- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 14, 2002

As Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives in the Middle East his foremost mission is to initiate and implement a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Powell will also attempt to advance various peace-making proposals, including the George Tenent work plan, the George Mitchell scheme and, the latest proposal, the Saudi peace plan.
Billed as an alternative to the escalating violence in the region, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia proposed, during last month's Arab League summit meeting in Beirut, that Israel completely withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights to its pre-1967 borders in exchange for "normal relations" with its Arab neighbors.
Should this proposal be taken as a bona fide and serious effort to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict? For a variety of reasons the answer is clearly no.
First of all, the proposal is in conflict with the Oslo Accords, which leave negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on such vital issues as Israel's borders, the status of Jerusalem and the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. The Saudi proposal resolves all these issues by embracing an unyielding Palestinian position while ignoring Israel's security and other needs.
The Saudi plan is also inconsistent with United Nations Resolution 242 of Nov. 22, 1967, which contemplated Israeli withdrawal from some, but not all, of the territory it occupied in the 1967 war. The Israeli withdrawal would have left Israel with "secure and recognized boundaries." The 1967 boundaries were, and are, inherently insecure. In fact, after the 1967 war, President Lyndon Johnson asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff what would constitute secure boundaries for Israel. Their conclusion was that Israel should retain the high ground extending north and south from Jerusalem and should have a military presence in the Jordan River Valley. This is very different from the Saudi proposal of a complete withdrawal to the pre-1967 boundaries.
Another problem with the Saudi plan is that it would make East Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state, dividing the city once again. The first period of division from 1948 to 1967 was a terrible time for the city, its residents, and the many tourists. For example, Jews could not worship at the Western Wall, the holiest place in the Jewish religion, Jewish cemeteries and synagogues in East Jerusalem were desecrated, and there was occasional gunfire across the line dividing the two parts of the city.
When Jerusalem was united in 1967, its many holy places became accessible to people of all religions. The Saudi plan could very well recreate all the problems that existed in the 19 years the city was divided.
The continued existence of the Jewish West Bank and Gaza settlements are put in doubt under the Saudi plan as well. The Oslo Accords contemplated a negotiated agreement concerning their status. One solution might be for Israel to retain control of the settlements closest to Jerusalem and those of the greatest Israeli defensive military importance. The Saudi plan, if it led to the elimination of all Jewish settlements, would recreate the West Bank as a Jew-free zone, as it existed during the 19 years of Jordanian occupation. This is not in the best long-term interests of the region. Just as Jews and Palestinians live together in Israel, one must also hope that some day they will also live together, in harmony, in what is now the West Bank.
Over the years several proposals for the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank of the Jordan River included, as a core principle, the demilitarization of such a state. In other words, armies hostile to Israel would not be permitted to exist or operate in the Palestinian state. Due to Israel's small size, such a stipulation is only prudent and probably essential to its continued existence, however, the Saudi plan is silent on this important subject.
An additional blind spot in the Saudi plan is Israel's continued access to the aquifer that exists under most of the West Bank. Most of Israel's population, including its farmers, depends on the aquifer for their water supply. Rains that fall on the West Bank, are absorbed by the underlying aquifer, and then flow to coastal areas where the water can be tapped for essential human and farming uses. Israel cannot exist without an adequate water supply, of which the aquifer, and its protection, is a major component. Any peace plan that is silent on this subject in reality invites a war over water resources.
The Saudi plan awards the entire West Bank to a Palestinian state. This is bad public policy in that it rewards aggression. It must be remembered that the West Bank was created in 1948 by five Arab armies in defiance of the United Nations plan to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab areas. When the Arab armed invasion was unsuccessful in its effort to destroy the Jewish state, a cease-fire followed. The cease-fire line is the boundary of what came to be called the West Bank. When Israel was attacked in 1967, it drove the Jordanian army from the West Bank.
Under the Oslo Accords, large portions of the West Bank, principally Palestinian population centers, were turned over to the Palestinians for their administration. If there is ever to be peace in the region it makes sense that Palestinians manage their own affairs. What does not make sense is to reward Arab aggression in defiance of the United Nations partition plan.
It would promote Israel's security while also protecting its water rights if Israel were allowed to retain sparsely settled portions of the West Bank. This would also constitute a reminder that aggression need not be rewarded.
Finally, what is of particularly grave concern is the warning issued to Israel by Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal. During the Arab League Summit in Beirut, he asserted: "It is a very clear equation. Frank. Straightforward. The initiative calls on Israel to take certain specific steps, and we pledge to take other steps. If Israel refuses, the peace process will not go on. This is it. We return toward violence. We return toward the threat of widening conflict."
Indeed, this message was reinforced by the summit's final communique encouraging continued Palestinian terrorism and pledging to fund it; expecting Israel to accept the United Nations' nonbinding 1948 Resolution 194, which recommends the return of the Palestinian refugees to the Jewish State; and affirms an Arab commitment to ostracize Israel until it agrees to the Arab League's demands
In sum, there are many ways in which a peace agreement could be crafted, but a plan that ignores the key issues, as does the Saudi plan while using such threatening language, does not contribute to a peaceful solution.

Yonah Alexander and Edgar H. Brenner are co-directors of the Inter-University Center for Legal Studies at the International Law Institute in D.C.

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