Passover ends tonight, but perhaps I seemed holier than thou by pledging a break until the yom tov was officially over. Although less hopeful than we tend to be at Meretz USA, Ami Isseroff still makes good sense in his argument for Israel to respond constructively to the Saudi/Arab League peace initiative. An abridged version follows; it can be read in its entirety, along with its embedded Web links, online at his Mideast Web.org site:
The Arab peace initiative, renewed at the recent Arab summit, has created the expected confusion in Israel. The doves, predictably, insist that Israel must seize the opportunity. The Arab side has come a long way since the “three nos” of the Khartoum conference, and offers peace, as hardnosed Zeev Schiff notes. The offer cannot be dismissed easily. Even if it is a bad offer, the admission that Israel has the right to exist and that there could be peace in principle establishes a precedent, a change in the culture of the conflict, and it must not be ignored. From Israel’s point of view, it is a giant step forward that should be amplified and bolstered in any way possible.
The Israeli government, for its part, sniffs and pokes at the peace initiative like a dog who is not too hungry and has been offered some strange food. Dennis Ross is probably right that neither Olmert nor Abbas are strong enough to make peace, and that in itself tells us something about the current mentality of Israelis and Palestinians….
The antipathy to peace is due to cultural and geopolitical realities that cannot be dismissed. No peace plan can succeed as long people do not really want peace, because the demands and requirements that they make are designed to prevent peace, and if those are met, they will find new ones: [for example] It is “absolutely necessary” to have a settlement in Ariel, because having the settlement in Ariel will prevent the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. [Or] It is “essential” to get return of the Palestinian refugees to Israel, because return of the refugees to Israel will destroy the Jewish state….
The novelty of the Saudi peace plan is that a major Middle East player has made a bid for leadership based on peace, and not on the politics of confrontation….
There are indications indeed that the plan is just a device, a gimmick, that is not intended to be pursued seriously….
In a news conference following the Arab League Summit, Prince Saud declared that there was nothing in effect, for Israel to negotiate with most Arab countries. Israel should first meet all the terms of the Syrians, Palestinians and Lebanese, and then the Arab countries would make peace, at an unspecified date. Perhaps they would, and perhaps they would not. However, it is clear that Prince Saud is not stupid, and that he understands that Israel would not make sweeping concessions of the type demanded in the initiative unless there was absolute certainty that Israel will get peace from the Arabs in return. Moreover, the Arabs rejected PM Olmert’s offer to meet and did not make a counter offer, so apparently they are not as anxious to make peace as to talk about making peace.
The terms of the initiative in their worst interpretation are certainly unacceptable to Israel, but Israel cannot afford to stand by and do nothing. Gimmick or not, the initiative is a very effective weapon in the diplomatic war that Arab countries have been waging against Israel. Whining that the initiative is not serious and ignoring it will not suffice.
It would be inappropriate for Israel to respond to this initiative with a simple “no” or with a half-hearted “let’s talk” as PM Olmert has done. Vague talk of “political horizons” is not enough either. Israel must craft a public peace plan of its own and put it on the table to compete with the Arab Peace Initiative. This plan should reflect national consensus, and must be generous enough to get the backing of the European Union and the United States. For the Palestinians, it can be modeled on the Clinton Bridging Proposals or the Geneva Initiative or the Ayalon-Nusseibeh plan. These are the plans that all the experts point to as the only possible shape of a peace solution: “two states for two peoples” and territorial compromise. None of these plans contemplate full withdrawal or massive return of Palestinian Arab refugees. All of them would give both sides peace with security, if they are carried out as agreed. All of them would safeguard Israeli rights in Jerusalem and other holy places to a greater or lesser extent, as well as allowing for Arab rights. Therefore, these plans can have a greater appeal to the international community than the Arab peace plan.
The Arab peace initiative also demands that Israel negotiate peace with Syria. Israel should be asking loudly of the USA, or threatening to ask in public, if their support for the initiative means that the US wants Israel to begin negotiations with Syria. Apparently the USA does not want to say this, but if so, they should get Israel off the hook. Very likely, Mr. Bush doesn’t want to say it, but Dr. Condoleezza Rice does want to say it. The Arab League is not the only forum with divergences of opinion.
