Whatever else happens after the Gulf war is over, it seems clear that the Western powers will make new efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. The government of France has said so. So has the United Kingdom. And whatever else the rather curious communique' of Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh meant, it quite clearly committed the United States and the Soviet Union to seek solutions to this longstanding conflict -- thus affirming a "vertical linkage" between the "problem" of Saddam Hussein's aggression and the Arab-Israeli "problem."
The fact that the Bush administration sees this relationship as having a high priority makes it especially important that Baker and others working on the issue be clear about its basic aspects before they involve themselves in efforts to resolve it.
The first and most important aspect of the problem is to know when it did and did not begin. The problem did not begin when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 war. It began in May of 1948, when Israel's Arab neighbors -- Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Transjordan -- rejected the Partition of Palestine and made war to destroy the new Jewish state.
To the surprise of everyone, the embryonic state repelled this attack by its more powerful neighbors. But the defeat only strengthened the Arab governments' resolve to destroy the "alien presence" now planted in their midst. The destruction of Israel became then a central, perhaps the central, element of Pan-Arabist ideology.
"The meaning of Arab unity is the liquidation of Israel," Egyptian leader Gamel Abdel Nasser said on Feb. 2, 1965.
"Our aim," he said a few months later, "is the full restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people. In other words, we aim at the destruction of the state of Israel."
Clarifying means as well as ends, he also commented in 1965 that, "The liquidation of Israel will be a liquidation through violence. We shall enter Palestine not covered in sand but covered in blood."
In articulating the Pan-Arab ideology, Nasser set three goals for "the Arab nation" to prepare it for war and ultimate victory -- Arab military superiority, Arab unity and the diplomatic isolation of Israel.
The Palestine Liberation Organization became the shock troops of the "armed struggle" against Israel. Its charter echoed Nasser's creed.
Thus, the Arab-Israeli problem was already acute during the time when the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem were governed by Jordan.
Jordan governed "the territories" from 1948 to 1967. Their independence was not seen as constituting a problem for anyone. Indeed, they did not become important to the Arab-Israeli relationship until after Israel's Arab neighbors had again launched and lost an aggressive war in 1967 against Israel.
At the end of that war, Israel annexed these territories, from which attacks had been repeatedly launched. Once again, Arab leaders regrouped and planned again to fight another day. This time they enunciated three principles to govern Arab relations with the Jewish state: no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel and no peace with Israel.
War came again in October of 1973. And once again the Arabs were defeated.
United Nations resolutions 242 and 338 -- adopted by the Security Council after the 1967 and 1973 wars -- called first for withdrawal of Israeli troops from territories occupied in the 1967 war. Second, they called for "termination of all claims or states of belligerency, respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries, free from threats or acts of force" (242). Third, they called for immediate negotiations between the parties to this conflict (338).
In the years since 1967, resolutions 242 and 338 have been been frequently invoked. But only Egypt under Anwar Sadat and Lebanon during the brief tenure of Bashir Gemayel were willing to undertake negotiations with Israel or make peace with that country. Sadat and Gemayel paid with their lives for breaking with the "rejectionist" front.
Throughout its history, Israel has survived continuing "low intensity warfare" by virtue of superior military force and skill.
Any solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict must recognize this history.
Perhaps the experience of Iraq's aggression, occupation and threats, of PLO hostility and Jordanian "neutrality" will finally discredit the idea of a single Arab nation achieved by the liquidation of Israel. Perhaps by discrediting Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat, the current crisis will also discredit radical Arab nationalism and rejectionism. But perhaps not. The evidence is not encouraging.
Last week, it was reported that 50,000 Jordanian troops were massed on the border of Israel and that PLO bases in southern Lebanon had launched a series of rocket attacks across the Israeli border. Meanwhile, the United States was still encouraging Israeli "restraint."
Think about it.
The United States government believes that hostility against the Jewish state is so great that Israeli self-defense against an attack on its civilian population might drive Arab members of the allied coalition to switch sides.
This hostility and the associated ideology are the bedrock of the Arab-Israeli conflict. As long as Arab governments refuse to establish normal diplomatic and economic relations with Israel and to make peace, Israeli governments will feel threatened, will probably be threatened and will make no concessions.
Before there can be talk about the West Bank, there must be talk between Arabs and Israelis.
One hopes that Bush, Baker, Bessmertnykh, French President Francois Mitterrand, British Prime Minister John Major and others who dream of bringing peace to this region understand that making peace means ending the Arab boycott and establishing normal relations. They cannot resolve the Palestinian problem without resolving the entire Arab-Israeli conflict.