How the U.S. Lost Its “Honest Broker” Role in the Palestinian War of Independence


When General William Westmoreland, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, returned to Washington from an “assessment” visit to Vietnam in March 1968 he reported to President Lyndon Johnson that the half-million-strong U.S. military personnel already there needed to be augmented by an additional 200,000. Johnson knew that public opinion would not support a deeper commitment in Vietnam, and thus that the United States could not win the war.

The following year, in 1969, four students at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio demonstrating against the Vietnam war and the bombing of Cambodia were shot to death by the Ohio National Guard. So great was the nation’s psychological shock at the killing of these young people that the American people as a whole began to realize, as President Johnson already had privately accepted, that the Vietnam war was wrong, and that the United States could not win.

Two new developments on the ground, and another at the international affairs level of the Israel-Arab conflict will force Israel to face its own “Vietnam” in the current bloody clashes with the Palestinians. On the ground U.S.-built Israeli helicopter gunships have fired for the first time at Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank and Gaza. Second, Palestinians inside Israel demonstrated in sympathy with their fellows in the West Bank and Gaza, at least 12 of them being shot dead by the Israeli army.

These “on the ground” developments signal that Israel’s hard-line goal of retaining the West Bank and Gaza, with as few Palestinians in residence left as possible, is unattainable, and that Israel cannot win its “war” at any acceptable price.

At the international level, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s refusal for several days to accept former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s invitation to attend a summit meeting at Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh signaled America’s loss of credibility as an “honest broker” in the Arab-Israel dispute. This means that our Israel-imposed role as sole arbiter in Israeli/Palestinian matters is gone and cannot be restored. Only after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and European Community representative Javier Solano lent their highly respected weight to the invitation did the Palestine Authority leader accept Clinton’s invitation.

The loss of credibility of  former President Clinton and his all-Zionist advisers profoundly altered the Middle East landscape. After decades of marginalization, both the U.N. and the European Community suddenly are full players in the Arab-Israeli dispute. The fraudulent U.S. “peace process,” under which the United States always sought to undermine the Palestinians and help the Israelis, is history.

Israel’s unprecedented use of helicopter gunships and F-16s against Palestinian demonstrators means that the Jewish state no longer can win West Bank/Gaza street battles without them. The fury and determination of Palestinians against Israel’s illegal occupation looks increasingly like the Palestinian War of Independence.

Israel will continue to try to batter Palestinians into ceding it all of Palestine. But Israel will fail, however, because the United Nations, the European Community and the rest of the world-including, eventually, the United States-will insist on implementing, after more than three decades, the only sensible permanent solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute: the “land for peace” agreement as laid forth in U.N. Resolution 242. Under 242, Israel will receive 78 percent of Palestine and the Palestinians 22 percent-i.e., the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

As the Vietnam war grew increasingly untenable to the American public, a frequently suggested, and only half-facetious, solution was for the U.S. simply to declare victory and go home. Similarly, the day draws ever nearer when Israel finally must realize its only viable choice is to quit while it’s ahead.

Mr. Andrew I. Killgore, a former US ambassador to the state of Qatar, is publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.