According to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 and 2007, once Israel has made peace with all its neighbors in accordance with a specific list of conditions (1967 borders, a just and agreed solution to the refugee issue, the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem), „the Arab countries . . . consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel.“ This, together with „security for all the states of the region“ (an important issue that warrants a separate discussion), is the Arab „payoff“ to Israel in return for peace…
Not a clear enough incentive
How substantive and serious is the API’s offer of an end to the conflict and a comprehensive Arab-Israel peace? Undoubtedly, it is without precedent in the annals of the Arab-Israel conflict. It should have been (and still could be) greeted far more warmly by Israel. Nevertheless, from the Israeli standpoint there are also many questions to discuss here.
First and perhaps most important, do all the Arab countries enter into a peace agreement with Israel? Is this a collective agreement with the Arab League? Or is Israel simply invited to make peace with each and every Arab League member on its own? What happens if, say, Lebanon and Libya refuse to make peace with Israel–the former because Hizballah with its extreme Islamist ideology holds sway over the government and the latter because Moammar Gaddafi, assuming he’s still in power–and if not, someone like him in an Arab country–holds out for a bi-national „Isratine“.
Obviously, for Israel, Lebanon is the bigger problem. Let’s assume Israel has carried out its part of the API’s Lebanon bargain and has withdrawn from „the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon“ by turning them over to Syria, to Lebanon or to the United Nations, yet Lebanon refuses either to consider the conflict ended or to sign a peace treaty. Given Hizballah’s preeminence in Lebanon today and Iran’s influence over that movement, this is a realistic, even likely, scenario. Will the Arab League, in accordance with the commitment embodied in the API, somehow enforce the peace and end-of-conflict provision regarding Lebanon? Will it, by the same token, compel Hamas in the Gaza Strip to comply with an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty?
A second set of issues involves the possibility of implementing the peace provision of the API in stages. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit made this offer a few years ago when he visited Israel to „present“ the API. Suppose Israel makes peace with Syria and fulfils the API territorial requirement (1967 lines) on that front to the satisfaction of Damascus, yet has not yet found a way to end the Palestinian conflict. Or, vice versa, Israel makes peace with Palestine first, with Syria left to a later stage. After all, it’s very unlikely that Israel will make peace simultaneously on all fronts, and it will reasonably seek recognition from the Arab world for a specific stage of peace and explain that this could serve as an important incentive to the Israeli public to proceed with further territorial concessions.
Peace in stages presumably means either that all Arab countries will respond by offering Israel some significant element of peace, with the remaining elements withheld pending completion of all peace agreements with all neighbors, or that some Arab countries (besides Syria or Palestine) will respond by offering full peace agreements. The API says nothing about this; it would be very useful for any peace-minded Israeli government to cite the prospective Arab payoff for the next peace agreement as a way of reassuring the Israeli public that the concessions and risks entailed are worthwhile.
Finally, there is another very specific Israeli approach to peace that is relevant here. If we go back two or three decades, when Israel made peace with Egypt and Jordan and was negotiating seriously with Syria, Israelis by and large viewed peace with our neighbors as implying not only „end of conflict“ but also normalization and even acceptance into the region. We would be greeted in the market places of Cairo and Damascus as members in equal standing of the Middle East community. But years of cold peace have taught us that this is not the reality: the end of conflict is there, but not the rest.
Of course, we ourselves are partly to blame for the cold peace, but only partly. Many Israelis honestly believe, after assessing the wages of peace, that by and large our neighbors will not, in the foreseeable future, come to terms with the equal standing of a Jewish state in the midst of an Arab and primarily Muslim world. The revolutionary changes currently rocking the Arab world and the possibility that in neighboring countries like Egypt and Jordan they will bring to the fore political actors who oppose even a cold peace with Israel, give additional pause to skeptical Israelis.
This explains, at least in part, why the API’s offer of an end-of-conflict and peace agreement with Israel in return for withdrawal to the 1967 lines has not generated the kind of enthusiasm in Israel that might qualify the offer as a tempting incentive. Here again, and having acknowledged Israel’s need to be more forthcoming toward the API, the Arab side could do better–if and when the revolution on the Arab street comes to an end.-Published 2/3/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.