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Prophets of the Holy Land: Scenes From the Future of the Middle East View other pieces in "Harper's"
By Mark Danner , Fouad Ajami, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Leon Wieseltier, et al. December 1984
Tags: middle east | foreign policy | Harper's Forums Print


When in 1947 the UN handed down the Solomonic judgment that to resolve the "Palestine problem" the Holy Land would be divided into two nations bound together in "economic union," the laughter on Sinai must have been loud indeed. Chronicles of the terror and bloody reprisals of that time by Arabs and Jews hardly bespeak cooperation; they read more like accounts in today's newspapers, suggesting that all the wars and earnest diplomacy of the past forty years have done little to change, let alone ameliorate, what the editorialists now describe as the "Middle East conflict."

What prophet, brooding on the chaos and violence of 1947, would have predicted the chaos and violence of today? Two peoples remain bitterly intermingled in one land: Jews, archetypal exiles, struggling still to possess fully - and righteously - their "promised land"; and Arabs, newly exiled even within the borders of Palestine, struggling to transform their own myth of return into a workable politics.

However hazardous or foolhardy the business of prophesy, today's statesmen, if they are to see the Middle East without illusions, must search for its reflection in the future. Only then can they form the premises of a coherent policy. With this goal in mind, Harper's invited Arabs, Israelis, and others long involved in the region to imagine scenes from the Middle East of 1994.


FOUAD AJAMI was born in southern Lebanon and raised in Beirut. He is now the director of Middle Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

Men often entrust "the future" with this mission: that it draw limits and bring out hidden contradictions, thereby enabling men to change in profound ways. Sometimes the future is obedient; more often it disappoints. It brings neither redemption nor apocalypse. But men, stubborn and insecure as they are, continue to cling to familiar things: they prefer the troubles they know.

In 1994, Yasir Arafat and his principal lieutenants will be old men in their sixties. They were young boys when the first struggle for Palestine ended in the creation of Israel in 1948. It was the world of their fathers, with its habits and patterns of authority, that collapsed in 1948 and lost out to the Zionist claim. So much of the struggle of the Arafat generation has been about patricide: Arafat and his men have had to struggle with the legacy of their fathers' flight from their homeland. That generation's story has been one of traumatized and energetic men searching for a political vocation in the face of superior Israeli power, on the one hand, and Arab armies and intelligence services seeking to control them, on the other. With the establishment of the PLO, a political vocation of sorts became possible, bringing with it what such endeavors generally bring: power and disappointment, a string of defeats interrupted by occasional consolations. Today Arafat and his lieutenants, banished from the power and corruption of Beirut and southern Lebanon, know they have lost their final possession - a border with an enemy they could see and hope to fight. Their political venture has ended in the banal isolation of a Tunis hotel.

No great changes can be expected in the politics of the Arafat generation. It is the product of a particular era in Arab politics, the nationalist 1950s and 1960s. On any given day, it was then believed, Arab society could be engaged on behalf of the Palestinian claim - if only that society had been taught enough about Palestine and the Palestinians, or been defiled enough by Israel's victories. But the Arab world today is too numb, too burdened, and too cynical to come to the rescue of the Palestinians. The Arabs will not risk their new consumer society, the dizzying world of wealth and privilege they have created in the last decade. The old Arab fidelities - to traditional dress and mores, no less than to traditional political beliefs-have been shattered. The ruthless regimes in Iraq and Libya and Syria, and the Arab states of the Gulf, now have other concerns than the plight of the Palestinians. The sky will not fall, Arab rulers surely know, if the Palestinians are left to fight for themselves against Israel, if Israeli settlements continue to spring up on the West Bank. One by one, the Arab states are freeing themselves of their Palestinian burden.

The cold peace between Egypt and Israel will hold, even as Egyptian intellectuals complain about it and Israelis speak of their disillusionment with it. The wealthier states of the Gulf will continue to play the role they have played in the past: providing the money that keeps the world of the Palestinian diaspora intact and floats the PLO. Those states thereby gain a kind of absolution: no further exertion can be asked of them. Lebanon, too, has been freed of its Palestinian burden, a result of the bloody disorder of the last decade and the political order that has emerged from it. The three groups that will dominate Lebanon's politics in the coming decade-the Shiites in the south and greater Beirut, the Druse in the Shouf Mountains, and the Maronite Christians in East Beirut and Mount Lebanon-are agreed on one point: there is no place for the Palestinians in Lebanon. It was West Beirut, with its Pan-Arab politics, that had made room for the Palestinians. And it was the weakness and disorder of the Shiites in southern Lebanon-and their sympathy for the Palestinians-that had allowed the PLO to rule there. But West Beirut and its politics have been overwhelmed; and the Shiites are no longer the quiescent people they once were (thanks in large part to the Israeli invasion and occupation).

Syria alone continues to speak the old language about the conflict with Israel, to claim for itself the role of "principal confrontation state." But the old slogans now serve the prerogatives of the political class that rules Syria. Syria has become a status quo power. Greater Syria and Greater Israel have emerged as the Fertile Crescent's two dominant powers; they will continue to oppose each other and, as adversaries always do, to need each other. They have agreed to the de facto partition of Lebanon. Syrian troops will most likely remain in the Bekaa Valley. Israel will withdraw its troops from the south (the price of outright occupation has proved prohibitive); but it will continue to play a role there through a proxy force, as it did before the 1982 invasion. Syria will remain the broker of Lebanese politics, having won that dubious prize from Israel and the United States. But Israel and Syria agree that there will be no Palestinian state on the West Bank, nor any arrangement restoring Jordanian sovereignty there.

The Jordanians will remain entangled with Palestine and the Palestinians. But King Hussein will not risk his country's social peace and economic achievements in a hopeless bid for the West Bank. Even if Israel is willing to give up some of the territory, which is doubtful, it will not be enough for the Jordanian monarch, who must bring it all back to the Palestinians and the other Arabs, ready, as always, to shout betrayal. In ten years the "Reagan plan" of September 1982, which sought the return of the West Bank to Jordan, will be a dim memoryjust one more diplomatic proposal in a conflict that has seen the most lofty international pronouncements overtaken by events.

