December 28, 2009

Deconstructing Danny Ayalon’s “Peace Overture”

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon begins an op-ed in A-Sharp Alawsat:

Since the reestablishment of our state, Israeli leaders have sought peace with their Arab neighbors. Our Declaration of Independence, Israel's founding document that expressed our hopes and dreams reads, “We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help.” These words are as true today as when they were first written in 1948. Sadly, sixty one year later, only two nations, Jordan and Egypt, have accepted these principles and made peace with the Jewish State.

In other words, it’s not us, it’s you. We want peace, you want war.

Ayalon proceeds to give numerous examples purporting to prove that Israel, which launched its assault on Gaza a year ago Sunday, really does want peace, his primary example being Prime Minister Netanyahu’s settlement freeze in the West Bank, which as I’ve previously explained, isn’t actually a settlement freeze.

He continues:

It is time for courageous leaders to emanate from the Arab world as did Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1979 and Jordan's King Hussein in 1994 and recognize that peaceful coexistence is far better for all of our people than enduring conflict and enmity.

We recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative is an important document, and is welcomed in Israel as a crack in the denial of an Arab recognition of Israel. However, like the Palestinian Authority's dictates to Israel on the peace process, it remains frozen in 1993.

Given that it wasn’t proposed until 2002, it’s not exactly clear how the Arab Peace Initiative could be frozen in 1993. It’s also unclear why it’s time for courageous Arab leaders to extend a hand of peace to Israel when that’s just what they did—in 2002—in the Arab Peace Initiative. As I've explained, every nation in the Arab League, save Libya, has endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative. First proposed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, the initiative states that the Arab nations will both sign a peace treaty and normalize relations with Israel provided that Israel (1) withdraws to its 1967 borders, (2) attains a “just settlement” to the refugee problem, and (3) allows for the creation of a Palestinian state. As I further explained, these demands are all required by international law. And yet the vast majority of Israeli leaders have rejected the initiative.

But, of course, Ayalon doesn’t think that Israel deserves any, or at least not the lion’s share, of the blame here. To the contrary:

Both in 2000 at Camp David and in 2008 during the Annapolis process, Israeli prime ministers offered the Palestinians everything possible for peace and on both occasions the Palestinian leadership rejected these offers. The Palestinian Authority, like the Arab Peace Initiative, is still holding to its maximalist positions and has not moved an inch towards Israel since 1993. These positions are obviously untenable for peace and reflect a worldview that ignores Israel's significant gestures and seeks to enforce a solution that will mean the end of the Jewish State. Recent Palestinian and Arab League declarations only enforce this view.

So it’s not as though the Arabs haven’t attempted to make peace with Israel. They have. The problem, according to Ayalon, is that their terms have been too harsh, they’ve refused to abandon their “maximalist positions.” Translated, this means that Arab leaders have insisted on resolving the conflict in accordance with international law [.pdf]. (Now uttering those two words—international law—generally irks people on the right. But that’s never made much sense to me. International law isn’t something that’s been imposed upon Israel against its will. Rather, international law consists of treaties and other agreements that Israel itself has agreed to live by.)

At Camp David, Palestinian negotiators demanded that Israel completely withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which Noam Chomsky describes as “the center of Palestinian commercial, cultural and political life.” (According to international law, all of Gaza and all of the West Bank, including all of East Jerusalem, are Occupied Palestinian Territory.) But Israel rejected these demands and only offered to withdraw from 91% of the West Bank and part of East Jerusalem. By the standards of international law, this was obviously unacceptable. Even Shlomo Ben-Ami, who served as Israel’s Foreign Minister at the time, later stated that, had he been on the Palestinian side, he too would have rejected the offer.

In the months following the Annapolis Conference, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert offered the Palestinian Authority “land equaling 100% of the West Bank.” But it seems that the offer, which sought to retain settlement blocs in the West Bank in exchange for Israeli land, did not include East Jerusalem. According to this map, “based on sources who received detailed information about Olmert’s proposals,” Olmert’s plan called for Israel to annex East Jerusalem.

And yet Ayalon has the gall to conclude his op-ed:

It is surely time to look to the future and break with former intransigencies to create a better future for all the people of the region. Israel has gone very far and is prepared to do its part, but we must be met by a willing partner. Without this, the region is doomed to more conflict and will negate the unity of purpose in the Middle East that is necessary to face the mounting challenges from without and within.

I suppose he thinks that if he keeps repeating this nonsense, people will believe it.

Methinks the current Israeli government doesn’t really want a two-state solution, at least not one based on the principles of international law. Perhaps it’s time for the Palestinians to finally give up that dream and start demanding equal rights as members of a single Jewish-Arab nation.

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