Peace could be our strategic asset

Israel should engage the Arab League. The era of bilateral negotiations is over.

arab summit 88 (photo credit: )
arab summit 88
(photo credit: )
Anyone with vision capable of anticipating events five or 10 years into the future understands that effective policy cannot be developed by people whose political horizon is limited to a single fiscal year or one government's term. The situation is becoming more and more unbearable for Israelis living within rocket range of Gaza. And it does not look like there is a chance for negotiations or a political solution on the horizon. In the absence of a strong alternative leadership, Hamas has been able to permeate to the remaining areas under the Palestinian Authority and threatens to take control of the West Bank. LEBANON is being transformed into a Shi'ite-dominated Hizbullah-led country on our northern border. And on top of all this, the Iranian threat continues to grow, represented by the image of a leader who acts like a messiah and has acquired abilities that may imperil Israel and the entire region. In Syria, the first signs of change can be seen in terms of the indirect negotiations to be mediated by Turkey. Despite the fact that this is a hot story, it is hard to predict how serious these negotiations will be. Even Egypt, with whom the border has remained quiet throughout all the years since the peace treaty, is threatened from within by a radical Islamist opposition that is sure to garner more strength once the Mubarak era comes to an end. The struggle in the Arab world between fundamentalism, moderate Islam, and secular forces has reached a pinnacle, and the Lebanese outcome is the first omen. Within a few years we may find ourselves facing a radical Islamic threat that will surround us from every angle. The strengthening of fundamentalism will necessarily precipitate an explosive confrontation with the moderate regimes of the Arab world. Gaza and Lebanon are already at the climax of this process, while Egypt, Jordan and Syria are next in line. Even secular Arab leaders in the region understand this and it is certainly plausible that Assad's move indicates an attempt to confront this trend. BUT OVER here, life goes on as usual. The status quo receives all the attention, without a broad perspective and without a vision. A government with a vision would understand that there is no future for separate bilateral negotiations and would publicly suggest entering an all-inclusive peace process based on the Arab League's peace initiative, one of whose principles is to involve those in the secular Arab world who are concerned about the strengthening of radical Islam. It is high time that we stopped getting dragged in and start initiating. In a situation in which both leaderships - Israeli and Palestinian - have lost the trust of the people they lead, in which the Israeli public does not believe in the possibility that the Palestinians will carry out the terms of an agreement they sign, and the Palestinian public does not believe that the Israeli leadership will carry out any of the obligations it commits itself to - there is no other choice but to present the public with achievements beyond the bilateral one: an agreement with the Palestinians alongside the normalization of relations with the moderate Arab world. The paradigm of isolated negotiations may have been fitting some 30 years ago, but it is not fitting today. Twenty-two Arab countries have signed the Arab League's initiative for peace with Israel. None of them have signed it out of love for Israel, but rather out of an understanding that for the first time since the Arab-Israeli conflict began, they have more to gain from an agreement with us than they have to lose. The mere fact that not us, but the Arabs, have presented a comprehensive peace initiative, damages Israel's image so long as we do not accept it and undermines the opportunity for genuine peace. Whatever we fail to do today we will regret in just a few years from now. Just as we understand today that the gratuitous obstinacy we displayed with Hafez al-Assad during the final years of his rule and with Mahmoud Abbas four years ago have brought about less than desirable terms for negotiations today, in three or five years from now we will regret missing the window of opportunity that presented itself in 2008. A peace accord is our most important strategic asset, and the strong peace with Egypt and Jordan proves this. But instead of promoting that trend, it appears the current decade will be the first in three where the Israeli public will not even be able to dream of peace, and this period will be remembered as a missed opportunity to live at peace with our neighbors. We need peace with security and for that we also need statesmen who can think strategically. The writer, a major-general (res.), is president of the Council for Peace and Security.