Israel's military action against the PLO in Lebanon and recent developments in the Iran-Iraq war provide a unique opportunity for creative American diplomacy in the Middle East. Despite the notion that has gained currency in certain circles that these conflicts create dangers for the United States and gains for the Soviets in the region, the very opposite can be true if Washington pursues the right course.
This is the time to look at and apply the principles which brought the major American gain in the region over the last decade: the Egyptian-Israeli peace. That peace demonstrated the efficacy of American leadership, excluded the Soviets from a major role, and brought the two strongest Middle East nations away from war. It was the product of principles which have been laid aside the past few years, but which now the US must reassert in the new environment. Those principles are:
* The core of the Middle East conflict is Arab rejection of Israel. Conventional wisdom in certain circles maintains that the Palestinian issue is the heart of the problem. The propagation of this theme encourages Arab leaders to believe that since the onus for peace is on Israel they never have to change their attitude toward Israel. Anwar Sadat knew otherwise. He recognized that the solution of all problems must follow the willingness to make peace. He came forward unequivocally for peace with Israel, and once he did that Israel responded with magnanimity, giving up the entire Sinai, oil fields, air bases, and settlements. Now other Arabs must understand that the process of peace first requires their coming forward in the manner of Sadat.
* Progress toward peace can take place only without the PLO. There are those who repeatedly assert that Israel must talk to the PLO, that the PLO is moving toward moderation, that there can be no progress without the PLO. In fact, the PLO is the major obstacle to Arab-Israeli peace, ideologically committed to Israel's destruction, never moving an iota from that commitment and assassinating potential peacemakers among the residents of the West Bank and Gaza. Sadat did not allow his desire for peace to be slave to PLO threats or destructiveness.
Now, instead of allowing the PLO to reclaim its obstructionist role by providing it diplomatic support following its military defeat, the US should launch a diplomatic offensive against the PLO to isolate and quarantine the terrorist organization, to have it ousted from international agencies, to deny it financial and military aid, to prevent it from reentering Southern Lebanon, to have nations rescind all relations with the PLO. Then and only then might true moderates surface in the Palestinian world.
* True Arab moderation will emerge only through a US approach that will tie US support to such moderation. Recent US policy of selling sophisticated arms to Saudi Arabia and Jordan without a quid pro quo for peace guarantees continued extremism. Again we must look to the path of Egyptian-Israeli peace. Sadat understood the importance of US diplomatic, military, and economic assistance to the future of his country, but he also understood that he had to earn American support by making peace with Israel.
Today, a similar development can take place. Arab states of the Persian Gulf as well as Jordan are concerned about the victories of Iran over Iraq and the potential dangers to the region of a resurgent Khomeinism. Suddenly, therefore, both America and Egypt become even more important to the security of those states. The opportunity for peacemaking is evident: American and Egyptian support must be predicated on Saudi and Jordanian moves toward peace with Israel , toward support for the Camp David process.
Indeed, it is here that events in Lebanon and between Iran and Iraq dovetail nicely toward moving the Jordanians and Saudis closer to peace. Since the PLO has been so weakened, the Saudis and Jordanians are now freer to consider the broader dangers they face beyond Palestinian radicalism. In that context, the overriding dangers from the Persian Gulf will predominate and give America greater leverage than ever to assert its demand for moderation on the Arab-Israeli front in exchange for vital American assistance.
An American policy, based on the principles enunciated above, can help reconstitute an independent Lebanon free of a PLO threat and provide the incentive for other Arab states to follow Egypt's lead in making peace with Israel. Whether events on the battlefield are converted into gains on the diplomatic front depends on the choices made in Washington.