A comprehensive Mideast peace is a fantasy
The upcoming Arab League Summit bears a greater resemblance to the Arab Disagreement League.
Pieces of a puzzle that do not fit together but are being forced together so some sort of picture can emerge - this is how the Arab League summit in Doha is looking. Host Qatar, is not getting along with Egypt. Jordan is furious with Qatar because Al Jazeera, owned by the emirate's ruling family, reiterated the claim that the late King Hussein was a CIA agent. Sudan, whose participation was still unclear as of Saturday afternoon because of the international arrest warrant for its president, is trying to rally Arab support. Egypt and Syria are still not reconciled. Saudi Arabia has embarked on a pan-Arab reconciliation effort, but with limited success. The Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, have not reached an agreement. And Iraq is still considered suspicious, in part because it is under Iranian influence. In short, it looks like the Arab Disagreement League.
On the face of it, this scene is not uncommon. It's a joyous moment for anyone seeking proof of a divided Arab Middle East, in which even the lowest common denominator is being destroyed. But it's also a scene that should raise thoughts about the concept of the Arab initiative, which passed during the 2002 Arab League summit in Beirut.
At that time the Arab countries unified on an issue they had never been asked to agree on. The enormous efforts of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with cooperation from Jordan and a number of Gulf states, spurred a new sort of Arab unity: to grant Israel security, declare an end to the conflict, and hold diplomatic ties and normalize relations. This would be in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from all the territories, the establishment of a Palestinian state and a just solution to the refugee problem. That was the summit that officially replaced the Arab strategic outlook toward Israel formulated at the Khartoum summit in 1967 − the three nos: no recognition, no peace and no negotiations.
However, the strategic change the initiative offers depends entirely on across-the-board Arab support. Without it, there is no point.
Theoretically, the initiative is still alive and kicking, but after seven years of stagnating in the frozen sauce of diplomatic inactivity, we can agree to put the initiative in a folder along with the road map, the Mitchell and Tenet reports and the other beautiful documents that hit the rocks in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
After we said Israel had lost another historic opportunity for peace, also because of the cold shoulder it gave the initiative, it would not be terrible sacrilege to argue that comprehensive peace was just too ambitious, and not only because of Israel. Will Iraq, which follows Iranian dictates, make peace with Israel just because of a peace agreement with the Palestinians? Will Lebanon, whose policy is dictated by Hezbollah, agree to peace with Israel even if a peace agreement is reached with Syria? And will fundamentalist Sudan be in any hurry to shake hands with Benjamin Netanyahu?
And what will the Palestinians propose? Peace in Ramallah and war in the Gaza Strip? Even the Gulf states will find it hard to form a uniform policy on Israel. The view claiming that the Middle East is only waiting for an order - a peace agreement between Israel, Syria and the Palestinians - to march together toward Jerusalem and lay down its swords, was appropriate for the Middle East when there were no Arab states.
Nonetheless, the crumbling summit in Qatar, which is calling itself the "Arab reconciliation summit," does not merely prove that the Arab initiative is no longer valid because there is no longer accord among the Arabs. It requires the adoption of a new political paradigm that considers individual agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Israel, Syria and Lebanon, as essential interests even if Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Algeria do not join such a peace with Israel the next day.
The question before the Israeli government and its critics is not what would have happened had Israel and the Arabs adopted the Arab initiative, but how can talks with the Palestinians and Syrians make progress as if there were no Arab initiative. This realistic approach is now necessary instead of the endless debate over what the Arab initiative includes or excludes, and certainly instead of that fantasy of comprehensive peace.