04 May 1989 - 06 May 1989

Policy Choices for Israel

Chair: The Rt Hon Dr David Owen MP

Against the background of the Arab uprising in “the territories”, the stated acceptance by the PLO of UN Security Council resolutions no’s 242 and 338, and Arafat’s recent statement in Paris that the Palestine National Charter had been superseded (caduque) it seemed timely for a number of those involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in North America, Europe and Israel, to consider, from the point of view of Israel, the policy choices open at this particular conjuncture. Any short report of a conference which spread over two days and dealt with a subject to which there is so much history and where language has acquired particular meanings and shades of meaning, is bound in some measure to fail to reflect the range and depth of the discussions. Nevertheless, to be useful, an attempt must be made, and I trust that any failure to catch all the nuances will be attributed to compression rather than distortion.

It was agreed, I believe, by nearly all participants that the present situation represented as favourable a constellation of circumstances for a settlement as we have seen in the area; and that if the opportunity was lost, the situation was likely to deteriorate, from the Israeli point of view, although it was also recognised that there were powerful voices in Israel who did not share that perception. It was also, I think, generally agreed that, while doubts would indeed be entertained about the sincerity on the one hand of the PLO in their new public stance - there was evidence that, depending on their audience, they were speaking with two tongues - and on the other, of the Israeli Government in its proposal for elections, the important thing was to test that sincerity by negotiation, and if possible to elaborate agreed measures which would constrain the parties to live up to their professions.

In approaching the issues, the conference considered the attitudes of the Arab states, the internal situation in Israel and the attitudes of powers outside the Middle East. The Arab states, with the possible exception of Syria, were now, it was suggested, more than ever prepared to leave the matter to the Palestinians: they would acquiesce in whatever the Palestinians accepted. While this did not mean, for example, that a federation involving Jordan was ruled out as part of an ultimate settlement, it did mean that the emphasis had shifted so that Jordan’s involvement in negotiations as a principal was no longer an option. This, coupled with the new-found confidence and self-respect given the Palestinians by the intifada, which had in turn opened the way for the PLO’s peace initiative, meant that the conflict had reverted to its original nature, a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Syria retained its power to block agreement, though some felt that Assad’s real interest lay in the return of the Golan (a difficult, perhaps impossible, thing for Israel to contemplate), and that while there was an emotional link to the Palestinians, the Palestine issue was now for him primarily a means to that end. Syrian involvement in Lebanon also came into the equation here.

Of the external powers, only the US and the Soviet Union had direct influence, although the European Community and Japan could encourage and support, the latter particularly with money should that become a factor, e.g. in the re-settlement of the refugees. While the principal onus fell on the US, a responsibility somewhat ruefully acknowledged by American participants, the Soviet Union, with its relationship with Syria, could play a helpful role. While the US rejected the role of mediation, now that it had contact with the PLO, that was, in effect, the role it was playing and must play, despite the Israel Government’s reluctance to listen to the PLO’s views however conveyed.

Discussion of the situation in Israel and of Israel’s options drew heavily on the recent report by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies (“Israel’s Options for Peace”). On the one hand, the intifada did not impose an intolerable cost on the Israeli economy: the heaviest cost fell on the Palestinians of “the territories”, alleviated by the Palestinian policy of measured action. On the other, the psychological and political costs for Israel were heavy and while some counted on the Palestinians losing heart, most believed that the uprising would continue. On that basis, most participants seemed to agree that continuation of the status quo was not an attractive option. Outright annexation of the territories, though demanded by some in Israel, was also to be ruled out: international repercussions apart, the demographic trends argued against it as well as against the status quo. Autonomy, of whatever kind, would not be acceptable to the Palestinians, even as an interim measure, unless it was clearly a stage on the way to statehood. That left an independent Palestinian state, whether linked in some way to Jordan or not, with, in the longer term, a possible economic arrangement joining the two and Israel, “partition linked to cooperation”, as it was put. There was discussion of the length of a possible transition period, which it was suggested would have to be longer rather than shorter. It was clear that it was statehood that the Palestinians wanted, with all that went with it, a flag, UN membership, citizenship and passport: that achieved, they might be prepared to accept limitations of a security nature, on the model of Austria. From the security point of view, most participants felt that some such arrangement should be acceptable to Israel, though politically few Israelis to-day saw it as a possibility. The Israeli fear remained that the short-term peaceable intentions of the PLO might mask a continuing determination in the long-term to destroy Israel (were the PLO “short-term doves and long-term hawks”?). Re-definition of “the right of return”, which many thought was in any case more pragmatic and less Messianic than Zionism, to cover inter alia compensation, and the settlement of the bulk of the refugees either where they were living now or further afield, would go far to alleviate that fear. (Population pressures in the West Bank and Gaza were bad enough, on humanitarian grounds, without a massive influx of returning refugees.) At an appropriate time an international conference, perhaps with UN involvement, might well have a part to play in such re-settlement, particularly with funding the operation, and in formalising Palestinian hints of a readiness to re-define the right of return.

