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Prime Minister Olmert: 'I Believe With All My Heart That We'll Achieve A Comprehensive Peace Settlement With Arabs In Five Years'

Hamas Official: 'Palestinians Will Never Accept Israel's Right To Exist'

Israel's Dilemma - How To Advance Riyadh Peace Initiative Without Agreeing To Unacceptable Conditions?

Arab League convention in Riyadh

The Arab League convened in Riyadh, to approve the Saudi peace initiative that was first raised five years ago. Israel is now debating how to react to the Arab peace offer that comes with some serious strings attached. In any event, the IsraCast analysis is that Jerusalem is faced with the dilemma of how to advance the latest Arab peace initiative without officially accepting the Arab conditions for a total Israeli withdrawal and the so-called right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel proper.

After Israel's stunning victory in the Six-Day war of 1967, the Arab League convened in Khartoum, Sudan to issue the three famous Noes - No Peace, No Negotiations and No Recognition of Israel. Nearly forty years later, the Arab League has now convened in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This time the Arab states held out an offer of peace and recognition of the Jewish state. They have withdrawn two of the three noes but the third about no real negotiations was left in tact. The Arab League says it's a take-it-or-leave-it offer; Israel must first agree to  a total pullback to the 1967 lines and accept the 'right of return to Israel' of the Palestinian refugees. How should Israel respond to the Arab initiative? In Riyadh, the offer to make peace and recognize the Jewish state was obviously a  giant step forward from the three Noes of Khartoum.  But accepting the  conditions could spell the eventual end of the Jewish state if not militarily then by demography. Israel's most densely populated area of the Coastal Plain was but some ten miles (17 kilometers) wide when Arab tanks and artillery threatened to literally 'throw the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea'. This danger was recognized in U.N. Security Council resolution 242 compiled after the Six-Day War. It stipulated  that every state in the area has the 'right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force'. That resolution also clarified that an Israeli withdrawal meant from 'territories occupied in the recent conflict'. Arthur Goldberg, the U.S. Ambassador at the U.N., later said it was not accidental that the resolution did not stipulate an Israeli withdrawal from all the territory and back to the June 5th lines. But what about a total Israel pullback to be reinforced by Arab or international guarantees. The facts are that Israel did get such international guarantees before and after the Six-Day War - they all bounced when Egypt and Syria launched their surprise Yom-Kippur war just six years later in 1973.

Syrian President Bashar Assad

The Riyadh plan may offer peace and co-existence with Israel but the facts of life in the Middle East are that in order to co-exist you must be able to exist and to defend yourself on your own. All it takes is for Israel to make one fatal mistake and it's all over. Any peace agreement must leave Israel strong enough to defend itself in the future. Can there be any doubt that a serious weakening of Israel's defense posture and altering the balance of power would invite future aggression. And mentioning Khartoum, does anyone need reminding of what is tantamount to a Sudanese campaign of genocide against its own Christian minority. This was not even on the agenda of the Riyadh conference of officials from all over the Arab world. 

As for a return of Palestinian refugees, this is also a non-starter. Israeli or Palestinian Arabs already total some 20% of the population and there is a wall-to-wall consensus of Israeli public opinion about letting them return. If the two state solution is to establish a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and West Bank surely Palestinians should be settled there. Otherwise, it's as if the Palestinians are saying we not only want our  Palestinian state we also want to eventually take over Israel. The other non-Arab state in the Middle East is Lebanon with its Christian community. That bi-national experiment is barely surviving against the Islamic onslaught.

Reacting to the Riyadh offer, Prime Minister Olmert said that although it was not good enough, it augured major changes occurring in the Arab world. In his words: 'I believe Israel will be able to achieve a comprehensive peace settlement with the Arabs within five years. Even the Palestinians are drawing closer to peace with Israel'. At the same time, Olmert said that 'not one refugee will be allowed to return'. The threat of radical Islam, championed by a nuclear armed Iran, was apparently no less a nightmare to the Arab states than it was to Israel. The PM went on to say that although Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had violated his commitments, Olmert said he was working with him and bypassing the Hamas government. But while Olmert was presenting an upbeat picture in Passover interviews with the Israeli media, a senior Hamas official declared the Palestinians would never accept Israel's right to exist. Speaking in Arabic, former Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Azar went on to say that even if Israel withdrew from 99% of occupied territory the new borders would only be 'temporary' and the Palestinians would continue their drive to take all of Israel. Nor would the Palestinians ever give in on all the Palestinian refugees returning to Israel. The overall Palestinian approach at Riyadh was that it was alright to extend the peace offer 'as long as Palestinian rights were preserved'.

Hamas, which now runs the Palestinian government, does not even try to hide its ultimate goals. For its part, Hamas has agreed to let President Abbas, handle contacts with Israel and the international community while it controls the real executive power. This power sharing enables the Palestinians to showcase a moderate side to the international community while Hamas sticks to the old salami tactics of trying to weaken Israel. Perhaps Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had this in mind when he spoke about five years to persuade the Palestinians that this will not work. The Jewish state succeeded in making peace with  with Egypt and Jordan which jettisoned the Khartoum Noes and agreed to negotiate not dictate. Hopefully, the Riyadh initiative will eventually adopt this model for the Palestinians as well.

Khartoum Noes

After its victory in the Six-Day War, Israel hoped the Arab states would enter peace negotiations. Israel signaled to the Arab states its willingness to relinquish virtually all the territories it acquired in exchange for peace. As Moshe Dayan put it, Jerusalem was waiting only for a telephone call from Arab leaders to start negotiations.

But these hopes were dashed in August 1967 when Arab leaders meeting in Khartoum adopted a formula of three noes: 'no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel'

As former Israeli President Chaim Herzog wrote: 'Israel's belief that the war had come to an end and that peace would now reign along the borders was soon dispelled. Three weeks after the conclusion of hostilities, the first major incident occurred on the Suez Canal.'


David Essing

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