Israel's True Security


Peace between Israel and its neighbors is as unimaginable as the end of the Cold War was five years ago.

Hostility has been the cornerstone of Middle East politics since 1948. Without it, the players would have difficulty knowing how to behave. The change is so fundamental, it would bring in a raft of other changes taking years to digest.

The 21 members of the League of Arab States recognize the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Only one of them, Egypt, also recognizes Israel's right to exist. When the PLO joined Egypt in recognizing Israel, and when Israel joined with the Arab League in recognizing the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, the reason for Arab nonrecognition of Israel vanished.

Only those states branding the PLO as a traitor for dealing with Israel might be left in notional war with Israel. These might well be Libya, Sudan and Iraq, joined by Iran, which is not an Arab country.

The big prize would be Syria, which has really wanted to represent the Palestinian people but could never win legitimacy for that role. Syria is crucial to any real peace between Arabs and Israel, or to any wrecking effort.

If Israel and its neighbors do make peace, the American recession would get worse. With U.S. military retrenchment, American weapons manufacturers are counting on military aid to Israel and Egypt and on arms sales to oil monarchies to keep themselves in business and their workers in jobs.

Many of the reasons for Middle East armaments would disappear in a peace between Israel and its neighbors. Of course there would still be the Iran menace, the Iraq menace, the residual distrust. They could not disarm. But the spiraling arms race should taper off. The burden on budgets should diminish. The likelihood of preparedness causing war would subside.

The agreement between Israel and the PLO spells out intricate economic cooperation from the start. Both sides realize what a hell-hole Gaza is, how gravely it needs outside help to make lives better and how this is the only way to combat the growing fascination for Hamas.

The mechanisms prescribed in this agreement suggest that whether Palestine confederates politically with Jordan or not, it will confederate economically with Israel. Roles for both Egypt and Jordan are anticipated. It is not difficult to foresee regional economic cooperation between Palestine, Israel and Jordan -- dictated by geography and common sense. That would be a way wean Jordan from its dependence on Iraq. This is not to suggest, however, that Israel will become the defender of Jordan's security. Israeli hawks used to brag that Israel played that role for Lebanon, which proved to be disastrously untrue.

In the longer run, one can foresee Israel taking its proper place in the region, cooperating with its neighbors in economic development, water exploitation, environmental controls, crime control and, yes, regional defense.

Palestinian labor and Israeli management worked together in Israel from 1967 until this year. One can picture Palestinian and Israeli managements cooperating and, eventually, Saudi capital coupled with Israeli research, Jordanian-Israeli joint ventures, Egyptian-Israeli joint ventures and Israeli technical assistance in agriculture and health to nearby states.

It is up to the oil monarchies to support or sabotage the Israel-PLO agreement. They cannot afford to perpetuate their policies of arming the region and subsidizing the economic victims of the endless war with Israel. Saudi Arabia is over-stretched. The Israel-PLO agreement gets the Saudis off the hook, if they want to be. The economic relief that peace offers is reason enough for Saudi Arabia to lead, after a decent interval, in dismantling the Arab Boycott office. That would formally end Israel's isolation from the Arab world and pave the way for recognition at each Arab state's own pace.

Israel needs this peace to diminish its military spending in an orderly fashion and shift expenditure to support the massive immigration from the former Soviet Union.

What the Labor government of Yitzhak Rabin needs to do, having come this far, is to make the peace real and indispensable, so that the Likud Party on returning to power would not overturn it.

The peace flows from the Camp David agreement of 1978 negotiated by a Likud government. Peace, not territory, is Israel's true security.

Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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