Meanwhile the electoral proposal put forward by Shamir was the only one on the table. While its scope and purpose was far from clear and there were obvious difficulties of a practical nature (flags, right of assembly, the suspension of violence, voting qualifications, especially for the inhabitants of East Jerusalem, links with the PLO in Tunis etc), there was clear advantage to the Palestinians in picking it up and building on it. Moreover, Arafat would need to show some fruits of the peace initiative if he was not to face a reaction. Those elected would in practice, if not in name, be PLO and valid interlocutors for the Israelis. It might be that Shamir intended the proposal to lead no further than an arrangement on the lines of the Camp David autonomy that would become permanent, if indeed so far; but the concept of negotiations without pre-conditions could be used to put that to the test (though one “precondition”, it seemed, was that the status of annexed East Jerusalem was not to be in question). It was essential, it was suggested, that the US, with European support, should stick to the principles of land for peace and security for all, however difficult that might be. Meanwhile there was a need for reciprocal confidence-building measures, which need not all involve action by the parties. For example, a visit to Israel by Shevardnadze, in response to Arens ’s visit to Cairo, could be helpful. Cooperative action over water resources might also be possible.

No agreed conclusions were reached. Not all the above would be assented to by all who attended. One pessimistic note was struck: that inter-communal conflicts are not susceptible to treatment by diplomatic or political methods. The majority rejected such pessimism, and believed that efforts had to be made if the situation was not to deteriorate. What was clear was that the options narrowed as time passed and the introduction of more, and more capable, modern weapons and the possible exploitation of chemical weapons lurked in the background.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chairman: The Rt Hon Dr David Owen MP
Member of Parliament for Plymouth Devonport; Leader, SDP


Mr Peter David

International editor, The Economist
Mr Hugh Dykes MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative) Harrow East; Associate Member, Quilter, Hilton, Goodison, (stockbrokers); Vice-Chairman, Conservative Friends of Israel Parliamentary Group
Mr Mark Elliott CMG
British Ambassador to Israel
The Hon David Gore-Booth
Assistant Under-Secretary of Slate, Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Mr J R Grundon
Regional Co-ordinator, Near East, Middle East and Indian Sub-continent, The British Petroleum Co pic
Mr Edward Mortimer
Assistant Foreign Editor, Financial Times; a member, Programmes Committee, the Ditchley Foundation
Dr David H Sambar
Chairman, Sambar International Investments Ltd, London; founder, investment companies in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia; Member, Lloyd’s, Stanford Research Institute, Mexican Academy of International Law
Dr Avi Shlaim
Alistair Buchan Reader in International Relations, and a Professorial Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford
The Rt Hon Peter Shore MP
Member of Parliament (Labour), Bethnal Green & Stepney
The Rt Hon the Lord Sieff of Brimpton
Life Peer (Conservative); Honorary President, Marks & Spencer Ltd; Chairman, First International Bank of Israel Financial Trust Ltd; non-executive Chairman, The Independent; Director N M Rothschild & Sons (1983-); Honorary President, Joint Israel Appeal; Vice President, Policy Studies Institute; President, Anglo-Israel Chamber of Commerce
Dr C W Squire CMG LVO
Development Director, Cambridge University Development Office
Sir Sigmund Sternberg OStJ KCSG JP
Chairman, CRU Holdings (1983-); Lloyd’s Underwriter; Chairman Isys Ltd; Hon Treasurer, Council of Christians and Jews; Chairman, International Council of Christians and Jews; Co-Chair­man, Friends of Keston College; Member, Board of Deputies of British Jews; Governor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Chairman, Friends of Oxford Centre of Post-graduate Hebrew Studies; a judge, the Templeton Foundation; Founder, the Sternberg Centre for Judaism
Sir John Thomson GCMG
Retired as UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations, (1982-87); Director, Grindlay’s Bank
Sir Brian Urquhart KCMG MBE
Scholar in Residence, The Ford Foundation, New York; Chairman, Program Committee and Member, the Advisory Council, the American Ditchley Foundation
The Rt Hon the Lord Weidenfeld
Life Peer (Social Democrat); Chairman, (Founder 1948) Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd (London); Weidenfeld & Nicolson (New York); Wheatland Corporation, New York; Grove Press Inc, New York; Trustee Emeritus, the Aspen Foundation, Colorado; Vice Chairman, Board of Governors, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva; Governor, Weizmann Institute; Trustee, the Jerusalem Foundation; Governor, University of Tel Aviv; Weizmann Institute of Science; Bezalel Academy of Arts, Jerusalem

