Having just come back from Israel, where I had wide-ranging conversations, I feel that it is important to restate certain basic principles and to highlight their implications. I may also add that I came back impressed by the soul-searching that is taking place among the Israeli people and by the degree to which recent violence has caused not only concern but a genuine moral crisis among the decent and democratic Israelis. It is in this context that certain underlying principles need to be reaffirmed:
The U.S. commitment to Israel is primarily of a moral nature. It stems from the American people's deep conviction that the state of Israel corrects a fundamental historical injustice to which much of the world, including America itself, was indifferent. It is this bond that unites America and Israel and creates an absolute and unique commitment to Israel's future and security. Anything that tarnishes this central moral dimension ultimately damages Israeli security.
The United States has a wide-ranging regional interest in a good relationship with the Arab peoples, including the Palestinians. The geostrategic importance of the region speaks for itself. It is important to recognize that the American interest in a good regional relationship is central to America's capacity to protect the region from Soviet intrusion, with its radicalizing and destabilizing impact, including on Israel itself. It is to balance that consideration that Israeli and Jewish-American spokesmen often stress that Israel is "a strategic asset" to America. To postulate that, however, is to engage in a bidding that is ultimately relative in nature. How does one measure the relative strategic significance of this or that country? For example, South African spokesmen also have tried to argue that South Africa is "a strategic asset" for America because of its minerals. In contrast, moral commitment involves an absolute standard, not subject to economic or military calculus. It should not be diluted, by words or actions.
There is no alternative to peaceful cohabitation between the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples. Any other solution -- domination, expulsion or continued violence -- will do damage to Israeli and ultimately American interests. Any alternative solution is likely to pose agonizing choices for America between the moral dimension and the regional interest mentioned above, not to speak of the moral implications of policies that could be in fundamental conflict with deep-rooted American convictions. Cohabitation between the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples is thus a historical imperative, and it is on that plane that the needed solutions must be sought.
Autonomy, as envisaged by Camp David, is not the final outcome but a process toward a deliberately undefined future. At this stage, neither side can accept the other's view of what the eventual outcome of a peace arrangement might be. But autonomy can create new conditions, new outlooks and a new mutual confidence. That, in turn, can alter the ways the two sides come to envision their long-range relationship.
Diplomatic motion is not a substitute for political action. Attempts to contrive a complicated international procedure as the solution to the current crisis is tantamount to evasion of the current dilemmas. Moreover, diplomatic motion is also not a substitute for effective American mediation. The latter took place at Camp David and elsewhere because the American president and the American secretary of state were prepared to commit their personal time and energy to a sustained effort, and their efforts were successful because, on the Arab side, there was a leader willing to gamble on peace and, on the Israeli side, a leader with a strategy focused on peace. These conditions do not currently exist. Hence a complicated international procedure is not likely to provide an effective substitute for needed political action to deal with problems that threaten to get out of hand.
Under these circumstances, a major unilateral initiative by Israel regarding the current status of the Palestinians is timely. Only Israel can act decisively because it is in effective control of the West Bank and Gaza. The United States will not, while the Arabs are unable to do so because they are the weaker party and even more divided than the Israelis. What is needed is an initiative analogous to the bold move undertaken by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1978. At that time, to most Arabs Prime Minister Menachem Begin was anathema and a direct approach toward the Israelis smacked of treason. Yet Sadat was willing to undertake such an initiative, with the result that today there is peace between Israel and Egypt.
An Israeli initiative, including some symbolic and perhaps even dramatic personal gesture, designed to change the current political and social status of the Palestinians, pending an eventual but more distant peace treaty, is needed. It should be made conditional on a rational and reciprocal Palestinian response, including the termination of civil disobedience and riots, as well as good faith acceptance of some transitional arrangement. Such an initiative would help to defuse the rising tensions and to avoid exclusive reliance on means that eventually can have only damaging consequences for the region's stability, for Israel's well-being and ultimately even for American moral sensibilities.
The writer was national security adviser to President Carter.