- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2000

At this writing, there is no deal at Camp David. But it is hard to believe there will not be one before it is all over.

After all, Ehud Barak believes that his only hope to remain prime minister of Israel is to bring back a deal, however flawed, that he can with the help of the Clinton political team that got him elected (James Carville, Robert Shrum and Stanley Greenberg) induce a majority of the Israeli people (or more precisely a minority of Jews and Israel's Arab voters) to accept.

For his part, President Clinton has invested incalculable political capital in this summit and is determined that his legacy be one of hatching an accord, not one of failing to do so. Since his concern is exclusively with the present and not with a deal's dire medium- to longer-term consequences he has plenty of latitude to fashion an agreement.

As Richard Pollack put it in an insightful essay in Friday's Wall Street Journal, "What's disappointing is Mr. Clinton's 'deadlinitis,' redolent as it is of pure political calculation and scant regard for the quality of the deals he brokers."

And Yasser Arafat's stake in "getting to 'Yes' " is the most clear. With it he gets an internationally recognized and subsidized state, one whose affairs Israel will not be able to stymie or control, short of war. The authoritarian Arafat can remain untroubled by popular unhappiness that the particulars of the deal will fail to reflect his maximum demands. He will tell them, as he has repeatedly in the past, that this is no "final status" agreement; rather, it is the next in a series of "phases" leading to the ultimate "liberation" of all "Palestine," and the concomitant destruction of the state of Israel.

It is for this reason that Charles Krauthammer has insisted, with characteristic brilliance, in a syndicated column that appeared in The Washington Post last Tuesday, that any Camp David agreement include a proviso saying "that this agreement marks the end of Palestinian claims against Israel and thus closes the Palestinian-Israeli conflict." He defines this "finality" to mean that "Palestinian claims against Israel have come to an end. No more demands for territory, no more demands for refugee resettlement, no more demands for financial compensation."

Of course, if a deal does emerge from the marathon negotiations at Camp David, it will almost certainly have no such finality to it. It may be that some issues, like the natty problem of Arab insistence that Israel relinquish sovereignty and control over at least parts of Jerusalem, are left unresolved. Others, like Israel's obligations to allow the return of Palestinian "refugees" may be worded in such an ambiguous way as to permit a temporary papering over of fundamental differences, but only at the cost of providing pretexts for future conflicts.

Unfortunately, the problem will not lie simply with individual provisions that represent disproportionate concessions by the Jewish State. There will be plenty of those, ranging from commitments to surrender areas of the West Bank that have, since 1967, provided Israel with invaluable strategic depth, to the attendant relinquishing of control over aquifers there that provide, literally, the lifeblood of Israel in its parched region. Then, there will be the forced relocation of tens of thousands of Israeli citizens, who were encouraged by successive governments in Jerusalem to populate and secure high ground and other valuable territory in what has historically been known to the Jews as Judea and Samaria.

Taken individually, none of these steps may seem to be an undue hardship, a sacrifice too great to make in the interest of securing an elusive peace.

In this regard, they will seem akin to judgments now being made by the U.S. government as it undertakes to sell $475 million worth of advanced air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia and $300 million in electronic aircraft identification gear to Egypt. In notifications to Congress about these sales, the Clinton administration has used the formulaic line that "the proposed sale of this equipment and support will not affect the basic military balance in the region."

The point, of course, is not whether any individual transaction whether it involves geographic and other diplomatic concessions or the sale of military hardware would "affect the basic military balance in the region." Rather, it is a question of whether these steps taken together with other developments will have precisely such a destabilizing effect.

Regrettably, it seems ever more clear that the cumulative effect of the surrender of territory and other changes to its security posture that Israel has been undertaking in connection with the so-called "peace process" are giving rise to conditions that will "affect the basic military balance in the region." Specifically, the elimination of the strategic depth it has enjoyed since 1967 is inexorably returning Israel to its earlier, indefensible boundaries that Abba Eban once pointedly called the "Auschwitz line."

Especially worrying is the exacerbating effect of the arms the United States has been assiduously providing Israel's Arab neighbors and most especially Egypt as a reward for their participation in, or more accurately, their generally grudging acquiescence to the "peace process."

Over the past 20 years, an Egyptian government that remains unreconciled to genuine peaceful coexistence with Israel has become equipped with many of America's most formidable weapon systems, substantially degrading the qualitative edge upon which Israeli security has traditionally relied.

In short, the process of which Camp David II is but the latest manifestation has had a horrifying effect: To render Israel sufficiently indefensible and her one-time (and possibly future) adversaries sufficiently powerful as possibly to persuade the latter that the war option effectively denied them since 1973 has been renewed.

At best, this means that America's most important ally in the Middle East a nation that has known plenty of terrorism and other forms of violence over the past 27 years but no full-scale Arab attack is now once more at risk of such a danger. At worst, Israel's very survival might be at stake. If so, the United States role in this "peace process" would be akin to Dr. Kevorkian performing an assisted suicide on the Jewish State.

If Camp David does produce an agreement, Israel will likely be forced to revert to the strategy of pre-emption upon which it relied the last time its borders were indefensible. It is very difficult to see how such an inherently unstable arrangement would be an improvement over Israel's present, relatively robust posture or how it will advance the goal of securing a just and durable peace for the region.



Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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