To Build a Bridge of Trust:American Policy toward the Middle East
Sep 15, 1989
The American government is intent on trying to bring the parties in the Arab-Israeli dispute closer together, to talk, to negotiate and to resolve differences.
President Bush has reaffirmed this commitment on several occasions and
Secretary of State James Baker described our goals eloquently in his speech on
"principles and pragmatism" delivered May 22,1989.
I want to describe for you some reflections on the human dimension of the
Arab-Israeli conflict, some of the landmark changes in the political landscape of
the region, some enduring U.S. principles and some potentialities for movement.
The Human Dimension
No one who watches television, who reads the press or who has visited the
region can fail to appreciate the inherent agony of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The
conflict is about the human condition -- the political, economic and social
conditions under which the Palestinians and the Israelis live.
If you visit the place on the road to Jerusalem where a bus filled with people was
propelled into a ravine during a deranged terrorist act, you cannot but be struck by
the horror and the humanity of the problem. If you meet with a group of
Palestinians from the occupied territories and listen to their stories of life during
the intifada, you cannot but be struck by the daily human costs and tragedies.
If you see pictures of the devastation wrought by both sides during the Gulf
War, you cannot but be struck by the dangers facing all peoples of the region in the
build-up of new and more destructive weapons systems in the area. Long-range
missile systems coupled with chemical warheads pose new threats of terrible
destruction. The specter of nuclear proliferation adds another dimension to this
potential nightmare. These awesome threats make more urgent the task of trying
to find a lasting peace.
There are geopolitical issues involved in this conflict. There are strategic
dimensions. There are diplomatic processes at work. But the conflict begins and
will end with the emotions, the desires, the fears, the animosities, the loyalties and the aspirations of people -- real human beings. Thus, we cannot deal with this
conflict as a classroom lesson on political theory.
Israelis, Palestinians and all Arabs dream of living in peace with security. The
costs that they face due to the region's instability are genuine. Their children and
grandchildren have a right to something better. The object of the peace process is a
better life and that beautiful condition that we call peace.
With the important exception of peace between Egypt and Israel, there is no
peace. The absence of war is not enough. We need to do something to reduce the
prospects of war, the potential level of devastation and the costs of constantly
preparing for war.
Let me emphasize one fundamental and enduring reality about U.S. policy in
the Middle East: nothing will undermine our commitment to Israel, its security
and its well-being. When I was in Israel in July, I visited Yad Vashem. I saw the
horror of genocide and the results of the world's silence and inaction. This will not
happen again. I visited the memorial to the children who were cut off in their
youth by the horrible scourge of anti-Semitism. They never had a future. We owe
it to them, to our children and to our grandchildren never to permit anything to
call Israel's security into question.
There is, however, a motivation that flows from the privations that all endure in
the region. No one is satisfied with the status quo. This dissatisfaction provides a
base on which to build. The more noble sentiments and aspirations which Arabs
and Israelis share -- the wish for a better life for their children -- provides building
material for the process. Flags, masks, guns and stones are the symbols of both the
dissatisfaction and the conflict. The peace process and the voices of reason are the
symbols of hope for humanity which today suffers. It is the conviction that our
common humanity deserves better that strengthens us for our task. We move from
that human conviction back to the diplomatic realities on which we base our daily
Changes in the Region
Recently, the Arab-Israeli conflict has changed and so has thinking in the region:
The wall of Arab hostility to the existence of Israel has cracked. Today's
debate in the Middle East is about peace processes, not about a strategy of how best to
As ideological intensity declines in some groups, religious fervor has crept
into the vacuum. This resurgence of religious fervor has altered the perspective
through which the conflict is seen, not necessarily for the better.
Beyond these two attitudinal changes, there have been some recent watershed
events which have dramatically changed the situation on the ground.
First came the initiation of the intifada in December 1987. This uprising has
altered life in the occupied territories dramatically. The intifada has changed,
irrevocably, the way Palestinians think about themselves and the way the world
thinks about Palestinians. Those who cling to the outmoded rhetoric of armed
struggle as a rallying cry should remember that the difference between armed
struggle and terrorism is a slippery slope.
The second major event was the decision by the King of Jordan to disengage in
July 1988 from the occupied West Bank. While that decision did not remove
Jordan from the peace process -- in fact, Jordan still has an important role to play -- it
gave a heightened consciousness of responsibility to the Palestinians.
