Monday, 13 May 2013
Washington’s reputation as an “honest broker” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in tatters after four years of indulging Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intransigence. The Obama administration desperately needs to resurrect a credible peace process.
Faced with a diplomatic impasse between Israel and the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, seized his chance last week. He extracted from the Arab League an agreement to dust off a decade-old regional plan, the Arab Peace Initiative, declaring the move “a very big step forward”.
Unveiled by Saudi Arabia in 2002, the plan promises Israel normal relations with the whole of the Arab world in return for its acceptance of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders, or 22 per cent of historic Palestine.
The new Arab overture, like its antecedent, has raised barely a flicker of interest from Israel. Tzipi Livni, Washington’s sole ally in Netanyahu’s cabinet, predictably lost no time in praising the plan. But the prime minister himself has studiously avoided mentioning it, leaving his aides to dismiss the initiative as a “trick” designed to ensnare Israel in injurious peace talks.
His oblique response serves as a rejoinder to one of the conflict’s most enduring myths. Even before Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967, it presented itself as eager for acceptance from the Arab states. This fiction, which continues to shape western perceptions, rests on two pillars.
The first assumes Israeli fervour to engage diplomatically with the Arab world. Or, as Israel’s then-defence minister Moshe Dayan famously told the BBC just days after the end of the Six Day War: “We are awaiting the Arabs’ phone call.”
The second, articulated most clearly by Abba Eban, when he was foreign minister in the early 1970s, castigates the Arabs for “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity” to make peace with Israel.
And yet the historical record suggests the exact opposite. After their humiliation in 1967, the Arab states quickly conceded — at least, privately — that Israel was here to stay and began considering ways to accommodate it.
As Shlomo Ben-Ami, an Israeli historian who was foreign minister during the 2000 Camp David peace talks, observed: when the Arab states called, “Israel’s line was busy, or there was no one on the Israeli side to pick up the phone.” More
Posted @ 18:05