms that few hesitated to talk openly about it. “TV news executives in New York figure that the American population cares less and less about what happens to people the darker their skin is,” said one television correspondent. Despite greater interest in the Palestinians since the 1970s, real knowledge and understanding of the Palestinian problem required a more sophisticated, in-depth analysis than was possible in television’s forty-or sixty-second news spots. Stereotyping was easy, and there was not the time in television’s short-news-item format to counter stereotypes that had been built up over a century or more. The old clichés inevitably influenced what journalists aired in the 1980s.
The concerted effort made by Israel’s supporters during the 1980s to feature Israel more prominently in news coverage was accompanied by a major effort to delegitimize Palestinian nationalism. One of the major themes in this campaign was the “Jordan-is-Palestine” position propounded by Israel’s right wing and adopted by neoconservative supporters of Israel in the United States. The argument was that because, according to Likud doctrine, Jordan had been part of Palestine until separated by Britain and given a semi-independent status under King Abdullah, a Palestinian state therefore already existed in Jordan. Reagan himself frequently put forth this position during his 1980 election campaign. He observed in one speech that Jordan had 80 percent of the responsibility for handling the Palestinian refugee problem and Israel 20 percent because, as he contended, this was the ratio by which the former Palestine Mandate had been divided. At other times, Reagan urged that the refugees be assimilated into Jordan, arguing, like the Likud, that Jordan was a Palestinian state. In fact, the entire line of argument was a Likud creation designed to undermine the notion of Palestinian separateness. Jordan was not considered part of Palestine by anyone except the Israeli right wing, principally not by the Palestinian people, who traced their origins to the area west of the Jordan River that became Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Jordan did not consider itself a Palestinian state.
One of the major instruments in the campaign to undermine Palestinian identity was a lengthy book published in 1984, From Time Immemo rial by Joan Peters, which purported to demonstrate through voluminous research that most of those who claimed to be Palestinians dispossessed by Israel were not from Palestine at all but had immigrated from elsewhere in the Arab world only a few years before Israel was created. Far from having
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been dispossessed by Israel, Peters maintained, these Arabs simply returned to their original homes during the 1948 war; the number of true refugees from Palestine was relatively small. One Palestinian American scholar described the Peters book as representing “a natural analogue to the concerted, sustained Israeli attack upon Palestinian nationalism”—with the difference that whereas arguments against the existence of the Palestinians had previously been confined to specialized journals or local Israeli audiences, now they were being made for a general U.S. audience. The book’s principal thesis, the scholar commented caustically, is something like this: “If you thought you were a Palestinian, you were wrong. You really came from someplace else, and therefore are someone else. … You are not who you say you are because I can prove you were never really you.”
The book was initially hailed throughout the country as a startling piece of original research that would dramatically alter the course of debate in the Middle East. Carrying endorsements on the jacket by luminaries such as Barbara Tuchman, Saul Bellow, Angier Biddle Duke, Elie Wiesel, and Arthur Goldberg, and acknowledging research assistance from well-known scholars such as Bernard Lewis, P. J. Vatikiotis, Elie Kedourie, and Martin Gilbert, the book was reviewed favorably and at great length in numerous mainstream periodicals. Saul Bellow called it the first “clear account of the origins of the Palestinians,” which would “dissolve the claims made by nationalist agitators.” Daniel Pipes, writing in Commentary magazine, declared that the book showed that the Palestinian problem “lacks firm grounding” and “reinforces the point that the real problem in the Middle East has little to do with Palestinian-Arab rights.”
The book’s fame was short-lived. Careful analysis by Israeli, European, and a few U.S. scholars revealed that Peters had fabricated some evidence, misquoted other evidence to suit her argument, omitted evidence that did not support her case, and plagiarized from old Zionist propaganda tracts. The major critical review, an analysis by Israeli historian Yehoshua Porath labeling Peters’s thesis a set of “tired and discredited arguments,” appeared in the New York Review of Books in January 1986—almost two years after the book’s publication. Although the book was discredited, none of the journals that had initially published favorable reviews issued retractions, and no scholar who assisted Peters or endorsed the book dissociated himself. Commentary magazine, in fact, ran a second favorable review in mid1986 that criticized the critiques.
In 1987 and 1988, when Israeli scholars Benny Morris and Avi Shlaim published major revisionist histories of the period surrounding Israel’s creation—histories that did change the course of debate on the Palestinian
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problem—none of the mainstream periodicals, with the exception of the New York Times, that had praised Peters’s anti-Palestinian book reviewed the revisionist books at all.