There are really two Palestinian dilemmas, as will become clearer in the next decade. The first is that of the Palestinians under Israeli control on the West Bank and in Gaza; the second is that of the diaspora Palestinians. The first dilemma has become the moral and political burden of Israel and, by extension, America. The second is the burden of the Arab states and the PLO.

For the foreseeable future, surely for the next decade, Israel will remain in possession of the West Bank. A generation of Israelis has come into adulthood thinking of the West Bank as part of Israel. In the eyes of these Israelis, the Icgreen line" separating Israel from the West Bank has been obliterated, and the history of Israel after 1967 is simply an extension of the struggle that culminated in statehood in 1948. Some argue, of course, that such perceptions can be reversed. But how could they be? For the political issue need not be brought to a head: no official act of annexation -which would result in the national trauma of offering true citizenship to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians will be passed by Israel's parliament. Rather, matters will be left to speak for themselves.
Rabbi Meir Kahane's utopia of a "pure" Jewish realm will not come to pass. Israel will remain a Jewish state with an Arab minority: a dual society. There will continue to be grave moral costs to maintaining dominion over a million Palestinians; no pretty edifice can be built on the ruin and bitterness of other men. But societies have a way of living with moral ambiguity …

America will continue to finance the Israeli settlement policies it claims to abhor. The Arabs will continue to assert a "metaphysical" claim to the West Bank and then go on with life as usual. No one need stand up and proclaim that the land has been lost; no one need say that the second struggle for Palestine has been fought and lost. After all, no one in the Arab world (except Sadat) ever stood up and proclaimed that what happened in 1948 is irreversible. Reality never begs to be ratified by men.


GEORGE W. BALL was under secretary ofstate during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. His most recent book, Error and Betrayal in Lebanon, is an analysis of the 1982 Israeli invasion and its consequences for U. S. -Israeli relations.

So long as Israel bases its policies toward the Arab world on two faulty assumptions, I cannot be optimistic about its future or the prospects for peace in the Middle East. The first faulty assumption is that the Arab nations will ultimately reconcile themselves to Israel's increasingly repressive occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, its formal annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and its continued control - whether directly or through a Lebanese proxy army - of a large part of southern Lebanon. In view of the political stalemate now paralyzing Israeli policy, there seems little chance that any of these territories will soon be traded for peace. On the contrary, Israel's present jerry-built government will almost certainly expand the settlements on the West Bank, absorbing that territory into Israel in fact if not in law; the only question is how long that absorption will take.

Although to most observers the occupation of the West Bank, with its 900,000 Palestinian inhabitants, remains the paramount issue, Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights in 1981 and its invasion of Lebanon the following year may have more seriously prejudiced its future. If it is true, as the Israelis claim, that Syria's control of the Golan Heights posed an unacceptable threat to Galilee, it is also true that Israel's possession of that high ground now poses a critical threat to Damascus (a point driven home to the Syrians by General Ariel Sharon when he attacked them in Lebanon in 1982). As President Hafez el-Assad's vigorous defense program suggests, Syria does not intend to let that strategic territory remain permanently in Israeli hands.

Unhappily, Israel and its supporters in the United States are increasing the likelihood of military conflict by taking actions that diminish U.S. influence in the region. While the Israeli lobby has effectively pressured the United States to provide more and more arms to Israel, it has blocked the sale of even modest defensive weapons to Arab states long friendly to America. When it does yield on some innocuous sale, often after vituperative public debate, it insists that the United States attach conditions embarrassing to the Arab purchasers. As a result, Arab states- including Jordan-are turning to other arms suppliers, principally the Soviet Union. The strategic-cooperation agreement announced by Washington in 1983, a measure

strongly supported by the Israeli lobby, has also done much to alienate traditionally friendly Arab states. The agreement is ostensibly in, tended to counter the Soviet threat in the region by promoting military cooperation between the United States and Israel, but Arab leaders view it - realistically - as directed against them and designed to protect Israel's territorial conquests.

In the short run, our alienation of Arab states will strengthen the Soviet Union's influence in the Middle East. In the long run, it may help create the conditions for an Arab-Israeli war that we shall have lost all ability to restrain. The prospect of such a war is particularly disturbing in light of Israel's second faulty assumption - that its forces will always be able to defeat any combination of Arab forces without direct military involvement by the United States. Ever since the Camp David accords neutralized Egypt and thus blunted the threat of a two-front war, this postulate has been central to Israeli strategy. But in the aftermath of Israel's ill-conceived adventure in Lebanon, it needs to be re-examined.

By using advanced American weapons to destroy Syria's Soviet planes and missiles, General Sharon not only recklessly revealed the tactics Israel had been secretly developing since the 1973 war; he also committed the unforgivable error of humiliating a superpower. The Soviet Union responded by supplying Damascus with $2 billion worth of its most advanced weapons and providing 12,000 advisers to train Syrian troops. Today Damascus is protected by perhaps the densest antiaircraft defenses in the world, and Syria's arsenal includes missiles able to strike Israeli cities with great accuracy.

In every war it has fought, Israel has managed, despite its relatively small population, to deploy more troops than its adversaries. But the Arabs' frustration at the outcome of each conflict has led their governments to improve the training of their troops and officers and expand the size of their armies.Thus Israel's advantage has steadily dwindled. At the end of 1984, Israel should still be able to marshal 675,000 troops against 600, 000 for its probable opponents, Syria (with 500,000) and Jordan (with 100,000). But President Assad recently announced that Syria would expand its forces to 800,000 troops by 1986; and King Hussein of Jordan, amid widespread speculation in Israel that in any future war with Syria Israeli troops would be forced to pass through Jordan, is increasing the size of his regular army and establishing a 200,000-man militia. Within four or five years, Israel's projected strength of 725,000 troops may be countered by at least a million Syrians and Jordanians; and this number does not include any troops from Iraq, Lebanon, the PLO, the Gulf states, or Egypt.

It is unlikely that Israel, actually outnumbered for the first time, would be able to deliver a quick knockout blow to the Arabs. Instead, any conflict could develop into a war of attrition, in which Israel's staying power would be severely limited by its smaller manpower reserves and its fragile economy. In such circumstances Israel would have no choice but to request U.S. troops. (Indeed, concern over this scenario may explain why some of Israel's American friends are pressing to expand the military collaboration provided for by the strategic-cooperation agreement. Thomas A. Dine, president of AlPAC, the main pro-Israel lobbying group, has said that the Israeli lobby must concentrate its efforts to "finish building the military and economic alliance" with Israel.)

