The Arabs are mistaken

By Vic Rosenthal

Arab leaders, including Mahmoud Abbas, have been trying to pressure Israel to accept the Arab initiative:

Arab leaders on Thursday called on Israel to accept their land-for-peace offer and open direct negotiations with the Arabs, hoping to give a new push to the long-stalled Mideast peace process.

But still unknown is how the Arabs will persuade Israel to accept the initiative, which the United States and Europe hope can help build momentum for a resumption of peace talks. Israel has said it could accept the offer with some changes, but the Arab leaders refused to amend it.

Instead, they created “working groups” that will seek to drum up support for the deal from the US, UN and Europe…

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas warned that a war would break out in the region if Israel rejects the Palestine “hand of peace”…

“Whoever wants to change the Saudi initiative want to escape from a peace agreement,” added Abbas. — Jerusalem Post

As Shalom Freedman pointed out in a comment on my article about the Arab plan yesterday, it’s not clear who Abbas is speaking for. Hamas, the major partner in the unity government, has spoken with two voices: Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas ‘military’ leader has explicity rejected the plan, while Ismail Haniyeh, Palestinian PM has been noncommittal, saying that the plan is irrelevant since Israel won’t accept it. This could change as a result of Saudi pressure on Hamas to get with the program.

Arab leaders have also reaffirmed their position that the initiative must be accepted as it stands, with no changes. As I wrote yesterday, Haniyeh is quite right that Israel will not accept this. And the other Arabs must know this also. So why are they refusing to accept the idea of any changes to the plan? There are several possibilities:

  1. They will negotiate at some point, but they want to strengthen their position.
  2. They do not intend to negotiate, but they want to be able to say that Israel does not want peace in the hopes that the West will force Israel to make concessions that will weaken her, such as returning the Golan to Syria.
  3. They believe their own propaganda that Israel is collapsing, that her army is weak, and that she can be pressured by a combination of threats and Saudi influence on the West into accepting the initiative in a form close to the original.

I can only speculate, but I suspect that the truth is closest to option 3. If so, this is a miscalculation. It’s true that the war in Lebanon exposed problems in the army which will take some time to correct, but it’s also true that important lessons were learned. And although support for Israel in the US is not what it once was, it is also not as weak as the Arabs think. And while Israel has internal problems, a strong consensus exists that she must not take responsibility for the refugee issue, or completely withdraw to the pre-1967 lines.

The Arabs, in their passion to achieve their aims, think that they are much closer to success than they are. They think they smell blood and are ready to push for a final solution (phrasing intended). They are mistaken.

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