Allow Obama to lead the peace process

Daily News Egypt
6 Min Read

NEW YORK: President Obama is heroically facing domestic and international challenges on many fronts. One international issue, which is of high priority for the president, is promoting lasting security for Israel through a peace deal with the Arabs. But he is facing hurdles from politicians who misconstrue justice-based peace with one-sided advocacy.

Defending Israel, overprotective legislators are trying to slow the growing momentum for a promising Middle East peace process. Last week, Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and James Risch (R-ID) circulated a letter to fellow senators for joint signatures. The letter asks President Obama to lean on Arab states to show dramatic gestures toward Israel.

It requests Arab leaders to open new borders, expand cooperation and improve rhetoric toward the Zionist state. Strangely, this legislative move did not include any reciprocal obligation to stop the expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories. The senators from Indiana and Idaho should realize that the Arab states are not in a position now to make new promises beyond the 2002 peace plan, which in itself was a far reaching and dramatic offer.

On the surface, the senators’ letter looks fair and balanced; it demands that all sides work for peace. But the pivotal message of the letter is that Arabs states are not doing their best for peace, whereas Israel is. The circulated document also gives the false impression that Obama is rushing into a peace deal before asking the Arab states to commit to normalizing relations. This is not true; moreover it threatens to undermine the orchestrated team work on the peace process which is now operating on a covert level to make all sides as flexible as possible in preparation for end-game negotiations.

In fact, the Bayh-Risch letter counterproductively serves to strengthen Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline posture. The Prime Minister considers freezing expansion of illegal housing as an admission of guilt.

Netanyahu resents the challenge to his belief that settlements exist for Israel’s security and he views the willingness to freeze settlements as a one-sided concession. Settlements, for him, are bargaining chips.

The senators from Indiana and Idaho should recall that the 2002 Arab peace offer which still stands today, stipulates a two-state scenario in which Israel will be allocated 78 percent of the land between the east bank of the Jordan river and the Mediterranean while the Palestinian state will be allocated 22 percent: the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Twenty-two Arab states have pledged to normalize relations with Israel. This pledge implies a willingness to absorb millions of Palestinian refugees from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. What more “dramatic steps should Arab States be offering, in response to the letter?

To implement the 2002 Arab peace plan will require hard work, reconciliation and forgiveness from each side. Progress at the negotiating table is bound to generate good will and improve Arab-Jewish relations.

Once allowed to unfold, the peace process is expected to generate additional “dramatic gestures . Dramatically improved relations will emerge when refugees accept compensation for loss of land and when Israel accepts a shared Jerusalem.

More drama anticipated? The parameters of this peace process are aimed at making Hamas accept Israel and, in turn, making Israel change its tone of communication about Arabs.

More reconciliation required? Progress in negotiations is expected to make Arabs recognize the suffering of all Jews, including those who have emigrated under pressure from the Arab world. Movement in negotiations would lead Israelis to admit the suffering they caused in displacing Palestinians.

The letter is asking for the products of peace prematurely. It is through negotiations that Arabs and Israelis will stop their mutual demonizing. The breakthrough in peace will come when Arabs and Jews commit to working together to deal with poverty, water shortages, ecological threats, health hazards and minority rights.

Perhaps the US Congress would do better were they to separately send a pastoral letter praising the peace process and asking the Arab and Jewish communities to help prepare the ground for peace through their media, their schools and their religious institutions.

The Bayh-Ricsch letter is based on a misconception that in rushing to appease Arabs, President Obama is ignoring basic security needs of Israel.

But the senators who will sign this letter are not serving the long-term interest of Israel. They should realize that both peoples are almost ready to start serious talks on a game-changing peace product.

Dr Ghassan Rubeiz is former Middle East Secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches. He contributes regularly through his column on issues of peace, social justice and Arab-American relations. This article is adapted from an article first appearing in the Daily Star of Lebanon and is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with the author’s permission.

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