By Vic Rosenthal
The so-called Arab peace initiative is on the agenda for the Arab summit in Riyadh that begins today. There has been a great deal of recent interest in this plan, much pressure on Israel to accept it, and suggestions from Israel that it might be acceptable in some modified form.
The proposal originated with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah in 1992, when he leaked it via New York Times writer Thomas Friedman. Abdullah subsequently gave a speech at the Beirut Arab summit later that year. This speech can be called the “original Saudi version” of the plan (the last two links include the actual text of the documents plus interesting introductions by Ami Isseroff). Finally, the Beirut Summit accepted a modified version of the proposal, which is the Arab initiative that is on the table today. In typical diplomatic fashion, all versions are ambiguous; and to add to the ambiguity, comments from Israel and the US are unclear about which version they are talking about.
However, the Arabs, as exemplified by Saudi King Abdullah, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and the Arab League’s Amr Moussa, have stated clearly that what is on the table is the final version as approved by the Beirut summit. And they have also said that they are not prepared to negotiate changes to this document; rather they expect Israel to accept it in toto as a basis to begin negotiations.
The Saudi foregin minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal expressed the hardline position in an interview with the British Daily Telegraph yesterday:
The Telegraph quoted al-Faisal as saying that Israel could choose whether to accept the proposal or reject it. “What we have the power to do in the Arab world, we think we have done,” he said. “So now it is up to the other side because if you want peace, it is not enough for one side only to want it. Both sides must want it equally.”
He predicted a gloomy reality in the event that would reject the initiative: “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.” — YNet
Unfortunately, the plan is not a plan for peace in its present form. I would describe it as terms for Israeli surrender. Let’s look at its provisions:
Emanating from the conviction of the Arab countries that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties, the council:
1. Requests Israel to reconsider its policies and declare that a just peace is its strategic option as well.
This statement implies that Israel’s policy is that there must be a military solution to the conflict. This, of course, has never been the case. The significance of it is that Israel, as the ‘aggressor’, is understood to be responsible for the various wars since 1948, and must undo the damage — to the refugees and their descendants and to the Arab nations.
2. Further calls upon Israel to affirm:
I- 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.
II- Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.
III- 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.
Israel is certainly prepared to give up territory for a peace agreement, as she demonstrated in 2000-2001, but is not prepared to go back to the pre-1967 borders. Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war — which she views (correctly) as a war in which she was attacked by several Arab nations with the intent to destroy her — and, probably with the exception of some outlying Arab neighborhoods, will not return it. There are some areas of the West Bank — for example, Gush Etzion — where Jews lived prior to 1948 and which were ‘ethnically cleansed’ by the Arab armies in that war, which will not be returned. There are large settlements near the green line which are essentially suburbs of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem which will not be returned. And finally, although Israel has in the past expressed a willingness to negotiate a return of the Golan heights to Syria, the present hostility of Syria as shown by her arming and support of Hezbollah and her own military buildup, indicates that for strategic reasons now is not the time to proceed on this track.
General Assembly resolution 194 is the resolution which ended the 1948 war. Here is what it said about refugees:
11. Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible;
We can note that the 600,000 Arabs who were refugees at the time of this resolution are not the same as the 4-5 million of their descendants that are now considered ‘refugees’ by the UN. The number of those that would be prepared to “live at peace with their neighbors” is unclear, as is any way of determining which ones these are. And finally, it can be argued that the “Governments or authorities responsible” are the five Arab nations which invaded Israel in 1948.
Resolution 194 obviously expected the Arab refugee problem to be similar to other historical refugee situations, which were dealt with in a reasonable time frame, and did not take into account the remarkably cynical approach of the Arab nations which made the Palestinians into a club with which to beat Israel. The reference to this resolution in the proposal is not at all helpful, especially since the Arab nations have always interpreted 194 as requiring the return of the refugees to Israel proper and not to a Palestinian state. Implementation of this condition would simply be the end of Israel as a Jewish state, and will not be accepted by Israel.
And just in case anyone thought that some Palestinian refugees might have an option other than ‘return’, the following was inserted at the Beirut summit:
4. Assures the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries.
So no Arab country can be required to take any of the refugees. This could even be interpreted to include ‘Palestine’!
So much for what Israel has to do. Now, here is what the initiative promises in return:
3. Consequently, the Arab countries affirm the following:
I- Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region.
II- Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.
Two things here are significant: first is what is not said. It is not said that Israel will receive full recognition; it only refers to a peace agreement and “normal relations…in the context of” this peace agreement. It is not said that Palestinians give up the right to ‘resistance’ to ‘occupation’ — which the Hamas-dominated PA government views as including all of Israel. It does say that the Arab countries will “provide security for all states in the region”; does this mean that Israel may not “provide security” for herself?
Second is the order of events specified by this proposal. First, Israel is required to withdraw and accept refugees, which — if implemented as intended — would place her in a security situation as bad or worse than 1948. Then, and only then, is an undefined “peace agreement” created, which the Arab nations would guarantee.
This only makes sense as terms of surrender for a country that has just lost a major war, not a two-sided peace agreement.
Given that Israel is presently fighting a war with Hamas and other Palestinian factions whose stated policy is that Israel is entirely illegitimate and should be destroyed, given that Israel has just fought a war with Hezbollah that has the same policy, and given that in several major wars since 1948 the Arab nations have attacked Israel and tried to destroy her, would it not be more just to start with a cessation of violent actions against Israel and a recognition of her right to exist as a nation among nations before asking her to take steps that would compromise her security?
And given that the Arab nations expelled about 800,000 Jews after 1948 (who were successfully resettled in Israel and other places), would it not be just to understand that the Arab refugee problem needs to be solved primarily by the Arab states and not by Israel?