It is not surprising that Israel continues to disregard another peace overture from the Arab League, though it is not very smart.
At the Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002, an unprecedented peace initiative was advanced, offering full peace with Israel in exchange for the return of Occupied Palestinian Territory to the 1967 borders. What became known at the Arab Peace Initiative (API) was rejected by former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and the occupation continued.
Apparently, the time was not opportune for Israel to take such a grand step, even though all 22 members of the Arab League had endorsed opening full diplomatic relations (with the exception of Libya, but that was expected). It was not opportune because the US was about to invade Afghanistan, setting the stage for Iraq, and because Sharon was reinvading the West Bank.
The API was put on the back burner for a couple of years as the wars wore on. Then, somewhat out of the blue, the peace initiative was revived at the Arab League summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in March 2007 (in the absence of Libya). The diplomatic overture to Israel was completely disregarded and it turned out to be more of a regional effort to reconcile the Palestinians.
The previous year, the Saudi Kingdom had tried the Makkah Accord to bring the different Palestinian factions together. The US and Israel had scuttled reconciliation efforts and by the time Riyadh rolled in, both were preparing to dislodge Hamas from Gaza via military means. Riyadh was apparently not propitious either and Hamas countered by taking over Gaza completely.
And now we arrive in the spring of 2013 to another crossroads, this time created by US diplomatic efforts. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, convinced the Arab League to accept an even better deal for Israel, if not more realistic for the Palestinians as well: Full peace in exchange not for a return to the 1967 line, but rather for a “land swap”.
Facts on the ground
The land-swap scheme was conceived by Henry Kissinger and endorsed by former US envoy Dennis Ross — both staunch pro-Zionist supporters of Israel. The basic idea was for Israel to hold on to the annexation of occupied East Jerusalem and to keep the Jewish colonies (and the subterranean aquifers) as part of sovereign Israel territory. The Palestinians would get an equal amount of territory in return — equal in quantity, but not in quality. Proposed maps show square kilometres being swapped in the desert or the northern Galilee; not exactly optimal for the Palestinians or in any way creating a contiguous Palestinian state, which would remain as fragmented as ever.
The land-swap scheme being advanced by Kerry, therefore, is not much more than consolidating the facts on the ground that Israel has imposed and acquired over the past decades. That such a proposal is tabled by the US should be no surprise, but that the Arab states have actually agreed shows the tremendous distance they have moved from the Palestinian cause.
If Israel were smart, Tel Aviv could capitalise on such an aperture to further consolidate its gains. But instead, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the most right-wing government ever in Israel, continue to disregard, blindly and without hesitation, in pompous disdain, the renewed Arab overture for peace parlays. Netanyahu merely reiterated: No preconditions, no dictates.
How offering Israel full sovereignty over their colonies and occupied Jerusalem is a dictate or precondition is another issue. What is of concern here is the distraction of war on Israel’s northern front again from possible peace with the Palestinians. Here is a possibility to reap benefits from both, but instead Netanyahu will play the “security” card yet again and claim that the timing is not opportune.
With Hezbollah and Iran operating in defence of the Bashar Al Assad regime in Syria, Israel could come across as a true supporter of democratic rule by endorsing opposition forces fighting for a transition to a more open political system — that would ultimately be friendly to Israel. With a partial return of the Golan Heights or shared sovereignty, Israel would have an ally in the historical epicentre of the Arab world.
However, that is so far from being imaginable at this time, particularly with the withdrawal of UN peace-keeping forces from the Golan Heights for the first time since UNDOF (United Nations Disengagement Observer Force) was deployed in 1974, thus opening another front for Hezbollah and other more radical Sunni groups to use against Israel, as was seen with the kidnapping of foreign soldiers by Al Qaida sympathisers or emulators.
At the end of the spring of 2013, Kerry and the revised and embellished API present the possibility of perpetual peace to Israel, but the Jewish state remains as ever obsessed with pursuing perpetual war — just like its enemies, Israel was born of war and its raison d’etre is future battles.
Stuart Reigeluth is founding editor of Revolve magazine.