Reagan can do better than Camp David
Secretary of State Alexander Haig has wisely indicated that this administration will not push for an early resumption of the moribund autonomy talks between Egypt and Israel. President Reagan's electoral landslide gives him the liberty to initiate vibrant new approaches to the Arab-Israeli dispute free of the often debilitating domestic constraints that a less impressive electoral victory would impose. And Israeli's present preoccupation with its parliamentary election allows time for reflection.
Ironically, an eloquent defense of Camp David in Foreign Policy perhaps best states the case for its quiet and gradual demise. This insightful essay by our former ambassador to Egypt, Hermann Eilts, is revealing in its illustration of the inherent legal and political limitations of the Camp David frameworks and accords. The accords as currently drafted and interpreted simply lack the legal and political assurances of Palestinian self-determination required to engender the participation of moderate Palestinians and conservative Arab regimes.
Since the broadest spectrum of Arab and Palestinian support is vital to the success of a comprehensive settlement, any agreement or process which does not meet these minimal requirements can only be a prescription for failure. Additionally, expending the vast amounts of time and energy required to resuscitate the Camp David process serves only to further damage America's international credibility and prestige.
Rather than blindly adhere to the Camp David approach, Mr. Reagan should seize upon the new possibilities created by certain fortuitous events in recent months. The Iran-Iraq War has revealed once again the chimera of pan-Arabism while simultaneously dramatizing the reciprocal dependence of the Gulf states upon the United States for military protection. The failure of either Iran or Iraq to emerge victorious has for a time neutralized two of the most implacable foes of any American-sponsored Arab-Israeli peace initiatives, and hence considerably diminished their capabilities to gratuitously obstruct American efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute. American peace efforts are further enhanced by the continued presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan, which serve as a potent reminder to the Gulf states of the importance of the American military connection.
Yet while the military dependence of these conservatie petroleum-producing regimes may give Mr. Reagan considerable leverage in his dealings with them, it is not without its limits. The visceral distrust these regimes harbor toward Soviet intentions in the region is mitigated by their even greater fear of Palestinian radicalism.
In the three Gulf sheikdoms of Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, diaspora Palestinians are estimated to average approximately 24 percent of the total population. Kuwait in particular has significant numbers of Palestinians serving in its officer corps. The fact that an estimated 60 to 65 percent of those working for the Arabian-American Oil Company (ARAMCO) in Saudi Arabia are Palestinians is a matter of such sensitivity that special measures have been discreetly undertaken to limit their access to certain critical sectors of the company's facilities. However, the Saudi leadership privately concedes the futility of these precautions in the face of widespread Palestinian unrest.
In light of these realities the Reagan administration should seek to accommodate rather than ridicule the continued insistence by these regimes as well as Jordan upon a Palestinian solution which far transcends the concessions thus far grudgingly proffered by ether the Begin government or the Labor government-in-waiting.
Ultimately, the Israelis rely upon America's credibility, so a US policy clearly stated and faithfully adhered to should engender their respect, if not their pleasure. At any rate one can only hope that even Israel's fiercest supporters will come to recognize that America's inability to protect its vital interests, as it defines them,m is in the final analysis the greatest threat to Israel's own survival.
Finally, the new administration should seek creative ways to encourge the participation of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) in the peace process. Our present policy of non-negotiation until the PLO renounces terror and recognizes Israel's right to exist is inequitable, disingenuous, and counterproductive. Any recognition condition lacking any element of mutuality is a priorim inequitable. The fact that our government as well as the Israeli government has on several occasions secretly carried on direct discussions with PLO operatives illustrates the disingenuousness of the policy. Clearly, our conditional refusal to deal with the PLO only serves the interests of the most recalcitrant elements of Palestinian opinion while simultaneously undermining the stature of the PLO's more reasonable elements. A discreet, reasoned, and principled demarche toward the PLO will surely further enhance America's efforts in resolving the Palestinian problem in all its respects.
If Mr. Reagan avoids the temptation to prematurely and unconditionally embrace the Camp David process, and instead takes the time to fully apprise himself of the complexities of the Arab-Israeli dispute, accepting counsel from a broad spectrum of knowledgeable authorities, his chances of achieving a comprehensive agreement between Isra el and its Arab neighbors should be surprisingly good.