Sat 09 Dec 2023 7:29 am - Jerusalem Time
A former right-wing Israeli minister proposes responding to “Arab Peace Initiative” Sheetrit: Closing one's eyes to the idea would be a grave mistake
One of the former leaders of the ruling Likud Party in Israel called for responding to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. Meir Sheetrit, who served in several governments in the past in senior ministerial positions, including Justice and Interior, said that it “is still on the table, and it is almost a certainty.” “It is the only solution for lasting peace for us and for the entire region.”
Sheetrit narrated that since this initiative was put forward, he felt that it was a big thing and regretted that it did not receive any Israeli response. It was the late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz who proposed it when he was crown prince, and it became known as the Arab Peace Initiative, and it was approved five times since it was presented by the Arab League in 2002.
He revealed that he spoke with the heads of the Israeli governments in which he served, such as Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak, and Ehud Olmert, about it, calling for a response to it. He explained that most of them said this was a good idea, but they did nothing to advance it. He added: “With the initiative being approved in Riyadh, I suggested to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that instead of implementing the plan to disengage from Gaza, he should go to discuss it with Saudi Arabia, by proposing a meeting in Jerusalem or in Riyadh for all the Arab countries participating in the initiative. Unfortunately, he said he thought it was a good idea, but he moved towards disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank.
He added: “Later, the Arab initiative was put forward for consideration in Olmert’s government and in the (cabinet), and to my regret here as well, Olmert believed that the initiative was a good idea, but no step was taken in this direction. Also later, as an opposition representative, I tried to persuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to initiate a comprehensive solution through the Arab Initiative, but he did not accept my position. After that, I established a lobby in the Knesset to support the Arab Peace Initiative, and it included 42 representatives from different blocs, but we were not able to advance the initiative.”
He wondered: “It is strange, why do the prime ministers in Israel evade the issue? It is possible that they want to please the American administration, which wants to maintain its position as the major mediator between Israel and the Arabs, and therefore they do not take steps in this direction.
Sheetrit wrote an article in the Maariv newspaper on Friday, saying: “Israel’s current situation in the Middle East region seems futile. The expectation is for continued instability in the region, including a continued arms race for all parties involved. On the surface, the situation appears to have no way out and there are no magic solutions to establish stability and peace in Israel and the region, but I believe that there is a possible and correct solution to the maze in which we find ourselves. The Arab and Saudi initiative adopted by the Arab League on March 28, 2002 in Beirut, reflects in practice The joint official position of the Arab countries regarding the solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
He added: “The initiative also includes a commitment from 57 Arab and Islamic countries to establish normal peace relations with Israel and announce the end of the conflict with it according to three conditions: The first is a complete Israeli withdrawal from the lines of June 4, 1967, including the Syrian Golan and the Lebanese Shebaa Farms. The second is the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and the third is a just and agreed upon solution to the refugee issue.”
He continued, “The Arab initiative solves the major problem for the Palestinians, because of which both Yasser Arafat regarding Ehud Barak and Abu Mazen regarding Ehud Olmert did not sign the peace agreement even though they were offered almost everything they asked for. No Palestinian leader can sign an agreement without guaranteeing the right of return, but the initiative solves the problem smoothly. Because the formula is (a fair and agreed-upon solution) for refugees. (Agreed upon), meaning that Israel must agree... and demand an Israeli return to the 1967 lines.”
Shetrit said: “Here too, when the initiative was published, I said that in my opinion, there is no Arab leader who believes that Israel will actually return to the 1967 lines, and in my opinion what is meant is to obtain alternative land with a similar area. If Israel annexes land west of the separation wall, about 5 percent of the West Bank, the Palestinians will be given another land close to the West Bank or Gaza.
Sheetrit confirms that such a solution is presented to the citizens of Israel in a popular referendum, according to the law, and he believes that the possibility of obtaining public approval is much greater than an agreement with the Palestinians alone. He says that its inclusion of Arab countries constitutes a guarantee of its implementation. “If all Islamic countries sign peace and normalization with Israel, who will dare to break this agreement?” “If peace is only with the Palestinians, then a coincidental leader who does not want that is enough, and the agreement dies.”
Shetrit, who lives in a town near Gaza, believes that returning the Gaza Strip to the rule of the Palestinian Authority means removing Hamas from power. He says that he was explaining to the aforementioned Israeli prime ministers that the Arab countries were tired of the Palestinians, of terrorism, and of the “Palestinian story.” In some of them there is a “war with terrorism.”
Chetriet concludes, saying: “The decision in this direction is not easy, but ignoring the possibility of achieving comprehensive peace will be a cry for generations.” I expect the Prime Minister of Israel to dare to examine the paths to a comprehensive peace and fight to achieve it. As for closing your eyes to the initiative that is still on the table, it would be a grave mistake.”