Mr A Percy Sherwood

Director General, Middle East Bureau, Department of External Affairs, Ottawa

HE Dr Niels Hansen

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Federal Republic of Germany to NATO
Dr Kurt Müller
Retired as Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Cairo (1984-87)

Mr Joseph Alpher

Deputy Head and Project Co-ordinator, The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University
Dr Meron Benvenisti
Historian, Social Scientist and author; Founder and Director, West Bank Data Project, an independent research group established to study and analyse demographic, social, economic and political conditions in the West Bank and Gaza
Mr Ronald Fuhrer
Consul-General of Liberia in Israel; Chairman, Contitrade Corporation, London/New York; President, Agenac SA, Brussels; Governor, Tel-Aviv University; President, The League for the Needy Child, Israel; Patron, Israel Interfaith Association
Dr David Kimche
Chairman, Israel Council of Foreign Relations
Dr Nimrod Novik
Personal Adviser and Assistant to Mr Shimon Peres, Vice Premier and Minister of Finance; author of various monographs, articles and books on strategic developments in the Middle East
Dr Zalman Shoval MK
Member, (LIKUD) Israeli Knesset; Member, Foreign and Security Affairs Committee and Economics Committee

Professor Nazli Choucri

Professor of Political Science, Associate Director, Technology and Development Program and Head, Middle East Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); author; member, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Ms Helena Cobban
Guest Scholar, Brookings Institution; Senior SSRC-MacArthur Fellow in International Peace & Security Studies; member, International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Middle East Studies Association of North America; member, editorial advisory board, The Middle East Journal, national advisory boards of the Foundation for Middle East Communication and the American-Arab Affairs Council
Professor Gidon Gottlieb Leo Spitz Professor of International Law and Diplomacy, University of Chicago; Visiting Senior Fellow and Director, Project on the Middle East Peace Process, Council on Foreign Relations
Mrs Rita Hauser
Partner, Stroock & Stroock & Levan (attorneys), New York; Member, Advisory Panel on International Law, US Department of State; Chairman, Advisory Group, International Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in the Soviet Union; a Director, the American Ditchley Foundation
Ms Drora Kass
Founder and Director, US Office, International Center for Peace in the Middle East
Ms Kudith Kipper
Guest Scholar (Middle East specialist), The Brookings Institution, Washington DC; Director, Middle East Forum, Council on Foreign Relations; Consultant on international affairs for ABC News and the Rand Corporation
Dr Daniel Kurtzer
Member, Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff (speechwriter for Secretary of State and adviser on Near Eastern Affairs)
Mr Richard Murphy
On secondment to Royal Institute on International Affairs, London
The Hon Thomas R Pickering
United States Ambassador to the United Nations; Member, Council on Foreign Relations, International Institute for Strategic Studies
Dr William B Quandt
Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution; author
Mr Henry Siegman
Executive Director, American Jewish Congress
The Hon Roscoe S Suddarth
US Ambassador to Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Mr Merle Thorpe Jr
President, Foundation for Middle East Peace, Washington; Trustee, International College, Beirut; member, Board of Governors, Middle East Institute; Trustee, American Near-East Refugee Aid; member, The Advisory Council, American Ditchley Foundation
Mr Casimir Yost
Executive Director, World Affairs Council of Northern California