The news in the last few days has been full of reports about the latest Arab Peace Initiative, apparently a revised and updated version of their last attempt.
To recap the long-forgotten details, the original 2002 Arab (or Saudi) Peace Initiative (API) (full text here) was revolutionary only for the fact that the Arabs agreed to recognize Israel at all, in contrast to the unequivocal Three Noes of Khartoum of 1967. Otherwise, the plan had many problems, not least of which was its “open-ended approach to the refugee issue”, as explained in a Jerusalem Post analysis at the time.
The API has now been revived with a few, seemingly minor modifications, which has breathed life into the Peace Industry and aroused great speculation as to which way the winds are blowing. Opinions abound whether this signifies a new development in the Middle East; whether this initiative is simply some more of the same old would-be utopia as envisioned by Israel’s leftists and liberals everywhere, or is it a rehash of the “salami” method of dismantling Israel as this plan is seen by Israel’s center and right-wing, and by realists everywhere.
Some details (via the JPost):
Arab states appeared to soften their 2002 peace plan on Monday when a top Qatari official said Israel and the Palestinians could trade land rather than conform exactly to their 1967 borders.
Speaking on behalf of an Arab League delegation, Sheikh Hamad appeared to make a concession to Israel by explicitly raising the possibility of land swaps, although it has long been assumed that these would be part of any peace agreement.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni referred to al-Thani’s comments as “very positive news” in an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday morning.
She expressed hope that his comments would help get the Palestinians to return to negotiations and send a message to the Israeli public that an agreement with the Palestinians would lead to normalization of ties with the wider Arab world.
Livni praised both the Arab League and the US for their efforts.
The Arab League proposal offered full Arab recognition of Israel if it gave up land seized in the 1967 war and accepted a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.
The core issues that need to be settled in the more than six-decade dispute include borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees, the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem.
The Prime Minister’s office reacted cautiously to this slightly revised initiative:
he Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement in the name of diplomatic sources, saying that Israel “welcomed the support given by the Arab league delegation and the US secretary of state to the diplomatic process.”
The statement further said that Israel was prepared to start negotiations with the Palestinians immediately, without preconditions, and that it expected them to refrain from placing preconditions on the talks as well.
“The two sides can present their positions in the negotiations,” the statement read.
Thani’s statement appeared to be a softening of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative which called for a two-state solution based on a complete Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines and making east Jerusalem the Palestinian capital, in return for “normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel.”
The cautious response from the Prime Minister’s Office, along with the lack of a direct response from Netanyahu himself to the comments Tuesday, indicates that he wants to tread carefully because of uncertainty about the significance of Thani’s statement, and whether it represents any type of breakthrough.
The response shows that at this point he wants neither to pour cold water on, nor to embrace, a possibly revised Arab Peace Initiative.
The initiative, however, is emerging as a key element in Kerry’s efforts to get the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
While Netanyahu did not address the developments directly, President Shimon Peres did, saying in Rome, “I believe that there is a chance to open negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and that Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] is a genuine partner for peace. The ministers of the Arab League once again expressed their support for the two-state solution, which is also accepted by us, and a broad structure of support is being created for making progress.”
Likewise, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is to head the Israeli team in negotiations with the Palestinians when they restart, wrote on her Facebook page that she welcomed the “messages” coming from the Arab League.
“The important message is that they also recognize that there will be adjustments to the 1967 lines, and that also during days of turmoil in the Arab world, they are committed to normalization with Israel when an agreement is reached with the Palestinians,” she wrote.
Livni said that while there was still “a long way to go” – and while Israel could not accept all the elements of the Arab peace initiative as sacrosanct – “sometimes it is possible to rise above the differences and say succinctly that it is good news that should be welcomed.”
The PA, meanwhile, also voiced cautious support for the Arab League endorsement of minor land swaps, with chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat saying there was nothing new about this position.
But while the PA leadership supported the land swap idea, the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine group condemned the proposal.
