Vote, yes, but on the right plan [pg. 15]

With a Palestinian referendum on the agenda, I urge Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to reconsider the document that he plans to present to the public for its approval. The "Prisoners' Document" may have some appeal at the level of the internal Palestinian national dialogue, but is a complete non-starter as far as Israel is concerned. None of the international and Israeli demands are met by it although there may be implicit recognition of Israel by calling for a Palestinian state within the 1967 armistice lines. Without explicit recognition of Israel's right to exist, a clear denunciation of terrorism and an explicit agreement to adhere to all of the Israel-PLO signed agreements, there is nothing positive that can be achieved by a Palestinian referendum on a document which emphasizes the right of return of the refugees to Israel and recognizes and calls for resistance (violence) against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. ABBAS HAS one shot at a referendum and he cannot afford to waste it on a document that will not leverage the renewal of the political process with Israel. It would be much more valuable for Abbas to put his weight behind The Arab Peace Initiative, 2002, a Saudi-inspired peace plan, adopted by the Arab summit in Beirut, 2002 and then again ratified in 2006. This initiative came out at the height of the intifada and was largely dismissed by prime minister Ariel Sharon. It is an important document that for the first time welcomes the State of Israel in exchange for peace full peace with the State of Palestine. The Arab League peace initiative offers the unprecedented proposal to: • "Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region" and • "Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace." Never before has the entire Arab world offered Israel peace and an end to the conflict. This initiative needs to be revisited by the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. THE INITIATIVE demands from Israel to withdrawal from all occupied territories, it calls for "a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194." It further calls for the establishment of a "sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital." The initiative calls on Israel to support this plan "to safeguard the prospects for peace and stop the further shedding of blood, enabling the Arab countries and Israel to live in peace and good neighborliness and provide future generations with security, stability and prosperity." WHILE IT is clearly difficult for Israel to accept all aspects of this initiative, this is the most important statement ever made by the entire Arab world on conditional recognition of Israel, agreement for full peace and even for the normalization of relations. For the Palestinians, it should be easier to accept. The State of Palestine is a full member of the Arab League and as such the PA should be required to accept the Arab peace initiative without question. This initiative provide a much better launching point for an Arab peace offensive on Israel and could serve as a basis for demanding negotiations to end the Israeli-Palestinian and the Israeli-Arab conflicts. The Arab League would be well advised to pressure Abbas to use the moment of referendum to gain public support for their peace initiative. The Arab League would be also well advised to launch an aggressive public media and education campaign to gain the support of the Israeli public for the initiative, and then, perhaps; there should be a call for a similar referendum in Israel. There is no initiative that provides a better package of benefits for the entire region than the Arab League peace plan. During different times, the people of Israel would have danced in the streets to the calls from the Arab world for real and full peace. Clearly no Israeli-Palestinian bilateral initiative could contain such a package of benefits for Israel. By accepting this initiative in principle, Israel would be signaling a willingness to enter into negotiations that could also include Jordan and Egypt to resolve difficult security-related issues, including possible deployment of reliable peace keeping forces in the Palestinian state. It also calls on the Saudis, Moroccans and others to lend a hand in creating a workable solution for Jerusalem. Finally, while UN/GA resolution 194 states "that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so" the Arab Summit document recognizes, for the first time, that the solution for the refugee problem must also be agreed to by Israel. IF THE Arab League peace initiative were embraced, the dream of driving from Tel Aviv to Damascus, Beirut or even Tripoli could become a reality. The possibility of trade relations and cultural exchanges with the entire region including more than 250 million people could open vast new opportunities for Israel. For the Palestinians there are also many benefits. By accepting the initiative in a referendum, the Palestinian commitment for full peace and end of conflict with Israel would be put on par with the rest of the Arab world and the international community would come to their support. This could be seen as a conditional fulfillment of the international demands and even more. By having the Israeli people accept this initiative, a multi-lateral internationally supported peace process could be re-launched. This Arab Summit initiative has all of the benefits that the unilateral realignment plan lacks. Before Abbas wastes his one chance of making history and before the government of Israel enters into the dead-end road of unilateralism once again, both sides should grab onto the Arab League peace initiative and move it forward. The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.