The Peters book was accompanied in the summer of 1984 by publication of a novel about Palestinians by Leon Uris, who in the 1950s had introduced a generation of Americans to a heroic image of Israel with the novel Exodus. Uris’s 1984 novel, The Haj, about a Palestinian family during the time of Israel’s creation, was a strong anti-Arab diatribe that attempted to delegitimize the Palestinians via fiction. As in Exodus a quarter century earlier, The Haj‘s anti-heroes were cowardly, ignorant, sexually deviant, and unmotivated by any sense of nationalism. Although less popular than Exodus, The Haj managed to acquaint another generation of Americans with Uris’s picture of Palestinians. The book was on the hardback bestseller list for five months in 1984 and on the paperback bestseller list for three months the following year.
The self-perpetuating aspect of the heavy media and publishing attention to Israel perpetuated in turn the minimal and stereotypical coverage of the Palestinians. Jim Lehrer, co-anchor of PBS’s MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, was asked in 1982 why his own and other programs always did more items on Israel. “Because,” he said, “Israel is more involved in the news. You can argue with the definition of news, but it is a fact that the United States is the major ally of Israel, and that one-fourth of all U.S. aid goes to Israel.” This phenomenon becomes a never-ending cycle: Israel is more involved in the news because it receives more U.S. aid, which in turn is because Israel is more involved in the news, is seen more often on programs like Lehrer’s, and is more often on the minds of Americans.
Certainly not all reporting was automatically pro-Israeli or Israelcentered. The Washington Post ran a hard-hitting series of articles on Israel’s occupation practices in the early 1980s, and other papers, particularly the Christian Science Monitor, were often critical of Israel and careful to report the Palestinian perspective. The weekly periodical the Nation sharply criticized Israel during the Lebanon invasion and recognized the PLO as the voice of the Palestinians, advocating that it be included in the peace process. But throughout the 1980s much of the press nonetheless tended to follow a script on Palestinian-Israeli issues. A journalist assigned to Jerusalem in 1983 and 1984 observed that the self-perpetuating nature of the conventional wisdom on Palestinian-Israeli issues was built into the system. Editors, he maintained, were concerned not to be out of step with other media and therefore expected their correspondents to report what other journalists reported. “Being attentive to what others reported initiated
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newcomers into what passed for ‘facts’ in the Middle East,” he said. “They obediently learned to file story after story that were but part of a larger story, hatched from a line of logic they had brought in on the plane with them and reified by colleagues who shared the same certainties. … Reporters invariably sought out sources who sustained the taken for granted.” The conventional wisdom was self-perpetuating for the Reagan administration as well, which tended even more than the press to follow a prepared script unquestioningly on Palestinian-Israeli issues.
During the intifada, Leon Wieseltier, literary critic of the New Republic and a leading U.S. Jewish commentator, wrote an article aptly describing the conventional wisdom as understood by Jews in the United States—a way of perceiving the situation that in fact applied not only to Jews but to much of U.S. opinion. Wieseltier listed what he called “received Jewish ideas about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”: that Israel had not asked for the occupied territories; that Israel had no alternative but to continue control of the territories; that Israel treated the Palestinians under its control better than the Arab states did; that Israel could not cope with terrorists; that all Israel’s difficulties were the media’s fault. Observing that these ideas either were not true or were beside the point, Wieseltier said they were “powerful platitudes” that served to provide Jews with a kind of “intellectual insulation” against reality. “They protect Jewish consciousness,” he wrote, “against the detonation of something it has come to cherish: the status quo … a comfortable state of suspension” in which the need for serious decisions is deferred.
Wieseltier’s so-called received ideas about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were not just Jewish ideas but those that most Reagan administration policymakers came to office harboring. With a frame of reference already set in an Israeli mold, Reagan and his team seemed to take in primarily ideas that reinforced rather than altered that mind-set. Policymakers took many of their ideas from the elite media, represented particularly by such influential periodicals as Commentary and the New Republic. Commen tary editor Norman Podhoretz, an unapologetic propagandist for Israel, observed in the mid-1980s that although the circulation of periodicals like his was small, the ideas that, in his words, “run government or are a part of public debate” originated precisely in these small journals of opinion. Podhoretz’s statement may have been too sweeping as a general matter, but for the Reagan administration it was probably no exaggeration. Podhoretz was one of the founders of the neoconservative movement, Commentary
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was neoconservatism’s leading mouthpiece, and President Reagan was its preeminent policy exponent. On Middle East issues, the New Republic, published by another champion of Israel, Martin Peretz, also shared the administration’s point of view.
