The new Arab Peace Initiative, which calls on Israel to withdraw to the June 4, 1967 boundaries with a possibility for minor and equally agreed upon territorial exchanges, has become the basis for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s new round of talks with Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry has devoted much of the last two months to restarting the long stalled peace talks. The Arab Peace Initiative has also excited Israel’s President Shimon Peres, who shared a podium with Kerry and Palestinian leaders last Sunday (May 26, 2013) at the World Economic Forum in Southern Shuneh – on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea in Jordan. Peres called the Arab Initiative a “strategic opportunity.” The excited “brain” behind the failed Oslo Accords, Peres personally referred to Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen as “our partner.” He urged the Palestinians to “overcome differences and resume peace negotiations and said that both sides (Israel and the Palestinians) could not afford to lose this opportunity.”
This “new” Arab Peace Initiative was first proposed by Saudi Arabia and presented by King Abdullah at an Arab League Summit in Beirut in 2002. The plan demanded that Israel withdrawal from the territories it captured during the Six-Day War of 1967, including east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The exact text calls upon Israel to affirm: a) full Israeli withdrawal from all territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights to the line of June 4, 1967, as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the South of Lebanon; b) achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution 194; and c) the acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian State on the Palestinian territories occupied since the 4th of June 1967 in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, with east Jerusalem as its capital. If Israel fulfills the Arab conditions, the Arab countries would consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over, enter into a peace agreement with Israel, provide security for all the states of the region, and establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.
Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon criticized this initiative, alleging that the plan may be an Arab plot to put international pressure on Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines. At a cabinet meeting Sharon said that Israel’s final borders must be decided during negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and not before. “If the goal of the Arab world is to replace UN Resolutions 242 and 338 with a demand for a total withdrawal to pre-June 1967 borders, we obviously cannot accept it.” In 2007, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party rejected this initiative. One of the most cogent arguments against the Arab Initiative was the invocation of UNGA Resolution 194 that calls for the return of refugees, access to Jerusalem and the Holy places, and UN control of Jerusalem.
Acceptance of the Arab League Peace Initiative, whether new or the 2002 version, would mean demographic suicide for Israel, as millions of Arab-Palestinian refugees will stream into Israel and alter its Jewish character. Resolution 194 drafted in 1948 also called for Jerusalem to be under UN control, a proposition which Israel could never accept.
Last month in Washington, Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jaber Al Thani, spoke on behalf of the Arab League and thrilled Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and John Kerry, both of whom are committed to the two-state solution, when in English he mentioned the option of “comparable and mutual agreed minor swaps of the land.” Kerry called Al Thani’s statement “a big step forward.” Livni echoed Kerry and stated that it was not just positive news, but “very positive.” Also present was Israel’s President Shimon Peres, who surprisingly and uncharacteristically remained silent. An enthusiastic Kerry said, according to Arab News, that “If the Palestinians and Israelis reach a final agreement between them, 22 Arab countries and 57 Muslim countries – all of them have agreed, number one – they would consider the conflict ended.”
Given the instability in the Arab Middle East, the press shied away from asking Kerry what guarantees he has that the Arab regimes currently represented in the Arab League would not be replaced just as the regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen have been following violent uprisings. Moreover, no one in the media bothered to question the assembled dignitaries regarding what exactly was so positive about the new Arab Initiative. The Arab Initiative might have some value if its positions were more moderate than that of the Palestinians. Otherwise, the same impasse that resulted when the inexperienced President Obama demanded that Israel freeze construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem might occur again and embolden Abu Mazen to make greater demands. After all, the Palestinian Authority president could not be seen to be less holy than the proverbial pope.
In fact, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) position on “territorial swaps” has been that the Palestinian State must be 6,205 square kilometers (2,400, square miles). That position was established in October 2007 by Mahmoud Abbas when, during an interview with Palestinian TV he stated that, “We have 6,205 square kilometers in the West bank and the Gaza Strip, and we want it as it is.” Considering that the notion of “land swaps” had already been discussed and considered, there is little to be thrilled about in Al Thani’s statement. Yet, the “land swaps” statement will be presented as an Arab concession for which Israel must pay. Actually, “land swaps” were a concession Israel made to persuade the Palestinians to reach a peace agreement.
When the Israel’s late Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin declared that he intended to keep the Jordan Valley under Israeli control, there was no offer made to Yasser Arafat to compensate him with other territories. Rabin’s words reflected the position and spirit of the international community embedded in UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338, which required Israel to withdraw from ‘territories” but clearly not “from all the territories” it captured in the defensive Six Day War of June 1967. Arab and Soviet attempts to affect a full Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 borders were summarily rejected by the international community and Israel.
Today, years after Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Arafat the notion of “land swaps” at the July 2000 Camp David Summit, the Qatari Prime Minister arrives in Washington with his “new” idea of land swaps. And, the Obama administration actually expects Israel to be excited and thank the Arab League for its alleged flexibility. Resumed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority without pre-condition would be welcomed. In the meantime, it is an opportunity, albeit, a late one, to categorically remove the notion of land swaps.
Israel does not need to compensate the Palestinians with land swaps nor appease the Arab League’s gestures with concessions of any kind. The murderous attempts by the Arabs to liquidate the nascent Jewish State in 1948 and continually since then require not land swaps but security borders that protect Israel from attacks by the volatile and impermanent Arab regimes, and from Hamas, the Islamist terrorist Palestinian regime.
The unprovoked attacks by the Arab armies and the Palestinians on Israel in the 1948 War of Independence served to forever nullify the UN Partition Plan. The Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur wars against Israel obliterated the Green Line. The Arab League’s proposal for territorial swaps after endless attempts to destroy Israel is unacceptable and immoral.
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