The Arab League Plan 2007:
Towards ‘normal relations’ with Israel?
Published: 15 April 2007
Briefing Number 193
Summary: The Arab League ‘peace initiative' of March 2007 issues demands to Israel in an ‘all or nothing' manner, and has been backed by hints of war.
The Arab League's position on Palestinian refugees is arguably inconsistent with the continued existence of a Jewish state.
And its position on Israeli territorial withdrawal from the West Bank is certainly inconsistent with UN Resolution 242.
One of the purposes of the plan is to portray Israel as the prime obstacle to peace. But it's the plan itself which, in the opinion of many commentators, fails to provide the basis for ‘normal relations' with Israel .
This Briefing highlights three key concerns about the plan, and the debate about it inside Israel . It distils hundreds of news stories and items of analysis published in the last 3 weeks.
Background – the Saudi-led ‘peace initiative' via the Arab League
In March 2007 the Arab League adopted what it described as a ‘peace initiative' in the conflict with Israel . The plan was spearheaded by Saudi Arabia , and is a new version of proposals which were first made in March 2002. The plan demands that Israel withdraw from all lands occupied in 1967, accepts a repartition of East Jerusalem , and accepts a “just solution” to the Palestinian refugee issue based on UN Resolution 194. In return, Israel would be recognised by the members of the Arab League.
Three reasons why the plan is not a ‘peace plan' at all….
The plan has been widely described in the media as a “land for peace” plan (Times 29 March 2007), aimed at “normalising relations” with Israel. But these labels ignore the plan's fundamental flaws. Israeli spokespeople, and experts, have highlighted three:-
An “all-or-nothing” demand made to Israel
The plan is not a framework for normal diplomacy. It is an ‘all-or-nothing' statement of the Arab League's position, which the Arabs are demanding that Israel accepts as a matter of principle, before any talking can start.
There is no flexibility in this strategy, or desire to accommodate Israel 's views. “ Israel tells us to amend the Plan, but we tell them to accept it first, then we can sit down at the negotiating table….” (Amr Moussa, Secretary-General of the Arab League, quoted in The Jerusalem Post, 28 March 2007 ).
Furthermore, the Arab League declaration has now been backed up by a threat of violence. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal has been quoted as saying that if Israel does not agree to the plan, it will be “putting its future into the hands of the lords of war” (quoted in the Daily Telegraph, and then reported in the Washington Times, 29 March 2007 ).
The plan demands a Palestinian ‘right of return' into Israel
Secondly, the plan proposes a “just solution” to the Palestinian refugee problem on the basis of UN Resolution 194, which provides that refugees should have the right to return to their homes if they are willing to live “at peace with their neighbours”.
Israel regards this as an open-ended demand that it accept potentially millions of Palestinian refugees into Israel – something which Israel will never accept. The demand for a right of return is irreconcilable with recognition of Israel , or with ‘normal relations' with Israel . Israel also challenges the Palestinian interpretation of Resolution 194 (for Israel 's arguments see Beyond Images Briefing 34).
It has been reported several times that behind-the-scenes discussions may be underway on a compensation scheme for Palestinian refugees and that they would only be permitted to reside in a future Palestinian state, and not in Israel (this echoes Israeli proposals at Taba in 2001). Nonetheless, the Arab League's public demand that Israel accept its version of Resolution 194 alone makes the Arab League plan unworkable.
The plan ignores UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967
Thirdly, the Plan demands that Israel withdraw from all territory occupied as a result of the Six Day War of 1967.
This is inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolution 242, under which Israel committed to withdraw from “territories” in the framework of peace and recognition. Resolution 242 deliberately did not stipulate that Israel withdraw from “all” territories, and Israel's present Government wishes to retain about 8-10% of the territories containing the major Israeli settlement blocs (and possibly negotiate a land-swap with the Palestinians in return).
The principles of UN Resolution 242 have underpinned the peace treaties between Israel and Egypt (1979), and Israel and Jordan (1994), as well as the Camp David and Taba negotiations of 2000-2001, and the Road Map of 2003.
The Arab League plan simply ignores this. Instead it demands Israeli withdrawal from “all” territory. This is inconsistent with UN Resolution 242.
Arab League and Saudi motivation
Many commentators, such as Dore Gold of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs ( www.jcpa.org ) have suggested that the Arab League Plan is not motivated by a genuine desire to achieve peace with Israel . Among its actual motivations are:-
a Saudi desire to demonstrate leadership in the Arab world
a widespread desire among the Sunni-dominated Gulf states to rally Sunni countries against Iran
a desire to demonstrate to the USA that the Arabs wish to galvanise “moderate” Arab voices against Islamist forces in the region, and
a wish to portray Israel as the primary obstacle to peace.
Israel 's internal debate about the plan
The majority of Israeli politicians expressed concerns over the plan. Analysts and commentators are divided.
For instance, Amotz Asa-el (Jerusalem Post, 6 April 2007 ) argues that the plan is a “non-starter” which is “designed to cost the Arabs nothing and lead nowhere”, because it adopts positions which the Arabs know Israel cannot accept. He writes that the Arab League is trying to divert attention from the chronic social and economic problems of Arab societies.
On the other hand, David Kimche, former Director General of Israel's Foreign Ministry, argues (in the Jerusalem Post, 13 April 2007) that the plan replaces the three ‘no's of Arab rejectionism – no recognition, no negotiation, no peace – with three ‘yes'es' – yes to recognition, yes to negotiation and yes to peace. He states that Israel risks being seen to be “afraid of peace” if it does not respond positively. And he claims that the plan's section on refugees has been deliberately worded by the League to ensure that the Palestinian ‘right of return' cannot be imposed upon Israel against its wishes. Kimche's views were echoed by doveish Israeli politicians such as Yossi Beilin.
Israel 's Government welcomed aspects of the plan, expressing a wish to achieve peace and normal relations with the Arab world. However, spokesmen and Prime Minister Olmert highlighted its flaws. Within days of the Arab League announcement, Olmert invited Arab leaders for a regional peace summit, but this was sharply rebuffed. “ Israel should understand that peace requires it to put an end to violations, repression and constant inhuman practices against the Palestinian people before any other matter” said the Saudi Cabinet in a statement (Washington Post, 2 April 2007 ). In other words, first accept the Plan, do as we demand, withdraw from the West Bank , and then we will talk.
Related Beyond Images Briefings
Briefing 34 – The Palestinian ‘Right of Return'
Briefing 103 – What happened in 1967?