Aug 16th 2010

‘Arab and Peace’ is not an Oxymoron

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

Earlier this summer I was in Jerusalem meeting with various officials and catching up with old friends. Minutes after meeting a friend, a former high-up official in Israel's Foreign Ministry, he ran back to see me. "Alon, come quick, you have to speak with this guy," he told me. After our meeting, he had walked into a pharmacy where the pharmacist saw that he was carrying the brochure I published, "Israel and the Arab Peace Initiative." I went to the pharmacy to speak with the pharmacist and after I confirmed that I was the author of the brochure, he said, "You do not really believe that peace with the Arabs is possible, do you? 'Arab and peace' is an oxymoron. There is no such thing."

The pharmacist, like many Israelis, was simply unaware of the Arab Peace Initiative and the groundbreaking opportunity that it represents. A recent joint poll by Hebrew University's Truman Institute and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research indicated that 59 percent of Israelis are opposed to the Arab Peace Initiative. It is a troubling statistic, but one that reflects the failure by successive Israeli governments to embrace and market this critical initiative to its people. To be sure, Israelis have reason to be skeptical. Repeated violent conflicts with Arabs and the Arab states' rejection to past peace overtures have traumatized Israelis to believe that an ‘Arab Peace Initiative' is indeed an oxymoron. Following the 1967 war, the Arab world rejected the possibility of negotiating with Israel for a withdrawal from the lands Israel captured in the Six Day War. Instead, they delivered their answer through the infamous declaration at the Khartoum Conference in 1967 stating "no to peace, no to recognition, no to negotiations," which has been ingrained in the mindset of Israelis ever since.

To make matters worse, the Arab Peace Initiative was first adopted by the Arab League at the Beirut Summit on March 27, 2002, the same day as a horrific suicide bombing which killed 30 people and injured 140 at a Passover Seder at the Park Hotel in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, at the height of the violent second intifada. Thus, good ideas presented at the wrong time seemingly become bad ideas. This was certainly the case with the Arab Peace Initiative in March 2002. Indeed, had the Arab Peace Initiative been presented in 1967 instead of the declaration at Khartoum, the region might look very different today. But it is no longer the spring of 2002 and it is no longer 1967-Israel should act accordingly. It cannot allow the trauma of the past to distract it from its obligation to its people to seek ways to safeguard the security of the Jewish state which can be attained only through peace. While there are aspects of the Initiative that concern Israel, it should still fully embrace the effort as an historic opportunity and landmark repudiation of the message the Arab states delivered at the Khartoum conference.

In fact, Israel's silence in response to the Arab world's bold gesture in support of a comprehensive regional peace sends the message that it is rejecting peace today-a notion that was reaffirmed to me during my recent trip to Strasbourg, France where I met scores of EU members of Parliament who, without exception, insisted that Israel-and not the Palestinians-is the obstacle to peace. Israel must recognize that time and circumstances have changed, and that the Arab states also recognize that Israel is here to stay-albeit peace can be forged only through the exchange of territory for peace. There are six key reasons why the Arab states recognize the need to make peace today-and why they have yet to remove their initiative from the table despite Israel's rejection, and in spite of the currently stalled negotiating process:

First, the ability of the Arab states to exploit the Palestinian problem for domestic consumption has run its course. It is no longer advantageous for the Arab states to use the Palestinian problem to distract their publics from domestic problems. The Arab states are deeply troubled by extremism within their own societies-extremism and dissatisfaction which are fuelled to a large extent by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Second, resolving the conflict is not only an Arab concern today-it is a global concern. The Palestinian problem is now one that has been adopted by the international community, with the United Nations, Europe, United States and the

Arab world all heavily engaged. In this regard, the Arab world has succeeded in making Palestinian nationalism a focus of the international community. No longer can the Arab states claim it is an issue that is being ignored. Now it is an issue that must be resolved.

Third, the Arab states realize that Israel is too powerful to be defeated. Israel is a powerful nation with a vibrant economy and strong military. In 1967, it was not clear to the Arab states - despite their defeat in the Six Day War - whether the 'Israel phenomenon' was insurmountable. In 2010, it is clear that Israel is a reality that must be reckoned with. Those Arab extremists who still dream of destroying Israel do so now at their peril.

Fourth, the Arab states see Israel as a buffer against the growing influence of Iran in the Middle East. The Arab world is deeply concerned with Iran's determination to acquire nuclear weapons and its hegemonic ambitions in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq and throughout the region. In addition, the possible failure of sanctions against the current Iranian regime and the concerns that the Obama administration may not be willing to use force to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions leave Israel-from the Arab world's perspective-as the only credible power with the capability to stop Iran. In this regard, the concept of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" is applicable.

Fifth, Israel is increasingly viewed as a useful economic partner in the Middle East. As the West seeks to transition from its oil dependence, so too are the Arab states. Many Arab states also realize that Israel has much to offer in terms of advanced technologies and economic developments. In fact, currently there are nearly a dozen Arab states that have established some kind of relations with Israel in these fields. They indeed realize that they have much to learn - and benefit - from Israel's thriving economy and educated citizenry.

