Israel Middle East peace process Palestinians

Realistic hope…or magical thinking?

I keep thinking, “it can’t get any worse.” Then it gets worse. And then it gets even worse. And then it gets even…

If one focuses on the Hamas rockets exploding in Sderot, the return to targeted assasinations by the Israelis, the Fatah-Hamas warfare,..then harboring any hope or even considering the possibility of progress can seem like childish, magical thinking.

But don’t forget that the rest of the world has a newfound, belated interest in ending this shared nightmare. For rays of hope, below is an op-ed by Rafi Dajani and Daniel Levy, an Arab American and an Israeli Jew. You can find it and other rays of hope on the Ameinu web site.

When even Pakistan, Malasia and Indonesia have “signed up to the logic” of the Arab peace initiative, it means that the vast majority of Muslim states are offering a comprehensive peace to Israel, under certain conditions, at long last. Olmert may be too weak or addled to take advantage of it. But the offer is still on the table. Focusing on that is not magical thinking, is it?

What Israel Wants is Within its Reach

By Raafat Dajani and Daniel Levy
Israel just marked its 59th birthday recently and like a typical baby boomer, tends to vent its frustration at dreams not realized. Yet a core Israeli dream – to not only establish a state, but to have that state accepted in the Middle East and live at peace with its neighbors – is within reach. If only Israel, having finally gotten to “yes” with the Arab world, would recognize it. Amid all the Middle East doom and gloom, there are at least three reasons for real hope – Israeli, Palestinian and regional.

On the Israeli side there is a belated realization that the absence of an agreed border, the ongoing occupation, and unfettered settlement activity have all been extremely costly in security, financial, and moral terms. Israelis are increasingly cognizant that application of the country’s military force delivers, at best, partial solutions and are keen to find a negotiated way forward. They are distrustful of the Palestinians’ intentions and capacity to deliver, but view the Arab world as a more reliable and robust partner.

On the Palestinian side, and contrary to conventional wisdom in the US, the Mecca unity government deal between Fatah and Hamas in many ways represents a broadening Palestinian consensus around the inevitability of a two-state solution and acceptance of Israel as an irreversible reality. According to the unity government platform, President Mahmoud Abbas is authorized to negotiate with Israel, with any agreement reached having to be approved by a referendum or Palestine Liberation Organization vote, the legitimacy of which all parties would accept. External Arab states’ involvement helped to lock in this deal and would presumably be again required to back up a Palestinian sign-off on a permanent-status peace deal with Israel.

That is why the third element – the regional role – is so important and why renewed peace efforts could take the Saudi-Arab initiative as a key point of departure.

While the clauses of the re-launched Arab peace initiative are essentially the same as those of the original 2002 initiative, the context in which the current initiative is launched is very different.

The person who launched the 2002 initiative, then-Crown Prince Abdullah, is now king of a Saudi Arabia that has assumed the leadership mantle of the Arabs, brokering the new Palestinian coalition government, mediating between the factions in Lebanon and formulating regional strategy over Iran.

In addition, the Arab world is witnessing a rarely seen unity over the initiative, signaling a fundamental shift toward accepting Israel as a neighbor and partner.

Israel has oscillated between enthusiasm and concern in its response to the initiative. Israeli criticisms of a “take it or leave it” proposal or of the refugee or border clauses largely miss the point.

The Saudi and Egyptian foreign ministers have stressed that Israel should accept the initiative “in principle” and as “a framework,” after which all issues would be open for negotiations. The borders clause says that they should “be based” on the 1967 lines, implying that the exact border lines would be negotiated. On the refugees, the key terminology in the clause is the phrase “agreed upon.” By definition, “agreed upon” means Israel signing off on a solution to the refugee issue that it too accepts.

An additional bonus is that influential non-Arab Muslim states have also signed up to the logic behind the initiative – peace for normalization. Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia fall into this category. It is no longer an act of wide-eyed naivete to envisage an Israel at peace with its neighbors and accepted by the Arab and Muslim worlds. Israel did it, it got to “yes” – now it is time to recognize it and act on it.

Raafat Dajani is the executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine, an organization advocating the US interest in the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Daniel Levy is a senior fellow and director of the Prospects for Peace Initiative at the Century Foundation and a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Initiative at the New America Foundation.

10 thoughts on “Realistic hope…or magical thinking?

