- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2008


With President-elect Barack Obama fast approaching the day he will become his nation’s chief executive, there apparently is no dearth of advice given to him - not least with regards to foreign policy. So we had the recent article by Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, both highly respected foreign policy experts, in the Washington Post - the thrust of which was that the new president’s priority attention should be given to the Arab-Israeli peace process.

The two authors seem to believe that “resolution of the Palestinian issue” would somehow miraculously create a turnaround in the attitude of the peoples of the Middle East towards the U.S. and restore its dominant position in the region. Implied, though not spelled out, is that “resolving” the problem should be more or less reflecting the views of the Palestinians and their Arab backers. Mr. Brzezinski in particular has held this view for a long time, since his role in the Carter Administration.

In fact, though often used as a convenient excuse, the Israel-Palestinian issue has little if anything to do with the lack of stability and peace in the broader Middle East - or with America’s deteriorating standing there.

Iraqis are not shooting each other because of Israel or America’s morally and politically justified support for it, nor did Al-Qaeda have the supposed plight of the Palestinians at heart when it blew up the Twin Towers. Syria, with the help of Iran and Hezbollah, will continue undermining Lebanon’s independence and go on supporting terrorists everywhere, whatever happens in the Israel-Palestinian arena - and one must only look at the genocide going on in Darfur, where Muslim Sudanese Arabs are slaughtering non-Arab Africans, also Muslim - in order to realize the hollowness of the theory that everything in the region devolves on solving the Palestinian problem. (Interestingly, it is to Israel that many refugees from Darfur are looking as a safe haven.)

Certainly, Israelis want to see the conflict, if not resolved, at least allayed. Establishing peace, or at least some sort of modus vivendi between Israel and the Palestinians, should indeed be an important aim - for itself and for the peoples involved - but not as an implement, paid for by Israel, in order to try to advance other agendas, important as they may be. The Middle East has a long history of well intentioned, mostly American, peace initiatives - all of which foundered on the rocks of Arab intransigence and unwillingness to accept the principle and reality that compromise must be a two-way street - or worse, the refusal of many, perhaps most, among the Palestinians and in the Arab and Islamic worlds as a whole, to recognize the Jewish people’s right to their own state in their ancient homeland. The failure of the most recent attempt to reach a solution - the “Annapolis” process - was probably pre-ordained, given its unrealistic expectations and the political weakness of the respective Palestinian and Israeli leaderships.

But the future president is already being told by well meaning, as well as by often self-serving, counsels to jump-start a Middle-East initiative of his own before tackling the objectively more pressing foreign policy issues such as Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan - let alone urgent economic issues.

The current specialite du jour in this connection is the so-called “Arab Peace Plan” (or “Saudi Initiative”) which has laid dormant since being adopted by the Arab League in 2002 - and which has now been resuscitated to coincide with the Obama presidency.

The “Plan” is being touted as a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and “57 Arab and Muslim Countries” (Why does this remind us of Heinz’s baked beans?). It is nothing of the kind; in fact, it is only a partially disguised ultimatum to the Jewish state to accept all the Arab traditional demands with regards to borders, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. Furthermore, it expects Israel to comply with all those extreme demands before even starting negotiations with it - in fact, negotiations do not enter into it at all - it’s a take-it-or-leave-it dictate. Among other things, it willfully distorts and falsifies the essence of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 which were the agreed formula for a settlement of the conflict - especially with regards to Israel’s legitimate security concerns. If adopted, it would thus create severe security hardships for Israel, giving Israel’s enemies an opportunity to achieve what they had failed to get in five wars and countless acts of terrorism. The new president, who, one trusts, is genuinely committed to peace, will surely be right to keep his distance from this “plan.”

In principle, the concept of a regional approach to establish peace between Israel and its neighbors and to promote greater stability in the entire area - particularly in view of the growing threat from Iran - may be a correct one. Actually ideas in this direction are already on the drawing board of who will probably be Israel’s next Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, but accepting the Arab League’s ultimatum is not the way to go about it.

Ambassador Zalman Shoval, who twice served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States, is currently responsible for foreign relations of the Likud Party.

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