Sixth, for the Arab states, peace is no longer a luxury-it is a necessity. The regional powers in the Middle East today are Israel, Iran and Turkey-all non-Arab actors. To turn the tide which has placed the Arab world lagging behind requires the Arab states to begin to look to the future and resolve the conflicts of the past. To overcome the Arab world's frustration with its malaise, the Arab states need to begin to provide the kind of economic developments and security that can enable prosperity-and that is only possible through a comprehensive peace with Israel.

There is a very strong likelihood that the Palestinian Authority's President Mahmoud Abbas will soon agree to enter into direct negotiations with Israel. Israel will now have a golden opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to peace by agreeing to negotiate substantive issues-such as borders-with the intention of finalizing peace with the Palestinians before the end of 2011.

Israel should begin to communicate to its public exactly what I told the Israeli pharmacist: 'Arab and peace' is not an oxymoron today, just as 'Israel and peace' need not be. The Arab world has dramatically changed since 1967, and the time has come for Israelis to recognize it.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 29th 2022
EXTRACTS "Ever since she became a prominent political figure 12 years ago, Truss has been a shapeshifter. She started as a Liberal Democrat before becoming a Conservative, and she voted to remain in the European Union before championing Brexit. As a minister, it is hard to think of anything she accomplished. She signed a few EU trade deals as Secretary of State for International Trade, but most of those were rollovers." --- "But if until recently it seemed that Truss was driven solely by political ambition, her government’s 'mini-budget' proposal sheds light on her deeper ideological affinities."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russia’s focus on Ukraine and Putin’s choice to frame this as a civilisational struggle with the west has created opportunities for China to enhance its influence elsewhere – at Russia’s expense."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: ”The Ukrainian army is making spectacular advances,” --- “…the European Union has fully mobilized to confront the energy crisis.” ---- “we are helping our partners in the Global South to handle the fallout from Russia’s brutal aggression and cynical weaponization of energy and food.” ---- “In short: the overall strategy is working. We must continue to support Ukraine, pressure Russia with sanctions, and help our global partners in a spirit of solidarity.”
Sep 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "In 1950, a team of sociologists, including the philosopher Theodor Adorno, conducted an empirical study, later published as The Authoritarian Personality, which ....... “If a potentially fascistic individual exists, what, precisely, is he like? What goes to make up antidemocratic thought? What are the organizing forces within the person?... what have been the determinants and what is the course of his development?”
Aug 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian aggression certainly poses a threat; but it is a familiar one that we know how to deal with. Rising temperatures, dry riverbeds, parched landscapes, falling crop yields, acute energy shortages, and disruptions to industrial production are something else."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACTS: "As the revolutionary founder of a new Chinese state, Mao emphasized ideology over development. For Deng and his successors, it was the opposite: De-emphasis of ideology was viewed as necessary to boost economic growth through market-based 'reform and opening up.' Then came Xi. Initially, there was hope that his so-called 'Third Plenum Reforms' of 2013 would usher in a new era of strong economic performance. But the new ideological campaigns carried out under the general rubric of Xi Jinping Thought, including a regulatory clampdown on once-dynamic Internet platform companies and associated restrictions on online gaming, music, and private tutoring, as well as a zero-COVID policy that has led to never-ending lockdowns, have all but dashed those hopes." ----- "With the upcoming 20th Party Congress likely to usher in an unprecedented third five-year term for Xi, there is good reason to believe that China’s growth sacrifice has only just begun."
Aug 23rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "Less widely noted, however, is that the prices of many commodities fell this summer. The price of oil decreased by about 30% between early June and mid-August. The politically sensitive price of gasoline in the United States fell by 20% over the same period, from $5 per gallon to $4 per gallon. The overall index fell 12%." ---- "There are two macroeconomic reasons to think that commodity prices in general will fall further. The level of economic activity is a self-evidently important determinant of demand for commodities and therefore of their prices. Less obviously, the real interest rate is another key factor. And the current outlook for both global growth and real interest rates suggests a downward path for commodity prices."
Aug 22nd 2022
EXTRACT: "How Trump planned to use the classified documents remains a question that investigators presumably have made a high priority. Depending on the answer and the resulting charges, if any, one thing is certain: Trump will play hardball, including by amplifying his claims of victimhood at the hands of the fictional Deep State, and denying any wrongdoing in purloining the documents. His lies and hyperbole, however, don’t preclude seeking a plea deal. In his previous tangles with the law, such as his Trump University scam, he agreed to compensate the victims (in that case $25 million) after his prevarications were exhausted."
Aug 21st 2022
"On one side, there is the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, for whom all but the most partisan Tory would struggle to count many successes during her lengthy cabinet career." ---- "Rishi Sunak, whose proposed policies appear more attuned to the imperative of tackling inflation and the hardship it is causing. But on the big issues of the past few years, Sunak has been wrong. He backed Brexit from the beginning, denies the damage it is doing, and enthusiastically supported Johnson’s bid for the premiership." ---- " Which of these two can offer honesty to the British people, who deserve to be treated like grown-ups? To paraphrase the US Democratic politician Adlai Stevenson, the average man and woman are better than average."
