A CHIEF purpose of the United States's Middle East policy has been the creation of conditions conducive to peacemaking between Israel and its enemies. Given continuing tension between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, many people feel that US policy either has not yet succeeded or has already failed. But I think it's clear that our policy of the '80s has succeeded beyond wildest expectation.
The PLO has recognized Israel's right to exist and offered to negotiate peace and territorial compromise with Israel. By belatedly accepting United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947 as the international legitimization of Israel and of the state of Palestine, they have removed a great impediment to recognition of Israel by many Arab states.
Today Egypt is at peace with Israel, Jordan is effectively so, and the Palestinians are ready whenever Israel is ready. The diplomatic dance has begun. If this is not success, what would be?
A new situation calls for a new policy. The hallmark of US policy for the '90s should be the strong assertion of principles that will insure that peace, when it comes, will be just, and thus lasting. A policy that moves the peoples and states in the region out of their present paralysis, creating incentives for energetic peacemaking.
First is the principle of national self-determination of the Palestinian people and recognition that they are holders in due course of the portion of Palestine set aside for them by UN Resolution 181. The rest of Israel/Palestine is duly held by Israel, except for Jerusalem, which would be shared (or divided) by Israel and Palestine as they may jointly decide.
Second is the principle that territory seized in warfare, though it may be held for as long as needed for purposes of defense, is not the property of the occupying country, and that the military occupation of any territory must be carried out in strict accord with international law. Among other things, annexation of occupied territory is not recognized.
These principles protect Israeli security and Palestinian rights. They would not reduce Israeli security, for they allow Israel to hold all of Israel/Palestine, as well as south Lebanon and Syria's Golan Heights, for defensive purposes as long as threats exist.
Far from threatening Palestinian rights, these principles assert them and would create an incentive to the Palestinians to go even further in reducing threats and violence against Israel. With such a pronouncement of policy and principle by the US, the intifada could cease every violent act: No more stones, no more firebombs. The PLO could end its war with Israel (or declare a cease-fire for one year) in anticipation of the start of negotiations with Israel.
Further, such a policy statement by the US would strongly invite Syria to take similar steps, since the elimination of threat to Israel implies a recovery by Syria of the Golan Heights.
In the absence of any forceful statement of principled policy by the US, the Arab states and the PLO cannot be blamed for assuming that the US will indefinitely support Israel in its retention of the occupied territories.
It may be objected that these principles threaten Israel's security by suggesting a return not just to the pre-1967 borders but to the even smaller territory offered in UN Resolution 181.
Israel is not asked, however, to relinquish any territory except that seized, but no longer needed, for defensive purposes. If Israel's security would be threatened by a return to the smaller boundaries proposed in 1947, then such a return would be, for the time being, out of the question.
Moreover, Israel might respond to this statement of principle by the US by accelerating its entry into negotiations with the Palestinians. A treaty between Israel and the state of Palestine would once and for all settle the question of legitimate boundaries and erase Israeli anxieties about a smaller Israel.
So long as Israel thinks that time is on its side, as US policy now invites it to think, it will refuse negotiations with the Palestinians. The intifada and Israel's cruel repression of it, terrorism and Israel's dreadful counter-terrorism, the risk of war - all will continue.
By adopting the suggested position, the US will invite Israel to consider the advantages of negotiations today, while the Palestinians and Arabs are still seen in the US as the obstacles to peace, as against negotiations tomorrow, when Israel may come to be seen as the chief obstacle.
The Palestinians, for their part, would be reluctant to insist, through long negotiations, on a return to the 1947 borders at the risk of a change of heart in the US and the loss of even a mini-state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Thus, paradoxically, in an unprincipled world, a principled position firmly assumed by the US would be the spur to all parties toward the early negotiation of the durable, just peace that we all hope for. The fruit of the policy of the '80s hangs ripe on the tree. All the US need do is pick it.