This Arab peace initiative could end the conflict, but will Netanyahu listen?

The proposed deal would allow Israel to keep many of its West Bank settlements

Share

If you found yourself skipping reports from Israel-Palestine this week to read about something less wearying (and who could blame you?), here’s a roundup: the fatal stabbing of an Israeli in the West Bank, a wave of settler reprisal attacks, the assassination of a militant in Gaza. The usual, in other words. For a part of the world that generates so much news, it often seems that Israel-Palestine offers little that is, well, new.

But buried beneath reports of the latest violence, something happened this week that’s worth your attention – because it offers the glimmer of a possibility of a different future for the Middle East. After talks in Washington on Monday, leaders from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco made an offer which Israel’s last prime minister Ehud Olmert said marked a ‘historic opportunity’.

What they told Israel on behalf of the 22-country Arab League, in effect, was this: if you are prepared to end the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and allow the Palestinians to build their own state, the Arab world will recognise your existence and establish normal relations with you. Israel will be able to swap ambassadors and trade with all its neighbours, becoming just another country in the Middle East. And we will consider the century-long Arab-Israeli conflict over. Done. Finished.

A similar proposal was turned down in 2002, because the Arab League had demanded Israel withdraw from all the territories it captured in 1967. This time, to show they were serious, the Arabs sweetened the deal, stating that a peace settlement could include modifications to the 1967 lines. This is significant, because it means Israel could keep hold of many of its West Bank settlements – considered illegal by the International Court of Justice – leaving the majority of Israeli settlers in their homes. The Palestinians would be compensated with land from the Israeli side of the border.

Blocked ears

Make no mistake about the magnitude of this offer. Israeli and Arab soldiers first met on the battlefield in 1948. Since then the Berlin Wall has been built and pulled down, and the Cold War has melted away. Protestants and Catholics have found a way to live alongside each other in Northern Ireland, as have a medley of ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia. Europe has gone from being a continent racked by bloodshed and chaos to one that squabbles peacefully over bank loans and farm subsidies. But in Israel-Palestine, the wounds never seem to heal; each year simply adds another scar tissue layer of resentment.

How has Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the Arab League’s overture? So far, he has refused to answer – even after all 52 members of Israel’s opposition called on him to do so. Netanyahu's stance since he was elected prime minister in 2008 mirrors the Arabs' stonewalling in the early decades of the conflict when, as one Israeli politician quipped, they never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace. The Arabs moderated their hostility towards Israel, quite simply, because over time they realised they could never defeat it on the battlefield, and that a Jewish state in the Middle East was a reality they must learn to live with.

I have no time for accounts of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle that label one side as angels and the other as devils. But this much is clear: today, the key to ending the conflict is a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. There is a plan on the table that sets out how to realise this, and it is backed by the UN, the US, the EU and Israeli-Palestinian civil society.

Consensus

And now that the Arab League and the Palestinian Authority have endorsed it, there is just one group that rejects the global consensus on how to solve the issue: Israel’s government.

Partisans of Israel respond with a common argument: the Arabs don’t mean it when they talk about peace. They say that if the two sides signed a peace deal, the Palestinian people wouldn’t accept it. (Never mind that a majority still tell pollsters they would). They say any agreement would be scuppered by Hamas. (Never mind that it is the ongoing lack of agreement that fuels Hamas support). They say that giving up the West Bank would leave Israel vulnerable to attack. (Never mind that Martin van Creveld, the patriotic Israeli military expert, points out that the West Bank has almost no strategic value to his country). Some, particularly among below-the-line internet commenters, claim that the obstacle to peace is Islam. (Never mind that two Muslim countries – Egypt and Jordan – have signed durable peace treaties with Israel.)

There is a simple way for Israel to test if the Arabs are serious: sign up to their peace initiative and pledge to work tirelessly to make it a reality. The alternative is for Israelis and Palestinians to continue to accept the drip-drip of violence that is driving them and the world insane like Chinese water torture. At present Benjamin Netanyahu believes he can ignore peace and seek peace-and-quiet instead. But in attempting to do so, he will end up with neither.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea