Israel Has Lost Its Shot at the Arab Peace Initiative

While Arab reactions to Netanyahu's speech may be varied, they all seem to be drawing similar conclusions.

The harbinger of Arab reaction to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech was Saeb Erekat, head of negotiations with Israel for the Palestinian Authority. Speaking on Al Jazeera TV Sunday night, he enumerated the faults of Netanyahu's speech. Without a mention of an acceptable Israel position on Jerusalem, refugees, water or a settlement freeze, the editors of the important newspapers in the Middle East could not help but adopt the Palestinian line and attack Netanyahu's address. "No one in Egypt or anywhere else can accept Netanyahu's demand to recognize Israel as the state of the Jews," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak too said in a loud voice that reverberated from the Middle East to Washington. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said as much to President Obama in May. Their position is that recognition would harm not only Israeli Arabs, but mean an end to the Palestinian right of return.

That is an issue over which Jordan is particularly concerned. A solution to the refugee problem outside of Israel and Israel being defined as a Jewish state means "an intention to exile 1.5 million Palestinians beyond the Green Line," an editorial in the Jordanian daily Al-Arab Al-Yawm said, a step that might come at the expense of Jordan. Jordanian newspapers were directed to pull out all the stops. "Netanyahu presented his credentials officially as an extreme terrorist, an enemy of peace, steeped in the policy of occupation .... this is an Israeli plan to perpetuate the struggle with the Palestinians and the Arabs and not to make peace in any form," Al-Arab Al-Yawm also wrote. Other Jordanian papers were not far behind: "Netanyahu sold damaged goods that no one will buy," Al Rai wrote.

Syria and the Gulf States toed the Jordanian-Palestinian-Egyptian line. No one in the Middle East was impressed that Netanyahu had uttered the words "Palestinian state." It seems to the Arabs that Israel has taken on the role of the Arab League conference that coined the the "three nos" in 1967 with respect to Israel, and that Israel has lost the Arab peace initiative.