There are three types of reactions to the Arab peace initiative
, that was renewed at the recent Arab League Summit
, and all are legitimate:
1- The initiative is a GOOD THING and Israel should respond positively.
2- The initiative a BAD THING, very dangerous for Israel and should be ignored.
3- The initiative is Khalam Fahdi,
empty talk arising from internal needs of the Saudis and the Arabs, that is not a sincere peace effort.
Those who say the initiative is a GOOD THING for Israel, like Akiva Eldar
and Doni Remba
, can point out that this initiative is a historic first, since it offers Arab willingness to recognize Israel, and it does not explicitly mention Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees, but only refers obliquely to UN General Assembly Resolution 194
, which may be interpreted, and is generally interpreted by Israel, as not providing for a "Right" of Return. Advocates of the "GOOD THING" view can claim that Saudi Arabia and other countries are anxious to get the Arab-Israeli conflict off the table as an issue that can be used by extremists to destabilize their regimes, and interested in forming a united Arab front against Iran.
Those who say the initiative is a BAD thing can point to several very disquieting symptoms. The first is that Arabs generally interpret resolution 194 as granting Right of Return to the Palestinian refugees. The second is that the initiative pointedly omits all mention UN Security Council Resolution 242
, which insists on the right of all nations in the area to secure borders and requires a negotiated peace. This omission, in a document that appeals to "international legitimacy" is very strange, because Security Council resolutions have the force of international law and take precedence over General Assembly Resolutions. The third is that the Arab Summit resolutions of 2007
, which revived the peace initiative, also included a series of vituperative and incendiary accusations of Israeli "aggression," which is not a great way to start off a "peace process." Arab states rebuffed or ignored Ehud Olmert's call
for a conference to negotiate peace. A Saudi source said there could be no talks before Olmert accepted the Arab peace initiative
because, according to him, there is no point in meeting until everyone agrees on the agenda. That is not a call for peace and negotiations, but rather a call for unconditional surrender based on a diktat
. With due respect to the Saudi army as well as to the claims of the Arabs under law and justice, the Arabs are not in a position to dictate terms of unconditional surrender to Israel. The fact is, that the conflict began when Arab states committed aggression against Israel in 1948, in defiance of a UN resolution. If they want respect for Resolution 194, they should have respected UN General Assembly Resolution 181
, which partitioned the British Mandate into two states. Moreover their claims to "rights" in Jerusalem are contradicted by UN resolutions that declared Jerusalem to be a "Corpus separatum" under international administration. The fact that it was illegally occupied by Jordan in 1948 and ethnically cleansed of its Jewish population certainly does not the Arabs any legal claim on Jerusalem. The Arabs have only a very weak case in "international legitimacy." Nor does the military situation, despite the mediocre performance of the IDF this summer, put the Arab states in a position to dictate unconditional surrender. Once Israel "accepts" the Saudi peace offer, the Arabs can say that Israel has therefore accepted their version of resolution 194, that includes right of return, and that Israel has agreed to return to the borders of 1967, giving up Jerusalem and other areas. That would make it very difficult for Israel to negotiate much of anything, and it is difficult to see what there would be left to negotiate at all. Of course, the Saudi assertion that there cannot be a meeting unless everything is agreed in advance is nonsense. In any case, the Madrid conference was initiated without any agreement in advance, and it nonetheless resulted in a peace treat with Jordan. So we cannot take the Saudi complaints seriously.
The most ominous sign however, was the statement at a press conference by Prince Saudof Saudi Arabia with Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League. According to the statement, as released by the Saudi Press Agency:
ON THE ARAB SUMMIT NOT HAVING FIXED A DATE FOR THE PEACE INITIATIVE, PRINCE SAUD SAID THE ARAB LEADERS HAVE DECLARED A CLEAR-CUT INITIATIVE.
HE SAID THE ARAB STATES WILL SIGN A PEACE AGREEMENT WITH ISRAEL WHEN IT CONCLUDES ITS NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE PARTIES WHOSE LANDS IT IS OCCUPYING, ADDING THAT THERE IS NO FIXED DATE FOR SUCH A DEVELOPMENT.
