Yossi Alpher, a pioneer strategist on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts, is co-editor of the “Bitterlemons” family of internet publications. This is a slightly abridged version of his latest online posting:
… in order for the plan to be more appealing Saudi strategists should consider enhancing it in a number of ways.
First, the original plan demands that Israel return to the 1967 borders as a condition for peace. Yet even the late King Hussein of Jordan and the PLO’s Yasser Arafat recognized that territorial swaps and compromises have over the years become necessary. The plan should recognize and accommodate this factor with regard to both the Palestinian and the Syrian peace fronts.
Second, the plan offers Israel peace, normal relations and–perhaps most important given present conditions in the region–“security for all the states of the region”. But what does this mean? It would be very helpful to present Israel with a more detailed description of the mutual security arrangements the plan contemplates, as an incentive for territorial concessions that might otherwise endanger Israel.
Third, the plan calls for “a just solution of the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194”. Back in March 2002 this was touted as an Arab concession, insofar as the plan recognizes the need for all sides to agree and does not demand the right of return (in fact, neither does 194 if read carefully in its original context). Yet that same Beirut Arab League summit that approved the plan then went on to pass three successive resolutions reaffirming its demand for the right of return, as if no significant change in Arab positions had just transpired. Israel, which would be committing national suicide if it accepted the right of return…, needs to hear clarifications on this issue.
Particularly troublesome for Israel is the concluding operative paragraph of the 2002 plan, which calls upon the League secretary general to recruit support for it from the United Nations, the United States, Russia, the Muslim states and the European Union–everybody but Israel. The objective seemed to be to compel Israel to accept the plan without discussion, debate or negotiation. This approach has to change. The Saudis and the Arab League have to address Israel directly. They have to come to Jerusalem to present their revised plan to the government and public of Israel. If they do so in the tradition of Anwar Sadat and King Hussein, they will be amazed at how forthcoming the Israeli public can be.
Finally, the plan has to be broken down into workable stages and integrated into the new and threatening regional context. Israel can be asked to make the first move, but there must be Arab initiatives, too. And both sides need to perceive that there are incentives to progress toward Arab-Israel peace and regional security cooperation.
Phase I should involve two Israeli steps. First, discussions with the PLO to clarify the territorial and other parameters of a successful two-state solution. This corresponds with recent “diplomatic horizon” proposals made by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for jump-starting the peace process. The Rice-Abbas-Olmert summit of Feb. 19 was a problematic beginning, but nonetheless a beginning.
In parallel, Jerusalem should enter into preliminary back-channel negotiations with Damascus concerning the possibility of bilateral peace talks that would satisfy Israel and the United States’ (and the Arabs’) needs regarding cessation of Syrian support for terrorism and strategic collaboration with Iran, if and as an Israeli-Syrian territories-for-peace deal is reached. This reflects the inclination of many within the Israeli security establishment to test President Bashar Assad’s invitation to Israel to renew negotiations. If, however, the Saudis share American reservations about rewarding the problematic Assad with even exploratory talks at this juncture, then they should amend their peace plan accordingly, so that Israel is not held to a hypocritical regional peace standard.
Assuming one or both of these moves begin to generate momentum and lay the foundations for full-fledged negotiations, phase II would bring Israel together with the two “quartets”–the Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian and Gulf leaderships along with the UN, US, EU and Russia–to begin discussing normalization of Israel-Arab relations, including security cooperation. Just as the Arab public wants to see progress toward Israel-Arab peace, the Israeli public needs to witness serious Arab gestures in the context of normalization and security cooperation against common enemies, and to be reassured that successful peace processes are rewarded by the Arab world.
Phase III witnesses Israeli-Palestinian and possibly Israeli-Syrian peace processes, either in parallel or in sequence, supported by international and Arab incentives and ultimately culminating in (phase IV) bilateral peace agreements and multilateral normalization and security coordination.
Whereas the first two phases could take six months to a year, phases III and IV would, in the best case, stretch out over years. Indeed, even to begin this process requires a degree of Israeli, Palestinian and American resolve and energy that appears to be sadly lacking. Yet the interactive nature of today’s Middle East crises, and their gravity, demand nothing less than a major push for peace by the moderate Arab countries led by Riyadh.
Published 19/2/2007 © bitterlemons.org