The 2002 Arab peace initiative is to be revived at a summit
to be held in Riyadh at the end of March. It�s been agreed upon by all 22 Arab
League members, thus representing an opportunity not to be missed.
Its first airing, during an Arab League summit held in
Beirut, came just prior to Israel�s former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon going on
a West Bank rampage in response to a spate of Palestinian bomb attacks and it
was subsequently shelved. Its resurrection is long overdue.
It�s a simple plan that strictly adheres to UN Security
Council Resolutions 242 and 338. It confirms that a just and comprehensive
peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of Arab nations.
Under the plan, Israel must confirm that it, too, seeks
peace and in return for recognition and security it must withdraw from all land
occupied during the 1967 War, accept the establishment of a Palestinian state
with East Jerusalem as its capital, and achieve a just solution to the
Palestinian refugee problem under the terms of UN Resolution 194.
The main sticking point from Israel�s point of view is the
reference to UN General Assembly Resolution 194, in particular, the following
paragraph -- Paragraph 11 -- that relates to the rights of Palestinians
displaced in 1948.
�Resolves that the 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
which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good
by the governments or authorities responsible.�
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has said the Arab plan
would not be considered unless demands for Palestinians to return to their
homes within Israel proper were dropped.
However, Arab League chief Amr Moussa told Arab foreign
ministers meeting in Cairo last Sunday that �the Arab peace initiative
expresses an Arab consensus and will not be redrafted as demanded by some
He warned that �maneuvering and watering down� the plan
would be �a strategic mistake� that could lead to new bloodshed.
The right of return has long stood as an obstacle to peace.
Israel is concerned about maintaining a demographic balance so that Jews
outnumber non-Jews. Fears are that should there be more Arab Israelis than
Jewish Israelis, Israel would no longer be able to label itself a Jewish state
and would have to fend off calls for a one-state solution.
In reality, even if Resolution 194 were implemented, it�s
unlikely there would be a massive influx of Palestinians armed with rusting
keys to their grandparents� homes or yellowing title deeds.
It�s more probable that Palestinians would gravitate instead
to their own fledgling state or those who are comfortably placed in their host
countries with businesses, jobs and homes would be likely to stay where they
A Palestinian state should mean that Palestinians wherever
they happen to be would have the right to live in Palestine and carry a
Palestinian passport. All should, however, be recompensed for property grabbed
or demolished by Israelis over the decades.
In essence, Israelis need peace more than Arabs. For
instance, if Israel had embraced the initiative in 2002, they wouldn�t have
been at the losing end of a war with Lebanon last summer or trying to get back
soldiers detained by Hezbollah and Hamas.
If Iran signs off on the initiative -- as some newspapers
have indicated it would following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad�s recent talks
with King Abdullah -- Israelis would have nothing to worry about from that
quarter. And those US senators who are gaining political capital by swearing to
defend Israel from a potential Iranian attack would have to put a sock in it.
In short, it would be a win-win situation for all concerned.
The Israelis would achieve security and increased prosperity. The Palestinians
would be free from humiliation and torment with their own state. And Arab
nations would get new trading partners and benefit from a stable, conflict-free
Sounds too good to be true, doesn�t it? That�s because it
How would the US react to a cozy t�te-�-t�te between
Israelis and Arabs leaving Washington out of the loop? Is a comprehensive
Middle East peace in America�s strategic interests? Put simply, what excuse
would the US have for remaining in the region playing policeman if all in the
garden were lovely?
Signs that the Bush administration isn�t out to further
better relations between Israelis and Arabs came recently when, according to
reports, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was instructed by the White House
not to pursue talks with Syria. The only way to persuade the Israelis into
accepting the plan is for the entire region and beyond to speak with one voice.
Turkey, whose foreign minister said his country wants closer ties with the Arab
world, could be a trusted mediator. The Iranian leadership should assist by
publicly backing the initiative.
In that event, the new Palestinian unity government along
with all Palestinian factions should agree to recognize the new pre-1967
borders of the State of Israel.
This is a historic initiative that should be taken seriously
by all involved parties and their allies. If Washington attempts to block it,
it should be ignored or shouted down.
It�s time for the US to stop playing with peoples� lives and
liberty, under the guise of being an honest broker, to further its own
strategic goals. It should allow the peoples of this region to solve their own
problems and dictate their own future.
Enough conflict and bloodshed! There is another way, so let�s
kick aside the obstacles and grasp it with both hands.
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle
East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.