By Vic Rosenthal
One of the few Arab-initiated peace proposals for Israel and the Palestinians is the so-called Saudi initiative of 2002. Supposedly the idea was suggested by a journalist, Thomas Friedman. I too am a journalist, so I will make my proposal in the hope that an Arab monarch will adopt it.
The Saudi plan states that Israel must withdraw to 1967 borders, reach a ‘just solution of the Palestinian refugee problem’ in the framework of UN resolution 194, and accept a sovereign Palestinian state in the territories with its capital in East Jerusalem. In addition, it specifies that the solution to the refugee problem must not ‘conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries’, which I presume means that no Arab country must accept Palestinian refugees.
“Consequently” [my emphasis], the Arab states will “[c]onsider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region [and] [e]stablish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.”
What’s wrong with this picture?
I don’t want to talk about the small stuff. No, the ‘refugees’ can’t ‘return’ to Israel proper, and there would have to be adjustments of borders based on actual populations. And I don’t want to start in on what it would mean to have a capital in East Jerusalem. I have a much greater issue: the word ‘consequently’.
The very formulation asserts the Arab narrative of the conflict. It assumes that Israel created the problem by taking Arab land and driving out the refugees; hence, Israel must first undo her crime, and then (‘consequently’) she may be forgiven by the Arab world.
In the Israeli narrative, things are different. Israel came into being on lands purchased legally and gained in a defensive war, during which the ancestors of the refugees left for various reasons (and during and after which 800,000 Jewish refugees were forced from Arab countries). Israel then gained additional territory in several additional wars, also essentially defensive. The problem, in other words, was created by Arab aggression and rejectionism.
So it would seem to me that a more just approach would be for Israel to agree in principle to return the territories, with border adjustments, but only after the second part of the Saudi proposal had been implemented. I call this Peace for Land.
Here is my proposal: the Arab nations agree to end the conflict, recognize Israel and her right to exist as a nation like other nations, and establish normal relations. For a period of five years, the success or failure of this process would be monitored by an impartial commission of nations. At the end of the period, if terrorism and warfare against Israel have stopped and normal relations of trade, tourism, communications, etc. have been implemented, then Israel will carry out her part of the bargain and turn over the territories to the Palestinians. Since the territories are too small for an economically viable state encompassing all of the refugees’ descendents, Jordan and Egypt – in recognition of their role in making war and preventing a solution of the refugee problem – would each cede additional land to the Palestinian state.
Of course this is insane. The Arabs do not believe they should have to wait five minutes, no less five years. Terrorism and war would never stop. Look at Oslo, in which the Palestinians were expected to wait for a final settlement and couldn’t stop terrorism even for a week.
The Israeli ‘peace camp’ continually says that Israel must be prepared to sacrifice for peace. The sacrifice required is always concrete: land, settlements, resources, strategic depth, etc. And of course these sacrifices imply a sacrifice of security. Israel leaves Gaza and gets Kassams.
The assumption is that the Arabs want peace also, so they will accept our sacrifice and in turn sacrifice their heartfelt desire to replace Israel with an Arab state. Their sacrifice, of course, is not concrete. The only thing we are asking them to give up is their desire to destroy us.
My proposal is actually a thought-experiment: if the Arabs truly want peace, then they should be willing to make their non-concrete sacrifice first, in return for our concrete one later. This order has the advantage of not compromising anyone’s security.
Since they are certainly not willing to do this, I conclude that destroying us is their primary goal, not making peace with us.
But in the event that I’m wrong, perhaps there’s an Arab king somewhere who wants to make a deal.