Both Podhoretz and Peretz were vociferous and emotional in their support of Israel. Podhoretz was one of the most vocal advocates of the position that no U.S. Jew should ever criticize Israel and that much if not all of the criticism Israel received during and after the Lebanon invasion, from Jews as well as non-Jews, was motivated by anti-Semitism. His 1982 article “J’Accuse” was a blistering attack on critics of Israel and still stands out as a landmark defense of Israel. Peretz is said to be so emotionally involved with Israel that debate is generally impossible at the New Republic, which the Jerusalem Post once hailed as “the single most favorable American voice on Israel.” He not only supports Israel but is also apparently emotional about his hostility to the Palestinians, regarding Palestinian nationalism as illegitimate and Palestinian culture as inherently violent.
Members of the Reagan administration wrote for both Commentary and the New Republic, on Middle East as well as other topics, and members of the administration undoubtedly read both journals. The interchange of ideas was apparently frequent. Both Commentary and the administration, for instance, began in the early 1980s to put heavy emphasis on Israel’s democratic nature, stretching their analysis to the point of seeming to indicate that Israel’s actions were excusable because it was a democracy and its Arab neighbors were not. Podhoretz’s article “J’Accuse,” for example, concluded on the following note: “Hostility toward Israel is a sure sign of failing faith in and support for the virtues and values of Western civilization in general and of America in particular. How else are we to interpret a political position that, in a conflict between democracy and its antidemocratic enemies, is so dead set against the democratic side?” Podhoretz ignored the undemocratic nature of Israel’s rule over West Bank and Gaza Palestinians. Moreover, implicitly equating “democratic” with “moral” allowed him and others of Israel’s vocal supporters to equate “nondemocratic” with “immoral.” It also allowed them, by concentrating on the element of democracy, to ignore whatever might have been deemed not moral about Israel’s practices in the occupied territories.
The preoccupation with Israel’s democracy became a new element of the administration’s frame of reference as well, allowing it also to ignore Israeli practices in the occupied territories and in Lebanon. Shultz used a variation on the democracy theme in an essay he wrote, while still in office, for a book on terrorism edited by Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israel’s ambassador to
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the UN. Assuming that the principal goal of terrorism was specifically to undermine democracy, and dismissing any notion that terrorists might have other, legitimate goals, Shultz wrote that wherever it takes place, terrorism “is directed in an important sense against us, the democracies, against our most basic values and often our fundamental strategic interests. … How tragic it would be if democratic societies so lost confidence in their own moral legitimacy that they lost sight of the obvious: that violence directed against democracy or the hopes for democracy lacks fundamental justification.” Violence on behalf of democracy, however, was justifiable, according to Shultz. “Resort to arms in behalf of democracy against repressive regimes or movements is, indeed,” he wrote, “a fight for freedom, since there may be no other way that freedom can be achieved.” Shultz may or may not have taken his cue from Podhoretz and the neoconservatives, but the similarity between Podhoretz’s indictment of the moral failure of any society that does not support Israel and Shultz’s lament about society’s lost moral legitimacy is striking.
The emphasis on Israel’s democratic nature proved to be a powerful shield for Israel against strong criticism throughout much of the 1980s, at least until the start of the intifada. Even those—including, occasionally, administration officials—who did criticize Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza usually expressed concern for what the occupation was doing to Israel rather than for what its consequences were for the Palestinians. The common theme of these friendly critics was that if Israel annexed the occupied territories, either it would cease to be a democracy if it denied democratic rights to the Palestinians, or it would lose its character as a Jewish state if it incorporated Palestinians into Israel. The critics generally viewed the prospects from an Israeli point of view: it was said that the Zionist dream was becoming a “nightmare”; the higher birthrate among Palestinians was considered a demographic “threat” that would overwhelm Jewish numbers. These arguments, which became part of the lore and the frame of reference of the 1980s, ignored the Palestinian side of the equation.
