Huffpost WorldPost
MJ Rosenberg Headshot

Mideast in Chaos: Israel Needs to Pursue a Peace Deal Now

Posted: Updated:

I wonder if the Israeli government now regrets that it didn't consider the Arab League peace offer that was first issued in 2002 and then again in 2007. Every Arab state signed it and it was strongly backed by the Saudis who, in fact, drafted it.

Under its terms, in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem:

The Arab countries affirm the following: (I) Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region; (II) Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.

The Arab League Initiative is not a full-blown peace treaty. It is rather a framework under which Israel would conduct negotiations with the goal of reaching agreements on all the critical points. Nothing would be dictated to either side; nothing could take effect without full agreement by both sides.

In essence, the Arab League Initiative was a golden offer to Israel by every single Arab state (the end of conflict and isolation in return for giving up the lands won in the 1967 war. The Palestinian Authority also signed it and Hamas said that if a deal was reached, it would not "contradict the Arab consensus."

But Israel flat-out refused to consider it and, at Israel's request, neither did the United States. That pretty much killed it although the offer is still out there, ready for Israel to seize the opportunity at any time.

Of course, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government have never indicated any interest in a deal that requires giving up the occupied territories, which, of course, rules out any deal at all. However, given the changes in Israel's regional standing since 2007, even Israeli right-wingers might be willing to rethink now. (The center and left have always favored considering the initiative).

Just look at the changes since 2007.

In 2007, when the Arab League Initiative was last issued, Israel's most important ally President Hosni Mubarak was firmly in power. For 30 years, Mubarak was the guarantee that Israel would not have to worry about war with its powerful neighbor to the west. That was because Mubarak scrupulously adhered to its terms. Egypt's new Muslim Brotherhood government has not indicated that it will back away from the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty but, no doubt about it, its future is up in the air.

The moderate Palestinian Authority is weaker than ever before. Due largely to the fact that it has not been able to achieve the return of any Palestinian land from Israel, and the failure of its attempt to declare statehood, it appears feckless and weak. Palestinians increasingly view it as a tool of Israel. Meanwhile, Hamas has become thoroughly entrenched in Gaza and its Muslim Brotherhood allies are now in power in Egypt.

Hezbollah, formerly a Shiite terrorist group formed in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, now plays a dominant role in the Lebanese government. . It is believed to possess 20,000 rockets which could reach Israel. In 2006, it launched some 4,000 of those rockets, causing the evacuation of northern Israel.

Turkey, since 1948 Israel's staunch Muslim ally, turned against the Israeli government as a result of Israel's blockade of Gaza and an Israeli attack on a Turkish ship that was sailing there with relief supplies for its population. The two countries are now barely on speaking terms.

And now the Assad government is on the verge of collapse. The Assad regime, although rhetorically hostile to Israel, has maintained peace with it since the 1973 war. Israelis view the Syrian regime, much as they viewed Mubarak's, as totalitarians who maintained stability and the status quo. Revolutionary instability in Syria or the replacement of Assad by a more militantly pan-Arab regime will mean more trouble for Israel.

And then there is Iran, which -- whether it is developing nuclear weapons or not -- successfully uses the 45-year occupation as a pretext to assert leadership among Arabs. As supposed champions of Muslim interests (including the Palestinians) the Iranians are achieving ascendancy in the Arab world. This is ironic, to say the least, because Arabs and Persians have traditionally been hostile to each other; the Israeli occupation has helped create a new unnatural (and utterly cynical) alliance.

Israel is more isolated than ever before. And, if it attacks Iran, it is likely to lose any chance for ever achieving peace with the Muslim world. That might, however, be the least of its losses,

The bottom line is that the status quo no longer works to Israel's advantage. Every day its position grows weaker as the region it is located in becomes more and more unstable, and forces militantly opposed to Israel replace those who seemed more than willing to live with it.

It is hard to know if Israel's situation is salvageable. It just may be too late to recover from the mistakes it made when opportuntities like the Arab Initiative presented themselves. The same may be true of the Palestinians who, going back to the 1930s, have repeatedly said "no" to offers that could have saved them from the true horrors of their current situation.

The change now is that events are moving the situation if not necessarily in the Palestinians' favor, then definitely in opposition to Israel's. After all, the new forces that are taking over the region have one thing in common: hate for the Israeli occupation and a determination to end it. And, on that score, they have an ally in Iran which cares nothing for the Palestinians but are quite good at using their plight to build support among all Muslims.

It's time Israel read the handwriting on the wall. It should stop any expansion of settlements and fully end the blockade of Gaza, as first step towards acknowledging its new situation. Those actions alone would restore its friendship with Turkey. And it should acknowledge through words and deed that it is ready for negotiations based on the Arab League Initiative.

Negotiations won't start now, in the midst of the current turbulence in Syria and elsewhere. But Israel needs to be ready as soon as the dust settles and before the drums of war against Israel start beating again. Additionally, it should end its threats toward Iran and let the Obama administration know that it favors lifting sanctions in return for tangible steps by Iran toward ensuring that its nuclear program is a civilian program and will remain one. Currently it supports"crippling sanctions" until Iran give up its right to any form of nuclear development. That simply won't fly.

All those who care about the survival and security of Israel should encourage it to take these steps. It is no act of friendship to encourage Israel to dig in when the tides of history are running against it. Israel is too important to be lost because its leaders refused to accept "yes" as an answer. That is what the Arab League initiative is: a big yes. I just hope that the offer is still there because, if it isn't, it is hard to imagine another way for Israel to break out of its current predicament.

If the United States is truly Israel's ally, and not just its enabler, that is the message it will deliver to Israel loud and clear. Supporting Israel's current course may be politically advantageous as the election looms, but it is no act of friendship. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Besides, the campaign is over in just over a hundred days. After that, there is no excuse for America not to help Israel avoid looming catastrophe, none at all.

This post has been updated since its original publication.