Any public Israeli peace plan is better than no plan at all. There is not much to the Arab peace plan. Like any good military strategy, it is simple but deadly. The plan does not have to be complex. It might suffice for Israel to say that it accepts the principle of land for peace, and will make peace with all Arab countries based on UN Security Council Resolution 242 and the Bridging Proposals of President Clinton.
…. Even if no peace agreement is reached immediately, it helps to legitimize two very important ideas that must be the basis of any future peace. On the Arab side, there must be an understanding that Israel is here to stay and that recognizing Israel and the rights of Jews is no longer a cultural taboo. On the Israeli side, there must be a realization that it is, after all, possible to make peace and desirable to do so. Once both sides agree on both points, most of the solution is in hand.
You write that Israel should come up with its own plan than reflects a national consensus as well as is acceptable to the EU and U.S. This would be very difficult as what would be acceptable to the Likud, National Union, and Kadima would not be acceptable to the E.U. All three of these parties, which collectively along with the religious parties represent the majority of the electorate, oppose a return to the 1967 borders. Of the major parties only Labor and Meretz accept a return to the 1967 borders. This is why Barak found himself without a Knesset majority after he returned home from Camp David.
I appreciate your frequent comments. Could you please e-mail with your e-mail address to Mail@MeretzUSA.org?
You point to a problem of Israel’s system of proportional representation that gives too many small parties an outsized influence. But poll data consistently reveal that a majority of Israel’s citizens favor a peace deal that is based upon an approximate return to the pre-’67 borders.
Even Meretz favors a negotiation to redraw the boundaries to approximate, but not exactly duplicate, the pre-’67 boundaries. Meretz would would want to see an exchange of territories as part of this solution. Kadima and Labor have views that are close to Meretz on this matter, but Kadima may be less generous than Meretz in drawing those lines; yet it is still in favor of something that gives the Palestinians most, if not quite all, of the West Bank.
And, you’d be surprised to learn, that there is a Knesset majority for such an approach: 30 Kadima, 6-7 Pensioners (GIL), 19 Labor, 5 Meretz, 10 Hadash and two Arab parties, and even (possibly) 11 in Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu (Lieberman accepts a Palestinian state and advocates an exchange of territories).
But what should Israel do in regard to Hamas? Although the Saudi deal sounds more acceptable, we have to remember that its Hamas is the current representative of the Palestinian people. Wat should be done?
Asak asks a good question, but Hamas is NOT really “the current representative of the Palestinian people,” especially not now that there is a unity government coalition with Fatah and independents.
But even when Hamas alone formed the government, Mahmoud Abbas remained (as he is still) the president and the head of the PLO, with the sole legal authority to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
But still, Hamas seems to weild a lot of influence with the positions they have, and Abbas can’t seems to do anything.
Don’t forget Peres’ famous quip that Israelis tell the truth to pollsters but lie in the voting booth. What is to keep them from lying the next time out?
In NI, a society very similar to Israel, many people said they wanted peace but continued to vote for parties that either opposed the Good Friday Agreement or refused to fulfill their commitments under it. The vast majority of voters refused to cross the sectarian divide and support a moderate pro-peace party in the other community or the nonsectarian Alliance Party, but rather voted for an extremist party in their own community with their “additional” vote under the PR-Single Transferable Vote franchise system. This suggests that voting is about more than policy–or at least about more policies than a peace policy–and also include an element of identity. Ultra-Orthodox voters who support peace will continue to vote for Haredi parties that oppose peace. And Likud voters will at best vote for Kadima, which might not even be around by the next election.
Israel’s political parties are weak and getting weaker. Labor weakened with the failures of Oslo and Likud weakened due to Sharon’s break with its most hawkish elements. Haredi parties tend to be more interested in religious and cultural issues than peace or war; in other words, they tend to support whoever advances their narrow sectarian interests.
But your quote by Peres is quite apt. Israelis are notorious for not relating their professed convictions with who they vote for. Still they are like voters in many countries in voting their fears rather than their hopes. Perhaps Dr. Mitchell could tell me more in e-mail about the parallels he sees with Northern Ireland.
So what does that mean for Israel? If the politicas in Israel are weak, does that mean a settlement can ever be reached?