Increasingly, as Israel’s Likud government hardened its position throughout the 1980s, debate tended to be closed off in the United States, both inside and outside the government, and even dissident voices from Israel were muzzled. I. F. Stone, the well-known U.S. Jewish journalist and commentator, had complained in the late 1970s that he knew of several leading U.S. journalists who were fearful of writing anything at all sympathetic to the Palestinians because doing so always brought a deluge of letters charging anti-Semitism, and he wondered how “wise solutions [could]
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be reached and the opportunity for peace rescued when … dissident voices are hardly heard here above a whisper.” Debate did not take place among policymakers either. Just as the United States failed to probe the PLO’s frequent overtures for signs of flexibility or seriously to debate the merits and the means of including the PLO in the negotiating process, it did not engage the Israelis in meaningful discussion of the peace process either. Saunders noted in the mid-1980s that, despite fundamental U.S.-Israeli disagreement over West Bank policy, high levels of the two governments had not had “a profound discussion on the road we are traveling together” since the late 1970s. At one of the most critical stages of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, public and policy debate on this most critical of issues had effectively ceased, and the situation was being allowed to drift.
Two trends emerged in the 1980s that tended to point away from the kind of reflexive acquiescence in Israel’s position on the peace process that the Reagan administration showed, but in neither case were Reagan policymakers inclined to pay significant attention. The first of these trends involved U.S. public opinion. Although Americans had always been, and continued in the 1980s to be, far more sympathetic in emotional terms toward Israel than toward the Arabs in general or the Palestinians, an in-depth study of public opinion polls taken from the late 1970s through the mid1980s indicated that a significant segment of the public believed as a practical matter that the Palestinians had the right to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza and that the PLO should be involved in peace negotiations—despite the fact that the PLO and Arafat himself were consistently viewed in a negative light. The study showed that the public’s readiness to criticize Israel had risen and that the portion of the public inclined toward automatic, hard-core support for any and all positions of the Israeli government was only 25 percent.
At least one poll demonstrated dramatically that when given additional factual information about the Palestinian-Israeli situation, respondents tended to support the notion of Palestinian independence in greater numbers. In May 1982, Republic an pollster Richard Wirthlin’s organization conducted a survey that probed respondents’ views increasingly deeply by supplying more information and asking follow-up questions. Respondents were initially asked, for instance, “In 1947, the United States supported a UN proposal for both a Palestinian and Israeli state. Do you feel the Palestinians should have the right to establish this state?” A total of 76 percent said yes, while 11 percent said no, and 13 percent had no opinion. The onequarter of respondents who had said no or who had no opinion were then asked, “If you knew that half of the 4.5 million Palestinians in the world
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are stateless refugees and the majority of the remaining half live under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, would you feel that the Palestinians should have the right to establish a state of their own?” With this new information, 69 percent of these previously negative respondents now said yes. The additional increment of knowledge provided by the second question brought the overall total of those who favored Palestinian independence to over 90 percent. These results demonstrate how thoroughly the reasons for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had dropped out of most Americans’ consciousness and the difference gaining some part of this knowledge makes in the public’s attitudes.
There is no evidence that the Reagan administration was even aware of this poll—although it was conducted, ironically, by a Republic Party pollster—and certainly none that the findings had any impact on policy decisions. Palestinian American scholar Fouad Moughrabi, who authored the public opinion study, concluded that any U.S. president who proposed a peaceful solution that would involve the PLO in the peace process and lead to an independent Palestinian state would find ample support among the public, despite the 25 percent of the electorate that constitutes the committed core of Israel’s support. But changing public attitudes had no impact on an administration that, probably more than any other, numbered itself among the hard-core 25 percent. The administration’s structure of beliefs remained so solid that only a clear and definite push from public opinion could make a difference; the passive changes emerging in public attitudes could not penetrate.
The second trend, which had a strong impact on the way many observers came to view the origins of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the legitimacy of the Palestinian claim, came late in Reagan’s presidency and was probably not even noticed by Reagan policymakers. In the mid-to late 1980s, a group of young revisionist scholars in Israel, using recently declassified Israeli archival material, began publicizing the details of Israel’s creation in 1948, revealing a less romanticized aspect of Israel and a less demonized aspect of the Palestinians and other Arabs. The “new historiography,” as the revisionist scholarship came to be called, provoked a profound debate—taking place initially almost exclusively among scholars but soon spilling over into other areas of Israeli society—between the new historians and older mainstream historians devoted to the old images of Israel as heroic and peace-loving and of Arabs as predatory and warmongering.
