Palestinian Self-Determination by Eugene Rostow

Possible Futures for the Unallocated Territories of The Palestine Mandate

Slowly and reluctantly, Europe and the United States are coming to realize that the pattern of events in the Middle East reflects more than random turbulence in the aftermath of the British and French Empires. For nearly thirty turbulent years, the Soviet Union has sought control of this geo-political nerve center in order to bring Western Europe into its sphere. Even if Soviet ambitions were confined to Europe, Soviet hegemony in the Middle East would profoundly change the world balance of power. But Soviet control of the Middle East would lead inevitably to further accretions of Soviet power if China, Japan, and many smaller and more vulnerable countries should conclude that the United States had lost the will or the capacity to defend its vital interests, and that sauve qui peut, and devil take the hindmost, had therefore become the order of the day.

The exploitation of Arab hostility to the Balfour Declaration, the Palestine Mandate, and the existence of Israel has been a major weapon in the Soviet campaign to dominate the Middle East. The Soviet Union's use of this tactic is in itself a considerable psychological feat, since the Russians provided Israel with decisive help during the wars of Israeli independence in 1948 and 1949. The anti-Israel card is not the only asset in the Soviet Union's Middle East hand, but among the Middle Eastern masses it has been trumps.

The goal of the Soviet campaign in the Middle East is to control the oil, the seas, and the air space of the region, and to substitute Communist or Communistoriented governments for royal and other traditional regimes. Once such control is achieved, the Soviet Union believes, it will be possible for it to outflank Europe and force the United States to dismantle NATO, withdraw its forces, and leave Europe to Soviet domination, in the model of Finland, Poland, or Vichy, as may prove to be convenient.

In pursuit of this objective, the Soviet Union has been active from Morocco to Pakistan, and throughout Africa as well, taking advantage of other regional conflicts, many of which it fomented itself. But the attack on the legitimacy of Israel has been the strongest and most effective tool of Soviet strategy in the Middle East. Since the early 1950's, the Soviet Union has actively supported four major Arab wars against Israel, as well as guerrilla raids, terrorist attacks, and the like beyond counting. The Palestine Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) was planned and established in the 1960's. In recent years, and especially since November, 1973, when Yasir Arafat was first invited to the Soviet Union as guest of the Soviet government, the Soviet Union has played an active--some say a dominant --role in its activities. The Soviet Union now has a large naval presence both in the Mediterranean and in the Indian Ocean, and bases in Aden and a number of points in Africa, including Libya.

The Soviet calculation has been that Arab dependence upon the Soviet Union would grow as the war against Israel involved and radicalized more and more of the Muslim states of the region. President Sadat's decision to make peace with Israel, following Egypt's defeat in the 1973 war, was a serious setback for the Soviet Union. The U.S.S.R. has moved with great energy to offset and reverse that disappointment, undertaking bold moves in Ethiopia, Somalia, Angola, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf to strengthen its position. And it has pressed the so-called Palestinian issue with increased emphasis to prevent peace between Israel and its neighbors.

From the beginning, the Soviet Union actively supported the movement to overthrow the Shah of Iran in 1978 and 1979, both through its own efforts and through those of the P.L.O. and the Italian Communist Party. The P.L.O. participated in the Iranian revolution and was publicly thanked for its contribution by the Ayatollah Khomeini during his struggle for power. The role of the Italian Communist Party was clandestine, although it has been widely reported. It is generally used as a vehicle for such Soviet enterprises in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

The revolt against the Shah appealed to the Soviet leadership in light of its own interests, since Iran is close to the center of one of its main strategic objectives in the region--its oil reserves. But the Soviet move against Iran was also closely linked to the Soviet campaign against Israel.9 Under the Shah, Iran was the principal bastion of American influence in the area, Israel's close ally, a positive influence in Jordan, and an ultimate counterweight, should such action become necessary, against Iraq and Syria. Iran's relation with Israel was one of the reasons the P.L.O. participated so vigorously in the revolt against the Shah.

After the Camp David Agreements between Israel and Egypt were signed in 1978,10 the Soviet propaganda drums beat with new intensity to encourage their repudiation, or at least their frustration. Policy followed suit. While President Sadat has not yet been overthrown, the Soviet Union has successfully used other means to further its ends.ll Among these means, the so-called "Palestine" question is the most effective. Beneath the surface of the propaganda and guerrilla activities, there is a genuine political and human problem--a difficult but not insoluble problem of principle and of accommodation. But the real Palestinian problem bears no relation to the distorted version which has been imposed on the governments, press, and public opinion of the West.

This paper will be concerned with the background of the current controversy over "Palestinian" rights, in the context of the American effort to carry out the Camp David Agreements and the Soviet Union's campaign to achieve dominance in Eirope by enveloping it from the South.