Ten years ago this week, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, then the Crown Prince,
proposed an unprecedented peace initiative that would afford Israel recognition
and normalization with the Arab world in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal
from the territories seized in the 1967 War and a “just solution” to the
Palestinian refugee issue.
A decade later, the so-called “Saudi Peace
Initiative” remains for all intents and purposes merely another in the series of
peace plans and final status proposals that have failed to bring a peaceful
resolution to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Timing was not friendly to the
initiative. The day before it was published, a Hamas suicide bomber detonated
himself inside the Park Hotel in Netanya, killing 30 Israelis in the bloodiest
attack of the second intifada. The next day then-prime minister Ariel Sharon
launched Operation Defensive Shield and Israel was singularly focused on
crushing the terrorist infrastructure and not discussing peace proposals from
On Monday, the Aix Group, an independent
Israeli-Palestinian research group, marked the occasion by presenting a series
of research papers that examine the economic benefits they say would result from
the implementation of the Saudi Peace Initiative.
One of the speakers,
Dr. Ron Pundak, co-chairman of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace NGO Forum and one
of the initiators of the Oslo peace process, said the timing of the peace
initiative was partly to blame coming a day after the Park Hotel bombing, when
Israeli forces were reoccupying the West Bank as part of Operation Defensive
Shield and “the conversation was no longer about peace.”
largely focused on what they called the detrimental economic impact of war and
benefits of peace, with Professor Joseph Zeira highlighting the economic
downturns and inflation faced by Israel following the Yom Kippur War in 1973. He
said the potential for such economic devastation in the future provides an
impetus for peacemaking.
“If the US dominance in the region fades away,
the peace agreement with Egypt may no longer be self-evident. We are standing
before a dilemma where we must either reach an agreement with the Palestinians
or maintain things as they are with the risk that it will spread into a wider
and far more costly Arab-Israeli conflict.”
One Israeli who does not
lament the failure of the Saudi initiative is deputy Foreign Minister Danny
Ayalon (Yisrael Beitenu) who called it nothing more than a PR stunt by Saudi
Arabia, whose image was in the gutter following the September 11 terror attacks,
during which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi.
Ayalon, who was Sharon’s
foreign policy adviser at the time, said “all the demands were placed on Israel
only. You don’t start negotiations with a dictator telling you what all the
conditions will be.”
Ayalon said that he had offered to meet Saudi
diplomats privately to discuss the matter but was rebuffed. He added that the
Sharon government was interested in direct talks with the Palestinians with no
pre-conditions, a far different recipe than the Saudi plan.
Bet Chief Yaakov Perry, who almost a year ago was part of a group that presented
“The Israeli Peace Initiative” or “Yisrael Yozemet” which called for the
government to pursue a peace settlement on basically the same parameters as the
Saudi Peace Initiative, was present on Monday.
Also behind the plan with
Perry was former Mossad chief Danny Yatom and tycoon Idan Ofer, but after an
initial glare of media attention, the initiative fizzled into the ether of
failed peace proposals.