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A Proposal for the Arab League Summit

TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck

On March 28-29, an Arab League summit will be held in Riyadh. It is
universally anticipated that the Arab states will reaffirm, yet again,
the Arab Peace Initiative conceived by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
and launched into five-year-long doldrums as the Beirut Declaration at
another Arab League summit held in March 2002.

This is worth doing, but, if this generous offer is simply re-reaffirmed
/sine dine/, with no clear consequences for its continuing rejection by
Israel, it will be a waste of time -- and a humiliating one for those
Arab leaders perceived (particularly, but not exclusively, by their own
people) to be groveling uselessly.

In his recent address to the U.S. Congress, King Abdallah of Jordan
emphasized the urgency of actually *ACHIEVING* Arab-Israeli peace and of
doing so *THIS YEAR*. His sense of urgency is thoroughly justified and
argues in favor of an approach which I have suggested in recent weeks to
relevant members of the Palestinian and Saudi Arabian leaderships.

*FIRST* -- The Arab League summit should place a firm deadline (say,
June 30) on this reaffirmation of the Arab Peace Initiative, after
which, if not accepted, it would lapse and be "off the table".

*SECOND* -- The new Palestinian national unity government should state
that, if Israel does not accept the Arab Peace Initiative within this
deadline, it will consult the Palestinian people by referendum as to
whether, in light of such rejection, they prefer to continue seeking a
"two-state solution" on Israel's terms or, alternatively, to seek
henceforth a single democratic state in all of pre-1948 Palestine with
equal rights for all who live there.

I believe that such a "one-two punch" would powerfully (and
constructively) concentrate Israeli (and American) minds. If Israelis
are capable of conceiving and accepting /any/ "two-state solution" on
terms sufficiently decent to be acceptable to the Palestinian people,
the need, finally, to focus on their future and to choose should "bring
out the best" in Israel -- and, if that "best" is good enough, offer
real hope of the rapid achievement of peace on a "two-state" basis. If
Israelis are not capable of this, then the Palestinian people (and the
world) should stop wasting their time pursuing a perpetually receding
mirage and move on to the only non-violent alternative -- democracy.

This potential approach updates and builds upon a proposal of mine
published in February 2006, shortly after the Hamas election victory,
which is transmitted below.

******************************
***********

PUBLICATIONS OF THIS ARTICLE:

February 20, 2006 -- Arab News (Jeddah)
February 20 -- Jordan Times (Amman)
February 23 -- Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo)
February 23 -- Al-Quds (Jerusalem)
February 2006 -- Society for Austro-Arab Relations
March 3 -- CounterPunch (Online)
April 1 -- La Vanguardia (Barcelona)
May 2006 -- Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


TWO STATES OR ONE? LET ISRAEL CHOOSE

By John V. Whitbeck


The coming weeks offer an unparalleled opportunity to leapfrog over the
long comatose "peace process" and actually achieve peace in the Holy Land.

All that is needed is some clear, constructive and original thinking on
the part of the new Palestinian leadership. Demonized though it may be
in the West, Hamas won the recent Palestinian elections not simply
because it was perceived as clean but also because it was perceived,
justifiably, as competent and coherent. It is capable of such thinking.

As its first order of business after forming the new Palestinian
government, Hamas should publicly announce its support for the Arab
League's Beirut Declaration of March 2002, by which all Arab states
(including Palestine) offered Israel permanent peace and normal
diplomatic and economic relations in return for Israel's compliance with
international law by returning to its internationally recognized,
pre-1967 borders. (Not incidentally, such an announcement would destroy
the "destruction of Israel" excuse for current Israeli and Western plans
to overturn the results of Palestine's democratic elections and to bring
the Palestinian people to their knees through economic privation.)

Israel has been able to ignore this generous offer, whose continuing
validity the Arab League has periodically reaffirmed, because it has
always been offered as a carrot unaccompanied by any consequential
alternative which a significant number of Israelis might view as a
stick. In this context, the new Palestinian leadership should
simultaneously declare (preferably with the concurrence of President
Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah) that, if Israel does not publicly agree to
proceed toward a two-state solution in accordance with the Beirut
Declaration by a reasonable date (say, three months hence), the
Palestinian people will consider that Israel has definitively rejected a
two-state solution in favor of a one-state solution and, accordingly,
will thereafter seek their liberation and self-determination
through citizenship in a single democratic state in all of pre-1948
Palestine, free of all forms of discrimination and with equal rights for
all who live there.

The new Palestinian leadership should make clear that, after 39 years of
foreign military occupation, the Palestinian people can no longer
tolerate the cynical series of never-ending "peace plans" (including the
current "roadmap") designed by others simply to postpone the necessary
and obvious choices and to string out forever a perpetual "peace
process" while further entrenching the occupation with new "facts on the
ground".

It should make clear that the Palestinian people demand, without further
delay, a solution that will permit both Palestinians and Israelis to
live decent, dignified and secure lives, that they could accept either a
two-state solution in accordance with international law or a one-state
solution in accordance with fundamental democratic principles and that
they are willing to let the Israeli people choose whichever of those two
alternatives Israelis prefer and to accept Israel's choice.

It should appeal to the international community, and particularly to
Israel's traditional friends, to encourage Israel to choose peace -- on
the basis of whichever of these two alternatives (the only alternatives
for peace which exist or will ever exist) Israelis prefer.

Finally, it should appeal to all Palestinian factions, with the full
force of the legitimacy it has earned, to suspend all acts of violent
resistance to the occupation throughout the period allotted for Israel's
choice and to make that suspension permanent if Israel chooses positively.

Importantly, this "Palestinian peace plan" should be launched promptly,
prior to Israel's March 28 general election. Israeli law does not
contemplate referendums, but general elections can serve that purpose.
One or more competing parties, if given adequate time to react, might
offer Israeli voters a positive choice. If all the major Israeli parties
were to reject both a decent two-state solution and a democratic
one-state solution, the world could draw the appropriate conclusions and
Western public opinion could shift in ways which, over a longer term,
would themselves prove a force for peace with some measure of justice.

The former Palestinian leadership was a passive and reactive one. It
simply responded to whatever initiatives others, who rarely had the best
interests of the Palestinian people at heart, chose to declare, for a
time, the "only game in town". It never dared to try to seize the
initiative, to set the agenda and to make Israel and the world react to
a positive Palestinian idea.

The Palestinian people have voted for change. A rare moment of
opportunity is at hand. It can and must be seized.

/John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer, is author of "The World
According to Whitbeck".  /
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