In the land of Palestine-Israel, the “generation of occupation” has rewritten the equations that will describe the dynamics of any future political equilibrium.
Israeli rulers are determined to stand against this sea change. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin insists that the uprising will achieve no Palestinian political purpose. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir deftly expressed the limits of his brutish imagination when, on the eve of Land Day, he declaimed that “a test of strength between us and them [‘the Arabs of Israel’] is like the test of strength between an elephant and a fly.”
Secretary of State George Shultz has responded to the uprising by trotting off to the Middle East with a warmed-over “peace plan” aimed at defining the West Bank and Gaza as the whole of the Palestine problem and transferring the Palestinians who live there from Israeli to Jordanian rule. The central matter of Palestinian self-determination and national rights finds no expression in Shultz’s scheme. And US financial and military support for the occupation continues without a glitch.
The Reagan administration wants to preserve the existing configuration of power in the Middle East, with Israel at the center, as the best guarantee of Washington’s preeminent influence in the region.
Of course, the Likud’s intransigent attachment to “Judea and Samaria” may be somewhat dysfunctional to this larger purpose, and the administration will try to distance the US from its client’s nastier behavior. But we can be certain that Washington wants this revolt crushed. After Shamir returned from Washington with time and money in his pocket, Rabin began implementing in earnest Henry Kissinger’s exhortation to “put down the insurrection as quickly as possible — overwhelmingly, brutally and rapidly.”
The Palestinian revolt has exposed the vulnerability of a key ally. By itself, though, the uprising cannot sufficiently threaten the prevailing political order to force the US to reassess and reorder its strategic priorities of the past several decades. What Washington fears is that the uprising might spread beyond the Israeli realm, to threaten Arab regimes. The United States, Israel and the Arab states will be doing all they can, together and separately, to see that things get no further out of hand.
The uprising has helped disrupt the political landscape in the United States, too. It has sharpened debates within the American Jewish community over Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. A broad range of US church groups have condemned Israel’s behavior. Left political organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America, which in the past have been paralyzed by pro-Zionist members from criticizing Israel’s policy, have forthrightly expressed outrage at Israel’s brutal behavior. Even the staunchly pro-Israel AFL-CIO trade union confederation issued an unprecedented official demurral. Not least significant of these signs of change is the Democratic primary campaign, where the sole candidate in favor of Israeli-PLO negotiations is attracting broad popular support. Jesse Jackson’s success is one more reminder that Washington’s tight military relationship with Israel is a construction of the national security managers and not the expression of a popular mandate.
We can anticipate that US politicians will be the very last to acknowledge any disruption of their smothering support for Israel. Clearly they need some prodding to make them comprehend the new political realities. The uprising and its aftershocks have opened up opportunities to put Palestinian rights on the US political agenda and to call for an end to US military and financial support of the occupation.