On Sunday, the Arab League rejected Israel’s demand that Palestinians recognize it as the “Jewish state,” backing up Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s insistence he would never agree to those terms. In doing so, the Arab League not only ended the Israeli-Palestinian peace process–since recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is a core Israeli demand–but also revealed the much-vaunted Arab Peace Initiative as a fraud.
The Arab Peace Initiative initially began as a Saudi plan, first floated in 2002 to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Ratified by the Arab League at a meeting in Beirut, and again in subsequent years, the Arab Peace Initiative offered recognition of Israel and normalization of relations in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines–i.e. the temporary borders of the state on the eve of the 1967 war.
Though Israel cautiously welcomed the Arab Peace Initiative, it did not consider it a serious proposal, partly because it meant giving up Jerusalem, and partly because it did not solve the problem of Palestinian “refugees” from the 1948 war that Arab states started against Israel (few of whom are actual refugees from that conflict). Their suspicion was that the Arab League would use Palestinian refugees to overwhelm, and hence end, Israel.
That suspicion turns out to have been well-founded. In rejecting Israel as a Jewish state, the Arab League has proved conclusively that it was never serious about peace, but merely seeking another way of destroying Israel. Rather than end the conflict, the Arab League has instead deferred to the Islamic concept of Dar al-Islam, according to which lands once conquered by Islamic empires can never be returned to non-Muslim control.
Moreover, the Arab League has effectively sunk President Barack Obama’s latest push for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry made clear last year that they saw the Arab Peace Initiative as the basis for their renewed efforts. Yet if the Arab Peace Initiative cannot contemplate accepting Israel as a Jewish state, there is no reason for Israel to consider it a serious proposal, nor for Palestinians to compromise.
Over the weekend, U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that while the U.S. considered Israel a Jewish state, it would not insist that the Palestinians do so. Her statement appeared to backtrack from those made recently by Obama and Kerry. Without such recognition, the Israeli government will be reluctant to make concessions. The peace process is effectively dead, killed once again by Arab rejection of Jewish statehood.
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