Aug 10th 2022
EXTRACT: "Central banks are thus locked in a “debt trap”: any attempt to normalize monetary policy will cause debt-servicing burdens to spike, leading to massive insolvencies, cascading financial crises, and fallout in the real economy. ---- With governments unable to reduce high debts and deficits by spending less or raising revenues, those that can borrow in their own currency will increasingly resort to the “inflation tax”: relying on unexpected price growth to wipe out long-term nominal liabilities at fixed rates."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: ".... the likelihood is that Biden, who spent his life as a senator, played a central behind-the-scenes role in turning Manchin around and keeping the Democratic Party Senators together on this pared-down version of Build Back Better. Biden’s legislative accomplishments, not to mention his administrative ones, will likely end up being very impressive for the first two years of his presidency. ------ In matters of climate, every ton of CO2 you don’t put into the atmosphere is a decrease in how hard life will be for our grandchildren. They will have reason to be grateful to President Biden and the Democratic Party if this bill becomes law."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, One America News (OAN), Newsmax, and talk radio are grossly abusing the right to free speech and are causing profound, if not irreparable damage to our country at home and abroad. They have been engaged in these deliberate practices of spreading poisonous misinformation all in the name of free speech." ---- "A team at MIT, analyzing propaganda techniques in the news, underscores the use of logical fallacies – such as strawmen (the misrepresentation of the other’s position), red herrings (the provision of irrelevancies), false dichotomies (offering two alternatives as the only possibilities), and whataboutism (a diversionary tactic to avoid directly addressing an issue). ---- Whataboutism is worth considering more closely because it is becoming ubiquitous among Republicans – perhaps this is not surprising given that it is certainly Trump’s “favorite dodge.” It is one of the fundamental rules by which he operates: when you are criticized, say that someone else is worse. In an interview with Trump, Bill O’Reilly states the obvious fact that “Putin is a killer,” and who can forget Trump’s response: “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” That is classic whataboutism. And it is also of course all over Fox News’ most popular line-up."
Jul 24th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For three hours, against the unequivocal advice of his counsel, friends, and family, Trump purposefully and steadfastly declined to give the mob he had summoned any signal to disperse, to exit the building peacefully, or to simply cease threatening the life of his vice president or other members of Congress." ------ "Trump is corrupt to the core, a traitor who deserves nothing but contempt and to spend the rest of his life behind bars because he remains a menace to this country and an existential threat to our democratic institutions."
Jul 21st 2022
EXTRACT: "For some countries, diasporas also are not new. Just ask the Russians. For three-quarters of a century, Stalin’s NKVD and its successor, the KGB, kept close tabs on expatriate Russians, constantly worrying about the threat they might pose. And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security service, the FSB, is continuing the tradition. According to recent FSB estimates, almost four million Russians left the country in the first three months of this year. Obviously, FSB statistics are hard to verify. But the sheer magnitude of this year’s departures is striking."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: "We need leaders who will be honest about our problems in the short, medium, and long term. We are becoming poorer than our neighbors, with our per capita growth and productivity lagging behind theirs. We confront surging energy prices, soaring inflation, and public-sector strikes. Our fiscal deficit is uncomfortably high. Our influence is diminished. Far from recognizing these challenges, let alone proposing sensible solutions, the candidates to succeed Johnson are trying to win votes with reckless proposals like ever-larger tax cuts." ----- "There is one exception. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak refuses to abandon the notion that expenditure should bear some relationship to revenue. "
Jul 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Looking ahead, five factors could make today’s energy crisis even worse. First, Putin has opened a second front in the conflict by cutting back on the contracted volumes of natural gas that Russia supplies to Europe. The goal is to prevent Europeans from storing enough supplies for next winter, and to drive prices higher, creating economic hardship and political discord. In his speech in June at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin made his reasoning clear: “Social and economic problems worsening in Europe” will “split their societies” and “inevitably lead to populism … and a change of the elites in the short term.” ...... As it is, Germany is now anticipating the need for gas rationing, and its minister for economic affairs, Robert Habeck, warns of a “Lehman-style contagion” (referring to the 2008 financial crisis) if Europe cannot manage today’s energy-induced economic disruptions."
Jul 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "Fortunately, I am not alone in claiming that the survival of democracy in the US is gravely endangered. The American public has been aroused by the decision overturning Roe. But people need to recognize that decision for what it is: part of a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime. We must do everything we can to prevent that. This fight ought to include many people who voted for Trump in the past."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."