Once again, many in Washington and Europe are abuzz with the spring fever of yet another, new and improved, Saudi Initiative. But we should hold our applause until the curtain comes down and the brass tacks of the Arab Summit is examined. How much can really hoped for? How much is window dressing designed to present a unified front on the part of the Arab world? At the same time, what real windows of opportunity exist for breakthroughs, even if small?
According to Ambassador Dennis Ross, there is wiggle room for some progress if:
- The U.S. could broker a comprehensive ceasefire between Olmert and Abbas
- If the Palestinians rein in those still launching attacks into Israel and if Hamas stops the smuggling and build-up of arms
- If Hamas would actually not just agree to but enforce such a ceasefire
Then a political dimension could perhaps be opened. Palestinians committed to peace would be supported while Hamas would continue to be ostracized for its rejectionist stance towards Israel's right to exist. But can such a weakened Abbas (and Fatah, by extension) truly compete against Hamas rising power and status?
Will Israel be able to portray itself as not the obstacle to peace and progress, because it rejects the new Saudi Initiative outright due to the lack of changes in the critical clauses regarding the return to the '67 borders & the Palestinian 'right of return" into Israel proper? Perhaps the best approach for Israel would be to officially accept negotiations while stating its objections to these demands. See more commentary below db
The Saudi Initiative - Dennis Ross
The Arab League is poised to reaffirm the Saudi initiative that offers the Israelis peace, but only after Israel has taken all the steps the Arabs want. Conflicts are rarely solved by one side making all the concessions before it sees what it gets in return. Today, with Hamas continuing to embody rejection, the Arab world must show that if Israel meets its terms (or something close to them), it will receive peace and security not as a slogan but as a reality. At this point, a plan that lays out the final contours of an agreement is unachievable. No one is prepared to embrace the necessary compromises. The Arab League is only conceding Israel's existence - useful, but hardly a breakthrough. (Financial Times-UK)
"The Arab citizen has gotten used to the idea that Arab summit meetings bring no benefit. He expects the meetings to produce declarations, but realizes that these declarations will mean nothing," Lebanese analyst Mohammed Mashmoushi wrote in Al-Hayat last week. A senior Jordanian visitor in Israel this week told Ha'aretz that the Arab summit meetings long ago stopped serving as a serious forum for debating the Middle East's problems. In fact, it is difficult to point to even one Arab League achievement in the past few years. It did not prevent the war in Iraq, and it cannot present an Arab formula for solving that country's problems. It is out of touch on the Palestinian issue, both in terms of a solution and the internal Palestinian crisis. (Ha'aretz)
Israel: "Now Is Not Time for Final Status Talks" -
"In the current situation it is impossible to reach a political settlement with the Palestinians," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Tuesday. She said the new PA unity government was not abiding by the conditions set by the Quartet and that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was "disappointing, especially because he failed to condition the formation of the new Fatah-Hamas coalition on the release of captured IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit." Earlier Tuesday, a senior Israeli diplomatic official said that for the first time since 2000, Israel and the Palestinians will begin regular discussions on all aspects of a future Palestinian state except for borders, Jerusalem, and refugees. This followed Secretary of State Rice's announcement that Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert had agreed to hold biweekly meetings. The "most important thing to come out of Rice's visit," the official said, "was that the Israelis and Palestinians decided to resume talks on the parameters of future Palestinian statehood, on the characteristics of this statehood." The official said that despite Abbas' weakness and "inability to deliver," there was need to talk to someone, and Abbas was the natural candidate. (Jerusalem Post)