The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

Vote yes, but on the right plan

Gershon Baskin*

 

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

 

With the possibility of a Palestinian referendum on the agenda, I would urge Palestinian President Abbas to reconsider the document that he plans to present to the public for its approval.  The so-called “Prisoners’ document” may have some appeal at the level of the internal Palestinian national dialogue, but is a complete non-starter as far as Israel is concerned.  None of the international and Israeli demands are met within the “prisoners’ document”, although there may be implicit recognition of Israel by calling for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.  Without explicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist, a clear denouncement of terrorism and an explicit agreement to adhere to all of the Israel-PLO signed agreements, there is nothing positive that can be achieved by a Palestinian referendum on a document which emphasizes the right of return of the refugees to Israel and recognizes and calls for resistance (violence) against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank.

 

President Abbas has one shot at a referendum and he cannot afford to waste it on a document that will not leverage the renewal of the political process with Israel.  It would be much more valuable for Abbas to put his weight behind the Arab peace Initiative which received the unanimous support of the Arab League in 2002 and then once again ratified in 2006.  This initiative came out at the height of the intifada and was largely dismissed by Prime Minister Sharon. It is an important document that for the first time places a “welcome mat” to the State of Israel in exchange for peace full peace with the State of Palestine.  The Arab League peace initiative makes many precedents by stating: “The Arab countries … consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region; Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace”.   Never before has the entire Arab world offered Israel peace and an end to the conflict.  This initiative needs to be revisited by the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

 

The Initiative demands from Israel to withdrawal from all occupied territories since 1967, it calls for a “just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194. The document calls for the establishment of a “sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital”.

 

The initiative calls on Israel to support this plan “to safeguard the prospects for peace and stop the further shedding of blood, enabling the Arab countries and Israel to live in peace and good neighborliness and provide future generations with security, stability and prosperity”. 

 

While it is clearly difficult for Israel to accept all aspects of this initiative, this is the most important statement ever made by the entire Arab world on conditional recognition of Israel, agreement for full peace and even for the normalization of relations. For the Palestinians, it should be easier to accept. The State of Palestine is a full member of the Arab League and as such the Government of the Palestinian Authority should be required to accept the Arab peace initiative without question.  This initiative provide a much better launching point for an Arab peace offensive on Israel and could serve as a basis for demanding negotiations to end the Israeli-Palestinian and the Israeli-Arab conflicts.   The Arab League would be well advised to pressure Abbas to use the moment of referendum to gain public support for their peace initiative.  The Arab League would be also well advised to launch an aggressive public media and education campaign to gain the support of the Israeli public for the initiative, and then, perhaps; there should be a call for a similar referendum in Israel.

 

There is no document or initiative around that provides a better package of benefits for the entire region than the Arab League peace plan.  During different times, the people of Israel would have danced in the streets to the calls from the Arab world for real and full peace. Clearly no Israeli-Palestinian bilateral initiative could contain such a package of benefits for Israel. By accepting this initiative in principle, Israel signals to the Arab world a willingness to enter into regional negotiations that could involve other regional partners, such as Jordan and Egypt, to resolve difficult security-related issues, including possible deployment of reliable peace keeping forces in the Palestinian state.  It also calls on the Saudis, Moroccans and others to lend a hand in solving the very complex and sensitive details of creating a workable and acceptable solution for Jerusalem.  It also recognizes, for the first time, that the solution for the refugee problem must be agreed to by Israel.

 

According to the Arab League peace initiative, the dream of driving from Tel Aviv to Damascus, Beruit or even Tripoli can become a reality.  The possibility of trade relations and cultural exchanges with the entire region including more than 250 million people opens many new opportunities for Israel. For the Palestinians there are also many benefits. By accepting the initiative in a referendum, the Palestinian commitment for full peace and end of conflict with Israel would be put on par with the rest of the Arab world and the international community would come to their support.  This could be seen as a conditional fulfillment of the international demands and even more.

 

By having the Israeli people accept this initiative, once again a multi-lateral internationally supported peace process could be re-launched.  This initiative has all of the benefits that the unilateral realignment plan lacks. 

 

Before President Abbas wastes his one chance of making history and before the government of Israel enters into the dead-end road of unilateralism once again, both sides should grab onto the Arab League peace initiative and move it forward.

 

Gershon Baskin is the Co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.   www.ipcri.org