What’s so wrong with the ‘Saudi initiative’ (more correctly, the Arab League initiative)? Couldn’t issues like the ‘return’ of descendants of Arab refugees be negotiated into return to the Palestinian state and compensation? After all, it does represent a breakthrough in that for the first time the Saudis seem to be saying that under some circumstances they would recognize Israel.
Caroline Glick makes the problem clear, when she writes,
With his enthusiastic embrace of the so-called Saudi peace plan, Olmert is committing Israel to accepting the Arab narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Saudi plan is predicated on the wholly mendacious claim that there has never been any Arab aggression against Israel – only Israeli aggression against Arabs and legitimate Arab resistance to Israel. With Olmert now giving his stamp of approval to the Saudi plan, he is denying the country its moral right to defend itself both militarily and diplomatically. [my emphasis]
Leaving Olmert aside (how wonderful if this were possible in more than rhetoric!), her point is well taken. The text of the Arab League approved version of the initiative and the original Saudi version can be found here: “The Arab Peace Initiative“.
There are several reasons that Glick is correct. Consider the introduction and point 1 of the proposal:
Reaffirming the resolution taken in June 1996 at the Cairo Extra-Ordinary Arab Summit that a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of the Arab countries, to be achieved in accordance with international legality, and which would require a comparable commitment on the part of the Israeli government [introduction]
[The Council of Arab States] requests Israel to reconsider its policies and declare that a just peace is its strategic option as well. [point 1, my emphasis]
In other words, the Arab states have chosen the ‘strategic option’ of seeking peace through (their interpretations of) relevant UN resolutions, but Israel has not and must ‘reconsider’. The implication is that the Arabs want peace and Israel does not.
The second point describes the concrete steps that Israel must take — indeed, as the proposal has been presented by the Arabs, must complete — before the Arabs will take action:
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. [note that this includes all of East Jerusalem — ed]
II- Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194. [This has always been interpreted by the Arabs to mean that all 4-5 million Arabs claiming refugee status have a right to choose between compensation or ‘returning’ to Israel proper — ed]
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.
And here is the third point:
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.
The third point begins with the word ‘Consequently’, and the Arabs have made it clear that it is to be understood in a temporal as well as a logical sense — “after the above Israeli actions and as a result of them”. Before discussing the content of the third point, let’s look at the implications of this.
One would expect in a compromise made between equals that steps would be taken by both sides simultaneously, or perhaps with each side making a concession in turn. This gives the impression that neither side is admitting that its present position is untenable, but rather that they are moving together in a cooperative fashion. It also has the practical effect of enabling either side to stop the process if it feels that the other is not living up to its commitments.
But the Arab initiative is exactly the opposite. Israel is required to make all the concessions before the Arab states must do anything. This is reasonable only if we understand the first part — in which Israel must “reconsider its policies” as follows: Israel admits that her policies were wrong and agrees to redress the injustices. Then, and only then, will the Arab states grant ‘peace’ (we’ll discuss what this might be later).
So what exactly is Israel asked to redress?
- By full withdrawal with no adjustments or compromises, Israel admits that the 1967 war was a war of aggression by Israel against the Arabs.
- By ‘return’ or compensation of ‘refugees’ Israel accepts that the consequences of the 1948 war are her responsibility. Everyone agrees that if the ‘refugees’ were allowed into Israel it would be the end of the Jewish state. But it’s also true that accepting responsibility for the refugees by compensation — even if not one ‘returns’ — is an admission of guilt.
So Israel is expected to admit her guilt and sole responsibility for the conflict, and give up everything concrete — land, and possibly even her nation itself. As Glick points out, Arab war and terrorism against Israel are therefore excused because they constitute morally and legally (by the Arabs’ interpretations of UN resolutions) justified resistance against an aggressor.
Now let’s look at what Israel gets, assuming that there still is an Israel after the implementation of point 2.
The conflict will be ‘ended’ — there will be no more fighting. There will be ‘normal relations’. The Arabs will ‘provide security’ for all states in the region.
There is no mention of recognition, even less recognition as a Jewish state. Will Israel even have a role in ‘providing security’ for herself? This is a surrender, not a treaty between equals.
The Arab nations have lost every war they fought against Israel and have had the West save them from suffering the consequences of defeat time and again. Yet they try to dictate terms of surrender as though they had been victorious! What arrogance and chutzpah!
But some say that regardless of all this, Israel should take the proposal seriously, at least as a starting point for negotiations. After all, it is the first time the Arabs — in particular the Saudis –have admitted that under some conditions they will live at peace with Israel. This reminds me of a joke: a man proposes marriage to a woman, who responds “I’ll marry you when Hell freezes over!” So the man goes home and tells his mother, “she hasn’t accepted yet but we have a starting point for negotiations. There are some conditions under which she’ll marry me.”
The only form of this initiative that Israel should be prepared to use as a basis of negotiations should be one turned upside down. Something like this:
Whereas the Arab nations recognize that the state of Israel is fully legitimate and entitled to define itself as a Jewish state for the Jewish people, they agree to end the conflict.
In return, insofar as the Arabs, Iranians and their proxies will prove that they have actually renounced war and terrorism, Israel will negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians — those who accept the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state.