Reality Check: Getting back to the negotiating table

Once America’s next president is installed, a new government is established in Jerusalem and the Syrian crisis resolves itself one way or another, there will be a pressing need for Israel to seek a return to the negotiating table.

Tahrir Square, Cairo, daytime_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Tahrir Square, Cairo, daytime_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Guess who wrote this and where it was first published: “The Arab Spring showed the world that the Palestinians are happier and in [a] better situation than their Arab brothers who fought to liberate them from the Israelis. Now, it is time to stop the hatred and wars and start to create better living conditions for the future Arab generations.”
No, not some American neo-con writing in The Weekly Standard. Rather, these are the words of Abdulateef al- Mulhim, a former commodore of the Saudi Navy, in an article first published earlier this month in Arab News, a Saudi Arabian English-language newspaper.
And Mulhim had more to say: “If many of the Arab states are in such disarray, then what happened to the Arabs’ sworn enemy [Israel]? Israel now has the most advanced research facilities, top universities and advanced infrastructure. Many Arabs don’t know that the life expectancy of the Palestinians living in Israel is far longer than [Arabs in] many Arab states and they enjoy far better political and social freedom than many of their Arab brothers. Even the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip enjoy more political and social rights than some places in the Arab World.”
The gist of Mulhim’s article, headlined “Arab Spring and the Israeli enemy,” is that the Arab world has wasted hundreds of billions of dollars, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, fighting Israel, when the Arab world’s real enemies are “corruption, lack of good education, lack of good healthcare, lack of freedom, lack of respect for the human lives” as well as the many Arab dictators “who used the Arab-Israeli conflict to suppress their own people.”
NOW THIS is music to many Israeli ears and, in many respects, Mulhim’s analysis is correct. Israeli Arabs do have a better life expectancy than Arabs in many other Arab states, enjoying the benefits of a Western democracy even if they do face all sorts of unwritten discrimination in everyday life. And yes, the Israeli-Arab conflict has been used by despots the Arab world over as a means of distracting their people from seeking social justice closer to home.
But just as Mulhim asks his readers “what was the real cost for not recognizing Israel in 1948 and why didn’t the Arab states spend their assets on education, healthcare and the infrastructures instead of wars?” we Israelis also need to ask ourselves some hard questions and not just bask in the flattering comparison Mulhim drew between Israel and our Arab neighbors.
In particular, we need to ask ourselves what has been the cost of our ignoring Arab peace overtures, starting from Golda Meir’s intransigence in the face of Anwar Sadat’s feelers, which led to the 1973 Yom Kippur War and, more recently, our failure to engage with the Arab peace initiative first proposed in 2002 at the Beirut Summit and re-endorsed at the Riyadh Summit in 2007.
Initially, the Arab peace initiative was simply ignored in Israel due to the horror of the Seder Night massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya, which took place the day before the initiative was published at the height of the second intifada.
But since the end of the intifada, no Israeli leader has seriously engaged with this proposal which offers, in return for total Israeli withdrawal of territories captured in the Six Day War, the establishment of a Palestinian state and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee issue, full recognition of Israel by the whole of the Arab world.
Obviously, there are serious problems with the Arab League’s “take-it-or-leave-it approach” regarding the initiative. Any peace agreement between Israel and our Arab neighbors has to be the result of negotiations and not simply one side setting conditions for the other to fulfill.
But the initiative did mark a watershed moment in terms of the Arab world’s preparedness to accept Israel’s place in the Middle East, and as such needs to be examined more seriously by Jerusalem than it has been to date.
With Israel about to enter election frenzy for the next three months, a US election campaign reaching its peak and the Arab world in disarray following the events of the Arab Spring and turmoil in Syria, it is clear that now is not the time to be looking for any new diplomatic moves to break the stalemate. But once America’s next president is installed, a new government is established in Jerusalem and the Syrian crisis resolves itself one way or another, there will be a pressing need for Israel to seek a return to the negotiating table.
If not, within a few years, there will be plenty of Israeli Abdulateef al-Mulhims writing about the tragic cost to the Jewish state of not having reached a peaceful accord with the Arab world.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.