In other words, Israel is supposed to agree to far-reaching concessions with Syria and the Palestinians, and even implement those concessions, only to find that the other Arab states, which have made no formal commitment to Israel at all, would renege on the initiative of the Arab League, claiming that the peace settlement was not in accordance with the initiative, for example. Of course that cannot be the basis for progress either. Advocates of the BAD THING view can point out that rather than confronting Iran, Saudi Arabia is cozying up to it. King Abdullah recently entertained President Ahmadinejad of Iran as a visitor, and the summit resolutions were not particularly directed against Iran or Syria.
Advocates of the idea that the initiative is a bluff can point out that Saudi Arabia advanced it in 2002 in order to gain leadership of the Arab world, and that is probably the motive for the present campaign. An additional side benefit is that the initiative ingratiates the Saudis and the Arabs with the Americans at no cost. In return for a theoretical peace offer that might be consummated in the far distant future, the Arabs are liable to demand a very real quid pro quo from the United States in terms of arms deliveries for example, which Gulf States are anxiously negotiating with the USA, and which have been held up by Israeli objections. Last, but not least, the initiative pushes Israel to a corner, and makes it look like the inflexible party that does not want peace. It is a "peace offensive" in the literal sense of the term. It should likewise be noted that when US Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice optimistically breezed into the Middle East, she too, like Olmert, had the idea of taking the Arabs at their word and convening a mini summit of Arab leaders and Israel. She was quickly disabused of this notion by King Abdullah of Jordan. Talk about peace is one thing, but now is not the time for serious negotiations. Condoleezza Rice and the US represent another unknown factor in the equation. Nobody asked her outright if US support for the Arab Peace Initiative include approval of Israeli negotiations with Syria or not. From that point of view, it is not clear if the US is sincere in its enthusiasm for the Arab peace initiative.
How do we sort out the alternatives? We do not. They are all probably correct. The Saudis saw nothing to lose and everything to gain by advancing the Arab peace initiative. It gives them prestige and ingratiates them with the Americans. They may be quite sincere, and are apparently negotiating secretly with Israel over refugee compensation schemes. The Arab League itself is not a single unified body but a collection of states. Jordan and Egypt may be anxious for a peace settlement that would legitimize their own peace treaties with Israel, and perhaps that is why they voted for the proposal. Syria wants to get back the Golan heights, so they voted for the proposal. Some states may believe literally in right of return, while others are willing to compromise. Some states may believe in absolute return to 1967 borders, while others might be willing to compromise.
The bottom line is that it doesn't matter what the motivation for the plan might be, Israel must respond positively. If it is a GOOD THING, then Israel must seize the opportunity. If it is a BAD THING or a gimmick in the ongoing conflict, then Israel must not allow the Arab states to gain an advantage and isolate it, by portraying Israel as intransigent. Olmert could go further than he did in his offer. He could say explicitly that he invites Syria as well to the conference, as Rami Khouri wishes. He could satisfy Saudi demands that he "accept" the Arab peace offer, noting that Israel interprets Resolution 194 different from the Arabs, and includes Resolution 242 in international legitimacy, and referring also to the letters of President Bush that promised that the US would support the Israeli position that it can maintain settlement blocs. He could use the opportunity to point out that "international legitimacy" does not support exclusive Arab rights in East Jerusalem. He could call, as Khoury states, for a conference in Geneva. Khoury advocates this idea as a "potent Arab offer." If Israel makes the offer, it can be equally potent, and should be equally acceptable in the Arab world. Olmert could also come up with his own plan, which would demonstrate that Israel is serious about peace. He could, and should, point out that Resolution 194 refers to "refugees," without stating their nationality, and that any rights it vouchsafes to Arab refugees of the conflict, must apply as well to Jewish refugees forced out of Jerusalem, Hebron, Neve Yaakov and other places in 1948, and to masses of Jews expelled or "allowed to leave" without taking any property from Iraq, Syria, Egypt and other countries. Olmert can do many things, but he should not ignore the Arab peace initiative.
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Replies: 3 Comments
down with the Zionism and Israel
iranian, Monday, April 16th
Thanks for writing this up. I wish everybody good luck in their efforts to bring real peace to the region.
Mike Barenti, Thursday, April 5th
Under any circumstances, I do not trust the majority of the Arabs governments. The so-called peace talks and treaty may be a fatal trap for Israel.We must voice against this situation. Plus, we need to return to the original plan for Greater Israel before the War in 1948. Screw the Arabs!
J. Scott Strauss, M.S.
J. Scott Strauss, M.S., Thursday, April 5th
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