For Israelis, the debate, which continued well into the 1990s, became a debate on their own national legitimacy, for the new historiography exposed what the scholar Ilan Pappé calls “unpleasant, at times shocking chapters
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in the Israeli historical narrative” and revealed a “basic contradiction between Zionist national ambitions and their implementation at the expense of the local population of Palestine.” Perhaps most strikingly, the new history of 1948 legitimized the Palestinians’ historical narrative, not only bringing to Israeli consciousness for the first time an awareness that another version existed but demonstrating the scholarly accuracy of a version Israelis had previously regarded as merely propaganda. The new history, Pappé observes, “is the most profound legitimization given by Israeli scholarship to any chapter in the Palestinian narrative.”
Wide publication of a serious critique of the past was not possible in Israel until the mid-to late 1980s—in part because the archival material on which the new version was based was not declassified until the late 1970s and 1980s, in part because the task of challenging the conventional dogma on the past had to await the coming of age of a second, less reverent generation of historians, and in large part because only in the late 1980s was the full impact being felt of a series of great changes in Israel’s political climate. Developments in the 1970s, particularly the surprise Arab attack in October 1973, revealing a weakness in the Israeli army, had already shaken the ideological firmament for a great many Israelis. In the 1980s, the shock of the Lebanon invasion and the Israeli government’s harsh reaction to the in tifada eroded faith in Israel’s moral superiority. The new young historians thus came of age in what some scholars call a post-Zionist environment, an environment in which images of heroism and moral rectitude were no longer relevant and in which the national consensus built around Zionism was breaking down and society was increasingly polarized between expansionist hawks and more conciliatory doves.
The 1980s also saw a change in the United States in the character of scholarly literature on the Palestinian issue. Little had been published at all on this issue before the 1980s, and as late as 1988 historian Charles Smith could write in the preface to the first edition of his Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict that he had been unable to find a text suitable for college students that would introduce the history of Palestine in the period before 1948 and explain the bearing this history and the interactions of Palestinian Arabs and Zionists in this early period had on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Several specialized works on Palestinian history had been published earlier in the decade, but virtually none of the more detailed works predated 1980, and there were no general surveys until Smith wrote his.
Little if any of this new scholarship or the revisionist debate in Israel reached Reagan administration policymakers. The twin currents represented by the Israeli debate and the changes in U.S. public opinion, in fact,
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tended to eddy around policymakers without having a significant impact on them or their attitudes. Most, even at lower levels of the bureaucracy, were not even aware of the debate over the events of 1948, and those who were aware were undoubtedly inclined to discount it as irrelevant to the current task of crisis policymaking. Public opinion polls showing increased but still passive popular support for Palestinian aspirations also did not hold much water for politicians beset by direct congressional and lobby pressures from those prepared to back up their views with votes. The collective mind-set of the Reagan administration was so firmly cast that little could move it.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Lewis openly criticized the Reagan administration in 1984, just before the U.S. presidential election, for failing to advance the peace process because of its demonstrated lack of urgency. Lewis cited the administration’s failure to pursue the Camp David autonomy talks and the Reagan Plan, Reagan’s own failure to become personally involved in the peace process, the administration’s overemphasis on the global context of Middle East developments, and its tendency to perform a mediating role “only with carrots.” Lewis’s criticisms accurately summarized the Reagan team’s first-term policies; four years later, the same observations would apply to the administration’s second-term policies.
The administration did, without much enthusiasm, pursue an initiative launched in February 1985 by Jordan’s King Hussein and the PLO designed to lead to a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and establishment of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation to control the territories; Palestinian self-determination would be exercised within the context of this confederation. The initiative proposed to open a dialogue between the United States and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, leading to an international peace conference that would in turn ultimately lead to direct negotiations between the Arabs and Israel. Early 1985 was widely viewed as the optimum time in which to try such an initiative, with Reagan having just been reelected and the more moderate Shimon Peres of Israel’s Labor Party briefly holding the prime ministership in a coalition government with the Likud. But Peres was as chary of dealing with the PLO as the Likud had been, and the United States, also unable to get past the procedural problems involved in negotiating with Palestinians, was never wholly convinced of the merits of the Jordanian-PLO initiative.
The U.S. and Israeli insistence that no one associated with the PLO be involved stymied efforts in the first instance to form a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. In addition, because Shultz and Reagan were unwilling
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to have the United States become directly involved in negotiations, they focused attention exclusively on encouraging direct talks between the parties and undermined the notion of convening an international conference, even when Peres himself, during a speech to the UN in the fall of 1985, indicated support for such a conference. For its part, the PLO refused, without a recognition of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, to accommodate the U.S. insistence that it adhere precisely to the formula laid down by Washington: unconditional and unambiguous acceptance of UN Resolution 242, explicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and renunciation of terrorism. As a result, after a year of futile wrangling and maneuvering over procedural issues, the Jordanian-PLO alliance broke down and the initiative collapsed in February 1986.
