Amr Moussa 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
On May 25, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa granted an interview to The Jerusalem Post (a very infrequent occurrence in the Israeli press). In it he expressed surprise that Israel had not been more receptive to the 2002 Beirut initiative, also known as the Saudi plan, which offers peace in exchange for the standard Palestinian maximalist conditions of withdrawal to the 1967 borders and, albeit couched in somewhat different language, the "right" of Palestinians to move to Israel.
Moussa said the initiative has the support of the Arab world. "I've talked to all of them, from presidents and kings to the simple man in the street. All of them agree. We want to solve the Palestinian problem. We cannot live for decades or generations with the same Arab-Israeli conflict."
If Moussa was wondering why Israelis view such rhetorical olive branches with skepticism, on Thursday he himself provided part of the reason.
Moussa spoke in Beijing during a Sino-Arab conference, after China had urged Hamas to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and accept "agreements already reached" with Israel. In this China in effect endorsed the conditions laid down by the West, with which China is often at odds.
Yet Moussa saw fit to reject even this bare minimum. "The Palestinian question," he insisted, "is one of occupation. It is not a terrorist issue."
His organization's position, he stressed, is that the Palestinian Authority "cannot be forced to accept any of these conditions."
The very fact that China and the EU - who are generally loath to oppose Arab positions - both approve the minimalist set of demands put to the new Hamas-led PA speaks volumes. Even nations not known for pro-Israel sentiments accept that there is a contradiction between being "for peace" and for Israel's destruction at the same time.
How can Moussa expect Israel to parley with partners who reaffirm their right to employ any mode of violence against its civilians while talks are under way, rebuff any previous understanding and delegitimize Israel's right to exist? How can that encourage Israelis to continue making existentially risky concessions? And why would Israel take seriously certain Arab "peace plans" when those offering them seem to be, at the same time, endorsing hard-line Palestinian positions?
The tragedy is that Moussa's obstructionism and that of some other Arab leaders is not preordained, and there is much they could do differently if they really wanted to promote peace. The international community might constructively attempt to shift these leaders from the obstreperous role they play, often emboldening belligerence and fanning Palestinian intransigence instead of talking realism to the PA.
Where is the Arab leader who would dare try to uproot what was cynically inculcated into the Arab masses for too many decades, declaring openly and unambiguously that the "right of return" is a non-starter synonym for Israel's destruction as a Jewish state? Making peace with a Jewish state means accepting it as such and not scheming to eradicate it by other means.
Where is the Arab leader - Hosni Mubarak and Moussa included - who would follow Anwar Sadat's brave precedent by actually setting foot on Israeli soil and visiting Jerusalem? Apropos today's Egyptian-Israeli summit, why always hold meetings in Sharm e-Sheikh and never on the Israeli side of the border? Why fear legitimizing Israel?
There are many ways that Arab leaders could signal a thaw in relations with Israel, even if they do not want to go so far as directly attempting to soften Palestinian negotiating positions. Any steps toward normalization with Israel, even by states that already have peace treaties with us, would send a constructive signal in favor of compromise and against violence.
If the leaders won't budge, the Arab masses won't be cleansed of pernicious indoctrination. If there is no readiness to change minds and hearts, Israelis may validly doubt peace rhetoric.
It is high time the international community places more of the onus for confidence-building gestures on the Arab side, instead of always demanding that only menaced Israel make sacrifices. It is also high time the world stops giving Arab governments in the region a free pass and absolving them of any responsibility for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict.