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Behind the Headlines: Israel receptive to moderate Arab peace plan

News and Press Release
Originally published
The Arab League initiative is positive in calling for normalization of relations with Israel. However, it contains some problematic aspects as well.

In 1947, the desire of the Jewish community in mandatory Palestine to establish a peaceful, democratic, and Jewish state led it to embrace United Nations Resolution 181 which envisioned two homelands, Jewish and Arab, living side by side in peace and security. Today, despite decades of having to defend its existence, Israel's goal remains the achievement of genuine peace with all its neighbors.

Israel has no desire to control the lives of Palestinians, and wishes only to defend its citizens. When Palestinian terrorists target Israelis, they not only undermine the national aspirations of Israelis, they also bring death and tragedy to their own people by distancing the realization of Palestinian national aspirations.

Terrorism must be repudiated by all who share the moderate vision of peace throughout the region. This is a vision that can be realized by the creation of a stable, prosperous, and peaceful Palestinian state - one that will answer the national claims of the Palestinian people in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere.

In the Middle East, stagnation leads to violence. Israel's policy is to find a common denominator with the Palestinians, which will allow progress while at the same time providing a political horizon for the Palestinians and greater security for Israelis. While seeking ways to prevent stagnation, the international community has insisted that the path to Palestinian statehood must include their acceptance of three basic principles of the "Quartet": recognition of Israel, renunciation of terrorism, and acceptance of all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and obligations.

Given the often violent opposition within the Palestinian Authority between its Fatah component, which accepts the Quartet principles, and its Hamas-led government, which still opposes Israel's existence, the support of the forces of moderation in the international arena and the Muslim world is essential.

The Hizbullah, al-Qaida and Hamas terrorist groups, and states founded on Islamist extremism, like Iran, threaten not only Israel, but the entire world in a global showdown between extremists and moderates. The extremists must be fought, while engaging with and strengthening the moderates. Israel will continue to maintain a dialogue with the moderates in the Palestinian Authority, and seeks to develop such a dialogue with the moderates in the Arab world as well.

The Arab states have a particularly important role to played. Moderates on the Palestinian side need pan-Arab support for the compromises a final agreement with Israel will entail. Arab moderates can act as a catalyst for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.

For this reason, Israel views positively the recent initiative advanced by Saudi Arabia as a vehicle for Israeli-Arab interaction to promote the peace process. This is an important development that Israel welcomes, and it is ready to engage Arab states in dialogue to advance it.

The Arab League initiative is positive in calling for normalization of relations with Israel. However, it contains some problematic aspects as well, such as insistence on a Palestinian "right of return" and a predetermination of the border issues.

It must be understood that the establishment of a Palestinian state must resolve the Palestinian claim of 'return' - just as the establishment of Israel provided the answer to the historic aspirations of the Jewish people to return to their homeland. Similarly, it must be understood that the 1967 ceasefire lines were not permanent, and there was no continuous territorial connection between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The League's insistence regarding the refugees and territory shows an unrealistic aspiration for gains beyond what existed in 1967.

At her 10 May meeting in Cairo with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and her Jordanian counterpart Abdul Ilah Khatib, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni stated that the Arab countries could play an "important role" in helping Israel and the Palestinians make peace. "I do believe that the Arab world has a very important role in order to enhance, to support both sides in order to achieve peace," she said. At the end of this meeting, Foreign Minister Gheit announced that it is the intention of an Arab League preparatory team, which includes the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan, to visit Israel within the next few weeks as representatives of the Arab League. This will be the first visit by official representatives of the Arab League in Israel.

"I do believe that this is a beginning that can help both sides and help the region ... to achieve peace," Livni said. "We share the same goal - all the moderates in the region - of two states living side by side in peace... there are some new opportunities in an understanding of the Arab world of the need to support the peace process."

Israel applauds the Arab League's move to support the moderates in the Palestinian Authority and help them reach compromises with Israel. However, the conflict cannot be resolved as long as the violence continues. Israel encourages the truly moderate forces of the Muslim world to pressure the Palestinian leadership to cease violence and fulfill their commitments, so peace can emerge on the political horizon.