Shultz blamed the PLO and only the PLO for the breakdown. Washington, however, had failed to encourage the initiative from the beginning. Shultz says in his memoirs that he pursued the negotiations even though they were “against my own instincts.” From the start, Shultz and Reagan viewed the prospect of dealing with the PLO with profound distaste and repeatedly threw obstacles in the way of efforts to form an acceptable joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, questioning PLO sincerity and even refusing permission for the PLO’s UN observer to come to Washington at the invitation of several members of Congress to discuss the initiative. In the summer of 1985, President Reagan upset a planned meeting with a carefully chosen group of Jordanian and Palestinian delegates when he personally intervened to forbid U.S. dealings with any Palestinian even remotely associated with the PLO.
Some small-scale Palestinian terrorist incidents against Israeli targets in the summer of 1985, followed by Israel’s bombing raid on the PLO’s Tunis headquarters in October, followed in turn by the hijacking by a PLO splinter group of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, during which a wheelchairbound American was murdered, all put a serious pall on peace efforts. The clear apathy with which the United States approached the process undermined it further and tended to encourage radicals and the so-called rejectionists on both sides. After the failure of this initiative, Peres, having rotated out of the post of prime minister to become foreign minister under Yitzhak Shamir, attempted again to pursue with Jordan the possibility of convening an international conference, but Shultz discouraged this attempt as well.
Peres’s clear strategy while serving as prime minister had been to start a formal negotiating process that, once begun, might provoke debate within Israel and a coalition crisis, leading to the formation of a majority Labor
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government. Some have speculated, once again, that U.S. encouragement not only might have strengthened moderate forces within the PLO, who clearly hoped that the PLO alliance with Jordan would elicit a favorable U.S. response, but might have facilitated Peres’s strategy and strengthened him for a showdown with the right wing in Israel. One Israeli commentator believes that the Reagan-Shultz policy instead played into the hands of the Israeli right by convincing voters that with the Likud in power Israel “could have its cake—U.S. aid—and eat it too, by continuing to settle the West Bank.” U.S. policy also, this analyst believes, ultimately led to the in tifada, by producing the political gridlock in Israel that finally caused complete Palestinian frustration.
After the failure of the Jordan-PLO initiative, the United States confined itself to a halfhearted effort to “improve the quality of life” of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza—an effort intended primarily to undermine the PLO’s reputation in the territories and enhance Jordan’s standing among Palestinians. No further attempts to restart the peace process were made. The United States seemed, in the view of political scientist Ann Lesch, to have conceded that Israel would rule the occupied territories indefinitely and that only cosmetic improvements in living conditions could be expected.
The Palestinian intifada in the West Bank and Gaza, begun in December 1987, sent a message to Israel, the United States, and the world that the Palestinians demanded something more than cosmetic improvements in their quality of life. As the scholar Mark Tessler has noted, the message was, “We exist and have political rights, and there will be no peace until these rights are recognized.” The message got through only partially. In Israel, many, perhaps the majority, began to accept the notion that the West Bank and Gaza were not an asset to Israel’s security but a burden and that Israel could not continue to rule over another people. The government, however, did not change its attitude and instead cracked down harshly on Palestinian demonstrators. Reaction was mixed in the United States as well, but in general, as Tessler has observed, “there was more continuity than change in American attitudes and foreign policy.” The intifada received heavy press treatment in the United States and focused a great deal of attention on the Palestinians—most of it sympathetic and tending, for the first time, to show the Palestinians as a distinct people with national aspirations seeking freedom from an occupying power. At the same time, however, Congress and to a large extent the administration tended to rally to Israel’s support, the principal concerns being how to extricate Israel from
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the problems of the intifada and how to exclude the PLO from any negotiating process.
The uprising did awaken the United States from its diplomatic torpor, although not from its total opposition to dealing with the PLO. Secretary of State Shultz devised a plan for a peace settlement to be achieved through direct bilateral negotiations between an Israeli and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. His blueprint would have established a transitional phase for the West Bank and Gaza, to be followed immediately by negotiations on the final status of the territories. Shultz made four trips to the Middle East in early 1988 in an attempt to win the various parties over to his initiative, but although this was the first serious U.S. involvement with the Middle East in five years, the effort came too late and had too little weight behind it to be effective.
