Sunday, September 13, 2009

A New Arab Strategy: Israel Gives Up Everything, and Then Maybe Gets Something in Exchange

By Barry Rubin

There’s been an important new development in Arab strategy toward Israel. Although it was implicit in the Saudi, later Arab, peace proposal it has now become explicit, as in the Turki al-Faisal New York Times op-ed.

He wrote:

"Saudi Arabia ... must therefore refuse to engage Israel until it ends its illegal occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights as well as Shabaa Farms in Lebanon. For Saudis to take steps toward diplomatic normalization before this land is returned to its rightful owners would undermine international law and turn a blind eye to immorality."

This is an open and direct rejection of the Obama Administration policy of seeking confidence-building measures from both sides. Of course, the Administration won't criticize the Saudis for trampling on their policy and will go on insisting that they have received positive responses from Arab states which show that progress is being made.

Yet even more important, the Arab states' position--in part excluding Egypt and Jordan--on the peace process is now this:

First, Israel must withdraw from all territories captured in the 1967 war, meaning east Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. In addition, it must allow all Palestinians who lived or had any ancestor who lived in what is now Israel come and live in Israel without restriction if they want to do so.

Then, Arab states will negotiate about making peace and giving diplomatic recognition. The Palestinian Authority's leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and Syria have taken stances along similar lines.

This can be summarized as: First land, then peace.

If such an intiative would be taken by any country on any other issue in the world, observers would ridicule such an absurd position.

It is, of course, absurd and contrary to UN Resolutions 242 and 338 as well as all the Israel-Palestinian agreements including the Oslo accord of 1993. All of these put obligations on both sides to be implemented simultaneously. No Israeli government would ever agree to such an absurd notion that it gives up all the cards in the hope of then getting something in exchange.

In short, it is a formula for killing the peace process.

The problem is that Western leaders, diplomats, experts, and media don’t seem to see this alteration and its significance. Along with the increasing talk of a “one-state solution” or just wiping Israel off the map, it is one more signal that we are going back to the 1960s, with peace an increasingly distant dream.

Far from showing that Israel needs peace-at-any-price as-soon-as-possible, it shows that the status quo is superior to what’s being offered. It also shows the increasing absurdity of the idea that Israel is at fault for the lack of peace agreements.

Note also--something else nobody is going to notice--that the op-ed insults the United States as it directly contradicts Obama's current initiative to get something from the Arab states to match an Israeli construction freeze.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it disproves the two main theories regarding this issue.

First, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the more Israel gives, the more the other side demands and dismisses all previous Israeli concessions.

Second, the more the United States moves away from Israel and criticizes it, the more the Arab and Palestinian position harden.

Is anyone in the mass media--a single reporter or editorial?--or in political authority going to notice any of this?
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books: To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports,

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