The long, ugly path of Israel-Palestinian relations is tarnished by the bitter
memories of failed summits and initiatives, with words like “Oslo” and “Camp
David” like old battle tanks littering the road to Jerusalem. At best, these
ventures have allowed civilians on both sides to enjoy brief respites from the
pervasive tension that seems to stew permanently in the scorching Middle Eastern
air. At worst, the collective national disappointments – renewed hopelessness
brought on after promising peace agreements prove ephemeral – have fueled new
rounds of violence and terror.
But in 2002, the Arab League launched a
new final-status proposal aimed at resolving the longstanding dispute which has
been a constant source of discord in the Arab world. The plan was, and remains,
unlike anything that has existed previously, and represents a complete break
with the traditional equation of a bilaterally- negotiated, US-backed
The parameters of the proposal, which has become known as the
Arab Peace Initiative, are thus (official excerpts): • I – Full Israeli
withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian
Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied
Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.
• II – Achievement of a
just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance
with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.
• III – The acceptance of the
establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian
territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with
east Jerusalem as its capital.
In return for these concessions, the Arab
League’s 22 member-states unanimously agree to: • I - Consider the Arab-Israeli
conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide
security for all the states of the region.
• II – Establish normal
relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.
leaders are split on whether the Arabs are genuine in their peace overture, or
whether they have only presented a cunning public relations scam aimed at
portraying Israel as the belligerent in the eyes of the international
Detractors point to the League’s take-it-or leave-it approach
as proof of the Arabs’ disingenuousness, while supporters label the proposal
unprecedented, citing the massive potential benefits of an Israel-Arab peace
Unfortunately, the Arab Peace Initiative has been dismissed
offhandedly by every sitting Israeli prime minister to date, to the detriment of
Israel’s reputation and international standing.
Though Israeli leaders
have legitimate concerns with regard to the content of the proposal, these
should have been expressed through some form of official counter offer. Every
passing minute that the Arabs have a standing peace offer on the table while
Israel doesn’t is a minute during which students, community leaders, and indeed
politicians are being convinced Israel is not serious about peace.
battle for public opinion, Israel is losing.
The Jewish state should have
responded to the Arab proposal immediately; it should respond now to prevent the
damage from worsening.
THE ARAB League has carefully constructed its
proposal to sound fair, even generous, to a Western audience. It recognizes
Israel’s right to exist in security, while demanding Israeli withdrawal from
territories occupied in 1967. For the typical Western progressive, this is
nothing less than music to the ears.
The Arab demands, however, are not
as reasonable as they sound. Consider the Shebaa Farms – known in Israel as
Mount Dov. In June 2000, Israel withdrew its troops from Lebanon, and the United
Nations itself affirmed that Israel had complied fully with UNSCR 425 and was no
longer occupying any Lebanese territory.
Israel cannot be expected to
withdraw further from its internationally-recognized northern
Turning to Syria, it is abundantly clear that Israel cannot
withdraw from the Golan Heights with any legitimate security guarantee. As
Syrian President Bashar Assad continues to murder his own citizens by the
thousands, and with his main opposition group being increasingly dominated by
the rabidly anti-Israel and Islamist al- Nusra Front, the prospects for an
Israeli withdrawal from the Golan approach zero.
Palestinians, the initiative seems to envisage the possibility of families of
Palestinian refugees returning to Israeli territory – an idea rightly considered
all but taboo in Israeli society. In addition, up to late last month, the plan
required an Israeli evacuation of massive swathes of heavily populated areas in
the West Bank – the forced expulsion of over 350,000 settlers from their homes
(closer to 750,000 if Jerusalem is included). Not just immoral, this would also
be completely unfeasible.
Notably, the League amended its proposal on
April 30, 2013, allowing for “minor land swaps” between Israel and the
Importantly, Israeli gains from these painful concessions
would be theoretical, susceptible to whims of each new Arab “Spring” leader.
Israel would be left without recourse if, for instance, Saudi Arabia reneged on
its side of the bargain by boycotting Israeli diplomats. Or if Egypt failed to
allow Israeli shipping through the Suez Canal. To quote Anwar Sadat on the 1978
peace agreement with Israel: “Poor Menachem [Begin]... I got back... the Sinai
and the Alma oil fields, and what has Menachem got? A piece of
Perhaps most important is the fact that the Palestinians
themselves have not agreed to the Arab Peace Initiative. Israeli leaders
initially reacted to the initiative so strongly, and so negatively, because of
the extreme response by some in the Palestinian camp. On the day that the Arab
League announced its proposal, a Hamas suicide bomber detonated himself at the
Park Hotel in Netanya, killing 30 Israeli civilians and injuring over 170. Hamas
head Sheikh Ahmed Yassin called the attack “a message to the Arab summit,”
signaling his organization’s intent to continue its struggle to destroy the
State of Israel and erect an Islamic-oriented Palestinian state in its
Indeed, Hamas’ dismissal of the Arab Peace Initiative has not
changed over the years. “The so-called new Arab initiative is rejected by our
people, by our nation and no one can accept it,” said Hamas leader Ismail
Haniyeh earlier this month. Other Palestinian terrorist organizations, too, have
expressed that they would not honor the terms of the deal. The Arab Peace
Initiative is “worse than President Bush’s vision, worse than the Road Map, and
even worse than the Oslo Accords and the Balfour Declaration,” said Islamic
Jihad Secretary-General Abdullah Ramadan Shallah in 2007.
in Gaza vowing to fight on, Israel can hardly be expected to capitulate on
nearly every issue for what at best will amount to a partial peace.
SAID, Israel cannot continue to ignore this offer. Its international standing,
and more importantly its relationship with the US, are being constantly damaged
as people increasingly view Israel as intransigent, the main obstacle to a
peaceful Middle East. As US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts at finding a
solution increase, Israel must not allow itself to be caught
Israel should counter the Arab Peace Initiative with a
standing offer of its own, which should reflect the basis of the Arab Peace
Initiative but should include the following provisions: a mutually agreed-upon
number of Palestinians must be granted full civil and human rights in their
current countries of residence; the new State of Palestine, negotiated around
1967 borders with land swaps, will be completely demilitarized, while Hamas and
other Palestinian groups will agree to end all outstanding disputes with Israel;
Israel will be allowed security systems in the Jordan Valley for an agreed-upon
time frame; Lebanon and Hezbollah will agree to end all outstanding disputes
with Israel, in accordance with UNSCR 425; the status quo in the Golan Heights
will remain until the situation in Syria stabilizes, upon which Israel will
conduct separate negotiations with the Syrians over the territory.
offer of this kind would serve multiple purposes.
First, the move would
mark a massive public-relations victory for a country that seems typecast as the
world’s darling antagonist. It would convince many in the international
community that Israel is indeed seeking peace, and is willing to make great
sacrifice to that end.
Second, it would also put pressure back on the
Arab League to moderate its proposals, and review some of its more problematic
stances vis-à-vis the Shebaa Farms, the Golan Heights, and Palestinian
The Arab League has historically followed a narrow-minded
Israel policy ranging only from obstreperous rhetoric to all-out war.
Nonetheless, it behooves Israel to, at the very least, respond to an offer that
has been gathering dust on the table for more than a decade. And who knows,
maybe, just maybe, doing so will lead to peace.
The author is a former
staff writer and Breaking News editor on The Jerusalem Post’s Internet desk, and
a contributing author to the Post’s weekend supplements. After making aliya from
Vancouver, Canada in 2010, Yoni served as an NCO in the IDF’s Strategic