Arab initiative, Israeli choice
What do the candidates prefer − forming a united front with 22 Arab states against Iran, or forming a united front with the settlers against the entire world?
For the third time since the Arab League unanimously voted in favor of the peace plan with Israel, the people here are being called upon to vote for a new Knesset. In a normal country, the various parties' positions on this important initiative would be on full display. In Israel, for the third time, the Saudi initiative is being pushed to the margins. It is far easier to sell fear of the Iranians to the voters and to promise "a strong Israel." What does a peace plan made in Saudi Arabia have in common with an Iranian-produced bomb? Plenty, it would appear.
At the height of the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, a rare missive from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was delivered to the royal palace in Riyadh. The Shi'ite leader displayed reverence toward Saudi Arabia, his sworn enemy, by bestowing on it the title "the leader of the Arab and Muslim world." And he called on King Abdullah to take a more strident stance against "the horror and the killing of your children in Gaza." Prince Turki al-Faisal, who revealed the existence of the letter in an article for The Financial Times, cautions that answering the "call for Saudi Arabia to lead a jihad against Israel would, if pursued, create unprecedented chaos and bloodshed in the region."
These harsh words were penned by an Arab who in the last year helped to lead the public relations campaign for a reconciliation between the Muslim world and Israel and ending the Arab conflict with the Jewish state. Al-Faisal, who was once chief of Saudi intelligence and served as the country's ambassador in Washington and London, lectures and writes unceasingly about the benefits of the Saudi peace initiative. In touting the plan, the prince is not deterred from publicly meeting with Israelis (including this author). Common sense tells us he is not doing this on his own volition.
Saudi Arabia is also pressing U.S. President Barack Obama to adopt the initiative, rendering the plan a litmus test for the Arab world's relations with the new administration. In his visit to the State Department the day after his inauguration, Obama made do with a few noncommittal words in praise of the Saudi initiative. Why should he get into trouble with the Jewish lobby in his first week in office? In any case, the return of the right wing to power in Israel would likely seal the initiative's fate when the topic is brought up for discussion next month at the Arab League summit in Qatar.
It is hard to blame Obama when every party jousting for power in Israel is hiding its position on the Saudi initiative behind vaguely worded statements. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week boasted that he favors using the Saudi initiative as a framework for negotiations. In the same breath, he noted that UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which are open to various interpretations, were bases for talks, while the Arab League declaration explicitly states that the June 4, 1967 lines are the basis for a settlement.
Olmert claimed that Ehud Barak, on the other hand, is shrouding his position on the initiative in a cloud of fog. Has Olmert been informed of a more lucid stance expressed by Tzipi Livni on the initiative beyond a throwaway comment from the summer of 2007, when she was quoted as saying that the Saudi plan is "a historic opportunity that must not be missed"? Like Olmert and Barak, the foreign minister also failed to lift a finger to advance the "historic opportunity." Israel's acceptance of the plan as a framework for negotiations would have compelled Hamas to decide whether it is part of the Arab consensus in favor of the initiative, or whether it is an Iranian satellite state that opposes it.
You may support the initiative and you are allowed to oppose it. Yet the Zionist parties who seek the trust of the voters cannot evade the most positive diplomatic outline ever offered to Israel by the Arabs. Each of the candidates must clearly state whether the government will accept or reject the initiative. In other words, what do the candidates prefer - forming a united front with 22 Arab states against Iran and its agents, or forming a united front with the settlers against the entire world?