- Other Issues
- December 10, 2009
- 7 minutes read
From Biblical Principles to Poker
We should call and raise the Israeli bet, galvanize our peace proposal and reinvigorate Arab diplomacy, challenge the Israelis to negotiate seriously in Geneva on the basis of existing proposals and already negotiated principles that offer both sides their legitimate national rights, and nudge the Americans to be fair and decisive mediators, says Rami G. Khouri.
BEIRUT — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement a few days ago that Israel would suspend all new housing construction in the occupied West Bank for ten months, while other building and colonial ventures continue, reminds us that we are passing through another episode of a long-running tale of biblical proportions: Arabs and Israelis reject or stall American peace-making efforts; stalemate ensues amidst mutual accusations of insincerity; Israel takes a unilateral initiative that many hail as a positive step, but that the Arabs see as not enough and mostly deception; and the conflict and stalemate persist for decades.
Like all biblical tales, this one has plenty of drama, tension, heroic and tragic characters, tantalizing transformational possibilities, and nearly cosmic consequences. Also like all biblical tales, it ends on a note of monumental ambiguity: You can read into it anything you wish, and interpret it as you like. Well, it is time to rewrite this script, and shake up the cast. The Palestinians and Arabs should be the ones who take command of their destiny and get more seriously involved in this process as more than just passive victims and spectators.
I have a suggestion. The Netanyahu move does not meet the legitimate demands of the Palestinians, the Obama administration, Security Council resolutions or international law and conventions, yet we should not merely dismiss it and remain diplomatically frozen. Israel is offering to commit only half the crimes it has committed for the last 40 years, by reducing the scale and pace of its colonization of occupied Arab lands. American, British, French and other Western officials find this a positive step forward, and are free to wade in their moralistic mud pits and diplomatic fantasy worlds. We should no longer play this ugly game, whose operative contours are what Israel and its proxies in Washington allow the US government to do in the Middle East.
Rather, the Palestinians and Arabs this week should acknowledge the partial and symbolic gesture by Israel to the United States as precisely what it is: a partial and symbolic gesture to the US, not a serious, substantive move to engage the Arabs in a comprehensive peace process. We should take the next move to generate a new and better dynamic.
After consultations with key players in the region, the Arab League Secretary General should announce that in response to the sincere American effort to re-start comprehensive peace talks, and to take the Israeli gesture to its logical conclusion, a delegation of Arab foreign ministers and the Secretary General of the Arab League will be at UN headquarters in Geneva at 10 a.m. on December 10 to negotiate comprehensive, permanent, mutually agreed peace and coexistence arrangements with the state of Israel.
We will do this on the basis of several principles that reflect our position (the Israelis can bring their position): We go to negotiate under the aegis of the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference mandate that itself mirrors UN Security Council calls for Arab-Israeli negotiations; on the basis of the 2002 Arab Summit Peace Plan that offers a framework of principles for justice, conflict-resolution, peace and coexistence between Arabs and Israelis; acknowledging the relevance of the January 2001 Clinton Parameters and the January 2001 Moratinos/EU Non-Paper that captured the Israeli and Palestinian positions after the Camp David and Taba talks; and, with the United States and UN secretary-general as principal mediators.
We go to Geneva to directly negotiate final status issues, starting with borders, refugees, Jerusalem, and mutual recognition and security. We will do this seriously for three months, after which the process will stop if no agreements or significant breakthroughs to final status accords are reached.
Such a bold Arab response to the Netanyahu proposal would stop the silly legacy of Arabs constantly finding themselves in a weak position of responding to Israeli and American initiatives. It would reflect our commitment to negotiate a comprehensive and fair peace, and force the Israelis to reveal if they are interested in serious negotiations to end the conflict.
We should not respond to Netanyahu’s proposals with only another round of passive Arab rejectionism. We need to get out of the ambiguous biblical epics and move into the definitive world of poker. We should call and raise the Israeli bet, galvanize our peace proposal and reinvigorate Arab diplomacy, challenge the Israelis to negotiate seriously in Geneva on the basis of existing proposals and already negotiated principles that offer both sides their legitimate national rights, and nudge the Americans to be fair and decisive mediators.
This is an opportunity to smoke out the Israelis and Americans from their world of delay and deception, and to see once and for all if they wish to emerge from the mud pits and stand on solid ground of law, reciprocity and genuine peace and security anchored in mutual justice.