American politicians make a ritual of declaring their commitment to Israel's security. Still, I can think of nothing more divisive for this country than a decision to send American boys to defend a beleaguered Israel seeking to preserve its territorial conquests. Such a step would stir prejudices and ethnic enmities and provide a field day for demagogues, and it could inflame the hostility between Jews and blacks that surfaced during the presidential primaries last spring. A decision to send U.S. troops to the Middle East would force all Americans to confront an agonizing dilemma: Should we reject the tragic lesson of Vietnam and again send young men to die for a cause that a majority of Americans do not wholeheartedly support?

Can we avoid this lamentable choice? That depends on four developments. First, an Israeli government must emerge that wants peace more than territory and is politically strong enough to conduct effective diplomacy to achieve it. Second, the United States must develop a coherent Middle East policy and take advantage of its great unused leverage with Israel and its rapidly declining influence with friendly Arab states to press for a peaceful solution. Third, the institutions that speak for America's Jewish community must stop indiscriminately supporting the policies of whatever Israeli government is in power and begin strongly encouraging Israel to seek peace rather than hegemony. Finally, Israel's Arab neighbors must achieve enough unity to come for, ward with proposals that could lead to fruitful negotiations.

Merely to list these essential but improbable developments is deeply discouraging.


LEON WIESELTIER is literary editor of the New Republic and the author of Nuclear War, Nuclear Peace. He has written widely on the history and politics of the Jews.

For the seekers of peace between Israel and the Arabs, the task is to hold fast to the distinction between pessimism and fatalism. There is no reason to believe that there will be a war during the next decade, though the recent emboldenment of Syria, the creeping chiliasm of Iran, and the geopolitical intrigues of the Soviet Union might, any or all of them, create a crisis that concludes in armed hostilities. There may be peace between Israel and the Arabs, then, in the sense of an absence of war. (The same prediction cannot be quite so confidently made about peace between the Arabs and the Arabs.) But peace in the sense of a cordiality between peoples, of a regional communitythere does not now exist the foundation for that particular blessing. Nothing illustrates that fact so dramatically as the frayed state of Israel's peace with Egypt. Camp David was a rare act of reason, a great redirection of a grim past; but a normalization of relations - the full exchange of human resources that is the sign of real friendship-has not occurred.

A state may reconcile with another state, for reasons of self-interest; during the next decade the strength of Israel or the pressure of the superpowers may produce some kind of agreement between Israel and Jordan, or even between Israel and Syria. The problem of the Palestinians' however, is less tractable. Israel must find a way to live with a population that is new to nationalism, and rarely is such a population distinguished by realism. For Israel, solving the problem is more than a question of its securityit is a question of its fate. But the prospect of concluding an agreement that will satisfy the requirements of Israeli security as well as of Palestinian nationalism is remote indeed.

The Palestinians, for their part, must find a way to live with Israel. The history of Palestinian politics since the return of the Jews to Zion is a phenomenon difficult to understand; it is the history of a people acting, year after year, decade after decade, against its own interests. No doubt the Zionist success in Palestine was a serious shock for Palestinians. No doubt, too, the Zionists never fully understood the nature of that shock. Still, the perdurability of the Jewish presence in Palestine was there in the 1930s for anyone with eyes to see. The Palestinians refused to accept it, and so they practiced a politics that almost never consisted of anything except bombs and boycotts. In 1947 the United Nations called for a Jewish state and a Palestinian state; but the Arabs, instead of creating the latter, tried destroying the former. Twenty years later they tried again, losing in six days of successful Israeli self-defense the territories whose occupation they now impute to Israeli imperialism. It will be a great day in Palestinian history when the Palestinian responsibility for Palestinian misery is recognized by Palestinians. Perhaps they might take a lesson from the Zionists, who did not leave Jewish refugees festering in Cyprus camps while they waited for their national dream, in its every detail, to be realized. Nor did the Zionists work themselves up into revolutionary frenzies and systematically kill innocent people. Consider, moreover, the Palestinians' response to Camp David. In 1978 they were offered autonomy. They refused. They wanted sovereignty. Fair enough. But autonomy was supposed to last only five years, after which sovereignty would be negotiable. A year ago autonomy would have ended. The Palestinians on the West Bank could have raised a national flag with the sympathy of the world. Instead they have nothing; or, worse, they have the Israeli destruction of the PLO in Lebanon. Was holding out for everything really worth it? Was the imperfection of the treaty's provision for the Palestinians really worse than their life in the camps?

The prospects for peace on the Palestinian side remain meager, and not merely because of the radical rhetoric of all their leaders and almost all their intellectuals. The West Bank has been occupied for seventeen years now. An entire generation of Palestinians has grown up in what feels like a classic colonial reality, ignorant of the moral and political complexity of its own past - that there was supposed to have been a state called Palestine, that Jordan also ruled the West Bank by force of conquest, that there is another Zionism that does not rule out territorial compromise and mutual self-respect. During the next decade, it is this Palestinian generation that may thwart even the most forthcoming of Israeli governments.

But forthcoming Israeli governments do not seem forthcoming. That is the new factor in the Arab-Israeli fight: the new Jewish hardening. In 1947 most Jews accepted partition and most Arabs did not. Now most Jews do not accept it either. This hardening is the product of something more than the natural vigilance of the victim. It is the product of the rise of one kind of Zionism and the fall of another. The moral, political, and intellectual ascendancy of Revisionist Zionism, better known as the Likud, has been accompanied by the moral, political, and intellectual exhaustion of Labor Zionism; the presence of Shimon Peres in the prime minister's office cannot hide this fact. Revisionist Zionism, founded by the great, misguided Vladimir Jabotinsky, was never satisfied with the mere establishment of a Jewish state. It was obsessed with the size and shape of that state: unless its borders coincided with those of its biblical ancestor, as they did not, the state was unfinished. Had the Revisionists dominated the Zionist movement in the 1930s and 1940s, the Jewish state would not have been born, because the partition plan did not sate their appetite for national symbolism. The capture of the territories in 1967 was a great fortuity for the Revisionists, led by Menachem Begin. Moreover, the intransigence of the Arabs, and the paternalism of the Labor governments, gradually produced the political and social reasons for the rise of the Likud to power in 1977. Suddenly it seemed possible to dust off the old dream, and to realize it.