None of the parties involved was ready to cooperate at this point. The Palestinians, angry about the PLO’s exclusion and resentful of what they viewed as their second-class treatment by Shultz’s initiative even as they were showing their political strength through the intifada, were basically uninterested in the initiative. Jordan took itself out of the peace process altogether by relinquishing all responsibility for and claims to the West Bank in July 1988. Israel adamantly refused to consider any aspect of the Shultz initiative. Although Shultz was highly irritated with Prime Minister Shamir’s inflexible attitude, Washington itself undermined the peace plan by giving Israel new strategic benefits in the spring of 1988. In April, the United States and Israel signed a revised memorandum of understanding on political, security, and economic cooperation, and the United States speeded up delivery to Israel of seventy-five fighter aircraft. An increasing number of Israeli and U.S. commentators began to show open scorn for Shultz for helping to foster deadlock by seeming to reward Israeli intransigence. Israeli journalists chided the United States for allowing Israel to say no to Washington and still giving it a bonus.
In the months following issuance of the Shultz plan, the United States went along with initiatives generated by others but did not initiate any steps in the peace process itself. One of these efforts was begun by Swedish Foreign Minister Sten Andersson, who arranged a series of meetings between PLO leaders and several prominent U.S. Jews in the hope of formulating an agreed statement of the PLO’s commitment to a peace settlement with Israel. A second effort was undertaken in August by a Palestinian American, Mohamed Rabie, who had contacts among the PLO leadership. Enlisting the assistance of Middle East expert William Quandt as a gobetween
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with the State Department, Rabie attempted for several months to work out an agreement that would lead to an official U.S.-PLO dialogue.
Both efforts—one to start an Israeli-PLO negotiation, the other to start a U.S.-PLO dialogue—ultimately prepared the way for a groundbreaking initiative in November 1988 by the PNC, the PLO’s legislative arm, advocating the coexistence of Israel and a Palestinian state. The PLO had been coming to the point of accepting Israel’s existence for years, but the timing of this initiative was directly related to the intifada and had been heavily influenced by West Bank and Gaza Palestinians who hoped to capitalize on the uprising to put forth a formal negotiating stance and a message of conciliation that they believed the United States would be forced to accept. In a document drafted in the summer of 1988 by the prominent Jerusalem Palestinian Faisal Husseini, Palestinians from the occupied territories urged the PLO leadership to call for a two-state solution and declare Palestinian independence on the basis of the original UN partition plan. The PLO political platform issued in November did just that, implicitly recognizing Israel, accepting UN Resolution 242, and declaring the existence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Swedish government remained active in this process even beyond the PNC declaration, for it was the intervention of the Swedish foreign minister that led directly to Arafat’s issuance, a month after the PNC declaration, on December 14, of a further statement reciting the exact formula laid down by the United States for the opening of an official dialogue with the PLO.
Not only did Shultz do virtually nothing to encourage these developments, but he placed repeated obstacles in the path of this process before he was finally forced reluctantly to agree to recognize the PLO in response to Arafat’s December 14 statement. Shultz had ignored a highly conciliatory statement issued by Arafat aide Bassam Abu Sharif in the summer of 1988. Later, although Shultz did make forthcoming statements in the early fall of 1988 about Palestinian “political rights” in response to the Rabie-Quandt initiative, he essentially paid little attention either to this initiative or to the Swedish mediation effort until they were near fruition, irritated at being, as he put it, “drawn into a series of indirect exchanges with the PLO in this fashion.” Finally, when the PNC issued its political platform in November—a platform that Palestinians throughout the world regarded as a major peace initiative and a historic compromise—Shultz dismissed it as a unilateral declaration that was too “blurry and ambiguous.”
Described by one diplomat as having a “visceral hatred” for Arafat,
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Shultz denied Arafat a U.S. visa to address the UN after the November PNC declaration, despite heavy international pressure to grant the visa and despite the likelihood that Arafat would use this forum to repeat unambiguously the formula prescribed for a dialogue with the United States. Again, Shultz placed one after another obstacle before the PLO. When Arafat wrote a letter to the Swedish foreign minister with the precise wording demanded by the United States, Shultz insisted that he issue the statement publicly. When Arafat did so—on December 13 before a special session of the UN convened in Geneva to accommodate his exclusion from New York—but worded his statement somewhat differently from what Shultz expected, Shultz still demanded more. Only after Arafat had held a press conference the next day and said exactly the words in exactly the order the United States dictated did Shultz relent and agree to open a dialogue with the PLO.
