Last spring, when the highly volatile Arab League embarked on a Holy War against the infant state of Israel, the entire civilized world shuddered. In blunt and savage terms, the Arabs dedicated themselves to the complete extermination of the new Jewish nation. It was to be a grisly purge and there were grave fears in the United Nations that an explosion in Palestine would wreck the fragile postwar peace.
The U.N. pleaded for a peaceful settlement and prepared to localize the conflict as best it could. Mediators were dispatched with various partition plans, but these were hopeless, impossible plans and were speedily rejected. To make the rejection more emphatic, Count Folke Bernadotte was assassinated by a group of ill-advised and lawless Irgunists. But last week the Holy War seemed to be dying a natural death, a death hastened by the force of Jewish arms. David Ben Gurion, Prime Minister of Israel, announced peace overtures from two of the principal Arab states, Egypt and Trans-Jordan. The question is whether the big powers with strategic and economic stakes in the Middle East will allow these peace talks to reach a final and successful conclusion.
Traditionally suspicious of any strong nation lying across the colonial lifelines, Great Britain is the one nation violently opposed to negotiations which would leave Israel dominant in the Middle East. British strategists view the emergence of a powerful state in Palestine as a direct threat to the Suez Canal, to the vital oil deposits in Iraq, and to the proposed airbases in the Negeb. For these purely military reasons, plus the fact that the Middle East is the one remaining area where Great Britain can exert Imperial power, the British have consistently supported the Arab cause and have pressed for adoption of the inequitable Bernadotte partition of Negeb.
The immediate purpose is to isolate Israel and thus neutralize the supposedly dangerous new state. Great Britain will succeed if the United States can be influenced to follow British leadership in the U.N. The first step would be to ram through the U.N. a modified version of Count Bernadotte's plan giving the entire Negeb to Arabian states. The second step would be enforcement of the plan by stringent economic sanctions.
But such action would fall miserably short of its goal in the long run. Israel would not wither and die. Instead, the new state would cast about for allies, and finding Soviet Russia eager to expand its sphere of influence, would accept Russian economic and military aid. With this rapprochement between Israel and the Soviet completed, American and British statesmen could congratulate themselves on moving their enemy some 800 miles closer to the Suez Canal.
While Israeli leaders are firmly oriented towards the West, there is a growing Communist minority in Palestine that may someday threaten the government. Controlling only about 20 per cent of the vote at present, this Communist segment balloons each time Israel is rebuffed by the United States and Great Britain. And in the economic sphere there is increasing agitation for an oil agreement with the Russian bloc. When Britain pinched off the flow of oil to Haifa's refineries in the hope of stalling Israel's military machine, Romania soon came forward with an attractive deal, proposing to supply all the oil Haifa could handle at a nominal price. The single hitch was that all excess gas would be sold to Eastern Europe, and for this reason the pact was rejected by the Israeli government. Any Anglo-American sanctions on Israel would force the government into a similar deal almost immediately.
Since the United States and Great Britain are so vitally concerned with security, it seems odd that they might support a plan throwing Israel into the Soviet orbit. The wisest move by far would be to encourage direct negotiation between Arabs and the Jewish government. When the peace is settled in favor of Israel, as it certainly will be, the U. S. and Britain should lend all possible aid to the new state in the hope of building a strong, progressive nation. The one great hope for this course of action is in the report that President Truman has notified the British that the United States will no longer support any plan reversing the original U.N. partition of Palestine.