The argument commonly made on behalf of the Likud position is that neither the king of Jordan nor a responsible Palestinian authority has come forward for a territorial compromise. Absolutely right; except that the absence of an Arab interlocutor does not justify anything that the Israelis do. The settlement of the populated areas of the West Bank does nothing to enhance Israeli security but does a great deal to make a political solution impossible. Jews have a legal right and a historical right to live in "Judea and Samaria." Still, the possession of a right is not sufficient reason for its every exercise. Since nobody has yet provided an answer to the question of how Israel can absorb more than a million Arabs and still stay both democratic and Jewish, the prudent thing for Israel to do is to stay its hand on the West Bank, to meet the requirements of its security but not of its right-wing chauvinists, so that annexation does not become a historical inevitability.

Two changes must take place before a territorial compromise will be possible. First, the king of Jordan must cease his displays of petulance and come forward to negotiate. That is to say, he must become a brave man. His region is paying dearly for his cowardice. To be sure, his risk is great; but so, too, is the risk of the final loss of the West Bank, and of a Palestinian claim upon his kingdom. Second, the Labor Party in Israel must recover its identity. Instead of trying to finesse its differences with the Likud, it must finally state them plainly. For the third time in three elections, however, Shimon Peres appears to have escaped the fact of his own defeat. As for the government of national unity over which Peres presides, it has already succeeded in lowering the temperature of Israeli politics, which is no small thing. The technocracy is rather tranquilizing. But it is not designed for decisions about principle, and the Palestinian problem requires such a decision.


ABBA EBAN is a former foreign minister of Israel. He is currently chairman of the Knesset's Security and Foreign Affairs Committee. His most recent books are The New Diplomacy and Heritage: Civilization and the Jews.

Israel is the only democratic country in the world with a question mark poised over its national identity. What is conventionally described as the Palestine problem is really the problem of Israel itself. What is Israel? What are its dimensions and its boundaries, who belongs and who does not belong to the Zionist enterprise, what is the degree of its commitment to its democratic principles and to its Jewish character? All these questions flow from the dilemma involved in exercising a coercive jurisdiction over another nation whose population amounts to some 38 percent of Israel's and which is joined to Israel by no cement except that of military power.

No democratic country resembles what Israel would look like, socially and politically, if it were to incorporate the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. If it were to offer the Palestinians an unwanted Israeli citizenship as a substitute for an Arab political destiny, Israel would resemble Algeria before De Gaulle cut it loose from French rule. If it were to incorporate the territories without offering the Palestinians full suffrage, Israel would resemble South Africa. An Israel in which a man's rights were defined by his ethnic identity would be one of the most startling paradoxes of history: an Arab population would be living under Israeli rule in a condition similar to that against which the Jews themselves struggled in many lands over many generations. The political crisis would be that of Israel; the moral crisis, that of Diaspora Jews who support it. The late Yigal Allon described the dilemma with stark realism in 1967: "If we give them citizenship we shall cease to be a Jewish State because the balance of decision in parliament will be taken by Arab members who have no real allegiance or devotion to our Zionist put-poses and are Israelis against their will.... If we do not give them the vote we shall cease to be a democratic state and we shall be infected with a colonial image." From this analysis the Labor movement concluded that, after some territorial changes for the sake of security, Israel should release the bulk of the territories for an Arab destiny, in association with Jordan. This was to be done not only for altruistic motives of compromise and international harmony but also, and chiefly, for enlightened self- interest-the preservation of Israel's cohesion and national identity.

There are those who assert that this option has already disappeared. They invoke an "irreversible" process of integration arising from the settlements already established in the heart of Arab- populated areas; an allegedly "irresistible" dynamism in the settlement process, powered by radical and fundamentalist movements in the Israeli political system bitterly opposed to territorial compromise; and immutable changes already made on the ground, such as the roads and electric grids that "integrate" the West Bank with Israel. They conclude that the issue is already won for coercive integration of the territories and that Israel as a strictly Jewish de-

One way of losing a cause is to assume that it is already lost. The defeatists become the objective allies of the annexationists. I do not accept the theory of "irreversibility." Roads and electric grids do not prevent a government from deciding to renounce sovereignty; and even those who oppose annexation, including myself, advocate a large measure of economic integration and mutual accessibility between an Israel within secure boundaries and whatever jurisdiction will ultimately control Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. The decisive factor here is that the attempt to deny the Arab character of the West Bank and Gaza by demographic and other changes has failed. A territorial compromise leading to demilitarized territories under Arab rule is not only feasible but inevitable.
After seventeen years of Israeli occupation, including seven years of control by an avowedly annexationist Likud leadership, the territories remain tenaciously unintegrated. The Jewish population has increased from zero to 29,000, an average of 1, 700 a year. But the Arab population increase has far outstripped this, despite the many Arabs who have emigrated; Arabs now number 1.3 million, constituting "only" 98 percent of the population of the West Bank and Gaza. And this meager Jewish population was achieved under optimal conditions-vast funds were provided for politically motivated settlements that were strongly encouraged by the prime minister and the defense minister. These conditions no longer exist; financial stringency makes further huge investments in settlements impossible, and last July's election left Israel with a prime minister and a defense minister from the Labor party, which rejects incorporation of the territories. And there is now visible public disquiet on the question of more settlements, partly as a result of recent excesses, including bombings and other terrorism against West Bank Arabs, attributed by the courts to a "Jewish underground" made up of militant settlers. Some Israelis may still point to the prospect that the settlers will be 100,000 strong in a decade, but many realize that their numbers may well remain static.

The Israeli Declaration of Independence sets out the model of a free nation accepting the burden and challenge of its own destiny without imposing that destiny on others beyond the call of its own security. To accept a somewhat more compact territorial configuration in favor of a return to Israel's visionary origins will not be an easy task. But it is far from being a lost cause. That this is no longer contrary to Israeli governnment policy is the most important result of what was otherwise an indecisive election. And King Hussein's statesmanlike act in renewing diplomatic relations with Egypt indicates that Jordan may be aware of the new and crucial challenge it faces. Unfreezing the deadlock affecting the West Bank and Gaza is impossible without active Jordanian participation in the peace process, and it is more realistic to hope for this now than it was even a few months ago.


