Filed under: Egypt ~ International Institutions ~ Middle East ~ Palestine
The famous Israeli diplomat Abba Eban once quipped that "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity [for peace]." With Israel's refusal to-date to accept the recently re-tabled Saudi Peace initiative offering Israel peace with the entire Arab World, it seems that it may be Israel this time that is guilty of Abba's charge. For years there has been no substantive progress concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Israeli position has been that there is no "viable" partner from the Palestinian side to negotiate with. It seems as though the tide has changed in dramatic fashion over the course of the past few months.
Much of this is due to the assertion of the Saudis as the regional diplomatic powerhouse. In February, Saudi King Abdullah helped facilitate the Mecca agreement between Fatah and Hamas that put an end to the internecine factional violence between the two parties. The Arab League summit, hosted in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, reinvigorated the previously inert Saudi Initiative.
This is a window of opportunity that Israel must seize; all 22 Arab countries are willing to normalize relations with Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from the Arab territories it occupied since 1967.
So what is the problem? Israel is not willing to negotiate with the new Palestinian Unity Government that includes Hamas because it has yet to meet the Quartet’s (composed of the E.U, U.N., U.S., and Russia) conditions (recognize Israel, renounce violence, respect all previous agreements). Furthermore, despite some positive pronouncements, Israel refuses to accept the Saudi Initiative because of clauses regarding the Palestinian refuges and borders.
This refusal is unwarranted because while the Initiative does call for a sovereign, independent Palestinian state with its capital in Arab East Jerusalem, it does so on the basis of the internationally recognized 1967 borders. In terms of the Palestinian refugees, it calls for a "just" and "agreed upon" solution to the refugee problem. Equally critical, the Arab League Initiative has stated that as long as Israel accepts the Initiative "In Principle", then everything is open for negotiations
Israel's refusal to negotiate is contradictory to American economic interests and Israeli security interests. By achieving regional peace, Israel can finally be fully integrated into the Middle East. The Palestinians will have their state and the Israelis the security they have been unable to achieve since Israel's establishment. One need only look at the Recent G.C.C. (the Gulf Cooperative Council) involvement in major economic outreach programs with Asian countries, such as India and China, to realize the economic potential of peace. Billions of dollars are flowing back and forth between the oil rich Gulf States and Asia.
Instead of exploiting the new opportunity for peace presented by the Saudi Initiative, for peace in the region and a new epoch of economic prosperity for all parties involved, Israel is sitting on its diplomatic hands waiting for the ever important "pre-conditions" to be met. The onus is often put on increasing weakness of the Olmert administration and its lack of political capital. Yet, a majority of Israel citizens desire a two-state solution. There is no other act that an Israeli Prime Minister could perform to galvanize more internal support.
For the U.S., a serious and meaningful role as an honest mediator in the peace process could repair its dwindled and demonized image in the Middle East and Muslim world, with all the attendant benefits of Arab cooperation on Iraq. King Abdullah is not calling for the Israelis to simply sign the Saudi Initiative. Negotiations are expected over the Palestinian refugees, East Jerusalem and final borders before a final agreement is reached.
Israel's continuous claim that it wants peace stands tested by whether it accepts the Saudi Initiative in principle as the framework for a regional peace agreement. The U.S. stands at a fork in the Mid-East and the path it chooses will have serious ramifications on its national security and future economic opportunities in the region. Using our influence with our number one ally in the Middle East to reconsider the Saudi Initiative is our best hope today for securing both our interests and peace.