They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
Saying "Peace, peace," when there is no peace.
April 8, 2007 - The "new" Arab peace initiative is being hailed as a breakthrough. But what is its real significance?
This "new" plan is virtually identical to the plan the Saudis proposed at the Arab Summit in March 2002. Here are some of its key provisions, as stated in the actual text:
Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.
Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.
The acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries.
In return for these Israeli concessions, the Arabs promise "normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace."
This plan requires analysis. Looking at it closely, one can see that it would leave Israel in a worse position than it was in prior to 1967. Israel would have to withdraw from all areas occupied since 1967, which would mean once again a division of Jerusalem and the loss of Judaism's holiest site. In addition, Israel would have to accept a right of return for Palestinian refugees. The Arab interpretation of Resolution 194 always included this right of return. In addition, the Saudi plan rules out any resettlement ("patriation") of Palestinian refugees that Arab host countries may decide is against their interest. There is only one place remaining for the resettlement of the Palestinian refugees: Israel.
It should be obvious that Israel cannot accept such a demand. The right of return alone would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state, replaced by a second Palestinian state with Jews inevitably becoming a persecuted minority. As if this were not bad enough, it gets worse: in exchange for Israel's in effect signing away its existence, the Arabs promise only "normal relations."
The use of the phrase "normal" instead of "normalized" is deliberate. When Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah first mentioned his peace plan to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in February 2002, he spoke of "full normalization" of relations with Israel. Primarily as a result of Syrian pressure, Arab leaders changed that language to "normal relations" and "comprehensive peace." "Normalization" is recognized diplomatic language meaning full relations between two countries. "Normal relations" is a vague term that could mean almost anything. Even between Arab countries, "normal relations" are not always friendly and sometimes actively belligerent (just ask the Saudis and Kuwaitis how they felt about Saddam). The Israeli government noticed the change in wording and asked for clarification of the term "normal relations." None was forthcoming.
And it gets even worse. Not only does the Saudi initiative promise Israel something that may turn out to be no more than a cloud of smoke, it does not even commit to delivering it in a timely fashion. A recent press release by Prince Saud and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa states that, even after Israel will have concluded negotiations with the Palestinians, there is still "no fixed date" for the Arab states to sign a peace agreement with Israel. They could do it sooner, later, or never.
It is now quite clear that, taken on its face, the Saudi peace plan is a sham. But, the optimists say, the Saudis don't really mean their plan to be taken literally. It is just a starting point for negotiations, during which the Arabs are bound to become more reasonable.
We need to hear what the Arabs themselves have to say about this.
Arab League leader Amr Moussa ruled out any changes to the Saudi plan, saying: "The Israeli response was to ask for an amendment. We tell them to accept it first. We are at a crossroads - either we move toward a real peace or see an escalation in the situation."
Prince Saud called the plan a "final offer" and amplified the threat: "If Israel refuses, that means it doesn't want peace and it places everything back into the hands of fate. They will be putting their future not in the hands of the peacemakers but in the hands of the lords of war."
It could hardly be clearer that the Saudi plan is not a proposal. It is an ultimatum. Either Israel accepts it as is, or will face the "lords of war."
Israel has already asked for changes and was refused. The Israeli Foreign Ministry tried to take a constructive approach and issued this statement: "Israel is sincerely interested in pursuing a dialogue with those Arab states that desire peace with Israel, this in order to promote a process of normalization and cooperation. Israel hopes that the Riyadh summit will contribute to this effort." It stated further: "a direct dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians is necessary." Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres appeared on al-Jazeera and appealed to Arab leaders to discuss the plan together: "Letís sit together as we are supposed to and work on it as we did before with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians."
Arab reaction was hostile. Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal retorted: "This does not express a positive stand of a country that wants peace" - as if the simple request of the Israelis to sit with Arabs together as equals would be an affront to Arab dignity.
Arab reaction has given the optimists their answer: the Arab leaders are not interested in joint discussions or in considering changes to their plan. The plan is not sincere. Its purpose is to isolate Israel further and to blame Israel for the failure of the peace process. It also buys the Saudis some prestige in their effort to assert themselves as leaders of the Arab world.
If the Arabs were truly sincere, they would not show such intransigence and belligerence at the suggestion that their plan could be subject to negotiations. The plan is an attempt to impose Arab terms on Israel, terms that would leave Israel worse off than in 1967 and that would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state, terms the Arabs know that Israel cannot accept. If the Arabs were sincere, they would accept what Israel has been requesting all along: face-to-face negotiations without preconditions.
Why should the rest of the world care? Because the attempt to force Israel to sign a suicide pact can never succeed. It can only lead to a conflagration. And that would be disastrous for everyone. A fair solution must involve terms that would allow for both Jewish and Palestinian self-determination, and must be achieved through a process of give-and-take among people who respect each other as equals. Dictating ultimatums may serve the Saudi quest for power, but the world is better served by opposing it and insisting on a real solution, one that requires effort from both sides.
Blair, David. "Accept Peace Plan or Face War, Israel Told." Telegraph.co.uk, March 28, 2007.
Fattah, Hassan M. "Heads of Arab States Prod Israel to Embrace Peace Offer." New York Times, March 30, 2007.
Gambill, Gary C. "Syria and the Saudi Peace Initiative." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, vol. 4 no. 3, March/April 2002.
Issacharoff, Avi. "Arab Leaders Unanimously Approve Saudi Peace Initiative at Riyadh Summit." Ha'aretz, March 29, 2007.
MacFarquhar, Neil. "A Top Saudi Urges the U.S. To Restrain the Israelis." New York Times, May 11, 2002.
MacFarquhar, Neil. "Saudi in Strong Plea to Israel and Arabs." New York Times, March 28, 2002.
"Prince Saud and Amr Mousa Hold Joint Press Conference 5 Riyadh." Saudi Press Agency, April 1, 2007.
Reuters, trans. "The Arab Peace Initiative." March, 2002.
"Seder Bombing Shakes Israel Anew Cease-Fire, Saudi Plan in Limbo." Jewish News Weekly of Northern California, March 29, 2002.
Peace with Realism