Futile Policy in the Middle East

Writing yesterday in The Daily Beast, Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and former president of The Council on Foreign Relations, predicts that George Mitchell's trip to the Middle East in his new position of envoy will be futile.

Mitchell will hear the Arab leaders demand that Israel make impossible concessions in advance of any peace talks and then perhaps there will be peace. But as Gelb acknowledges, "No sane leaders anywhere in the world would trust their security to the word of people who are publicly committed to their destruction and who have actually been trying to destroy them for half a century."

In 1947 the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab one. When Israel was created on May 15,1948,  five Arab countries immediately went to war to prevent it from happening.  While Israel's leaders were willing to accept a Palestinian state living in peace alongside them, the Arab nations' goal  was to prevent Israel's birth and to create a unitary Arab state with a Jewish minority living under their control. They were not interested in creating a Palestinian Arab state. As King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia told Franklin Roosevelt in 1945, Arabs and Jews could never cooperate, "neither in Palestine, nor in any other country." Arabs would rather die, he told the President, than "yield their land to the Jews."

But the Arab armies suffered a humiliating defeat.  After the State of Israel was created, one of the first crises it faced was trying to negotiate a peace.  At issue were boundaries and the Palestinian Arabs who had fled.  The Israelis were reluctant to allow more than a small number to return. In their eyes, the only reason there were refugees was because the Palestinian Arabs as well as the neighboring Arab countries had gone to war against their new State. Those who remained were welcome to stay, but the Israeli government worried that to allow all those who had fled to return would create a potential Fifth Column. David Ben Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister asked James McDonald, the U.S.'s first Ambassador to Israel, "How can we permit potential enemies to come back so long as Arab states openly threaten a new war of destruction?"   Calling his country "a small and weak" nation, Ben-Gurion told the Ambassador: "We can be crushed, but we will not commit suicide."