CONOR CRUISE O'BRIEN was formerly editor in chief of the Observer in London. His book The Siege: An Outsider Looks at Zionism and Israel will be published in the spring.

One prediction can be made about the Middle East of 1994 with something approaching certainty: Israel will still control the West Bank and Gaza, and its presence there will still be challenged. This conclusion is inescapable when one considers a basic question: Are there any results at all likely in a general election in Israel, ever, that would lead to Israel's withdrawal from all or almost all of the West Bank and the creation of some kind of Palestinian political entity there (perhaps in association with Jordan, linked to Israel by treaty, as proposed in the "Reagan plan" of 1982)?

Consider the most favorable of all election results (that are at all conceivable) with respect to the territory -for-peace idea embodied in the Reagan plan: a coalition government made up of Labor and the two dovish parties to its left, Shinui and the Civil Rights Movement. Such a government could offer Jordan some of the West Bank in exchange for a peace treaty, as envisioned in Labor's famous "Jordanian option," which is in fact nothing more than the old "AlIon plan," first put forward as early as 1967. Under this plan Israel would keep Jerusalem as its united capital, retain its line of defenses and Jewish settlements along the western bank of the river Jordan, and reserve the right of military access across the territory of the West Bank. This plan, in all its versions, has been consistently rejected by Jordan for more than fifteen years. King Hussein would be running very serious risks if he concluded any peace treaty with Israel, even one that gave him back all of Jordan's lost territory. But signing a treaty leaving Israel in possession of all Jerusalem, and of the line along the western bank of the river, would be political suicide.

It is widely assumed that the United States could persuade, or pressure, a Labor coalition to "up the ante" on this offer so as to make it more attractive to the Jordanians and to most of the Arab population of the West Bank. But in the face of such American pressure, even a Labor government is likely to prefer resistance-with the backing of a great majority of Israelis-to the grisly internal consequences that would probably follow any proposal to "improve" its Jordanian option. For a Labor coalition would be in dire political trouble if the actual handing over of even parts of the West Bank and Gaza to Arab control came to be debated in the Knesset. The Likud and its allies on the further nationalist right would brand Labor and its allies as traitors for their willingness to abandon any part of the sacred soil of Judea and Samaria. The debate within Israel would become superheated and envenomed, with incidents of violence and the overtones of incipient civil war. Facing this tremendous emotional assault from the right, Labor would not be able to count on unity within its ranks. Recent polls show that 30 percent of Labor supporters oppose giving up any part of Judea and Samaria. The effort to implement the Jordanian option would precipitate not only a major political crisis in Israel generally but an agonizing crisis within Labor as well.

How, under these conditions, could Labor improve on its Jordanian option? Offer to dismantle the defense line along the river Jordan (which would break the party's repeated pledges and bring down upon it the weight of Israel's military establishment)? Offer to abandon East Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall? Invite the PLO to join the negotiations? If Labor attempt-ed any of these things, it too would be commit-ting political suicide. In fact, the Jordanian option is only really safe for Labor so long as the Jordanians refuse to touch it, and thus the La-bor leaders are likely to continue to emphasize precisely those aspects of their Jordanian option that are most unpalatable to the Jordanians.

So the West Bank, by all indications, will still be under Israeli rule in 1994. But will the Arab inhabitants still be there? It is on this question that there is a real debate (as distinct from an ostensible or formal one) inside Israel. And it is because of this question that it matters whether right or left predominates in the Israeli government. Any future Labor government would likely return to the policy of minimal in-terference with the Arab population of the West Bank that was instituted by Moshe Dayan after the 1967 war. If such a policy prevails dur-ing the next ten years, 1994 will likely see the West Bank under Israeli military control, with a large and growing Arab population looking to Amman as its de facto capital.

But if the right again becomes dominant in Israeli politics, the future of the Arab population could be very different. Although Rabbi Meir Kahane's Kach party won only a single seat in last summer's Knesset elections, there is no doubt that the policy for which Kach is best known-forcing the Arabs out of the West Bank-has considerably wider support than the 20,000 votes required to elect a member of the Knesset. There is support for such ideas, in var-ious shadings, on the right wing of Likud, in the ultranationalist Tehiya party, and on the reli-gious right. Under a Likud government, these groups are likely to exert considerable leverage. They will aim to provoke an Arab revolt, then to punish it, thus creating a cycle of violence that will lead-so the far right hopes-to a mass flight of the Arab population.

The irony of this is that international pres-sure on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank strengthens right-wing extremists like Kahane, and thus increases the threat they pose to the West Bank Arab population. The greater the international pressure appears, the greater will be the appeal, to the Israeli right, of taking steps to preempt it by creating a major new "fact" of population-not only an increase in the number of Jewish settlers, but a sharp de-crease in the number of Arab inhabitants. Those in the West who argue that the effort to rule over large numbers of Arabs may eventual-ly destroy Israel itself might do well to note that Meir Kahane is making the same point - while drawing from it an inference radically different from what the Western critics have in mind.


HASSAN BIN TALAL is Crow, Prince of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, brother of King Hussein, and heir to the throne. He is the author of A Study on Jerusalem, Palestinian Self-Determination, and Search for Peace.

There are really only two visions of relations between Israel and the Arab world in 1994, two real alternatives to a continuation of the impasse now paralyzing the region. The first is a vision of peace and tranquillity and regional cooperation, of a Middle East where nations will at last be able to devote their full energies to reconstruction and development. The second is a vision of war and upheaval and continued enmity. We greatly prefer the first of these visions, but it can become the reality of 1994 only if a just and comprehensive settlement is concluded between Israel and its Arab neighbors. To achieve such a settlement will require not only a spirit of moderation and compromise from the parties directly involved but the active participation of the world community, particu-larly the United States and the Soviet Union.

