World and Nation

Arab Leaders Will Press Israel For Response to Peace Initiative

Arab leaders will threaten to rescind their offer of full relations with Israel in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands unless Israel gives a positive response to their initiative, indicating the Arab states’ growing disillusionment with the prospects of a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At an Arab League meeting in March in Syria, the leaders plan to reiterate support for their initiative, first issued in 2002. The initiative promised Israel normalization with the league’s 22 members in return for the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as the capital, and a resolution of the issue of Palestinian refugees.

But this time, “there will be a message to Israel emphasizing the need to respond to the initiative; otherwise, Arab states will reassess the previous stage of peace,” said Muhammad Sobeih, assistant secretary-general of the Arab League in charge of the Palestinian issue. “They will withdraw the initiative and look for other options. It makes no sense to insist on something that Israel is rejecting.”

Many Arab leaders never warmly embraced the idea of a two-state solution to the conflict because of their distaste for Israel, but they accepted it as a means to stabilize the region and tamp down extremism. Now, however, there is a growing feeling that Israel wants to create only a rump Palestinian state that would be neither viable nor truly sovereign. And that, officials say, is not only unacceptable, but also dangerous.

That perception hit Arab leaders hard when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians crashed through the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt in January, in the wake of an Israeli policy to cut off supplies to Gaza to protest the rule of Hamas there and the continuing rocket fire on Israel.

When the Palestinians poured into Egypt, suddenly, officials in both Jordan and Egypt — the only neighbors with peace treaties with Israel — grew frightened that Israel planned to solve its Palestinian problem by forcing Egypt to absorb Gaza, and Jordan the West Bank.

“The crisis was an awakening for those who didn’t know or were not familiar with plans or ideas to drop Gaza on Egypt’s shoulder,” said an Egyptian government official speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the subject. Israeli officials have said over the years that they would like Egypt to take over administration of Gaza.

As a result, there is a growing sentiment in Arab states that the principle at the core of the peace process — the two-state solution — has no future. Increasingly, the peace process, once aimed at figuring out how to get from here to there, is back to a more fundamental point: where to go.

“There Is No Longer Space for Two States on the Palestinian Land,” read a headline in a recent edition of Al Hayat, a pan-Arab newspaper in London.

One of Egypt’s English-language newspapers, The Egyptian Mail, ran this headline about a week later: “No Hope for Two-State Solution.”

Egyptians and Jordanians say that the way events have evolved, there is no likelihood that a real Palestinian state would be formed.