Investigating Israeli Refusal

It is absurd that the Israeli government has never held a single organized debate on the Saudi peace initiative.

The despair enveloping Israeli society is visible in discussions in the media, in homes and on the street. The public feels there is no chance of escaping political paralysis, and that the State of Israel is marching toward unprecedented international isolation. It seems as if the Netanyahu government is clearing the path so it can run straight into the iceberg making its way toward us. There is no one to talk to, the government tells us.

It appears that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is weak, Hamas is no partner, Syrian President Bashar Assad is becoming more extreme, and we've even managed to turn Turkey into an enemy state. But these are not the only options. The most important factor in the region over the past few years has disappeared completely from public sight, and even worse, from the eyes of the Israeli government.

The Saudi peace initiative was launched eight years ago and adopted by the Arab League, thus turning it into a pan-Arab peace undertaking. It calls for the withdrawal of Israel from all territories conquered in 1967 in return for peace and complete normalization of relations with the Arab world. The refugee issue would be settled by agreement.

The initiative received backing from many countries of the world - which even offered financial assistance, in particular for the payment of reparations to Palestinian refugees, in order to reach a settlement that Israel could live with.

True, the Arab peace initiative also has disadvantages, and it needs to be treated as the basis for negotiations. However, the absurd thing is that the Israeli government has never even held a single organized debate of the initiative. Some 22 Arab countries signed a peace initiative that Israel has not only not adopted, but has not even discussed. The Israeli government prefers to sell us the myth that we have no partner rather than courageously examine an offer by our neighbors and take an active position on it.

I am not saying the government should adopt the initiative as it stands, but it is clear that it must call on the heads of the Arab League to meet with it for negotiations on the basis of the initiative - today. Tomorrow the Arab states are likely to become more extreme. Look at Turkey: Rejected by the European Union, it turned toward the Iranian axis. Do we want to wait for regime change in Egypt before we take a position on the Arab peace initiative? Will a young leader who stands at the head of the most important Arab country have the ability to lead a historic peace process?

A courageous step by the Israeli government in relation to the Arab initiative will save us from the isolation into which we have submerged, and start a dynamic of change. Deliberations with the Arab world on a general agreement are more important than still more exhausting negotiations over the building of several housing units in one settlement or another.

We must demand that our leaders work day and night to find a creative solution to get us out of the flotilla mess, and look head-on at Israel's strategic situation. A genuinely important committee that needs to be formed here is one that would examine how for eight years Israel has ignored the Arab peace initiative.

Must we sacrifice thousands of soldiers, as we did in 1973, before real peace talks start? I believe not; I hope not. Israelis will support a brave leader with strategic vision and the ability to make decisions and carry them out. The big question is whether they believe that such a leader can be found.


The writer is a major general in the reserves and president of the Council for Peace and Security.