MIDDLE EAST: Regime change for peace?
Kassymzhomart Tokaev «View Bio

By any yardstick, the Arab Peace Initiative adopted by the Arab League in March 2002 was the boldest step yet taken by the Arabs, proposing full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders as a quid pro quo for peace, normalization, and a guarantee of security. But even so gallant an initiative failed to gain momentum.

Reviving the Arab Peace Initiative requires a full appreciation of the regional dynamics of peace. Hence, one needs to make a distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions for peacemaking. The former means that external factors create a political atmosphere conducive to a successful conclusion of the peace process. Had the Arab Peace Initiative been managed properly and wisely, it could have helped contribute to creating such a condition. But the sad fact is that the Arabs failed to launch an effective diplomatic offensive aimed at winning the approval of the key players in the conflict, particularly the American administration. Notwithstanding Bush"s lukewarm praise for the move, he failed to embrace it as a blueprint for a comprehensive solution to the chronic conflict.

Surprisingly, Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia the man behind the initiative - has neither addressed the Israeli public nor done much to promote the initiative internationally. More troubling, though, is that Egypt, a key player in the peace process, was irked by Saudi Arabia"s leading role, and so left Jordan to promote the initiative. Thus the Arabs are at fault for not vigorously seeking the required backing of major players.

Having said that, this necessary condition is by no means sufficient. The Arabs need urgently to address Israeli society by making subtle moves aimed at propelling moderate forces into power. We have to acknowledge that in Israel, any peace that entails territorial compromise leads to internal divisions. So waiting for a national consensus in Israel is a waste of time: we can only hope for an Israeli majority that will genuinely back the principle of land for peace and normalization as stated in the Arab Peace Initiative.

To bring about this change we need to cultivate Israeli public opinion, the majority of which is obviously not against peace. Israel has genuine and legitimate security concerns. Therefore without assurances that its security is guaranteed, there is little hope that the disgruntled Israeli public which elected a security-oriented government because of the security situation - will respond positively to such an initiative.

Against this backdrop, the Palestinians should consider the positive impact on Israeli public opinion of bringing an end to the intifada. It goes without saying that the hawkish trend among Israelis has been caused and sustained by the persistence of the suicide bombings. Therefore, bringing the intifada to a halt will not only enfeeble the hawkish elements, it will equally importantly - pose questions that the Sharon-led government is unlikely to be able to answer. A failure to realize this logic, coupled with the absence of effective third party intervention, will only play into the hands of extremists on both sides.

I have always been of the opinion that Sharon"s government is committed to an ideology that values land over anything else, including peace, and hence is incapable of making peace with the Arabs. Interestingly, in its hesitant approval of the road map, one of Sharon"s 14 reservations was the demand that any reference to the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for future settlement be deleted. We can only conclude that a change of power within Israel is a must should we wish for a government whose ideology holds peace to be the ultimate value.

Given three years of bloodletting and the relentless demonization of Arafat in the Israeli public mind, it is also improbable that a genuine peace process can get underway under the current Palestinian leadership. Arafat is totally unacceptable to the bulk of Israeli society and is considered a major impediment to peace. As a result, the Israeli public is loath to change its leadership, despite its obvious failure in bringing about peace and security, without reciprocal change on the Palestinian side.

In short, a just peace is beyond reach as long as the right wing government in Israel remains in place.

But the Palestinians could catapult a change within Israel if they demilitarize the intifada, cease suicide bombings, change their leadership, and launch a campaign to win over rejectionist forces within Israel. Only then can the new dynamics be created that would bring about a moderate and pragmatic government one that would respond positively to the Arab Peace Initiative.

Hassan A. Barari is a researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. Courtesy of Common Ground News Service.