Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Real Obstacle to Peace: Stripping Israel of Excuses

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Real Obstacle to Peace: Stripping Israel of Excuses

Article excerpt

THE ARAB LEAGUE'S peace initiative came some time after the eruption of the al-Aqsa intifada and followed a plan conceived of by then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The plan was actually leaked to the New York Times' Tom Friedman in advance over a private dinner with the crown prince and was then adopted as an Arab peace plan at the Arab League Summit in Beirut in March 2002.

In one simple stroke the plan offers all parties what they need while falling entirely in line with international law and legitimacy. It asks for the return of all lands occupied by Israel in 1967, i.e., the Gaza Strip, the West Bank including East Jerusalem, to serve as a future independent Palestinian state, and the Golan Heights to Syria. It also alludes to a "just and fair" resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem, though it is not clear whether the right of return refers to the state to be created or historic Palestine.

In return the plan offers Israel two things it has always sought: recognition by and normalization with all the countries of the Arab world. Recognition includes all Arab states except Egypt and Jordan, who have already signed peace treaties with Israel. Normalization includes these two countries, whose people and institutions have so far done little to genuinely accept Israel as a neighbor in the Middle East.

Ask any expert on the Middle East. Survey the majorities of the peoples in the region or ask leaders for their private opinions. They will all say that this is exactly the kind of plan that everyone can agree to. It is what negotiators call a win-win situation.

Only one problem. Israel won't accept it. Thus it was left on the shelf with a host of other plans, and would have been forgotten had Marwan Barghouti and his fellow Palestinian prisoners not resurrected it from the dustbin of history. The plan is now back at the center of attention because, like Israel, the Hamas-led government refused to accept it despite the fact that all Arab countries, including Syria where some of the Hamas leadership resides, have endorsed it.

Unfortunately, while an extremely practical plan, it has no teeth, no enforcement mechanism and no possibility of realization without the backing of Israel's powerful allies. Not only has Israel rejected the plan, but the U.S. and major European countries have done nothing to translate it into a binding Security Council resolution or use their political muscle to try and push it through. …

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