The Institute for Middle East Understanding

We should call Israel's bet, then raise
Rami G. Khouri, The Daily Star, Nov 30, 2009

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a business conference in Tel Aviv. (Moti Milrod, Maan Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's announcement a few days ago, that Israel would suspend all new housing construction in the occupied West Bank for 10 months, while other building and colonial ventures continued, reminds us that we are passing through another episode of a long-running tale of biblical proportions: Arabs and Israelis reject or stall American peace-making efforts; stalemate ensues amid mutual accusations of insincerity; Israel takes a unilateral initiative that many hail as a positive step, but that the Arabs see as not enough and mostly deception; and the conflict and stalemate persist for decades.

Like all biblical tales, this one has plenty of drama, tension, heroic and tragic characters, tantalizing transformational possibilities, and nearly cosmic consequences. Also like all biblical tales, it ends on a note of monumental ambiguity: You can read into it anything you wish, and interpret it as you like. Well, it is time to rewrite this script, and shake up the cast. The Palestinians and Arabs should be the ones who take command of their destiny and get more seriously involved in this process as more than just passive victims and spectators.

I have a suggestion. The Netanyahu move does not meet the legitimate demands of the Palestinians, the Obama administration, Security Council resolutions or international law and conventions, yet we should not merely dismiss it and remain diplomatically frozen. Israel is offering to commit only half the crimes it has committed for the last 40 years, by reducing the scale and pace of its colonization of occupied Arab lands. American, British, French and other Western officials find this a positive step forward, and are free to wade in their moralistic mud pits and diplomatic fantasy worlds. We should no longer play this ugly game, whose operative contours are what Israel and its proxies in Washington allow the US government to do in the Middle East.

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Rather, the Palestinians and Arabs this week should acknowledge the partial and symbolic gesture by Israel to the United States as precisely what it is: a partial and symbolic gesture to the US, not a serious, substantive move to engage the Arabs in a comprehensive peace process. We should take the next move to generate a new and better dynamic.

After consultations with key players in the region, the Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa, should announce that in response to the sincere American effort to re-start comprehensive peace talks, and to take the Israeli gesture to its logical conclusion, a delegation of Arab foreign ministers and the secretary general of the Arab League will be at United Nations headquarters in Geneva at 10:00 a.m. on December 10 to negotiate comprehensive, permanent, mutually agreed peace and coexistence arrangements with the state of Israel.

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