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From the Right: The Saudi Initiative – Many Humps but no Camel

I was surprised to encounter the word “absolutely” at the opening of my friend’s post. A more befitting word associated with Middle Eastern issues would be a “mirage”, a nasty, heat-generated-phantom that rises from the desert floor. The ever changing air-layer creates an illusion that sometimes gives lost desert travelers the false sense of seeing water at the horizon, before succumbing to thirst on their way to reach it. My friend’s trip down memory lane, growing up in Israel and hearing the bells of peace ring, sounds nice, but that was then, and the hard reality is now. Mistakes may have been made on both sides, but should Israel try to correct them through committing new ones by accepting an initiative full of holes?

Yes, in 2002 The Saudi Initiative (the official name) was presented and endorsed in 2007 by all Arab League member states. However, that did not last long, on 11/2/08 Syria officially rejected calls by President Peres and Defense Minister Barak to pursue the Initiative. Syrian embassy-spokesman in London Jihad Makdissi called Israel’s recent revival of the Initiative “another attempt to bluff and evade peace”. He went on to explain that “any pan-Arab initiative would not let anyone but Syria negotiate with Israel over the fate of the Golan Heights”. Try patching that black hole. How should Israel convince Syria (such a peace loving nation) of its sincere intentions of reaching peace? Maybe by agreeing to Syria’s demand to return the entire Golan Before negotiations start, nothing like a true bargaining a la’ Middle East mode.

It seems like my colleague opted for using the wrong end of a binocular when viewing the Initiative, from that end the far away details create a neat effect but one that distorts reality. Let’s have a closer look. One of the major issues in the Initiative deals with refugees. My friend wrote; “The resolution that was approved by the Arab states realized the difficulty of this issue, and stated that it would accept any solution agreed upon by the Israeli and Palestinian sides. It is clear to the Palestinians that their aspiration of returning to their land and villages in-Israel-proper no longer holds any water”. My colleague neglected to mention that at the Beirut Summit discussing the Initiative in 2004, Lebanon and Syria successfully campaigned for the inclusion of a reference to UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which emphasizes the Palestinian right of return to Israel (section 2II). Furthermore, section 4 clearly assures the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries. In other words it pretty much leaves Israel as the only viable option for settling the Palestinians. After all, no Arab host country would in its right mind give up the option of letting a destabilizing-group exit its borders. It seems that The Saudi Initiative is really an “idea in progress”. Items are being added and adjusted in the Initiative at will, while at all times it is being presented to Israel as a take it or leave it deal. I personally would like to see the final version before signing on.

Here is part of the Initiative’s introduction: “Reaffirming the resolution taken in June 1996 at the Cairo Extra-Ordinary Arab Summit that a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of the Arab countries…”.  Unfortunately, for Israel’s enemies peace is merely a “strategic option” while Israel always viewed peace in loftier terms, an endless yearning of the heart (the large number of peace songs composed in Israel attests to it). Israel should consider leveling the playing field by viewing peace as a strategic option as well. It may help Israel to approach the whole process of achieving peace in a more calculated and realistic way. If peace evolves into something warm and fuzzy in the future, great.

Finally, to use Abba Eban’s famous quote: “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” and apply it to Israel, as my friend on the left did, is a misrepresentation of facts. Israel gave up Sinai, signed peace with Jordan, uprooted thousands of settlers and retreated from Gaza, gave up 70% of Hebron, allowed the return of thousands of so call freedom fighters from Tunis (and armed them!), and signed, the now dead, Olso peace agreement. Rather than “missing opportunities” I prefer to view the whole process as one of “moving forward with caution”. And what did Israel receive in return? Suicide attacks, scores of mortar attacks, over 7 years of rockets, a new Intifada, and as an extra bonus; the awakening of Israeli Arabs’s dormant nationalism (“Israeli-Arab Vision Document”, 2007). Speaking of getting something in return, the only reference to it in the Initiative is summarized in two words “normal relations” (Section 3II), quite cryptic when compared to the detailed list of expectations from Israel.

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