  1. As long as the Saudi plan is treated as a proposal and not a diktat, as most previous Arab plans have been, it should be taken up by Israel. It should be combined with the Clinton parameters of December 2000 to fast forward to the few issues that need serious negotiations such as: territorial swaps, a refugee solution, Jerusalem, and military security measures.

    The real problem is that both the Israeli and Palestinian governments are far too weak to make the badly needed compromises necessary for a peace to be signed. Unless this problem can be solved, this will be another “lost opportunity.”

  2. What are the conditions that would make it possible?

    What work can be done to realize those conditions?

    Are they only political?

  3. Like Tom, I believe that current conditions are not conducive for successful final-status negotiations to the conflict. While we should not give up on proposals like the Arab Peace Initiative, we have to think about ways of mitigating the conflict short of a final resolution.

    To that end, I refer you to a proposal discussed by Hamas & Israelis for a 5-year Hudna/Ceasefire which would include a temporary Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank to an agreed temporary line, total freedom of movement for Palestinians, no new settlements, etc. while the PA would take complete responsibility for ending attacks on Israelis. The 5-year hudna would provide Hamas with “greater freedom & space to explore ways of resolving the conflict with Israel in a lasting way.” The details of the proposal are here:

    By the way, my own preference would be for the creation of a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem that would take responsibility for ending all violence against Israelis and cracking down on militant groups. Issues like the refugees and the holy sites in Jerusalem would be negotiated after, not before, the establishment of a Palestinian state. However, I recognize this is not politically feasible.

  4. Richard Witty Says:

    “What are the conditions that would make it possible?

    What work can be done to realize those conditions?

    Are they only political?”

    The obstacles are political, ideological and emotional. But it all hinges on politics. Shlomo Ben Ami has written that the era of bi-lateral negotiations on these issues has come and gone, that both sides’ political systems are too disfunctional and riven by too many different political rivalries to reach an agreement.

    That is why more forceful international diplomacy is the only answer. We’ve reached a point where it’s just as important to create the “conditions” in the U.S. than it is to create them in Israel and the OPTs

  5. Peter H:
    Here is the problem. Gaza and South Lebanon were test cases. Israel withdrew behind internationally UN certified borders. And yet the attacks came. Now you advocate giving up the west bank ridge line from where all the coastal population centers would be under direct threat. what you say actually sounds good in theory but the Palestinians aren’t going to do it. If Hamas makes peace they lose their reason for being. And if Israel retaliates they get no support. It just won’t work

  6. Both Lebanon & Gaza were unilateral withdrawals. When did Hezbollah & Hamas ever promise to cease their attacks? This would be a coordinated withdrawal.

    Also, the Gaza “disengagement” was done in a way that weakened the Palestinian Authority and kept Israel’s chokehold on the Palestinian economy. This proposal would connect withdrawal to a serious effort to rebuild the Palestinian economy & institutions.

    I don’t know if Hamas is interested in coexistence with Israel. What I do believe is this proposal is much more likely to lead to stability & calm than the current approach.

  7. So your saying that Hamas is going to make peace because their just a bunch of happy go lucky lads who have totally abrogated their covenant. And that the “international community” is going to guaranttee Isrel’s security. What do you base that premise on? Another question. If your the PM of Israel. Entrusted with the security of the one Jewish state. Has opposed to the 22 Islamic ones, What’s your move, how do youu wind this up. I know you think that if Israel jjust does A. B and C this can all be wound up by the weekend. What’s your plan

  8. The Saudi proposal is a proposal of states, with the prospect of a middle east free trade zone.

    The Saudis like it as they will have the scope to do business with Israeli firms and invest in Israel, as well as participate in the economy of the Mediterranean.

    Those that want Arabia and other nations to separate from European influence will fight it, and very violently.

  9. Richard,
    Unlike you, I don’t put great stock in Saudi intentions. For more than forty years the modus vivendi of the Saudi monarchy has been to buy off both one’s internal and external opponents while trying to appear moderate in the West. The Saudi rulers may want more Western investment and a stable environment, but they will also be willing to appease the radical ulama that are behind al Qaeda, if they think they are required to. Plus many in the Saudi royalty and elite are either overtly or covertly followers of these mullahs. I have more faith in the Palestinians than I do in the Saudis.

  10. Tom,
    My sense is that Saudi Arabia is initiating this for a combination of opportunity and responsibility.

    The Saudis are leaders in it, but the proposal is for one of consensus of multiple states.

    If it will never come to be for Islamic reasoning and intervention, then the current is the most peaceful that it will ever be.

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