The third change was the PLO's December 1988 acceptance of U.N. resolution
242, the recognition of Israel's right to exist and the renunciation of terrorism, all of
which led to the decision by the United States government to begin a substantive
dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The last significant event in this series was the May decision by Israel's
National Unity Government to advance a four-point proposal for achieving peace in
the region. The fourth point -- the election of Palestinians to negotiate with Israel on
an interim settlement and final status -- has given new life to the peace process. It is
that new life that we hope to nurture. We seek to do this on the basis of our publicly
Enduring U.S. Principles
The principles on which U.S. policy is based provide the intellectual and the
practical context for our approach to resolving the human problems that I described
at the outset. These principles give our policy a consistency and an openness
which are of value not only to ourselves, but to our interlocutors in Israel and
among the Palestinians.
We believe in a comprehensive settlement through negotiations based on U.N.
Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. These resolutions are not empty words,
but describe the principles of territory for peace, recognizing the identity of Israel
and its security together with that of all states in the region. The principle of
legitimate political rights for Palestinians is also an essential element.
The negotiations must include face-to-face talks in order to succeed. We believe
the elections proposal can provide the basis for these face-to-face talks. In the first
instance, talks will be needed to reach agreement on the modalities for elections.
But elections do not stand as a goal in and of themselves. They are a way station to
negotiations on transitional arrangements which are themselves a way station to final status. We must not lose sight of the goal: a political settlement defining how
the Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs will relate to each other and live together
over the long term.
Let there be no mistake: the United States is committed to moving to final status.
But it is a reality that we cannot move directly to final status. The gap between the
parties is too great to allow it. Elections, in our view, constitute an integral part of the
process leading to transitional arrangements and final status.
U.S. thinking with regard to final status is well known: we do not support an
independent Palestinian state, nor do we support annexation or permanent Israeli
control of the West Bank and Gaza. What we do support is self-government for
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in a manner acceptable to Palestinians, to
Israel and to Jordan.
At the same time, we also support the right of all parties to bring their
aspirations for final status to the negotiating table. Neither the United States, nor
any other party can impose its view of final status on the others. Only the parties to
the conflict, through their own negotiations, can ensure that they will reach a
mutually acceptable solution.
The process of negotiations involves no assured outcomes and is not without
risks. But parties to the negotiations are protected by the nature of the process itself.
Each holds a key to beginning negotiations. Each can withdraw from the process
at any point; thus, each party holds an absolute veto over future progress. This
applies as equally to Palestinian representatives as it does to representatives of the
government of Israel.
I cite this specifically because Palestinians and Israelis have asked me -- and
therefore the U.S. government -- "How can you guarantee that this process will not
lead to some disadvantage for us?" My response is that the United States can make
no such guarantee, but the parties who negotiate reserve the right to resist an
inequitable agreement at any stage in the process. The task of statesmen, though, is
to work so that no party will wish to exercise this right.
Potentialities for Movement
I frequently read in the press and hear complaints from diplomats that the
peace process is stagnating. It is not. The peace process is gestating. The parties are
considering their tactics and how best to resolve internal tensions. Ideas are
circulating. Allies of the process are looking for ways to bridge differences.
For example, the government of Egypt has suggested a 10-point proposal that
might provide a bridge for Israelis and Palestinians. We believe the Egyptian
points constitute a constructive and valuable addition to ongoing diplomatic efforts.
Others are in quiet contact, away from the glare of publicity, exploring ideas. The public rhetoric is tough and often appears unyielding. But if it is correct that no one
wants the status quo and that the idea of elections offers hope for movement, we
may see some progress.
There are potentialities for movement. Not all of the issues are intractable. Let
me give you some examples of possible openings, even if they are not perfect
solutions as currently written.
One is the question of international observation of elections in the occupied
territories. Some have argued for an organized, international, supervisory corps. I
argue that the international media, and parliamentary and public interest visitors
can do everything necessary to assure all sides of the free and fair nature of
elections. The world press corps would provide more assurances to people about the
validity of elections than thousands of so-called supervisors.
Another example of an action that could inspire renewed confidence would be
a change in tactics on the issue of Israeli credentials at the U.N. General
Assembly. Every year around this time, the question of Israeli credentials comes
up for a vote. It is time for the Arab nations to follow the example of the PLO and
acknowledge Israel's existence as a state. It is time for Arab governments to stop the
anachronistic practice of voting against Israeli credentials.
There is potential for movement. It is not for the United States to suggest or
propose a timetable, but for the two sides to work out their own timetable in face-to-face negotiations. That is what the human tragedy cries out for and what shared
Israeli and Palestinian aspirations demand. That is what the changes in the region
open the way for, and that is what our principles and our pragmatic approach to