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Comment on Jackson Diehl op ed in WashPost 9/18/06 on Middle East Peace

Comment: In his second paragraph Diehl mentions the Arab League,
which one can take to be a reference to the Arab Peace Initiative
adopted at the League summit in Beirut in 2002. In  the next paragraph
Diehl also dismisses this as a non-starter "that would require Israel to
accept the 'return' of millions of Palestinians to its own territory as
a condition for Arab recognition of what would no longer be a Jewish
state." This is  a misreading of what was actually offered to Israel in
that Initiative, which is in fact the very best offer still on the table
that could provide a fair, just, legal, comprehensive, and permanent
resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as peace between
Israel and all of the Arab states. Proposed by then Crown Prince
Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the offer was ratified by all 22 members of
the League, including the Palestinian delegation. In a subsequent speech
by video feed (because Israel would not guarantee Arafat's return to
Ramallah if he left to attend the summit) the Palestinian president
endorsed the Initiative offer. Israel has yet to respond to it, so far
as I am aware.
    The essential and complete elements of that offer were the
following (quoted from the resolution in its final form):
QUOTE
Expectations from Israel

A. Complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including the
Syrian Golan Heights, to the 4 June 1967 line and the territories still
occupied in southern Lebanon.

B. Attain a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be
agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No 194.

C. Accept the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian
state on the Palestinian territories occupied since 4 June 1967 in the
West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

In return the Arab states will do the following:

Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over, sign a peace agreement with
Israel, and achieve peace for all states in the region

Establish normal relations with Israel within the framework of this
comprehensive peace
END QUOTE

   Diehl is wrong that this means millions of Palestinian refugees
would return to Israel and it would no longer be a Jewish state. The
statement about the refugees and the reference to UNGA Resolution 194
was carefully worded and was no doubt a disappointment to many refugees,
but the Palestinian leadership accepted it. What it calls for is an
agreement, obviously by negotiations among the parties concerned
including Israel, and it was well understood that Israel would never
agree to massive repatriation of large numbers of refugees to its
territory. But the "right of return" would be recognized (as stated in
194) and compensation would be paid to those not returning (as called
for by 194). Here is the relevant part of 194:

QUOTE

11. Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live
at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the
earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the
property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to
property which, under principles of international law or in equity,
should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible;

Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation,
resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and
the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the
Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and,
through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations;

END QUOTE

   Hamas has been instructed by us and others to recognize the right of
Israel to exist, to renounce violence, and to accept agreements
previously signed by the Palestinian authorities. A satisfactory
response might be: "We will recognize Israel if it accepts the Arab
Peace Initiative and withdraws to the June 1967 lines, cancels the
illegal annexations of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and the
portions of the West Bank included in expanded Jerusalem, returns the
Golan Heights to Syria, recognizes the right of the Palestinians to
establish their own state in the 22% of the Palestine mandate not
included in Israel prior to 1967, renounces violence against the
Palestinians and all of the others Arab  states, and begins implementing
all of the agreements made with the Palestinian authorities that it has
ignored or violated."
    This would be a balanced outcome, not a one-sided proposal (see the
NYTimes editorial to follow) that requires the Palestinians to do lots
of things and requires Israel to do nothing. A sweetener to this peace
agreement would be for Israel to release the thousands of Palestinian
and other Arab prisoners it is holding, and the return to Israel of the
three Israeli soldiers taken prisoner by the Gazans and Hezbollah.
    End of comment.

*An Endless Vacuum in the Middle East*
Why There's No Jump-Starting the Peace Process

By Jackson Diehl
Monday, September 18, 2006; A17

President Bush once asked former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon why
he had proposed his bold plan to evacuate Israeli settlers and soldiers
unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. "To fill the vacuum," Sharon frankly
replied. Before Sharon uncorked the idea in the fall of 2003, the
Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" was stalemated, and there was
mounting international pressure for progress. Proposals from outsiders
and would-be brokers were proliferating; Sharon feared one of them would
eventually gain traction and be imposed on him. So, with the flair that
won him many a battlefield victory, he outflanked the incipient discussion.

Three years later, in the aftermath of a war that was one of the
unforeseen consequences of Sharon's strategy, a similar vacuum looms
before his successors. Once again there seems no clear way forward
toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace. The unilateral West Bank pullout
championed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert earlier this year is, at least
for now, dead. But a settlement seems more urgent than ever, and lots of
people have ideas: Jacques Chirac, Kofi Annan, the Arab League.

Most of them are bad: grandiose proposals for international conferences
or non-starters that would require Israel to accept the "return" of
millions of Palestinians to its own territory as a condition for Arab
recognition of what would no longer be a Jewish state. Nonetheless, the
U.N. Security Council may debate the various schemes at the end of this
week.

Both Olmert's government and the Bush administration know that this
would be the ideal moment to put a new, game-changing plan on the table.
But as a visit to Washington last week by Olmert's foreign minister,
Tzipi Livni, made clear, they haven't got one. Livni spent hours in
conversation with Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and other senior officials, with the goal of
coordinating positions before the expected onslaught of diplomacy at the
United Nations. The bottom line, one official said, is that "there will
be no major diplomatic initiative."

Why the paralysis? There are some important substantive reasons,
including the simple fact that the end of Israeli unilateralism means an
Arab partner is needed -- and the Palestinian Authority is not ready for
a serious peace process. Since Israel withdrew from Gaza a year ago,
neither President Mahmoud Abbas nor the rival Hamas movement has been
able to gain control over an increasingly anarchic territory.

There are also powerful political problems here and in Israel. With his
presidential capital rapidly waning, Bush is focused on finding
solutions for Iraq. Trying to solve the Middle East's most intractable
conflict on top of that is a stretch. Olmert's government is reeling
from the war in Lebanon, besieged by critics who say he failed to
deliver on promises to cripple Hezbollah or that he squandered the lives
of the scores of Israelis who were killed. For the next few months, at
least, he will be focused simply on surviving in office.

Bush and Livni consequently found themselves watching with a mixture of
apprehension and dismay last week as the usually passive Palestinians
launched a Sharonesque gambit. Abbas announced that he had struck a deal
with Hamas and other factions on a "unity government" that he would
discuss with Bush at a meeting this week at the United Nations. Hamas
leaders, meanwhile, floated an even bolder backup plan: dissolving the
Palestinian Authority, which could force Israel to resume its occupation.

The Palestinian leadership knows that the still-evolving unity pact
isn't likely to impress either Olmert or Bush, since it almost certainly
won't commit Hamas or the new government to formal recognition of Israel
or an unqualified renunciation of violence. But if it goes forward it
will be a fresh initiative -- and it could break the current
international embargo on the Palestinian Authority, by persuading
European governments to renew subsidies that cover half of the
authority's payroll. Western governments and Israel would be reduced to
arguing with each other, rather than pressing for a Palestinian
government that could make peace.

The U.S.-Israeli strategy to counter this maneuver amounts to a series
of small tactical steps. Once an Israeli soldier still held captive in
Gaza is released, Olmert will meet with Abbas and release hundreds or
thousands of Palestinian prisoners. An Israeli chokehold over movement
in and out of Gaza will be eased. If all goes well, Olmert might even
discuss transferring security responsibility in several West Bank towns
from the Israeli army to Palestinian security forces controlled by Abbas.

All these would be useful steps forward. They wouldn't, however, fill
the vacuum.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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