Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



Three serious international issues may erupt into violence before November and affect the presidential election campaign.

These potential crises are: mounting tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir; Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's bid to bring Montenegro firmly under Belgrade's control; a final breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations over the status of Jerusalem.

Of these cases, the breakdown in peace talks at Camp David last month between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO leader Yasser Arafat is the most dangerous, even though an outbreak of war between India and Pakistan would produce far more casualties than renewed violence in Palestine.

President Clinton's two-week effort to broker a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization moved the parties closer to a final settlement of their fifty-two year old conflict. But the future status of Jerusalem was the crucial issue on which Barak and Arafat could not find an accommodation, even though Barak offered concessions on Jerusalem that caused members of the Israeli cabinet to resign in protest.

Had Yasser Arafat not announced that he will declare a Palestinian state on September 13 in accordance with a previous timetable for concluding the Oslo peace process, the current impasse might not carry great danger.

However, if Arafat carries out this pledge, one that is supported overwhelmingly by the Palestinian people, Israel may well retaliate by annexing territories in the West Bank that were not previously turned over to the Palestinians. This action would lead to fighting between PLO militants and Jewish settlers in Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli police and military units would protect these Jewish settlements. Serious violence could then occur, not only in the West Bank but in Israel itself.

Optimists, among them Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, think this will not happen because Israeli and Palestinian leaders understand that both sides will lose if a new conflict erupts. They argue that Barak and Arafat came so close to resolving the major issues that just a little more time for reflection and negotiation will produce an acceptable compromise on Jerusalem, the most difficult problem.

I am not an optimist on this issue. Nationalism among both Israelis and Palestinians is rampant, and Barak and Arafat may not be able to control their extremist groups if final talks fail. Clinton's great effort at Camp David was a desperate attempt to hold back nationalist forces before they trigger another war, a conflict that might involve Palestinian from other parts of the Middle East joining in the fight for independence if Arafat declares statehood.

Israel would, of course, be able to defend itself, including the occupied territories, because of its great superiority in arms. But what would be the cost if Israeli and Palestinian extremists take up arms and fight for land that both claim as their homeland?

One can imagine international reactions to CNN photos of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of casualties resulting from Israeli arms and Palestinian terrorist attacks. Even if the violence were not on the scale of Kosovo in 1999 or Somalia in 1992, it would force President Clinton to consider ways to intervene, with United Nations support, to stop the fighting.

If this scenario seems unduly pessimistic, recall the situation that faced President Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, in October 1973 when Egypt and Israel went to war in the Sinai. Few observers foresaw that war would occur because Israel had a clear superiority in arms, supplied by the United States. Nevertheless, Egypt's leader, General Anwar Sadat, surprised the Israeli army and inflicted heavy losses before Nixon decided to airlift replacement military equipment to Israel. Its troops then turned the tide of battle against Egypt.

However, Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf oil-producing states showed their displeasure with Nixon by shutting down oil exports to the United States. This caused a serious disruption in the U.S. economy, and Kissinger then worked out a cease-fire between Egypt and Israel that eventually produced the Camp David accords of 1979.

Both the Saudi and Egyptian governments made a similar point during recent Camp David negotiations when they advised Arafat not to compromise on the issue of sovereignty over Islamic holy places in the Old City of Jerusalem. This has been the Arab position since the 1967 Middle East war, and it should not have been a surprise in Washington that Egypt and Saudi Arabia continue to assert it.

What are the prospects for peace in Palestine in , 2000?

Optimists hope that before September 13 Arafat and Barak will get together and make one more effort at negotiating a solution for Jerusalem, one that meets the minimum Arab demand that Palestinians exercise sovereignty over those parts of East Jerusalem that are sacred to all Muslims, not just Palestinians. Palestinian negotiators will be supported by the Arab states, perhaps also by some European countries.

In this scenario, Barak would be persuaded to grant the Palestinians a small segment of East Jerusalem as their capital, and Arafat will reluctantly accept this deal. And it also anticipates that Israeli right-wing parties will denounce Barak as a traitor and force him to call elections. Arafat too will be denounced, by Palestinian nationalists who insist that all of East Jerusalem must be returned to Arab control, as envisioned in United Nations resolutions following the 1967 war.

There appears to be an effort underway by President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright to bring the Vatican into the peace process and to press Israel and the PLO to accept international control over the Old City of Jerusalem. This small area contains the buildings that are sacred to three major religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

The wisdom of having the Vatican involved is that if representatives of the three major religions with a stake in Jerusalem give their blessing to this political arrangement, neither the Arab nor the Israeli government would have sovereignty over the Old City.

Pope John Paul is on record as favoring internationalization of this part of Jerusalem so that no single state has control. The United Nations or a special group of countries, including the United States, could be given international jurisdiction, similar to a trusteeship. The United States would be expected to help provide security.

Resolving the future of Jerusalem is feasible, however, only if hard-line Israeli political parties and hard-line Palestinian nationalists are forced to give up their determination to exercise control over all of East Jerusalem. Here President Clinton will need to employ all of his political skills to bring about a real peace in this important area of the world

File last modified on Tuesday, 17-AUG-2004 09:30 PM EST

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