Both the Swedish mediation and the Rabie-Quandt effort are examples of what could be accomplished—and what might have been accomplished years earlier—with a serious attempt to expand on PLO openings and probe the limits of Palestinian flexibility. The PLO had made amply clear as much as a decade earlier its readiness to live in peace alongside Israel, and if its position was too “slippery and vague” for the United States, as Shultz characterized it, the U.S. government did not make a serious attempt to ascertain whether the Palestinians could be pinned down to a more definite and acceptable position and made no attempt to encourage the PLO along a conciliatory path. The important point about Shultz’s automatic rejection of each PLO opening and his rigorous efforts to dodge PLO overtures and discourage Palestinian moderation is that his inability to move beyond his reflexive hostility to everything about the organization effectively closed off the principal avenue toward a peace settlement for the entire six and a half years in which he was in office.
The Reagan administration’s eight years of Middle East policymaking provide a good illustration of how a mind-set can create a policy. Reagan and his political compatriots had the mind-set of a decade earlier, and when they came to office, they took policy back to the thinking of the 1970s. It was as though Carter’s efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had never occurred, as though the Palestinians had never shed the political anonymity in which they had lived for the first decades of Israel’s existence. Reagan’s team reverted to the old frame of reference—in effect, they created a reality—in which Palestinians and the Palestinian issue did not exist
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and Israel was preeminent in U.S. considerations, in which the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union was the highest U.S. priority and Israel was regarded as a necessary ally, no matter what its West Bank policies or its Lebanon policy or its human-rights record.
The Reagan people, particularly Shultz, did recognize that the Palestinian problem had to be solved if there were to be a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict; this much of the great change in the old frame of reference wrought by Carter’s policies and by the Palestinians’ own rise to prominence had made an impression on the Reagan administration. But, in the end, resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict was not a high priority for the administration, and certainly not if it necessitated dealing with the PLO or angering Israel’s U.S. supporters or antagonizing the Likud.
The administration missed repeated opportunities to advance the peace process throughout its eight years in office. The intifada, in fact, was launched because the Palestinians had reached a point of hopelessness over those missed opportunities and the prospect of never seeing relief from Israeli occupation. In addition to being an expression of their total frustration, the uprising was also an assertion of the Palestinians’ national identity and a source of pride for all Palestinians that strengthened the hand of moderates in the PLO, allowing them to seize the diplomatic initiative and to say explicitly the things about Israel’s existence and their own readiness to coexist that they had been saying only indirectly and implicitly for over a decade. Through the intifada, the Palestinians seized what no one in Israel or the United States had been willing to grant them: recognition of their existence as a national community willing to share land with Israel in mutual coexistence. Had the Reagan administration broken out of the old mental fetters that kept it from recognizing the reality of Palestinian nationalism and accepting the genuineness of the Palestinian moderates’ desire for peace and coexistence, it might have been able to respond to and encourage Palestinian moderation rather than allow repeated opportunities for pursuing a peace process to slip by.
While Reagan policymakers waited for an opportune moment to pursue peace, Israel built more Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, confiscating more Palestinian land, and the Palestinians grew increasingly frustrated. Without opposing pressure from the United States the number of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza grew exponentially. With yearly increases in the number of settlers in the range of 30 percent and often higher, the Israeli settler population of the territories more than quadrupled during the Reagan administration’s first six years. As of mid-1987, a total of almost sixty-eight thousand lived in approximately 140 settlements
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in the West Bank and Gaza; these figures are for the areas outside the expanded limits of Jerusalem, where another several thousand Israelis lived in urban settlements.
The irony of the Reagan years was that the administration most deeply and emotionally opposed to negotiating with the PLO was the very administration that in the end was forced to authorize a dialogue with the organization. But the tragedy of the Reagan years was that the bloodshed of the West Bank/Gaza intifada, which ultimately led to the breakthrough that brought about the U.S.-PLO rapprochement, might have been avoided and the same progress toward peace made years earlier if the administration’s framework for thinking had not been so oriented around Israel and if Reagan policymakers had been more willing to look past their narrow focus on Israel’s point of view to take account as well of the Palestinian perspective.