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Commentary Last Updated: Mar 7th, 2007 - 01:29:55

Israel should embrace the revived Arab plan
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Mar 7, 2007, 01:28

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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 foreign powers.�

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 are.

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 region.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn�t it? That�s because it probably is.

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

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