Arab Peace Initiative Is Another Missed Opportunity for Israel

Today is the ninth anniversary of the approval of the Arab League Peace Initiative. Back then, all the Arab states followed by all member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, offered Israel the best deal the Jewish state has received since the Balfour Declaration.

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
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Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

Once again, Jerusalem is "closely monitoring" the squabble at the neighbors' - this time, in the form of the bloody clashes in Syria. Is the fall of President Bashar Assad good for the Jews? Could religious extremists replace the minority Alawite regime? What will happen to the separation of forces agreement on the Golan Heights? What will be the new regime's policy concerning a negotiated end to the Arab-Israeli conflict? How will the political furor affect Syria's intimate relations with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah?

It's hard to find a respected analyst willing to take the risk of tackling these questions. On the other hand, six weeks after the fall of the Mubarak regime, even dyed-in-the-wool pessimists aren't suggesting the possibility of a renewed conflict with Egypt. The domestic shockwaves there have not crossed the border with Israel. The provisional government in Cairo responded with restraint to the Israel Air Force strikes in the Gaza Strip. And in an interview last week with a senior correspondent from the London-based Al Hayat newspaper, which appeared in The New York Times, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa - who is considered a front-runner in the Egyptian presidential election - stressed that if he takes office, he will honor the peace treaty with Israel.

Were it not for the narrow-mindedness and perhaps cowardice of those who call themselves leaders, Israel might have been able to be calmer also in regard to developments in the north.

Today is the ninth anniversary of the approval of the Arab League Peace Initiative. Back then, all the Arab states, including Syria, followed by all member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, offered Israel the best deal the Jewish state has received since the Balfour Declaration: an end to the hostile relationship with the Muslim world, the establishment of normalized relations with Arab states, a Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just, negotiated solution to the refugee issue, in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194. The initiative also left an opening for territorial exchange, under which Israel could annex Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and some of the settlements, and for special arrangements for sacred sites.

Recently published Al Jazeera documents disclosed the pragmatic approach taken by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in talks with then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with respect to the issue of the return of refugees to Israel. At that same time, Assad tried to restart negotiations with Israel on various channels, and meekly swallowed the humiliation of the bombing of his nuclear facilities that foreign media reports have attributed to the long arm of Israel.

Instead of making peace with all the Arab states, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon launched a war against the Palestinians the day after the March 2002 Arab League summit: In response to the murder of 30 Israelis in the Hamas suicide attack at a Passover seder in Netanya's Park Hotel, he ordered the army to reoccupy the territories (Operation Defensive Shield ). The Arabs offered Sharon a mile, but in fact he didn't even consider giving them an inch. Actually, he was playing around with the idea, recently recycled by Netanyahu and Lieberman, of a "long-term interim plan."

Like the other Arab League members, Syria responded mildly to the Israeli cabinet resolution of 2003 to append 14 reservations to the road map for peace, including rejection of the Arab peace initiative. Also like other Arab states, since March 28, 2007, Syria has voted eight times in favor of ratifying the initiative. And like its three predecessors, the Netanyahu government has ignored it.

Had the Arab League summit scheduled to convene in Baghdad next week not been postponed due to domestic unrest in a number of member states, the Arab leaders would almost certainly have declared the death of their peace plan. It's obvious that negotiations based on that initiative are not in line with the proposal to declare at the United Nations the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

The leaders of Hamas, who are feeling their way toward a moderate unity government, are adjusting to the new situation being created in the Middle East. They know that representatives of Big Brother - i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood - will soon be in the Egyptian government, which will honor the peace treaty with Israel. And it's possible that Damascus will no longer serve as a refuge for terrorists. Meanwhile, the Arab League initiative is still sitting on the shelf.

If Israel had a prime minister who wasn't busy doing an advanced degree in survival studies, he would not have lent a hand to the criminal act of missing the Arab peace initiative - an initiative that might not be offered again.

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