Bahraini Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa has written an opinion piece in the Washington Post which at first appears to be a genuine attempt to be reasonable. He says,
This crisis is not a zero-sum game. For one side to win, the other does not have to lose. The peace dividend for the entire Middle East is potentially immense. So why have we not gotten anywhere?
Why indeed? One reason is that when you look at precisely what Khalifa says you see that he — like other Arab leaders — is not really interested in “resolving the dilemma of justice for Palestine without injustice to Israel”, in his words. Khalifa’s statement seems to be worlds away from the Three ‘No’s, — no peace, no recognition and no negotiations — but careful reading shows how little the Arab world has moved since 1967.
We need fresh thinking if the Arab Peace Initiative is to have the impact it deserves on the crisis that needlessly impoverishes Palestinians and endangers Israel’s security.
I certainly agree. The Arab initiative represents the first time the Arab world has said that under any circumstances they would agree to normalize relations with Israel (although there is some ambiguity about what ‘normalize’ means), and that’s significant. But it needs a bit of rethinking. This always brings the following joke to mind:
Man (to girlfriend): “Will you marry me?”
GF: “When Hell freezes over!”
Man (to himself): “Progress! There are some circumstances under which she’ll marry me.”
The main problem with the Arab initiative (also called the Saudi initiative since an early version was proposed by the Saudi king and later taken up by the Arab League) is that it is written to lay the entire responsibility for the conflict upon Israel.
After Israel accepts the Arab narrative of the conflict and responsibility for it, and meets all the Arab demands on such things as borders and refugees — one doubts that what would be left could still be called a Jewish state — then and only then the Arabs will normalize relations with it.
Note that Israel goes first — the Arabs are required to do nothing until Israel has made all the concessions demanded (this is in contrast to the Road Map, in which both sides must share the burdens in each step).
In addition, it is always presented in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion. The only negotiations connected with it will deal with ‘implementation’ — that is, Israel giving up all the 1967 territories, the establishment of the Palestinian state, and the ‘solution’ of the refugee problem.
In essence we have this:
- The three ‘no’s of 1967: We won’t give you anything
- The Arab initiative of today: We’ll give you something, after you surrender everything
You can see why it makes me nervous every time the Obama administration says something positive about the Arab initiative (as Hillary Clinton did this week).
“Fresh thinking” is definitely needed or this proposal is a nonstarter. So what does the Crown Prince suggest?
Our biggest mistake has been to assume that you can simply switch peace on like a light bulb. The reality is that peace is a process, contingent on a good idea but also requiring a great deal of campaigning — patiently and repeatedly targeting all relevant parties. This is where we as Arabs have not done enough to communicate directly with the people of Israel.
An Israeli might be forgiven for thinking that every Muslim voice is raised in hatred, because that is usually the only one he hears. Just as an Arab might be forgiven for thinking every Israeli wants the destruction of every Palestinian [but he doesn’t hear this from Israel — ed].
Essentially, we have not done a good enough job demonstrating to Israelis how our initiative can form part of a peace between equals in a troubled land holy to three great faiths…
To be effective, we must acknowledge that, like people everywhere, the average Israeli’s primary window on the world is his or her local and national media. Our job, therefore, is to tell our story more directly to the Israeli people by getting the message out to their media, a message reflecting the hopes of the Arab mainstream that confirms peace as a strategic option and advocates the Arab Peace Initiative as a means to this end.
In other words, there is no need to rethink the Arab initiative, only to sell it to skeptical Israelis.
“What we’ve got here,” the Crown Prince in effect tells us, “is a failure to communicate.”
No, it’s a lot more than that.
“A failure to communicate” — Paul Newman as Cool Hand Luke