Tikkun Magazine, November/December 2006
VOICE FOR PEACE
An Arab plan that Jews must pursue
By Mitchell Plitnic
Peace groups often lack a clear, realistic vision—something tangible to pin their hopes on. That can change now in Israel and Palestine. It is the right time, with Israel feeling less invincible after its failure in Lebanon. Many people realize that guns are not going to decide this conflict. And now there is actually something real and concrete to work with.
After the crisis in Lebanon, some Arab states have dusted off the Saudi peace plan of 2002. Upon its unveiling, the initiative was adopted unanimously by the Arab League, and has received endorsements from Iran and even Hezbollah after it was accepted by the Palestinians, including Hamas. Nevertheless, the plan was virtually ignored by Israel.
The Saudi proposal calls for a full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories it captured in 1967, including the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. It also calls for a "just resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem ... in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194," which, in 1948, recommended the unconditional return of refugees, the demilitarization of Jerusalem, and the placement of the city under UN administration. In exchange, the Saudi plan offers not only full peace with Israel, but also the establishment of "normal relations" between Israel and the entire Arab world. The term "normal relations" is not trivial.
When peace proposals are floated, Israeli and Diaspora Jews are often skeptical of what guarantee can be given to ensure that once Israel's "guard is down" she will not be attacked by neighboring Arab states. Obviously, Israel's enormous military superiority and strong alliance with the world's sole superpower is not sufficient insurance, and clearly not enough to end the conflict. The guarantee of "normal relations" is intended to accomplish this.
"Normal relations" means social and economic interdependence, which is a huge incentive to maintain peace. Simultaneously, it means building relationships between people through business dealings, cultural and academic exchanges, and the like. Under such circumstances, both sides thus have far too much to lose by initiating violence.
It is often stated, incorrectly, that democracies do not go to war with each other (Israel and Lebanon just disproved that once again). In fact, countries do not go to war with one another when it is not in their interest to do so.
That is the guarantee. With normal relations with Israel, Arab countries can diversify their economies, and expand their industrial and academic resources. Israel will see the lifting of the Arab trade embargo as well as a similar broadening of cultural and academic horizons. Both sides quickly accumulate far too much to lose in war.
Obviously, Israel would not accept the 2002 Arab peace proposal whole cloth. Many issues would need to be resolved and the question of refugees, Jewish access to the Old City of Jerusalem, access to water, security arrangements, and many other, less crucial details would need to be worked out. However, this plan does contain many of the guarantees Israel is looking for, and is contingent on the viability and sustainability of a Palestinian state. The initiative would provide a strong foundation for serious negotiations. It would not lead to a complete end to all of the disputes, but it does represent a way out of occupation, a way out of the morass of violence and into a new era where disputes are dealt with politically and diplomatically.
This cannot happen on its own. For Israel to accept the Arab peace initiative as the sensible basis for negotiations that it is, they must be assured that this is what Jews—both in Israel and in the Diaspora—want. The critical mass of Jews around the globe that have the good sense to recognize that this deal contains the guarantees that Israel needs, the hope and the tools to build a real future for the Palestinians, and the incentive for genuine peace for all parties, must speak out. It is not the time to allow incompetent leaders like Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz to determine the future of world Jewry. The overwhelming majority of Jews who wish to see a peaceful future must transcend differences and come together to call for negotiations based on this most realistic plan. There may not be many more chances.
Mitchell Plitnick is the director of educational policy for Jewish Voice for Peace.
Plitnick, Mitchell. 2006. An Arab plan that Jews must pursue. Tikkun 21(6): 16.