How can such a settlement be reached? First, sanity and common sense must guide our con-duct in public affairs, for only farsighted men who realize the inherent dangers of the politics of extremism can produce a lasting peace in the Middle East. Peace is within reach: since 1967, attitudes in the Arab world toward Israel have changed radically, becoming increasingly moderate and thus making a comprehensive, lasting solution possible. Jordan recently strengthened the Arab peace constituency by restoring diplomatic relations with Egypt. We did this in a positive spirit, in the interest of Arab unity, a unity that is essential if we are to move decisively toward peace with justice for all countries in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, the spirit of moderation and determination growing in the Arab nations has not been accompanied by a similar evolution in Israel. On the contrary, Israeli society has begun to spawn the kind of political extremism, and to practice the kind of political repression, that was only too common in the Arab politics of the past. Israel steadfastly refuses to withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, basing its intransigence on dubious religious and nationalistic claims. Israel does not want to settle the Palestinian problem. It wants to eliminate it - by obliterating Palestine as a nation and the Palestinians as a people.

The Palestine question is at the core of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Without a settlement that respects cultural values and human dignity by granting Palestinians the right of self-determination, cooperation between the nations of the Middle East will remain far out of reach. At the 1982 Fez summit conference, the Arab nations reached a consensus (to which the PLO also subscribed) that was based on UN resolutions 242 and 338. These resolutions call for the "respect and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every state in the area, and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force," and they call on Israel to withdraw from the Arab territories occupied in the war of 1967.

Jordan has declared repeatedly that the principles of "peace for territory" and "total peace for total territory" must be the basis for any negotiations. Indeed, this quid pro quo arrangement was the essence of the peace treaty signed by Israel and Egypt in 1979, in which Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in return for peace and full diplomatic recognition. Israel stubbornly refuses to apply this principle to the other Arab lands it occupies, claiming that it must maintain a military presence in the West Bank to ensure its own security and that of its settlements there. But many of Israel's policies in the West Bank, especially its settlement program, are difficult to justify as necessary for security. Israel still has overwhelming military superiority over all the Arab states in the region, over and above its nuclear capability - the myth of an Israeli David confronting an Arab Goliath that was propagated in 1948 has long since been discredited. Israel wishes to live in peace with its neighbors and to be recognized by them as a state; it should therefore acknowledge the legitimate rights of its neighbors to such recognition, and give up freely land it may one day have to yield by force or as a result of internal political conflict.

Once Israel accepts the territory-for-peace principle, the full provisions of international law can be applied in the occupied territories, and the Palestinians' cultural, religious, economic, and political rights will at last be recognized. After Israel has withdrawn from the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, measures can be taken, perhaps similar to those worked out between Egypt and Israel in the Sinai involving multinational forces, to ensure that peace will prevail. Last April, His Majesty King Hussein affirmed that any future Palestinian political entity in the occupied territories would be closely linked to Jordan, an objective shared by the Palestinians, including the PLO. A confederation between the two banks of the river Jordan will be achieved.

Only then can the enormous task of reconstruction and development begin. I believe that, in time, the area might be transformed into the economic center of the Middle East, a middle ground that would combine the enormous human resources of Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and Palestine with the huge financial power of the oil-producing states of the Gulf. My vision is of an economic union in the region, a commonwealth similar to that formed by the Benelux countries, which would facilitate the free movement of people, goods, and capital among the member states. The nations of the region would bind themselves together in order to promote progress and economic development, instead of tearing themselves apart by war and destruction.

But this vision of prosperity and cooperation could easily be frustrated. Religious fanaticism and national irredentism threaten the peace of the region, as well as the social fabric of every country in the Middle East. Israel's nationalistic claims to Arab lands will inevitably undermine the spirit of moderation and compromise among the Arabs. Recent public demands in Israelnow voiced even by a Knesset member-that the Arab inhabitants of Israel and of the occupied territories be forcibly expelled in order to create a "pure" Jewish state only strengthen the belief among Arabs that the only solution to the conflict will come through military force. Like the Arab youth of the 1950s and early 1960s, young Arabs, confronted with Israeli intransigence and aggression, will conclude that they have no alternative but to prepare for another war. Meanwhile, since extremist politics feed extremist politics, radicals and fundamentalists of all kinds will grow in power and influence in the Arab countries and within Israel. Is it not obvious where such a dynamic will lead? Terrorism will triumph. Local wars will spread, endangering the fragile stability of the Middle East and polarizing the region along East-West lines. The Middle East of the future could become the focal point of a permanent war.

These, then, are my two visions of 1994: peace and cooperation on one side, war and enmity on the other. There is no doubt which of these we prefer, but we need the help of the world community to achieve it. We must not allow our constructive vision to disappear in the morass of endless confrontation. Future generations, of all our peoples, will never forgive us.


RAJA SHIHADEH is an attorney practicing in the West Bank town of Rarnallah and director of Law in the Service of Man, the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists. His books include Samed: A Journal of Life in the West Bank and Occupier's Law: The Annexation of the West Bank Without Its Inhabitants.

Hebron, 1994

I was brought to meet Moshe, a Jewish settler from Hebron, on a deceptively calm night in 1994. It had been another week of bloodshed in the West Bank, another tragic turn in the cycle of violence that had continued for months: terrorist bombings and murders, brutal arrests and banishment orders, noisy protests and bloody confrontations. I was meeting Moshe at the insistence of a mutual friend, who wanted to "promote understanding" in the West Bank. I had thought no one in Israel still believed in such empty phrases: it seemed a throwback to the early 1980s, a mockery. When I think back to my talk with Moshe, I understand why.

"I come from a very religious family," Moshe began. "My parents brought me to live in Hebron when I was very young, when the Jewish quarter was nothing but a handful of determined Jewish settlers surrounded by a sea of Arabs. My parents believed in settling the Holy Land, as I do. But Judaism to me is first of all a religion of justice and righteousness; all over the world, it is Jews who have led the fight for human rights and equality. I can't close my eyes to the injustice that goes on around me - the injustice that we Jews do to you Arabs. I see this injustice, and I have no choice but to do something about it. That is why our friend brought me to see you-I have organized a group of Jews who support greater civil rights for Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that starting such a group has isolated me from my people; I often have to keep silent to avoid being condemned as a traitor by other settlers. But our cause is important ......"

"You say this 'group' of yours calls for 'greater civil rights' for Palestinians," I said. "Do you mean you want to grant us full Israeli citizenship? Does your group call for annexing the West Bank to Israel?"

Moshe looked a little less sure of himself now. He shook his head.

