Home > Israel, Middle East > What’s Different About the New Israeli Peace Initiative?

What’s Different About the New Israeli Peace Initiative?

April 8, 2011
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As many of you know, a group of former Israeli military and political leaders released an Israeli Peace Initiative (IPI) (full text here) on Tuesday to coincide with the visit to the United States of Shimon Peres, Israel’s President, and his meeting with President Obama.  [Contrast that with what came from the Israeli government: a “coincidental” announcement by the Israeli Municipal Planning Commission that they had approved almost 1,000 new permits in the settlements].  The Initiative essentially combines elements of the Geneva Initiative of 2003 and the Arab League Initiative of 2002, but in substance doesn’t offer any dramatically different content.

But there was one thing different from anything that I have seen come out of either the Netanyahu administration, the PLA, or most of the “sense of Congress” letters (particularly those with the most signatures).  That is the Preamble:

The State of Israel,

  • Reaffirming that Israel’s strategic objective is to reach a historic compromise and permanent status agreements that shall determine the finality of all claims and the end of the Israeli Arab conflict, in order to achieve permanent and lasting peace, lasting and guaranteed security, regional economic prosperity and normal ties with all Arab and Islamic states,
  • Recognizing the suffering of the Palestinian refugees since the 1948 war as well as of the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries, and realizing the need to resolve the Palestinian refugees problem through realistic and mutually agreed-upon solutions,
  • Realizing that wide-scale multilateral economic cooperation is essential in order to ensure the prosperity of the Middle East, its environmental sustainability and the future of its peoples,
  • Recognizing the Arab Peace Initiative of March 2002 (API) as a historic effort made by the Arab states to reach a breakthrough and achieve progress on a regional basis, and sharing the API statement that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties,”

This statement not only reflects the truth, but also a fresh breath of humility.  Both the Palestinian and the Israeli governments claim to want peace, but inevitably each of their statements contain some element of accusation about the other side – whether the attack is overt or covert, or just in a related context [viz., the housing announcement referenced above].  And you know what?  Usually those accusations are correct.   But is that any way to actually get to peace?  At the same time that you claim to be reaching out to your adversary, you excoriate them for everything that they have done.  While there are plenty of excoriations to go around, the point is that you have to move beyond the past, and even the present, to the future.  The Palestinians and the Israelis will only make peace when they can both envision a different, more productive, more secure life for the region.  That is precisely the vision conjured up by the those behind the IPI.

One other thing that I like about this proposal is that it bases itself on the Arab Peace Initiative  (API).  While the API is not perfect, it does recognize the reality on the ground and makes several important philosophical concessions.  But it is extremely significant  that the drafters of the IPI chose to reference the API.  It gives important recognition and respect to the other side’s views.  Again, that is a crucial element that has been missing from the Israeli, Palestinian and mainstream American Jewish messaging.  Without respect for the other, reconciliation is impossible.


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  1. Y. Ben-David
    April 8, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    (1) The so-called “Arab Peace Initiative” was a desperation move made by Saudi Arabia after 9/11 to take some of the heat off of them because many people in the world were blaming their Salafist/Wahabist extremist form of Islam for generating the terrorists who carried it out. It was never meant to be a serious “peace proposal”, it was merely a PR ploy made for political reasons, no more. No serious attempt was made to sell the plan. One time, a few years ago, they took out ads in the Israeli newspapers pushing it, but the terms were clearly unacceptable, particularly their insistence on the so-called “Right of Return” of the Palestinian refugees.

    (2) This IPI offers less to the Palestinians than did Olmert’s plan. Olmert was willing to give up the Western Wall, Mt of Olives and Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerudsalem to an “International body” (meaning Palestinian control-with a fig-leaf cover of “multinationalism”). If Olmert’s plan was unacceptable, why should the Palestinians accept this?

    (3) If the supposed “diplomatic tsunami” of UN recogniation of a Palestinian state within the pre-67 borders is coming, why should the Palestinians even waste their time negotiating with Israel who will offer them less?

    (4) If the General pushing the IPI think such an agreement is “vital for Israel’s interests”, why should the Palestinians agree to it? Olmert and Livni are also saying this all the time. Can you imagine Abbas and Fayayd saying “we had better hurry up and accept Israel’s offer so we can help them”? If the Palestinians view having no agreement as bad for Israel’s interests, that is what they will want, and indeed, this is the situation.

    (5) The elephant in the room that no one wants to mention is the “right of return” of the Palestinians refugees. The proposal of the IPI to have the refugees return only to the Palestinian state is ABSOLUTELY OUT OF THE QUESTION for the Palestinians.
    Having a million or million and half refugees, loaded with reparations money, coming into the small, claustrophic West Bank territory where there is no room for them would certainly cause a civil war. The refugees and the Palestinians living in the West Bank have nothing in common, they are different peoples and those on the West Bank would immensely resent these newcomers who would use their money to push the veterans out. The civil war this would bing would be of the same nature as the civil war that exists between FATAH in the West Bank and HAMAS of Gaza. Thus, this proposal of the IPI is a complete non-starter. Of course, veterans of the Israeli “peace camp” have always attempted to ignore the refugee question, viewing it merely as a negotiating card, to be used to get something big out of the Israeli. In reality, it is the CORE of the Arab/Israeli conflict. It is NOT a conflict over territory, it is a conflict over the very existence of Israel and the demand for the right of return is the weapon the Palestinians intend to use for the ultimate eradication of Israel, which is the goal of the Arabs.
    Ultimately, the Arab-Israeli conflict IS A ZERO-SUM GAME because that is how the Arabs define it. Only when that changes will there be a real chance for peace, but not before.

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