By Ron Prosor
"The Palestinian Authority recently took the unprecedented step of advertising the Arab Peace Initiative in Hebrew, in the Israeli press. Adverts also appeared throughout the international media, including this newspaper. Many Israelis welcomed it as a step in the right direction.
Yet before the world shouts "eureka", it is important to realise that the Arab initiative cannot be seen as a "take it or leave it" offer. It cannot serve as a diktat, or replace the need for bilateral negotiations, on both the Palestinian and Syrian tracks. The plan is an interesting starting point for negotiations, but the international community should be under no illusions. Elements of the text are a cause for grave concern as regards the survivability of the state of Israel.
The demand that Palestinians should be able to relocate to areas inside the borders of the state of Israel jeopardises Israel's very existence. Most Israelis understand and support the creation of a future Palestinian state. It is difficult, however, to understand why Palestinians, having created a state of their own, would subsequently insist on sending their own people to the Jewish state. Instead of demographically undermining the state of Israel, surely Palestinians would be better able to help build their own nation within their own state.
Israel's concern over the future of Jerusalem should also not be underestimated. From time immemorial, Jerusalem has been the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and will always remain so. Meanwhile, the final borders between Israel and a Palestinian state can only be determined bilaterally. The 1967 borders might provide a reference point for negotiations, but the demographic realities and security concerns of Israel's population must be taken into account.
Nevertheless, the revival of interest in the plan, first proposed by the Saudi king in 2002, met with interest in Israel. In contrast, the reception elsewhere in the Middle East ranged from sceptical to hostile. Several Arab papers refused to publish an advert with the Israeli flag. For many, the very notion of Israeli statehood, as represented by our national flag, is still taboo.
The Iranian embassy, in a letter to the Guardian, was desperate to clarify its abhorrence for any recognition of "the illegitimate and fabricated Israeli regime". Iran's objections should surprise no one. Tehran has long supported the most militant, most violent, least conciliatory elements within Arab populations, such as Hizbullah and Hamas. It is no coincidence the revival of interest in the Arab initiative comes at a time of increased Arab fears about the aggressive policies of the Iranian regime, its extreme ideology and nuclear ambitions.
The world must encourage the responsible leadership of the Arab world, which in turn should promote a new spirit of pragmatism and enlightened self-interest among their peoples. In a recent speech in Abu Dhabi, David Miliband pointed out that "Arab states can rein in the power of those groups which would seek to torpedo the process". He also argued that "the Palestinians simply do not have enough on their own to offer the Israelis to clinch a deal". Both Israel and the Palestinians will require a broad umbrella of regional support as they negotiate a settlement.
The Saudis, Kuwaitis and other Gulf states could do more to encourage the Palestinians towards compromise. Instead of perpetuating unattainable fantasies that have long held back the Palestinian cause, they should help their Palestinian brethren set realistic, attainable goals. The international community should persuade the oil-rich Gulf countries to make more effective use of surplus revenues. One of the ironies blighting the Palestinians is that they receive far more support from the EU than from their supposedly concerned Arab brothers and sisters. Saudi Arabia has proved better at pledging than paying.
Elsewhere in the Gulf, while flamboyant firework displays light up the skies above luxury resorts, precious little is done to prevent the rockets fired from Gaza. While petrol dollars boost the budget at Manchester City, it is time to spend more on the infrastructure of Ramallah than the wages of Robinho.
The Arab initiative envisages peace between Israel and all 22 states of the Arab League, from Mauritania to Oman. To move that vision from rhetoric to reality, the wealthier Arab states must do more, politically, diplomatically and economically, to steer their less fortunate counterparts towards the path of moderation and progress.
For too long the Middle East has been crippled, as Arab populations have been force-fed the lie that Israel's destruction is both desirable and imminent. Today, as Iran continues to inject these poisonous concepts into the body of the region, the Middle East must abandon the mindset of the 1967 Khartoum conference and its infamous three noes.
For the 21st century, three realities must instead be acknowledged: Israel exists, Israel belongs, and recognising Israel would be to the benefit of every Arab society. Everyone in the region with the ability to promote this understanding must be urged to do so."
Ron Prosor is the Israeli ambassador in London
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008