Should Israel Fear a Peace Conference?

The problem with the current situation is that Pres. Trump is no doubt a friend of Israel, but he may be more interested in making a peace deal than in protecting Israel’s basic interests.  If he is organizing a Peace Conference where all the Arab countries will be represented, as indicated in his recent meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, then Israel’s worst fears may be realized, a total majority of Arab states, supported by a “neutral” US that wants a deal at any price.  

One thing that characterizes the Arabs is that they don’t compromise, the very word is not in their vocabulary.  They state their historic claims and Israel must accept or else no deal.  And if Israel gives in on one point, they don’t respond with a compromise, they demand more.  This is hard ball negotiating tactics, that neither the Israelis nor the US are able to respond to.  Historically Israel has always avoided such a peace conference because it would be ganged up on by all the Arabs, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Iraq (presumably Syria would be excluded), but how can Israel refuse Trump’s invitation, they can’t.

But, why is the Peace conference now more of a possible proposition than before? Because the Arab States are in a terrible mess.  Four previous States, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, are all engaged in civil wars and are essentially failed States (also include Muslim Somalia in that category).   They are facing serious threats from both IS, that is now on the run, and from Iran, that is increasingly bold and active.   They desperately need US support in this situation, and maybe even Israeli support against Iran if it comes to that.  That is why they are prepared to deal and as King Abdullah said they are ready to offer Israel recognition and peace.

But, what must Israel do to satisfy their Saudi/Arab Peace plan: 1. Accept the pre-June, 1967 ceasefire lines as its borders; 2. Accept back the bulk of the so-called Palestinian refugees; 3. Pay compensation for the suffering caused by previous wars; 4 Divide Jerusalem; 5. Accept a Palestinian State, and so on.  All these points are unacceptable to Israel.  1. The borders must include the parts of the West Bank that are now heavily populated by Israelis, including the cities of Ariel, Etzion and Ma’ale Adumim.  2. The actual surviving refugees are really down to less that 50,000 (not 1.5 million as the Palestinians claim).  3. The losses for the expulsions of Jews from Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Syria are far greater in amount than the losses due to the transfer of the Palestinians by their own volition. 4. Israel’s policy on its capital Jerusalem is clear, it will not be divided. 5. A Palestinian State might be acceptable to Israel, but on two conditions, it must be demilitarized and it must include Gaza, but without Hamas being in control.  How these issues can be compromised is difficult to foresee.

By King Abdullah of Jordan as spokesman for the Arabs emphasizing at the White House press conference that the Arabs regard the Israel-Palestinian conflict as the “core” conflict in the Middle East, he is trying to put pressure on Israel by the implication that to solve this conflict will ease all other conflicts. This is sheer nonsense.  Resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict will do nothing whatsoever to resolve the conflict with IS, the Syrian civil war, the powerful and underlying Shia-Sunni clash and many local clashes, such as in Yemen and Libya.  If Trump falls for this old canard he is less of a realist than I think he is.  But, nevertheless, the attraction of resolving “the problem of the century” may make Trump do things he might not otherwise do, such as twist Israel’s arm to accept a less than palatable outcome for Israel.  In that respect he may be no different than his predecessors.

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