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Analysis: An Arab 'peace offensive'

By
SANA ABDALLAH

AMMAN, Jordan, Aug. 26 (UPI) -- The Arabs decided to launch a "peace offensive" at the U.N. Security Council to give the international community a larger role in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all, but it will be no easy task.

Shortly after the Israeli-Lebanese war erupted last month, stunned Arab regimes came to the conclusion that the comatose peace process is effectively dead and should be reconceived, but under different terms and sponsorship, if wars, armed confrontations and bloodshed are ever to end in the Middle East.

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Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo last week decided it was time to launch an international peace initiative directly engaging the international community, through the U.N. Security Council, tacitly removing the peace process sponsorship from the United States and the Quartet Committee, which includes the European Union and Russia in addition to the United States and U.N.

Arab diplomats say their countries are making it clear they are no longer interested in incessant negotiations with Israel through what they see as dishonest and unfair brokers, in reference to Washington and its adoption of Israeli policies and plans for unilateral solutions.

While little information has been divulged on what the new Arab initiative involves, efforts are pouring into drafting a common vision based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which called on Israel to give up Arab territories it captured in 1967. The plan also appears to be another version of the initiative adopted at the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002 offering Israel normal relations with the Arab countries in return for Arab territories and a negotiated settlement for millions of Palestinian refugees.

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Analysts say that although drafting such a plan may not be so difficult, securing an Arab consensus amid political divisions and grabbing an international endorsement will be an uphill struggle.

Reports say that Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab countries with peace treaties with Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia, a strong U.S. ally, are drafting the initiative and analysts question whether all Arab countries will agree on a unified proposal.

But assuming all Arabs do agree, as they did on the Saudi-sponsored peace initiative at the Beirut Arab summit four years ago, but without holding a summit this time, they will need to sell it to Western capitals and the U.N. Security Council, especially its five permanent members.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Mousa said last week the Arabs had no illusions that "our mission is easy or can necessarily be accomplished," but claimed relentless efforts will be made to put the Middle East conflict on the Security Council agenda according to international legitimacy and through direct negotiations with Israel.

Analysts say while this is a good time to lay a peace plan to the world as international attention is refocused on the region in the aftermath of the Israeli war on Lebanon and its repercussions, two major players -- Israel and the United States -- may be too busy in their own affairs to respond positively. Israel is dealing with an internal political crisis stemming from its performance in the war against Hezbollah and the U.S. administration's attention will likely be focused on legislative elections at home.

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Nevertheless, Arab diplomats in Amman told United Press International on condition of anonymity that the selling points they carry to the West, especially to Washington, as they seek support they hope will pressure Israel into sitting on the negotiating table, under Security Council sponsorship, are "hard to resist."

One diplomat said the Arabs will warn their American and Western counterparts in the Security Council that the Middle East will remain an open ground for wars and conflicts if the international community does not take responsibility and action to resolve their root causes that respect Palestinian and Arab rights.

He added it will be made clear that Arab governments - most of which are U.S. allies - will no longer tolerate the status quo and will have to find "other political means" to deal with Israel.

Another diplomat, who also wished to remain anonymous, claimed that "our patience with Israel's stalling is running out and we cannot continue to sit idly by as it imposes its own solutions through force." He ruled out a military confrontation, but did not reveal what "other political means" entail.

Arab analysts are skeptical of finding success at the Security Council, in which dozens of resolutions related to the Arab-Israeli conflict have been vetoed by the United States, if the Arabs don't go united and with strong cards.

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Former Jordanian ambassador to the U.N., Hassan Abu Nimah, recently wrote in Jordan's independent al-Ghad daily that the Arabs seem to have no choice but to throw their own responsibilities on the Security Council, "which is as ineffective" in its will as the Arab order.

He suggested that in order for an Arab proposal to resonate in the international community, the Arabs must pour serious effort into revamping the 2002 initiative, which was rejected by Israel and ignored by the U.N., by closing all gaps that "were deliberately left open to try to sell it to Israel" and the international community.

Instead, the former ambassador wrote, these gaps "encouraged Israel to exploit the Arab weakness in exaggerating its rejection," thus losing its "serious momentum and real meaning" in the international community.

Abu Nimah argued that what made the Arab initiative even more flimsy was an absence of any clear indication of what the Arabs will do if their plan is rejected, which he said had prompted the Israeli rejection and international underestimation of the plan.

"There is a big difference between the Arab foreign ministers seeking action from the Security Council, and going with strength to the United Nations to say: 'There must be a solution to the conflict within a specific period of time; otherwise, the matter will be left to the resistance organizations,'" he wrote.

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In other words, the Arabs can use the card of the resistance -- after the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah guerilla group put up a stiff resistance against the Israeli military attacks for 33 days that drew massive support from the Arab street -- if it wants to give credence to its new peace plan.

This could be the only way for the Arabs to turn their initiative into a real "peace offensive" that might bring tangible results towards ending the Middle East conflict.

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