Last month, Jordan s Foreign Minister, Abdul Ilah Khatib, and his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, presented to our prime minister and political leaders the details of the Arab initiative ratified in Saudi Arabia. The initiative, which was rejected by former premier, Ariel Sharon, who was busy with the disengagement at the time, is back on the international stage, and constitutes a rare window of opportunity.
For the first time in 60 years, all Arab countries are willing to recognize the existence of the Jewish state and even maintain normal relations with it. The conditions for it, according to a source involved in drafting the initiative, are very general: Israel is obligated to withdraw from the occupied territories and grant the Palestinians an independent state whose capital is east Jerusalem. In addition, the initiative calls for a fair solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.
However, the initiative does not require the parties to base an agreement on the precise 1967 borders, or to allow refugees to enter Israel. In addition, the initiative does not stipulate that the Old City in Jerusalem should become the Palestinian capital.
What makes this initiative unique is the agreement of all Arab states to accept any solution worked out by the parties, as long as it constitutes an end to the conflict. According to sources involved in the matter, the initiative is not an outline of red lines for ending the conflict, but rather a sort of general umbrella for any agreement between any Arab state and the State of Israel, or between the Palestinians and Israel.
Another issue that stems from the decisions made at the Riyadh summit-not publicized, perhaps because of the sensitivity of the issue -is the solution to the refugee problem within the borders of a future Palestinian state: Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states expressed their willingness to take part in a special compensation fund that will be established under American and Israeli direction.
The Saudis, who have played a significant role in marketing the initiative, convinced other Arab countries to accept any agreement signed by Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert. Saudi Arabia continues to relay calming and positive messages to Israel via the US while also receiving regular updates from the parties involved regarding the progress in negotiations.
Hence, the initiative s significance stems from the fact that all Arab states, including Syria, agreed to it-and its implementation is not far removed from reality. We are facing a one-time opportunity for a long-term agreement that will guarantee quiet for many years to come.
These developments, and the fall summit in the US, encourage our prime minister to vigorously advance on the Palestinian track. In addition, in light of the rare window of opportunity, we must not view Olmert s desire to advance on the Palestinian track as a mere matter of political survival nor an attempt to distract attention from the Winograd Commission or other affairs threatening him. This may also be the reason for Ehud Barak s and Tzipi s Livni s deep involvement in the process.
As of late, it appears that Arab countries are the ones interested in advancing the peace process. Olmert, for his part, does not want to be the Israeli leader who rejected the genuine moderate voices and the possibility that all Arab countries would recognize Israel.
The road is still lengthy and difficult, but we must remember that the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel will constitute a guarantee to Israel s continued existence and prosperity.
The prime minister and senior ministers identified the rare opportunity, and are making an effort for the first time in the State of Israel s history, to reach an agreement that will put an end to the hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians, and possibly among Israel, Syria and Lebanon when the time comes.
We must give Ehud Olmert the opportunity to embark on negotiations that may allow us to create a better reality this time around.
Majdi Halabiis a journalist for Arab news network al-Hurra. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.