ISRAEL: No alternative but peace
Saad Eddin Ibrahim

A series of anniversaries marking milestones in the recent history of the Middle East serve as a timely opportunity for reflection on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The thirtieth anniversary of the October War (Yom Kippur) and the quarter-century since the Camp David peace treaty, signed between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin under the auspices of US President Jimmy Carter, are profound symbols of the Middle East problem. It is a war between the Arabs and Israel, and the only way out is an American-brokered peace. This has been the solution since the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.

Certainly, Arabs and Israelis are capable of initiating any war alone. But to date, at least six wars later, they are incapable of putting an end to this particular war and initiating peace by themselves. The two parties need to achieve this under international auspices American, to be precise.

It is also clear that if either of the two parties proposed an initiative for peace, such a move would not be complete without the involvement of other foreign parties, one of which would have to be the United States. This applied to the armistice of 1948, halting the tripartite aggression (1956), the cease-fire in the Six-Day War and Resolution 242 (1967), the cease-fire in the October War and Resolution 338 (1973), the Camp David Agreement (1978), the peace conference in Madrid (1991), the Oslo Accord (1993), the second Camp David negotiations and the Taba talks (2000), and, finally, US President George W. Bush"s initiative, known as the road map (2003).

The United States, therefore, has become a permanent party to the conflict, in war and in peace. It provides large amounts of aid to Israel, as well as to a number of Arab countries, and has huge oil interests in the Gulf area, especially in Saudi Arabia. This clear American integration may be one of the reasons for its presence in and large influence on managing the conflict, in war and in peace.

No matter how negative Arab public opinion is of the United States, due in large part to its clear prejudice in favor of Israel, most observers agree that it is in the interest of the United States for conditions to improve in the Middle East.

This domineering and permanent presence of the United States in the Arab- Israeli conflict, as in other conflicts in the region and the world, does not negate the role of regional parties in inflaming or calming the situation. Dramatic examples of this are Sadat"s initiatives for war (1973) and peace (1977).

In similar vein, it is worth considering the peace initiative proposed by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, adopted by the Beirut Arab Summit. The initiative is based on three main pillars: Israeli withdrawal from Arab land occupied in 1967 the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Syrian Golan Heights, and the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel in return for permanent peace and a full Arab recognition of Israel, in terms of its existence and borders.

Despite an initial international welcome for Prince Abdullah"s peace initiative, and despite the fact that it was one of the main references in ensuing American peace plans, including the road map, the sounds of the armed clash between the Israelis and the Palestinians continued. The escalating tempo of the suicide-revenge cycle between the two, in addition to the regional and international preoccupation with the war in Iraq (since the spring of 2003), led to a receding interest in the Saudi plan.

It is important, however, that all the powers that believe in peace, Arab, Israeli, and international, revive interest in this initiative and embrace it, as they embraced and supported the road map. Any reticence in doing so would mean relinquishing the arena to the enemies of peace and warmongers on both sides, and continuing the Palestinian and Israeli bloodshed. And of course there is the very real risk that the armed conflict could spill over into neighboring countries, especially Syria and Lebanon. An example of this was the Israeli air raid on a position in Syria, which the Israelis claimed was a training site for terrorists.

Peace is the best strategic option for Arabs and Israelis. An outline of the importance of peace from the Arab perspective follows. I leave discussion of the benefits for Israel to Israeli researchers and analysts. But it is worth noting that survey upon survey reveals that over 70 percent of Israelis want peace, with the recognition of a Palestinian state. The Israeli public has realized that it is impossible to continue repressing Palestinians and ignoring their legitimate national demands, regardless of Israel"s military might, its technological capability, and its economic superiority.

What is important now is that the Arab public, in turn, realizes that it is impossible to vanquish or annihilate Israel, regardless of the number of suicide bombings. It is also important to realize that no matter how long conflicts persist, they are bound to come to an end with peaceful settlements and historic reconciliations. These settlements and reconciliations must include mutual compromises.

This is how conflicts in Europe, East Asia, and South Africa came to an end. In each of these regions, peace, followed by economic cooperation and then prosperity, replaced the conflict. As successive reports have shown, the areas where extended conflicts persist the Middle East, South Asia, and areas of southern Africa - are the poorest, most corrupt, most repressive, and least developed in the world. (The Arab Human Development Report, for example, was published by the United Nations Development Program in 2002.)

The Arab-Israeli conflict, like any conflict anywhere, cannot be settled by war. If the public is convinced of this impossibility decision makers will work hard to reach settlements and bring about a historic reconciliation that saves face, respects the interests and dignity of all parties involved, and puts an end to bloodletting and destruction. This is what Sadat saw in 1977, and what the Saudi crown prince aspired to a quarter of a century later. We do not need to wait another quarter of a century, or even one more year, to re-discover the same.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim is a professor at the American University in Cairo and Director of the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies. Courtesy of Common Ground News Service.