The Arab League’s new peace proposal

As long as PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his group hold to this position, no peace effort will have the slightest chance of getting off the ground.

Kerry with Arab League delegation 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Kerry with Arab League delegation 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In their meeting in Washington, the representatives of the Arab League presented US Secretary of State John Kerry with a “modified” version of the 2002 Arab Peace Plan, proposing, for the first time, land swaps with Israel.
Israeli politicians on the Left, including a government minister from Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s hodge-podge Yesh Atid party, enthused over the supposedly “dramatic” and “historic” turnaround, while General (ret.) Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and later the author of one of many earth-bound peace-projects, even referred in a Haaretz op-ed to the original Arab plan as “Israel’s most important victory in the ongoing struggle for Israel’s survival as a Jewish democratic state.”
It is none of the above. Talk is cheap, but even a perfunctory examination of the document termed the “Arab Peace Initiative” which the Arab League adopted on March 28, 2002, at its meeting in Beirut shows that in effect it was no more than a list of take-it-orleave- it demands requiring Israel to commit itself in advance to, among other things, “full withdrawal from all territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights”; east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state; and the so-called “right of return” of Arab refugees (though couched in somewhat different, supposedly more moderate, language, viz. that it was “to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194”).
There are those who mistakenly or deliberately interpret this paragraph as if it were subject to Israeli agreement, but as Professor Asher Susser, a senior researcher at the Moshe Dayan Center, explained at the time, “right of return” was the only Arab interpretation of said UN resolution. Needless to say, the “initiative” didn’t include any reference to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. There also was a thinly disguised threat: if Israel did not accept the Arab terms, “steadfastness and struggle” – i.e. violence and terror – would continue.
The US has usually preferred to see the half-full glass rather than the half-empty one with regard to the “Arab Initiative,” though former secretary of state Hillary Clinton was prescient enough to declare “that the Arabs must, through words and deeds, show that the spirit of the peace initiative can begin to govern attitudes towards Israel now.” “Now” was exactly four years ago, and it hasn’t happened yet.
But might not the Arab League now agreeing to land swaps be interpreted as a step in the right direction? Though Secretary Kerry seems to see it that way (stating that his efforts to move the peace process forward were “bolstered” by it), this is hardly so.
Future political historians will probably be frustrated when they attempt to unravel how the idea of “land swaps” between Israel and the Palestinians ever achieved traction. After all, this wasn’t what UN Security Council Resolution 242 had said about Israel’s future borders, the intention never having been that Israel should return to the vulnerable pre- ’67 cease-fire line.
Indeed, it had specifically called for “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats and acts of force.” The UK’s Lord Caradon (Hugh M. Foot), the Resolution’s co-author, later specified that “it would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of 4 June 1967.” In other words, the purpose of 242 was to make Israeli withdrawals from territories it had occupied in exercising its right to self-defense contingent on secure borders, not subject to territorial tic-tac-toe games.
But beyond that, as Arthur Goldberg, the US ambassador to the UN at the time of the Resolution’s adoption and its other co-author, has said: “it is clear that Israel exercised the right of self-defense in the 1967 war,” as indeed it did by all precepts of international law. Enemies of Israel often have a tendency to disingenuously mix up cause and effect, so the approaching 46th anniversary of the Six Day War gives us an opportunity to put things in order.
On the morning of June 5, 1967, the Jordanian Arab Legion artillery began to shell west Jerusalem and Jordanian soldiers occupied Government House, which served as the UN observers headquarters. King Hussein, fooled by false Egyptian reports of victory in Sinai, cynically decided to join the supposedly victorious side, and put his army under Egyptian command.
Jordanian forces shelled Jewish villages along the road from the coastal plain to Jerusalem, even threatening Ben-Gurion airport. Tel Aviv and its environs, as well as Israel’s northern regions were also shelled, the attackers using long-range “Long Tom” guns, and bombing other parts of the country from the air.
Only after fierce fighting and many Israeli casualties were the Jordanian forces driven back.
It was an unprovoked, naked act of aggression against the State of Israel, in spite of the fact that Israel’s then-defense minister Moshe Dayan, de-facto supreme commander during the Six Day War, had at first ordered IDF units to act only defensively. One may, therefore, be justified in asking why Israel should now be required to compensate the aggressor with land? (There is no evidence that the Palestinians in 1967, being part and parcel of Jordan, even retrospectively distanced themselves from the aggression perpetrated by Jordan).
To cite a perhaps extreme analogy, Germany after World War II lost a great deal of territory to the victim of its aggression, Poland. Was Poland asked to swap part of its own land with Germany? Still, taking all of this, including the potential downsides into consideration, the very fact that the Arab League has now taken the dust sheets off its erstwhile “initiative” may perhaps be seen as a positive in the light of the new realities in the Middle East – the so-called “Arab Spring” on the one hand, and the growing threat of a rapidly nuclearizing Iran on the other.
Both of these developments could potentially lead (and perhaps already have led) toward a strategic reassessment by the more moderate Arab regimes as to their relations with Israel and their own role in bringing about a settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Thus, their plan, provided it is rewritten as an open-ended peace proposal to be discussed by the parties without prior conditions, replacing its former ultimatory pretentions, could eventually have been of some practical benefit – were it not for Palestinian intransigence.
Though the Fatah Central Committee half-heartedly accepted the Arab League’s latest proposal, the Palestinian Authority immediately reiterated its preconditions to holding talks with Israel, i.e. Israel accepting in advance the ’67 armistice line as the future border, stopping all construction across the “Green Line,” including in Jerusalem, and releasing Palestinian terrorists from prison.
The only purpose of the Palestinian tactic is to avoid meaningful negotiations in which both sides, not just Israel, would have to make compromises and concessions.
As long as PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his group hold to this position, no peace effort will have the slightest chance of getting off the ground.
Nor have the prospects of peace been enhanced by the announcement that, with Salam Fayyad safely out of the way, Fatah has concluded an agreement with the terrorist organization Hamas, which denies Israel’s very right to exist, to establish within three months a Palestinian unity government.The author is a former ambassador to the US.