Frightened of normalization
The Arab League once again letting slip through its fingers the positive role it could play in creating a new regional atmosphere. It is also contradicting its own statement that the conflict must be resolved through peaceful means.
The Arab League summit that convenes today in Algeria will approve a document whose wording was agreed upon in advance. In it, the leaders of the Arab states adopt what is termed "the Arab Peace Initiative," more or less as it was presented at the Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002. Based on the draft resolution approved by the Arab foreign ministers two days ago, it seems that Arab leaders preferred not to deal with the changes that have occurred in the region, and especially not with the developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Thus, for instance, the leaders evidently shied away from a Jordanian proposal that raised the possibility of Arab leaders establishing diplomatic relations with Israel even before this conflict has ended. The possibility that peaceful relations with Israel could actually advance the region's diplomatic moves is still viewed as giving Israel something for nothing.
This is the same old concept that characterized the Arab Initiative in Beirut. This initiative, first presented by Saudi Arabia, contained an Arab pledge to establish relations with Israel if several conditions were met, including a withdrawal from all the territories, the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem, and an agreed solution to the refugee problem. But the Saudi initiative was amended at the Beirut summit, which stressed the Palestinians' right of return under UN resolution 194.
This text, which was adopted at the height of the intifada, will continue to serve the leaders of the Arab states now as well. They will apparently adopt a purist position - preserving what already exists rather than taking the risk of adopting a new resolution - and proclaim themselves "holier than the Pope," in the words of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi.
Such a resolution, if it is indeed adopted, does not take into consideration that Israel is on the verge of disengaging from the Gaza Strip and evacuating settlements, and it ignores both the Palestinian factions' agreement with the Palestinian Authority on a cease-fire and the increasingly close cooperation between Israel and the PA. This approach is particularly surprising given the return to Tel Aviv of the Jordanian and Egyptian ambassadors - ambassadors of two important states that knew how to use their ties with Israel to advance the peace process.
The Arab League is thus once again letting slip through its fingers the positive role it could play in creating a new regional atmosphere. It is also contradicting its own statement that the conflict must be resolved through peaceful means.
The sharp edges of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be blunted if Arab states establish relations with Israel even before it ends. But a decision in principle on such a move could influence Israeli public opinion, and thereby the Israeli government as well.
It therefore seems that the only news likely to emerge from this summit is an amendment to the league's constitution stating that unanimity will no longer be necessary to make decisions. This amendment could enable a new logic to penetrate the frozen structure of the Arab League. It must therefore be hoped that additional Arab states and leaders will discern the diplomatic benefits that could flow from establishing relations with Israel, and that these states, along with Jordan and Egypt, will lead the region into a new era.
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