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September 5, 2006
Israel Considering Arab Initiative

The Jerusalem Post reports that the Israelis have come back to the stalled Arab Initiative, a comprehensive peace plan sponsored by the Saudis four years ago. The Saudis apparently intend on raising the plan again at an upcoming summit in Cairo, and the Israelis will watch with interest how it develops:

Israel will be watching a meeting of the foreign ministers of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia scheduled for Tuesday in Cairo with "interest, but little expectation," senior diplomatic officials said Monday.

The meeting, which is also likely to include the PLO's foreign minister Farouk Kaddoumi, is expected to discuss an Arab League peace initiative that will likely be presented at the UN later this month.

UN Secretary of State Kofi Annan said in Damascus Friday that the Arab League has called on the UN Security Council to formally recognize "the need to reactivate the Middle Eastern peace process and establish a mechanism for us to proceed on all tracks." The details of the plan are sketchy, but it is believed that it will be based on the Saudi initiative from 2002, involve the UN Security Council, and call for an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on the principle of land for peace.

The Saudi initiative, adopted at the Arab Summit in Beirut in March 2002, calls on Arab states to "normalize relations" with Israel in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state following an Israeli withdrawal to the Green Line, and a solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN Resolution 194. This resolution called on Israel to allow the return of Palestinian refugees and compensate those who don't want to do so.

Israel rejected the Saudi peace plan, and for good reason. It required Israel to recognize the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, a condition that would mean the end of the Israeli state. It would bring a flood of hostile Palestinians into Israel's borders, granting them citizenship and the vote. The result would not just be a wresting of political control from the Jews, but also allow terrorists inside their borders behind all of their defenses.

It also required Israel to set their borders to their 1967 status and eliminate the West Bank settlements. Those conditions could be palatable, if it meant a final settlement and a guarantee of normal diplomatic relations with all Muslim states -- and no further terrorist attacks. Any peace would almost certainly move Israel back to the Green Line. The settlements will be a huge political problem for Israel, but it's hard to see how they can expect a two-state solution to work while Israeli settlements remain in Palestinian territory.

Ehud Olmert has recognized the futility of the previous Israeli strategy, giving up on the "realignment" plan he wanted to implement and which the White House had supported. He told the Knesset that the plan had been shelved. Any withdrawal from Palestinian lands will not come unilaterally, which will probably please the Palestinians and the Israelis, neither of whom really bought into the unilateral Gaza withdrawal. Sharon made his point with that effort: the Palestinians revealed themselves as singularly incapable of self-government there. Israel knows better than to make that point twice now.

Will Israel accept a modified Arab Initiative, one that forgoes the laughable requirement of national suicide? Olmert would love to find a way to peace, but the question is whether the Arabs can deliver it. They may have more incentive to do so now, with the rise of an Iranian -- and non-Arab -- hegemon in the region. Whether Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan can force Syria into a peace agreement and stop the funding and supply of terrorist groups in the region remains very much an open question.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 5, 2006 4:57 AM

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