The group accused the Arab foreign ministers of “begging” the US to resume the peace process between the PA and Israel.
Another radical group, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, also condemned the land swap idea and accused Qatar of seeking to liquidate the Palestinian issue.
Israeli opposition leader and head of the Labour Party Shelly Yachimovich approved of the peace plan and prodded the Prime Minister to endorse it:
Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) on Wednesday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to act like a “responsible adult” and pursue the amended Arab Peace Initiative recently ratified by the Arab League with an emphasis on mutually agreed land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians.
Netanyahu should endorse the Qatari-led initiative, which was in line with the American approach to peacemaking, Yachimovich told Israel Radio, arguing that even if the process failed to come to fruition, Israel would “gain points” in the international community by demonstrating that it strives for peace.
Israel and the Palestinians seemed closer Tuesday night than at any time over the past few years to a resumption of substantive peace negotiations, after both sides indicated satisfaction with the apparently American-brokered amendment to the Arab League’s longstanding framework for regional peace.
Yachimovich pledged to support and possibly join Netanyahu’s coalition if its right flank moved to pull out over an imminent agreement with the Palestinians.
Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) also expressed cautious optimism Wednesday regarding the prospect of renewed negotiaitons. The fact that the new initiative was likely to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table was a positive development, Erdan told Israel Radio. However, he said, Israel wouldn’t accept the pre-1967 lines as a starting point, or rush into decisions that, in the long term, could harm its security.
Nonetheless, aides to Netanyahu privately cautioned that the path to a resumption of talks had not yet been completely smoothed. Although “very serious efforts” were under way, they said, it could be premature to anticipate an imminent resumption of negotiations, which broke off in late 2010.
In the prime minister’s circle, it was also stressed that new comments by Abbas, to the effect that he had “no preconditions” for a resumption of talks, should not necessarily be read as a breakthrough. Rather than dropping his longstanding demands for an Israeli settlement freeze and for Israeli agreement to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 lines, Abbas was likely merely making a semantic shift, branding such requirements as “obligations” rather than “preconditions.”
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also says that Israel should jump at the chance that the new peace initiative offers:
“I think we cannot, under any condition, pass up on any possibility that will lead to a return to peace talks,” Olmert said. “It’s a historic opportunity that the Knesset cannot afford to miss.”
Olmert also called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, with whom he has had numerous differences of opinion over the years, to “lead Israel to peace talks and stop looking for excuses.”
Shelley Yachimovich’s words above, that Israel should demonstrate willing in order to “gain points with the international community” seem to me a rather juvenile attitude. It is an absurd basis on which to take such a huge gamble with the lives of Israelis. If Israel hasn’t gained points until now for all the huge risks it has taken, including returning the whole of the Sinai, the whole of the Gaza strip, and parts of the northern Shomron, then there is no reason to think that any further “risks for peace” will gain it any more credit. We are not in a popularity race. We are looking to secure Israel’s future and to create a stable peace with a democratic non-hostile partner.
Caroline Glick, in a sizzling article the in Jerusalem Post regarding Alan Dershowitz and the pro-Israel left, addresses this precise problem of how the pro-Israel left do not understand how Israel can reject peace proposals.
Dershowitz told the audience that he had presented a plan to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that involved Israel abrogating Jewish property rights in select areas of Judea and Samaria through a so-called settlement freeze. In exchange, the Palestinians would agree to suspend their efforts to delegitimize and criminalize Israel at the UN and the International Criminal Court.In other words, Dershowitz put forth a plan – which he said Abbas responded positively to – that would require Israel to take a step not required by the agreements it already negotiated with the PLO. And in exchange, the Palestinians would temporarily suspend actions they are taking in material breach of the agreements they signed with Israel.By advocating this “bargain,” Dershowitz revealed that his conception of the Palestinians is based on willful blindness to their nature that equals his apparent blindness to the nature of the Iranian regime.
