The Anti-Defamation League took out a full page ad (pdf) in today’s New York Times opposing President Obama’s pressure on Israeli settlements. The ADL insists that “the problem isn’t settlements, it’s Arab rejection”:
The obstacle to peace is not Israel. The settlements are not the impediment. The issue is simple: the Arab and Palestinian rejection of Israel’s right to exist, including through violence and terrorism, for over 60 years. Israel’s right to exist is undeniable and is based on its right to self-determination in its historic homeland.
The path to peace is clear. With recognition, Israel has said again and again that everything is on the table without preconditions. Mr. President, it’s time to stop pressuring our vital friend and ally. It’s now time to direct your attention to the rejectionists who refuse to recognize Israel and negotiate an end to the conflict.
The claim of “Arab rejectionism” would probably make a lot more sense if the Arab League had not offered full recognition and normalization with Israel in 2002, in the form of the Arab Peace Initiative. In a meeting with Secretary Clinton last Friday, the Saudi Foreign Minister reiterated the offer, saying “The whole world knows what a settlement should look like:”
Withdrawal from all the occupied territories, including Jerusalem; a just settlement for the refugees; and an equitable settlement of issues such as water and security.
The Arab world is in accord with such a settlement through the Arab Peace Initiative adopted at the 2002 Arab Summit in Beirut which not only accepted Israel, but also offered full and complete peace and normal relations in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territories occupied in ’67. This initiative was adopted unanimously by the Islamic countries at Makkah Summit in 2005.
As with Israeli conditions, the conditions of the Initiative should be seen as a starting point for negotiations. Back in May, U.S. envoy George Mitchell confirmed that the Initiative would be incorporated into Obama’s Middle East peace plan.
Though a number of Israeli leaders have publicly discussed the Initiative, Israel has never officially responded to the offer of full recognition. Certainly there are factions that continue to reject Israel, but given the unprecedented scope and historic significance of the 2002 offer, it’s pretty counterproductive to continue to pretend that those factions are dominant, or that there hasn’t been any appreciable change in opinion among Arab publics “for over 60 years”. As with Arab condemnation of Israel, which President Obama rightly condemned in his Cairo speech, it seems that the spectre of “Arab rejectionism” is a difficult instrument for the Israeli right, and their friends here in the U.S., to give up.
Incidentally, it’s unsurprising that the ADL does not consider settlements an impediment to peace. According to its web page, the ADL maintains that the settlements are not really illegal, which goes against the overwhelming international legal consensus on settlements, while reflecting the position of the Israeli government.