"So," I continued, "your sense of justice" will not allow you to accept being a citizen of a state that subjects two groups to two different legal systems on the basis of their religion. You find this situation repugnant. Yet you do not demand that the non-Jewish inhabitants of the West Bank he granted full citizenship. Why not?"

"You are asking me to betray what my parents fought for all their lives: the right to live in the land of Eretz Israei - all of it - under the jurisdiction of a Jewish state. If we granted the Arabs citizenship, you would constitute 40 percent of Israel's population. You would have the right to vote in our elections and would eventually control the country. How could I ever agree to that?"

"On this point you and I agree: I do not want your citizenship. Besides, why should Israel change everything by annexing the West Bank now? I remember only too well the legal changes that took place during the early 1980s, how different laws came to be applied to Jewish settlers and to Palestinians, laws that let you take our land. Why should Israel create problems by formally annexing the territory? Unless, of course, those Jews who want to force us to emigrate take power, and succeed in chasing many Palestinians from the country by passing more repressive laws and allowing Jewish terrorists to operate freely."

"You do not want full citizenship. You smile at my demands for more civil rights. What do you want, then?"

"I think you know: I want to be allowed to exercise my basic human right of self-determination - to live in a Palestinian state."

"And what about me, with my home in Hebron? Do you expect me to stand idly by, to turn over my home and my community to foreign hands, to live under your rule?"

"You, a member of a minority on this land, consider it unbearably oppressive to live under the rule of the Arab majority. Why should we accept being ruled by a Jewish minority, by people who conquered the West Bank and appropriated - stole - our land?"

"We do not steal. It was all done legally."

"Please do not confuse the law, as dictated by your state, with true justice. I know all about your 'legal' acquisition of our land."

"The legal aspects of this are of no interest to me. I know one thing, the most important thing: the goals my parents and their community tried to achieve here, the goals I am trying to achieve, are laudable and well-intentioned."

"If that is what you believe, why not join those who want to expel all the Palestinians from the land? Then your parents' 'laudable' goals will have been fully achieved."
"I condemn terror, on either side."

"Your government banishes Palestinians from their homeland every day, forbids those who remain to travel from one town to another, fails to protect them from the murderers and terrorists of the Jewish underground, and stifles their economic growth through discriminatory laws. Do you condemn these acts of terror?"

"I am not a racist. I despise discrimination. But sometimes we are left with no choice."
"There is always a choice. Do you value equality and human rights above all else, or do you prefer power and land? Is justice more important than land?"

"The situation is not so black and white, as you well know."

"No, it is not black and white. We are all Semites here. The discrimination is based on religion, not color."

"Israel is not South Africa! I've had this self-righteous comparison waved in my face more and more frequently since the 1980s, and I bitterly resent it. For us Israelis there is little choice. I will not speak for the South Africans, but I expect they feel the same way. When people fear domination by others who are unwilling to accept them, they are justified in passing laws to protect their interests and safeguard their future. It is easy to moralize, to pretend we can follow some abstract code of behavior. But each situation dictates its own moral standards. I wish it could be otherwise, believe me. Can't you see I'm in anguish when I see the violence around me, the hatred and the bloodshed? When I see what is necessary for our self-defense? But I don't have the luxury of closing my eyes to reality, of trying to impose on it your unrealistic rules."

"Why come to see me, then, if your mind is made up?"

"I was led to believe that you would be more appreciative of my struggle, that you might support what my group is trying to do. But I see that I was wrong."

We left each other then, Moshe and I, and returned to our homes. Our houses were not far apart-we were neighbors, really-but we were subject to different laws, judged in different courts, and shared unequally in the fruits of the land.


EHUD OLMERT is a Likud member of the Knesset's Foreign Relations Committee.

Many people condemn Israel's policies in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza by arguing that these policies - in particular Israel's continuing settlement program - aim toward the eventual annexation of these territories. But those who advance this argument entirely ignore recent history - especially the fact that from 1967 to 1977 the official police of the Israeli government, as articulated in 1967 by Yigal Alton, then foreign minister, in his "Alton plan," was "territorial compromise - in the West Bank and Gaza. Under this plan, Israel would withdraw from the heavily populated parts of the West Bank, retaining military installations only in strategic positions atone the Jordan River. During those ten long years, while Israel yearned for some dialogue with Jordan on the future of the West Bank, the Israeli government approved only one settlement that would not have been acceptable under the terms of the Alton plan. But in his many secret encounters with Israeli officials during that time, King Hussein rejected various versions of the Alton plan as "totally unacceptable." Jordan's position was then and remains today - that the only basis for negotiating with Israel is that "every inch of the holy Arab land must be recovered."

In 1967, territorial compromise was a workable solution, although even then there was strong resistance to it by many Israelis and Arabs alike. But solutions that might have been acceptable in 1967 are not realistic in 1984. Because of the Arabs' continued rejection of any compromise and the perceptions among many Israelis that the establishment of new settlements in Israel's ancient homeland was not only a historical right but essential to the security of the Jewish state, Israel began increasing its settlements in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. The settlement program was greatly expanded by the Likud government of Menachem Begin, which took power in 1977. The settlements, whose population is now about 30,000, are no longer confined to the banks of the Jordan; they make any Israeli withdrawal much more complicated-especially after the controversy over withdrawal from the Sinai settlements, whose population was only about 4, 000, in 1982. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have grown up considering the territories a part of Israel. Prime Minister Shimon Peres is one of a dwindling number of Israelis who still believe a territorial compromise might work. And none of the present Arab leaders will be satisfied with anything less than a complete Israeli withdrawal, a step no one in Israel supports.

This is the reality of the Middle East in 1984: territorial compromise on Judea, Samaria, and Gaza is no longer possible. Once this is acknowledged, our challenge will be to create a new solution, one that will ease tensions and lay the groundwork for a new political reality. Compromise is still needed - indeed, it is esential - but the compromise cannot be based on the partition of land. Rather, it must rest on the division of governmental functions.

