Oct 21 2006

Stripping Israel of Excuses

Published by at 2:22 am under Blogs

by  Daoud Kuttab

October 19, 2006 Edition 39 Volume 4

The Arab League’s peace initiative came some time after the eruption of the Aqsa intifada and followed a plan conceived of by then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The plan was actually leaked to the NY Times’ Tom Friedman in advance over a private dinner with the crown prince and was then adopted as an Arab peace plan at the Arab League Summit in Beirut in March 2002.

In one simple stroke the plan offers all parties what they need while falling entirely in line with international law and legitimacy. It asks for the return of all lands occupied by Israel in 1967, i.e., the Gaza Strip, the West Bank including East Jerusalem, to serve as a future independent Palestinian state, and the Golan Heights to Syria. It also alludes to a “just and fair” resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem, though it is not clear whether the right of return refers to the state to be created or historic Palestine.

In return the plans offers Israel two things it has always sought: recognition by and normalization with all the countries of the Arab world. Recognition includes all Arab states except Egypt and Jordan who have already signed peace treaties with Israel. Normalization includes these two countries, whose people and institutions have so far done little to genuinely accept Israel as a neighbor in the Middle East.

Ask any expert on the Middle East. Survey the majorities of the peoples in the region or ask leaders for their private opinions. They will all say that this is exactly the kind of plan that everyone can agree to. It is what negotiators call a win-win situation.

Only one problem. Israel won’t accept it. Thus it was left on the shelf with a host of other plans, and would have been forgotten had Marwan Barghouti and his fellow Palestinian prisoners not resurrected it from the dustbin of history. The plan is now back at the center of attention because, like Israel, the Hamas-led government refused to accept it despite the fact that all Arab countries, including Syria where some of the Hamas leadership resides, have endorsed it.

Unfortunately, while an extremely practical plan, it has no teeth, no enforcement mechanism and no possibility of realization without the backing of Israel’s powerful allies. Not only has Israel rejected the plan, but the US and major European countries have done nothing to translate it into a binding Security Council resolution or use its political muscle to try and push it through.

The fact that for now Hamas rejects the plan may be a blessing in disguise. The Israeli side has been historically adept at accepting plans and initiatives it could predict would be rejected by the Arab side. This time, Israel seems not to have predicted that Hamas would win the Palestinian elections. Internal pressure on Hamas is now predicated on the movement accepting this plan.

While it is shameful that the international community is unwilling to properly support something that is in line with international law and clearly in the interests of everybody, Palestinian and Arab leaders must also shoulder some blame for having regularly failed to sell whatever merchandise they possess. This plan provides Arab countries with an easy sell if ever there was one, but only if they unite and for once work genuinely for the Palestinian cause.

Ironically, by rejecting the plan, Israel has turned down a clearly articulated idea that has the seal of the approval of every Arab country with which Israel has always coveted normal relations. The message that a continued Israeli rejection of the initiative sends is that Israel is really not interested in any plan that might lead to the return of land to their rightful owners. Israeli officials have explained away their position by pointing to the actions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants. But if Hamas is under extreme pressure to accept this plan, should Israel not be under extreme pressure to do the same?

The Arab Peace Initiative has in effect stripped Israel of all the excuses it has given for not returning Arab lands. Israel stands to obtain peace and normalcy in return for doing so. When will Arab countries have the power and the guile to show the world who is the real obstacle to peace in the region?


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