A Flawed Basis for Middle East Peace

News Abroad

Dr. Jonathan Goldstein is a professor of history at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton and a writer for the History News Service.

No one should think that all peace agreements lead to an end to violence. They don't. As the recent killings in Northern Ireland demonstrate, the 1998 Good Friday peace accord, engineered by former Maine Senator George Mitchell to lessen Protestant/Catholic tensions in the Ulster counties, is now under threat.

So what can we expect, with Mitchell once again thrust into the middle as President Obama's negotiator in the tension-fraught Middle East, from any peace agreement he might work out there?

Mitchell has taken on the formidable task of reconciling Jews and Arabs. Both Obama and Mitchell consider Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah's April 2002 Middle East peace plan a building block toward peace. This document may instead prove to be a stumbling block. To their credit, the Saudis persuaded 21 other Arab states to agree to conditions under which all would recognize the state of Israel. The Saudi initiative thus has great merit, but only if it's a bargaining position subject to further negotiation. As it now stands, the proposal contains elements that will only prolong regional instability.

The Saudi plan proposes that Israel withdraw to the borders that existed just prior to the June 1967 Six Day War. Those "Auschwitz borders," in the words of Abba Eban, Israel's foreign minister at that time, would have given Arab states the opportunity to attack Israel and destroy Jewish religious sites. For 19 years after Israel became a state in 1948 the Arabs demolished synagogues, schools, homes and other relics of two thousand years of Jewish residence in Jerusalem's walled Old City. They fired in the direction of West Jerusalem's densely populated downtown residential neighborhoods, and Syria launched artillery barrages at farms of Central Galilee.

The Saudi proposal implies that indefensible borders and desecrated religious sites would not be a problem if Israel would only enable the Palestinians to establish their own state in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The Saudis fail to mention that on at least three occasions Israel has offered to recognize a Palestinian state in virtually all of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The first offer came at the moment of Israel's birth in 1947-48, pursuant to a United Nations partition plan calling for separate Jewish and Arab states in what had been British colonial Palestine. The Arab response was to attack the fledgling Jewish state. Egypt and Jordan seized precisely the territories the United Nations had set aside for a Palestinian state, namely the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

In 2000 and 2001 the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, repeated the recognition offer but did not even get a counter-proposal from the Palestinians. Instead Israel received a barrage of kamikaze-style bombings, which escalated into rocket attacks against two of Israel's most densely populated cities, Ashkelon and Ashdod. When extrapolated over a population of seven million, those attacks were even more devastating, proportionally, than the tragic attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Arab rejection of Israeli offers to recognize a Palestinian state makes clear the most serious flaw in the Saudi proposal. No political or territorial compromise on the part of Israel, including diplomatic recognition of a Palestinian state, retreat to indefensible borders or relinquishment of protection of synagogues and Jewish religious sites, will satisfy extremist Islamic groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

These Islamic groups reject recognition of the Jewish state and pledge continued violence against Israel. But unlike Irish Republican Army renegade thugs, these Islamic factions are part and parcel of the Lebanese and Palestinian Authority governments and enjoy extensive state sponsorship from Iran. The Saudi plan resembles Mitchell's Good Friday accord in that both fail to deal adequately with different types of renegade elements.

A peace agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors should be a result of negotiation, not a list of stipulations which one side must accept or reject. It should involve significant concessions from both sides and not only from Israel as the Saudis now require. Although called a peace initiative, the Saudi proposal promotes conflict rather than peace in the region.

It would be well for Obama and Mitchell to reject the Saudi proposal as it now stands as a building block toward peace. Otherwise, Israelis and Palestinians may be headed toward increased rather than diminished violence as a result of a flawed agreement.

This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Thaddeus Brodrick Noble - 4/6/2009

If Isreal did pull back entirely with in pre-1967 borders, all parties signed onto the peace agreement, Israel stayed within their borders and the Arabs did the same, peace might just have a chance. Wouldn't John Lennon be proud !!!

But I think world opinion is that once a Jew has possession of one of your socks you will never get it back
in this lifetime.

Perhaps it is time for Israel to change world opinion, step up to the plate, show the world that they really are willing to make the ultimate concession to make peace a final and lasting reality. Perhaps in our lifetime the socks will again become a matched pair.

art eckstein - 4/5/2009

Don't worry, Peter--Omar is not capable of a rational conversation on the basis of evidence. In fact, he's often stunned when asked to provide specific evidence for his assertions, and he can rarely do so. That's the intellectual world he lives in, and it tells you something about the problem the Israelis face. He's just a propagandist of hate.

Peter Kovachev - 4/5/2009

Gosh, Omar, methinks you're right; seems like two days after your discovery of the neferaious nature of my "unadorned" Zionism, the "other readers" are so upset, they have been rendered speechless!

omar ibrahim baker - 4/3/2009

I never had any doubts about that!
I only mention it to make sure that other readers read for themselves what " unadorned", i.e. PR free, Zionists believe in and hanker after!

Peter Kovachev - 4/2/2009

Omar, for fear of sounding pedantic, the term was "shooting range," which, once again, is usually assumed to mean hand weapons, the kind that spew bullets.

Congratulation on your ability to notice what should be obvious, that I'm a Zionist, perhaps even an "unadorned" one, whatever on earth you mean by that. I thought I've made that clear plenty of times in the past, so no need for you to rush to the patents office. Yes, I'm a Zionist and proud of it. So, what's your point?

omar ibrahim baker - 4/1/2009

1-Re range.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language defines range as:
"The maximum extent or distance limiting operation, action, or effectiveness, as of a projectile, aircraft, radio signal, or sound. "

2-Re "If you were to ask me, I'd ask for "ICBM range."
That is real unadorned Zionism as I have maintained all along.
Thanks for the confirmation!

Peter Kovachev - 4/1/2009


"Shooting range" usually refers to personal weapons such as hand guns and rifles. When Jerusalem was divided and occupied by Jordan, Arab snipers specialized in targetting civilians...something which seems to be a bit of a tradition, looking at history and current behaviour. If you were to ask me, I'd ask for "ICBM range."

omar ibrahim baker - 3/31/2009

Aside from the usual verbiage and pseudo sophistry that permeate this article all exclusively destined to defend, advocate and justify Israel’s desire to retain as much as it could possibly get away with of lands occupied in 1967 there is a real gem of geopolitical perception.
A Professor of history no less asserts:

“The Saudi plan proposes that Israel withdraw to the borders that existed just prior to the June 1967 Six Day War. Those "Auschwitz borders," in the words of Abba Eban, Israel's foreign minister at that time, would have given Arab states the opportunity to attack Israel and destroy Jewish religious sites.”

By which the illustrious Professor means that:
1-Israel is mainly worried about its “religious sites”
And more revealing that:
2-the Arabs should NOT, via Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, be within a shooting distance of Israel.

What is the “shooting distance now? Is it:
a– the “mortar” range or
b- a “howitzer” range or
c- a “missile” range
May the Professor elucidate?

Peter Kovachev - 3/31/2009

What noble sentiments, Mr Noble, especially Jews-stealing-socks analogy.

Apart from the question of what "world opinion" means (i.e., a gaggle of tyrannical governments and corrupt NGOs?), how just it may be and what value it has, the only clear "ultimate concession" desired by the Arab world, the concocted "Palestinians," Muslim governments and proxy terror groups is the kind that would see Jews ethnically cleansed from their homeland or once again converted to carbon. Now, that would be real peace, wouldn't it?

Are you sure Lennon would've been proud of you, or do you think he might've had an inexplicable urge to shower and scrub with borax in response to your commentary?