The compromise I have in mind would be based on the Camp David accords signed by Israel and Egypt, although it would give Jordan a greater role than that envisioned in the accords. Jordan and Israel would become full partners in governing the West Bank, sharing responsibility for the future of the territories while dividing the governmental and administrative functions between them. The civilian interests of the Arab inhabitants of the West Bank (many of whom would retain Jordanian citizenship) would be supervised by Jordan, while Israel would be responsible for the security and defense of the territories. Such an arrangement would allow Israel to withdraw its forces from the major West Bank cities and towns and deploy them in strategic positions in the territories, as stipulated in the Camp David accords. The Arab inhabitants of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza would elect their own governing body, and (still according to Camp David) Jordan would be responsible for overseeing all autonomy arrangements. It would also exercise independent powers within the guidelines of the accords-for example, Jordan might have authority over health care and education and the regulation of commerce. Under this plan, the actual sovereignty of the territories would remain undetermined for an indefinite period. On two fundamental issues, the plan might diverge from Camp David: I believe Israel could afford to be flexible about the size of the selfgoverning body and about the right of residents of East Jerusalem to participate in the election of that body - if the right of Israelis to settle in the West Bank (provided, of course, that they do not expropriate private property for that purpose) is respected. According to this proposition, the Jewish settlers would remain full Israeli citizens and be subject to Israeli law, even though they would not live within the formal boundaries of Israel.

These are just a few of the ingredients that might go into a comprehensive solution, the details of which would need to be negotiated by Israel, Jordan, and representatives of the inhabitants of the territories. But if King Hussein continues to insist on a complete Israeli withdrawal and a return to the 1967 borders, Israel will have to consider implementing the autonomy plan unilaterally. West Bank Palestinians would then control their own civilian affairs without any involvement on the part of Jordan. And in the meantime, the political and human circumstances in Israel may change entirely. By 1994, if a political solution to the West Bank problem has not been concluded, an overwhelming majority of Israelis will have come to consider the territories integral parts of the Jewish state. There is now the opportunity, if the Arab leaders would only recognize it, to start a process that would reduce the tensions of the area and give the Palestinian Arabs a political identity. Failure to grasp this opportunity might eventually force Israel to annex the West Bank, which would perpetuate the conflict without offering any political outlet to the West Bank Arabs-an outlet that the autonomy plan I have described would provide.


MERON BENVENISTI is director of the West Bank Data Project, an organization that studies Israel's policies in the West Bank. He was deputy mavor of Jerusalem from 1974 to 1978.

Doomsday scenarios are so common in the Middle East that any prediction of incremental change seems anticlimactic. All signs, it is true, point to imminent disaster - perhaps a war between Israel and Syria, or a bloody Palestinian revolt in the West Bank, or a major upheaval in the Persian Gulf. And the regional situation is extremely unstable: the Lebanese civil war and the Iran-Iraq conflict drag on; Israeli and Syrian troops maintain an uneasy cease-fire only twenty-five miles from Damascus, Israel's seventeen-year-old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza continues.

But this chaos is nothing out of the ordinary. Indeed, any lull would seem unreal. We are so transfixed by major and minor conflagrations that we pay little attention to the fundamental changes that have transformed the situation in the Middle East. All the preconceptions that molded our understanding are now obsolete and misleading. The future is already here, and in the next decade we shall witness a gradual realization of the nature of this new reality.

Israel in the 1980s is a country transformed. The pioneering Zionist ethos has dissipated, and a managerial class, drawn from the top ranks of what is now an advanced consumer society, runs the country. After much struggle, this class extricated itself from the old ideologies and negotiated a grand Likud-Labor coalition. The ideological wars that remain in Israel are fought by fundamentalists and socialists. The fundamentalists, represented by the rightwing Tehiya party and Gush Emunim ("Bloc of the Faithful"), offer a simple philosophy based on the absorption of the West Bank into Israel through a vigorous program of Jewish settlement. To the fundamentalists, the settlements are the cells of a new society founded on Orthodox Jewish values - values that are implacably anti-Western and xenophobic. The Israeli left, meanwhile, is composed of loose coalitions that seem to agree only in their criticism of the right; they remain unable to formulate a positive platform. The left's extreme critique has done little more than provoke a violent counterreaction from the right. The Israeli right, which is largely made up of working-class Sephardic Jews with traditional religious values, is outraged by what it considers the elitist, unpatriotic excesses of the left, most of whose members are middle-class Ashkenazi Jews who do not share those traditional values.

Most of the Israeli electorate, however, views both ideological camps as fringe groups. Likud and Labor have received almost the same number of votes in recent elections, demonstrating that the Israeli public is indifferent, to say the least, to the current prospects of seeking a solution to the festering problem of the occupied territories. Most Israelis appear to accept the status quo - continued Israeli domination over 1.3 million Palestinians. Even moderate and liberal Israelis no longer hold the belief that the Israeli-Arab conflict will significantly influence the future of the Middle East.

In this they are not alone. The almost axiomatic conviction that the 100-year-old dispute between Jews and Arabs over possession of the Holy Land lies at the heart of that conflict is now being questioned in Arab circles, let alone in the West. The Arab states care little about the Palestinians, as was demonstrated quite clearly during the siege of Beirut. They feel powerless to influence events in the occupied territories - moreover, they believe they have done for the Palestinians what they could. Besides, they are faced with more urgent problems, such as the spread of Ayatollah Khomeini's influence. The West, and especially the United States, increasingly views the Palestinian question as a local one, unrelated to the major geopolitical issues that directly affect Western interests in the region. The Palestinian predicament is perceived as a human rights issue, not a problem of Realpolitik.

The conflict that once engulfed the entire region is now shrinking to its pre-1948 size. But the new phase of the dispute is less amenable to solution, and its urgency is felt only by those who are directly involved in it: the Arabs and Jews who reside between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. And even they, blinded by obsolete perceptions, do not see the real predicament. The Palestinians still hope for a comprehensive solution based on the establishment of their own state. The Israelis, having attained their territorial goals, do not perceive the price they will have to pay for that victory: the abandonment of their other national objective, a Jewish and democratic state. The Israel of the future, with its enormous Arab minority, can be a democratic state or a Jewish state, but it cannot be both. In the meantime, the horse-and-rider coexistence of the Palestinians and the Israelis is becoming quasi-permanent. The Palestinian horse suffers inequities and the Israeli rider's moral and social integrity steadily disintegrates.

There is no reason to feel optimistic about Israeli-Arab relations. The only hope - if hope it is - is that young Israelis and Arabs will free themselves from the perceptions of their elders, and mold a new world in a new image.

Dec1984

© 2017 Mark Danner