Israel's military action against the PLO in Lebanon and recent developments in the Iran-Iraq war provide a unique opportunity for creative American diplomacy in the Middle East. Despite the notion that has gained currency in certain circles that these conflicts create dangers for the United States and gains for the Soviets in the region, the very opposite can be true if Washington pursues the right course.
This is the time to look at and apply the principles which brought the major American gain in the region over the last decade: the Egyptian-Israeli peace. That peace demonstrated the efficacy of American leadership, excluded the Soviets from a major role, and brought the two strongest Middle East nations away from war. It was the product of principles which have been laid aside the past few years, but which now the US must reassert in the new environment. Those principles are:
* The core of the Middle East conflict is Arab rejection of Israel. Conventional wisdom in certain circles maintains that the Palestinian issue is the heart of the problem. The propagation of this theme encourages Arab leaders to believe that since the onus for peace is on Israel they never have to change their attitude toward Israel. Anwar Sadat knew otherwise. He recognized that the solution of all problems must follow the willingness to make peace. He came forward unequivocally for peace with Israel, and once he did that Israel responded with magnanimity, giving up the entire Sinai, oil fields, air bases, and settlements. Now other Arabs must understand that the process of peace first requires their coming forward in the manner of Sadat.
* Progress toward peace can take place only without the PLO. There are those who repeatedly assert that Israel must talk to the PLO, that the PLO is moving toward moderation, that there can be no progress without the PLO. In fact, the PLO is the major obstacle to Arab-Israeli peace, ideologically committed to Israel's destruction, never moving an iota from that commitment and assassinating potential peacemakers among the residents of the West Bank and Gaza. Sadat did not allow his desire for peace to be slave to PLO threats or destructiveness.