Arab League Secretary-General Amr Mousa told Arab leaders recently gathered at the Arab League summit in Libya that Arab states should prepare for the possibility that the Palestinian-Israeli peace process may be a total failure. He urged them to prepare alternatives. One such alternative, observers speculated, is the 2002 Arab peace plan under which the Arab states offered Israel peace and full diplomatic relations in return for Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories conquered by Israel in the June 1967 war.
Mousa is right in observing that the present Middle East peace process might be a total failure. Is there any other way of describing it? Since it was officially started with the 1993 Oslo Accord under which Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) recognised each other, the peace process has been more process than peace; a process under which the occupation has become more oppressive, collective punishment more intense, the dispossession of the Palestinians more accelerated, and deadly wars more regular. To call this process a total failure is to state the obvious.
But to think that the 2002 Arab peace plan is a viable alternative is to engage in wishful thinking. Firstly, Israel has totally ignored it, and continued to behave as if it did not exist.
Secondly, even assuming the remote possibility of its acceptance by Israel, how does the Arab peace plan differ from the current peace process? Both are based on the UN Security Council Resolution 242's formula of land for peace; both rely on the tenuous assumption that Israel's desire for peace is stronger than its appetite for Palestinian land; both further make the unproven assumption that Israel's interest in being a law-abiding and fully integrated member of the region matters more than its inclination to impose its will by force and maintain a state of perpetual conflict and sustained hegemony over its neighbours.
Thirdly, if the current peace plan sponsored by the international community represented by the Quartet the US, Russia, the EU and the UN has so far failed to achieve measurable results, why would the Arab peace plan be any more successful?
But if the Arab peace plan is not a viable alternative, are there any others?
One possible alternative is a military solution based on the late Egyptian president Jamal Abdul Nasser's famous dictum that what was taken by force can only be recovered by force. But that alternative was only partially implemented by Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat, when he successfully conducted the 1973 war and recovered part of the Israeli occupied Egyptian Sinai. He later neutralised the military option when he signed a separate peace agreement with Israel in 1978.
Today, with Israel's military might both awesome and unchallenged, neither the Syrians nor the Palestinians can realistically entertain a military solution to the conflict.
There are two other options, one more realistic than the other. The less realistic one is the one state solution; that is for the Palestinians to abandon the two-state solution, opt for the West Bank and Gaza to be annexed by Israel and demand full political rights. Israel will then have to choose between ruling over a disenfranchised Palestinian population in an apartheid state or granting the Palestinians full political rights and risk its character as a Jewish state. The latter is clearly unacceptable to the majority of Israelis; the former is unacceptable to a growing number of Israelis. And this explains why even extremists like Benjamin Netanyahu grudgingly endorse the two-state solution.
The more realistic option is for the Arab states to throw their weight behind the Quartet, which has recently shown signs of unusual assertiveness.
At their March 18-19 meeting in Moscow the Quartet called on Israel to freeze all Israeli colony activity in occupied East Jerusalem. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made the following unusually strong statement: "The world has condemned Israel's [colony] plans in [occupied] east Jerusalem," he said. "Let us be clear. All [colony] activity is illegal anywhere in occupied territory and must be stopped."
The EU also endorsed Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state within 24 months, thus making it an international project. The EU has also recently expressed its willingness to recognise occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. Fayyad told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the Palestinian state will be established next year.
Further, Netanyahu is coming under growing criticism in Israel itself. Israeli writer Zvi Bar'el wrote that Netanyahu poses a threat to Israeli security because he harms US-Israeli relations, "which are essential for our survival" and allows "gangs of squatters who steal land and buildings in [occupied] Jerusalem" to be "a symbol of national pride." Israeli President Shimon Peres also blamed Netanyahu for breaching the status quo and for the present crisis in US-Israeli relations.
Even if Netanyahu can defy his Israeli critics and the international community, he cannot defy the US forever; saner minds will eventually prevail as his isolation and the attendant cost become more painfully obvious.
Adel Safty is distinguished professor adjunct at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Russia. His new book, Might Over Right, is endorsed by Noam Chomsky.