The American president’s viewpoint on the Israeli-Arab conflict is refreshing and interesting. As one who is not committed to any one of the parties to the conflict, Barack Obama utters axioms that we must understand, even if we don’t like them.
The first axiom is that the basis for stability in the Middle East is comprehensive regional peace. Israel was wrong when it attempted to reach a solution via separate negotiations with the Palestinians, the Syrians, and the Lebanese. The decision on some of the major issues we are facing, such as Jerusalem’s future and the refugee problem, is not only Mahmoud Abbas’ decision and certainly not Khaled Mashaal’s call – it’s a pan-Arab decision.
In a situation whereby both leaderships, the Israeli and the Palestinian, lost the trust of the people they lead, and where the Israeli public does not believe that the Palestinians will adhere to agreements they sign while the Palestinians don’t believe that the Israeli leadership will live up to its obligations – there is no choice but to present achievements beyond the bilateral one: A deal with the Palestinians that is complemented by normalization of the ties with the moderate Arab world.
Only the moderate Arab world can provide the ideological, security, and economic umbrella for a real agreement. If we succeed in reaching an agreement with 12-18 leading Arab states, nothing will be able to stop it. Moreover, the gaps between us are not that great. The danger posed by Iran and by the radical movements threatens the moderate leaders no less than it threatens us, and shared interests can lead to understandings.
Paying price of inaction
A total of 22 Arab states signed the Arab League initiative for peace with Israel. None of them did it because they love Israel, but rather, it was done based on an understanding that for the first time they have more to gain than to lose from a deal with us. The fact that the Arabs presented a comprehensive peace plan and we did not undermines Israel’s image and a real chance for peace.
Whatever we fail to do today, we shall regret in the future. Just like today we understand that the needless insistence vis-à-vis Assad Sr. in his last years in power and vis-à-vis Mahmoud Abbas four years ago led to worse negotiation conditions today, in three or five years we shall be sorry for missing out the window of opportunity of 2009.
Seven years have passed since the 2002 Saudi initiative, and in this period gaps were further minimized where through informal contacts between Israel and the Arab world. Obama, along with Europe and Japan, is willing to provide true backing for comprehensive peace, and that is a central pillar for its credibility.
Obama is also right on the settlement question. We must not allow a situation whereby 70,000-100,000 Israelis, as precious as they are, will dictate a whole nation’s future. The entire enlightened world has already decided not to let this situation continue. Anyone whose vision does not end at the end of the year and who is able to look five or 10 years ahead realizes that the strategic environment we inhabit is changing rapidly, and we would do well to prepare for this change at this time already.
Today we are paying the price of our stubbornness and diplomatic inaction over the years. It would have been better for us to initiate and not to wait for Obama and others to come up with initiatives. As we didn’t do it, the world will dictate an initiative to us that we may not like; moreover, those who come up with this initiative may also adopt painful steps against us.
Major General (res.) Danny Rothschild is the president of the Council for Peace and Security