The Importance of the Saudi Peace Plan

Article excerpt

If a negotiated end to the violence between Palestinians and Israelis is possible, the Saudi peace plan adopted by the Arab League on March 28, 2002, is the best hope. There is nothing really new in the Saudi concept: essentially, Israel withdraws from occupied Arab territories in return for Arab acceptance of Israel's right to exist free from the threat of violence from its neighbors.

The same idea was advocated in UN Security Council Resolution 242, adopted in October 1967. What is new, and what makes the Saudi plan a possible solution, is that the entire Arab community--22 states--has now agreed to accept the deal.

Since 1967, Arab states have complained that the international community has not done enough to force Israel to comply with Resolution 242 and withdraw from the occupied territories. But they ignore the fact that they, too, have not lived up to the resolution.

Until the adoption of the Saudi initiative by the Arab League, only two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, recognized Israel's right to exist. Now all Arab states have offered to

* Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended

* Enter into a peace agreement with Israel

* Provide security for all the states of the region

* Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this plan "

In return, the Arab League calls upon Israel to

* Withdraw fully from all the territories occupied since 1967 (including the Syrian Golan Heights and the remaining occupied territories in Lebanon) to the lines of June 4, 1967

* Achieve a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem in accordance with the December 1948 UN General Assembly Resolution 194

* Accept a sovereign independent Palestinian state in the Palestinian- occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital"

A possible basis for peace

Some aspects of the Arab League offer are patently unacceptable to Israel. The provision requiring a solution to the refugee problem is a major problem if the Arabs insist that all 3.7 million Palestinian refugees currently registered with the UN Refugee Relief Agency have the right to return to their homes in Israel. Israel has pointed out that accepting all these refugees would destroy the Jewish nature of Israel, as Israel already counts 1 million Arabs among its 5.8 million citizens and the Arab birthrate is almost twice that of Jews.

But the refugee question is not necessarily a deal breaker. The Saudi plan does not explicitly call for the return of all refugees--only a "just solution" based on Resolution 194. The resolution says that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property."

Thus, compensation is an alternative to return. The international community may decide that sharing the cost of this compensation is a good economic decision if it promotes the end of violence.

Withdrawal from territory

The question of which territories Israel would be forced to abandon is also a potential stumbling block. Israel claims that it needs to retain some territory in both Palestinian and Syrian areas as a "security zone. …