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.