Read the whole article for an excellent insight into the difficulties that pro-Israel – and Israeli – liberals have in accepting Israel as she is, caused by their “willful blindness” as Caroline Glick so aptly puts it. Her words apply as much to Yachimovich and Olmert as they do to Dershowitz.
Barry Rubin similarly takes a cynical look at the revised API and asks: Is it good or is it a scam?
The Arab League’s decision to sweeten its decade-old proposal offering comprehensive peace with Israel has placed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a bind and swiftly exposed fissures in his new government.
In other words, you’d have to be a fool or a knave to reject this deal and the issue has divided Israel’s government. Yet chief negotiator Tzipi Livni was right to have reacted positively to the proposal and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be right to ultimately reject it.
After all, there are a lot of unaddressed points in the coverage that make me strongly suspect that this is a public relations stunt to convince America and Western opinion that the Arab states want peace with Israel when not all of them do.
And that’s one of the key questions. At the meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry there were representatives of the Arab League, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian Authority.
But Arab League bureaucrats can’t agree on anything. Only a vote of the Arab League’s almost two dozen members can establish an official position. So this was not an Arab League plan at all. To represent it as an official Arab position is, then, untrue.
Indeed, we already know that the Palestinian Authority (PA) opposes this formula. At any rate, the United States cannot even get the PA to negotiate with Israel and yet fantasies of comprehensive peace are spread around by it. The mass media is cooperating in this theme, seeking to make Kerry look good at least.
But what about the other three countries? Are we to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt, the Hizballah-dominated regime in Lebanon, and the quirky but pro-Hamas and pro-Muslim Brotherhood regime in Qatar have suddenly reversed everything that they have been saying in order to seek a compromise peace with Israel? Highly doubtful to say the least.
In other words, the reportage ignored the interesting detail about the three most radical regimes (Qatar’s regional policy is radical; not its domestic policies) suddenly making a concession to Israel that had been previously unthinkable? It’s sort of like taking for granted, say, Joseph Stalin’s supposed embrace of capitalism or France’s rulers proclaiming that American culture is far superior to their own.
Finally, there is a curious lack of mention over the demand, enshrined in the previous “Arab Peace Initiative,” about what is called the “right of return.” Namely, to satisfy PA demands Israel would have to accept the immigration of hundreds of thousands of passionately anti-Israel Palestinians who had lived in the country 60 years ago (or their descendants) and who have been fighting all that time to wipe Israel off the map.
Is the “right of return” as a condition for making peace still in the small print? I don’t see that anyone else has asked that rather important question. Presumably it is still there. Consequently, what is in fact a suicidal offer to Israel is made, by selective reporting, to make it sound like an attractive offer. But if the demand for a massive immigration of hostile Palestinians is indeed dropped that in fact is the real news. Of course, the PA would passionately denounce such a step and since it has said nothing on the point one might assume that this demand still stands.
That doesn’t mean it is a bad thing as a sign of the times. I believe that the Arab states of the Persian Gulf would like to see the Arab-Israeli conflict decline and even end. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates no longer profit from this battle. They are frightened of Iran and revolutionary Islamists, and the Shia Muslim challenge in general. Such governments view Israel as a positive strategic factor given these real and big threats. You might add Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan to the list of moderates. Iraq doesn’t care anymore, while the Kurds in Iraq and Syria are almost pro-Israel.
And if these countries feel that saying or pretending to agree that peace with Israel is a good thing for their image in the West that is positive also. (Unfortunately, though, they know how easily they can get away with double talk.)
On top of that, remember that these governments know that they cannot depend on the United States to get them out of a jam in the face of their rivals and enemies. Indeed, many of them believe—with real reasons–that the Obama Administration is helping their enemies.
In other words, to speak in English in Washington to make the Americans happy is one thing; to do things in practice is something else entirely. This supposed initiative, then, will not go anywhere.
Barry Rubin concludes with the most incisive words of all, which ought to make everyone, politicians, the media and the general population, calm down and take a step back:
Here is the paradox of the situation. The very threats that make some governments wish the conflict would go away are the same threats that stop them from actually doing something about it.