By Hasan Efif El-Hasan, Ph.D
Many Arab analysts have over-rated the March 2007 Arab summit decision to re-launch the land-for-recognition initiative that had been offered by Saudi Arabia in 2002 to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. They had high hope the proposal would resuscitate the stalled Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. The Arabs must have known that Israel would reject the proposal but they introduced it anyway and insisted that they would not amend it. It calls on Israel to give back all territory captured in the 1967 war and accept an agreed just solution to the issue of the Palestinian refugees, in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194. In return, Arab nations would offer Israel full recognition and permanent peace.
Olmert hailed the idea of normalization in the Arab League initiative but rejected its main points and called on Saudi Arabia to hold a regional conference that includes Israel. The Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni was quoted saying that her government would not accept the Arab peace plan without significant changes. Livni insisted that Israel would not withdraw to the pre-1967 war borders. She also asked that the Arabs should drop any reference to the UN Resolution 194 that gave the Palestinian refugees, who fled or were driven from their homes when Israel was founded in 1948, the right of return to their homes in Israel.
The Israelis believe that the influx of any number of Arabs into Israel would threaten its Jewish demographic and political supremacy. Olmert told the Israeli press that Israel would not allow a single Palestinian to return to his or her homeland in Israel. When the initiative was initially offered in 2002, Israel response was to launch a military invasion of the West Bank and Gaza strip. And shortly after the proposal was offered again, Israel stepped up its daily incursions into the West Bank towns and villages arresting and killing activists. Its military assassinated eleven Palestinians including a 17 years old boy in two days shortly after the Riyadh Arab League summit was concluded.
The Israeli leaders like the normalization part of the initiative, but without paying a price. While the Arabs were reaching out for peace, Israel does not have to make peace by giving up land occupied in the 1967 War. The Israelis do not feel they need to make concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for recognition.
The Arabs had already recognized Israel when they accepted the UN Security Council Resolution 242 that called for “acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.
Israel feels secure militarily and economically since signing the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. The PLO recognized the right of Israel to exist in peace and security and declared inoperative all the articles in the Palestinian Covenant which denied Israel’s right to exist. Israel established commercial relations with many Arab and Muslim states and its representatives attended conferences in many Arab capitals. It has a large arsenal of nuclear weapons and the only perceived Arab threat came to an end once the US toppled Iraq’s Baa’th regime. And internationally, the US has sided with the Israel on the main contested issues, the refugees and the settlements and treated the Palestinian prime minister as the head of a terrorist organization.
Furthermore, both Israel and the so called moderate Arab states stand united in opposing the Islamic movements and Iran nuclear ambitions. According to the Israeli daily Haaritz newspaper, King Abdullah II of Jordan told the acting Israeli President Dalia Itzik while visiting Amman in April 2007 that, "we are in the same boat, we have the same problems, and we have the same enemies." The King went on to tell his visitors according to the newspaper that the Palestinian refugees’ right of return should be understood as referring to "compensation" not "repatriation". Even before negotiations the Arab leader was making concessions on the right of return, in the process of explaining the initiative. While the Israeli leaders refuse to deal with any final status issue at this time, the Arabs are negotiating among themselves and dropping one of the main demands in the proposal.
When Sadat offered his 1971 initiative to recover the Sinai he had an alternative plan if Israel would reject it. After Israel rejected his initiative and the US ignored it, Sadat turned to plan B, the 1973 war. The Arabs today have no alternative plan once Israel rejected their peace initiative. And Israel does not have to make peace with the Palestinians by giving up the spoils of the 1967 war and Oslo agreements. Today, the “land-for-recognition” proposal will not be taken seriously by anyone except the Arab naïve optimists. Why Israel should accept the initiative if it can have its cake and eats it too. It does not have to trade land for Arab recognition when it has both already.