Yes to 'salam'
Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 20, 2008
The Muslim and Arab world - presumably excluding Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah - have just made an unprecedented overture to the people of Israel. By coincidence, it comes just as al-Qaida reached out to the American people with their reaction to the election of Barack Obama.
In al-Qaida's insipid stab at winning friends and influencing people, Ayman al-Zawahiri surfaces in a Web video to denounce the president-elect as a hypocrite and an abeed al-beit - or "house Negro."
Osama bin-Laden's deputy, who is seen only in a still photo and whose message is read by a narrator, says that despite the election of an African American "born to a Muslim father," the US doesn't genuinely have a "new face."
The video unfavorably contrasts Obama with black Muslim icon Malcolm X. As archival footage presents Malcolm championing black chauvinism and warning that, "The house negro is always looking out for his master," Obama is pictured wearing a white kippa at the Western Wall with Zawahiri accusing him of praying "the prayer of the Jews."
He speaks directly to Obama, betraying al-Qaida's trepidation at the prospect that the incoming president will reach out to Iran, pull out of Iraq, and focus US military efforts in Afghanistan. He implicitly addresses America's black Muslims, cautioning them against moderation. He tries to scare Americans into opposing Obama's plan to commit more US troops in Afghanistan. He also wants them to pressure their government to halt attacks on the tribal regions along the border with Pakistan.
Altogether, pathetic and unconvincing.
IN CONTRAST, the Arab world's effort to appeal directly to the Israeli people is welcome and arguably constructive.
The PA purchased space in this and other Israeli newspapers (see page 11) seeking support for the 2002 Saudi-inspired Arab League peace initiative. The ad also ran, in Arabic, in several Palestinian papers.
Let's admit that we find ourselves tantalized by an offer from 57 Muslim and Arab countries to establish full diplomatic and "normal" relations in return for an Israel pullback to the 1949 Armistice Lines. It certainly beats the last offer we got - from Khartoum in August 1967 - "No peace, no negotiation and no recognition."
Whoever drafted this dull advertisement isn't going to win any copywriting awards. But even Madison Avenue couldn't sell what is, at the end of the day, a bad "product."
The initiative is being offered on a "take it or leave it" basis when it should be presented as a starting point for negotiations. Most Israelis want a land-for-peace formula based on the "1967-plus" formula enshrined in President George W. Bush's 2004 letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon.
The ad touts as its cornerstone General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948, which was drafted when there were, maybe, 700,000 Palestinian Arab refugees. Today the UN figures there are 4.6 million.
The archaic GA Res. 194 wanted "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace [to] be permitted to do so." But if implemented all these years later, 194 would be Israel's demographic death-knell.
Plainly, the only viable solution is for the Arab refugees to be resettled in the Arab world and in a Palestinian state that is created alongside Israel - not in Israel itself.
The resolution is so antiquated that it calls for the protection of holy places in Nazareth. And far from calling for east Jerusalem to be the the capital of a Palestinian state, it says Jerusalem and Bethlehem "should be accorded special and separate treatment from the rest of Palestine and should be placed under effective United Nations control."
Equally troubling, neither the ad nor the Saudi plan itself acknowledge the inalienable right of the Jewish people to a national homeland within agreed borders.
So Israelis - across the political spectrum - will find the Arab Peace Initiative deficient.
Still, most of us, though disappointed that an offer which falls so short of Israel's minimal needs comes so late, will find themselves agreeing with President Shimon Peres: This is an overture worth exploring.
After so much bloodshed and suffering on both sides, we implore the Arab and Muslim world: Let us not make propaganda. Let us not wait another 60 years. Let us make peace.