The 1917 Balfour Declaration on the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people stirred the Arab national movement to fight for control of the Land of Israel. The recent Riyadh Declaration grants Israel recognition by the Arab world, and offers to put an end to this fight.
Finally, five years after the idea was hatched at the Beirut summit, politicians in Israel and the West are beginning to recognize the virtues of the Arab initiative. Ehud Olmert told Haaretz that "the Riyadh summit is evidence of a change."
And what change is evident in the prime minister's policy after ratification of the initiative at the summit? Olmert is sticking with the policy of boycotting the Palestinian Authority and whoever is in contact with it. And what about dismantling outposts? First, Mahmoud Abbas should dismantle the government of the terrorist Ismail Haniyeh. And what about Syria? Olmert "wants to reach the possibility of peace," but Bashar Assad and the entire Arab League will have to wait until the prime minister "believes that the conditions have developed" for talks with Damascus.
Nonetheless, Olmert promises he would be happy to participate in a regional summit meeting. He is even ready to begin a dialogue with Saudi Arabia. This was, more or less, the response of his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, to the Beirut Declaration. Sharon also found positive signs in the Saudi initiative, and even invited himself to the Arab summit. The Labor Party also honor the Arab initiative - it allotted a full sentence to it in its political platform, and its chairman, Amir Peretz, mentioned it in his peace plan.
It is clear to all that the Arab League will not discuss with Israel the path of the eastern border and fishing rights in the waters of Gaza. The demand that the Arabs will concede their positions in advance - including the call for a withdrawal to the 1967 lines or mention of UN Resolution 194 regarding the refugee issue - contradicts Israel's traditional policy that rejects pre-conditions for negotiations.
What would we say if the Arabs set as a condition for negotiations the demand that Israel cancel the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, which requires the support of at least 61 MKs to even transfer the Shuafat refugee camp to the Palestinians, not to speak of places holy to Islam?
It is hard to believe that Olmert really fears that negotiations with the Palestinians on the basis of the Arab initiative would compel Israel to evacuate thousands of residents of Ma'aleh Adumim and usher in thousands of Palestinians to Jaffa. If it is not enough that the Beirut-Riyadh decisions grant Israel the right of veto on a solution to the refugee problem, the government holds a written commitment that President Bush delivered to Sharon in April 2004. According to this commitment, the solution will be "through the establishment of a Palestinian state and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel."
This same letter of guarantees, which Olmert and his colleagues in the disengagement camp celebrated, also stated: "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."
If negotiations break down due to the Palestinians' demand to realize the right of return to Israel and/or their opposition to the notion of territorial exchange (which also appears in the Clinton outline from December 2000), the world's most important superpower would stand by Israel's side.
Thus, the problem of the Arab initiative is not in its content or its Arab partners. Like its older sister, the Beirut Declaration, which was thrust aside by the Passover eve attack at the Park Hotel in Netanya, the Riyadh Declaration is a correct initiative under incorrect circumstances. Even if Olmert adopts it, who would follow him?
The prime minister contends that Abbas represents "a minority stream among the Palestinian people." And what stream does the Olmert-Amir Peretz government represent? It represents neither the right nor left, the ultra-Orthodox or religious Zionists. The government has also ceased to represent the central stream, which massively supported a departure from most of the territories and a clean government. The Peace Index indicates that the public does not want to miss the Arab initiative, but believes that this government is incapable of meeting the challenge.
As a rare and historic opportunity appears on the horizon, a leadership of different dimensions is needed. On matters of lesser importance, we went to elections.
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