(photo credit: AP [file])
We in Israel take pride in leaving "no stone unturned in the search for peace." However, now it seems, we are leaving unturned not a stone, but a large boulder. The Arab peace initiative, calling for comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world, has been placed on the table. It is backed by the leaders of all Arab nations and has been deemed "very impressive" by US President Barack Obama.
However, it has unfortunately yet to receive serious consideration by the Binyamin Netanyahu-led government. Is this nonaction based on the historic failures of the bilateral peace process of the past decade and a half, which I witnessed personally during my terms as head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and as a senior cabinet minister? Or is it due to a lack of vision on the part of the current government?
The peace treaties with Egypt (1978) and Jordan (1994) proved that a successful path toward peace with the Arab world stems first and foremost from creating peaceful relations with our neighbors.
Therefore, Israel entered into the 1993 Oslo Accords process with the expectations that it would lead the region on the path toward peace. However, we quickly learned that the Oslo plans were nothing but a bad tire with many holes, slowly losing air. Attempts to fill the tire with US, European and even Egyptian and Jordanian air, including diplomatic and financial assistance, all failed. The tire was a flat. Oslo failed to lead us toward peaceful relations with the Palestinian people.
SINCE THEN though, the Arab peace initiative has surfaced, calling for a comprehensive peace process to include 22 Arab countries, the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel.
The real question today is whether this initiative is the solution for which Israel yearns or is it merely a Band-Aid, equipped with good intentions but not the remedy necessary to resolve the conflict in the long run.
Good intentions in the Middle East are not enough to succeed in making substantial process. To make real diplomatic progress, compromises need to be taken by all parties involved. Decisiveness is needed, even when that requires an element of risk-taking. Israel has previously shown willingness to take chances and to compromise, while taking into consideration our need for security and guarantees. However, the element most important for making progress in our region is what Israel appears to be currently lacking - strong visionary leadership.
The creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994 in the Oslo Accords was the most significant concession yielded by Israel during its existence. Compromises, both territorial and otherwise, were made in exchange for promises which were never fulfilled. These promises included a commitment to combat Palestinian terrorism; instead, PA security forces were turned into terror organizations. Weaponry, which was provided to the PA for internal security, was allowed into the hands of terrorists, while Hamas, backed and funded by Iran since 2001, in the end used those arms to overcome the PA in Gaza.
The two-state solution is the "least of all evils." Any other alternative would be disastrous, whether it be "one state for two nations" with a large Arab population of 45 percent, or the current de facto reality of "three states for two nations," with the Gaza Strip run by a terrorist organization equipped with military capabilities - Hamas.
Today, 16 years after Oslo, the PA is at its lowest point, unable to function as an independent state. The Abbas-Fayad administration lacks any authority in Gaza. Unfortunately, the Arab slogan "conquered land will be regained through force" seems to apply only to Israel. When Gaza was conquered by Hamas, the voices of Palestinian leaders were silent and have remained silent since.
A REGIONAL APPROACH, rather than a bilateral one, might be exactly what we need to successfully proceed. A window of opportunity might now be open, and not just due to Obama's Cairo address. The Arab peace initiative, only recently ratified, has gained in momentum and is receiving more and more recognition, mainly due to the nuclear threat from Iran. There is an Arabic proverb which reads, "My brother and I together against my cousin, and my cousin and I together against the stranger." Now however, Arab leaders understand that their "cousin" (Iran) poses more of a threat to regional security than the "stranger" (Israel).
Moderate Arab nations are also aware of PA instability and that Gaza is an Iranian hub in a sensitive area of the Middle East, similar to its Lebanese stronghold, where Iran alone controls the timing for when the country will fall to Hizbullah, whether through democratic means at a time later than previously predicted, or through a "coup" similar to that which Hamas pulled off in Gaza.
The Arab Peace Initiative is a regional plan that includes important strategic and tactical aspects which may very well provide Israel with the peace, prosperity and even security that we have yearned for so long. But we might miss this window of opportunity if we do not have visionary leadership willing to examine it.
If we are determined never to leave any stone unturned in our search for peace with our neighbors, now is the time to see whether underneath the Arab initiative's proposed regional approach lays such an opportunity. While the size and weight of the boulders are great, so is the opportunity to make great strides forward.
Perhaps we can reach an accommodation with our nearest neighbors by arriving first at one with those further away. As James Joyce wrote, "Sometimes the longest road around is the shortest road home."
The writer is a Kadima MK.