It is said that living is like licking honey off a thorn. To Israel's government, President Reagan's proposals seem heavy on the thorn ingredient. So it is time for some honey: the United States should move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital, Jerusalem.
If in exchange, Israel would show restraint regarding settlements, the move could even be to East Jerusalem, thereby recognizing the irreversible nature of Israel's unification of the city. The unit of Jerusalem as Israel's capital is non-negotiable. What is negotiable is "Vaticanization" -- a messy word denoting a messy outcome assigning control of certain holy places.
Moving the embassy to Jerusalem -- which never has been the capital of an Arab or Moslen state -- would counter the campaign to delegitimize Israel. The United Nations -- which applauded Yasser Arafat when he appeared at the podium with a pistol; which condemned Zionism as racism -- urged members to remove their embassies from Jerusalem. The last 13 nations with embassies there did so. But two nations (Zaire and Costa Rica) recently returned to Jerusalem.
The U.S. government favors a united Jerusalem, but also favors participation by East Jerusalem Arabs in the West Bank autonomy process. Moving the embassy now would dramatize that the United States will not be "evenhanded," in the sense of neutral, between an ally and those who, for 34 years, have denied the ally peace.
The move would illustrate for Israelis a fact their government seems unable to see or determined to obscure: Reagan's proposals offer opportunities for enhancement of Israel's position. For example, Israel might use Reagan's initiative as an instrument for negotiating limits on what Reagan's administration seems reluctant to limit -- arms sales to Arab nations.
Menachem Begin says to Reagan: an independent Palestinian state "will arise of itself the day Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) are given to Jordanian jurisdiction. Then, in no time, we and you will have a Soviet base in the heart of the Middle East." This, however, assumes not only that King Hussein would acquiesce in such independence but also that Israel would lack the will or capacity to prevent such independence.
Begin's government has just earned (although it has not received) the world's gratitude for the constructive act of dispersing the PLO, thereby ending the PLO's all-but-independent state within a state in Lebanon. Surely Israel could act as decisively to prevent a West Bank entity, begun in association with Jordan, from becoming Jordan's "South Carolina" -- a secessionist state. Indeed, Israel might use Reagan's proposals as a basis for negotiating a right to act decisively.
The Begin government's current behavior invites the suspicion that it is using security arguments to cover ideological impulses for retaining sovereignty over the entire West Bank.
Israel's foreign minister, Yitzhak Shamir, correctly insists that the Camp David accords do not forbid Israeli settlements. He says, "it is inconceivable that Jews will be denied the right to live in Hebron, Bethlehem and Beth-El, as Arabs continue to reside in Haifa and Jaffa." But surely, then, Shamir cannot insist that Jews choosing to exercise a right to live on the West Bank can, unlike the Arabs in Israel, choose the flag under which they shall live.
Israelis are rightly adamant about stringent security arrangements on the West Bank. Israel must control, or be able to guarantee, that only it can seize militarily, the West Bank high points. Unfortunately, the West Bank population is largely on the high ground.
Nothing in Reagan's proposals is incompatible with significant ceding of West Bank territory to Israel; or permanent Israeli military enclaves; or demilitarization extending even beynd what Secretary of State George P. Shultz endorses -- demilitarization of the West Bank. (Because Israel failed to give proper priority to full demilitarization of the Sinai, Israel wound up with a baroque agreement that will be full of difficulties if ever there are problems with Egypt.)
Furthermore, there are means (technological devices, international arrangements) that could minimize the threat that could be mounted under cover of darkness and radio silence.
It could -- it should -- be stipulated in any agreement that there can be no foreign Arab forces in Jordan. The entrance of, say, an Iraqi army would be justification for Israel immediately to re-occupy the portions of the West Bank from which it had withdrawn. If there is another war, let it be triggered by violation of an agreement that engages U.S. honor, affirms Israel's legitimacy and strengthens Israel's security. To encourage Israel to move in that direction, the United States should move its embassy to where it has always belonged -- "this year in Jerusalem."