'Saudi Peace Initiative would have economic benefit'

Israeli-Palestinian group looks at plan to solve Israeli-Arab conflict 10 years after it was originally proposed.

Saudi King Abdullah 390 (photo credit: Reuters/Saudi Press Agency)
Saudi King Abdullah 390
(photo credit: Reuters/Saudi Press Agency)
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 Saudi royalty.
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.”
The speakers 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.
Former Shin 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.