Suddenly, with no prior notice, the Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi proposed an initiative to achieve a true Palestinian reconciliation, in preparation for achieving a Palestinian-Israel peace agreement. This agreement aims to open the door to make deep changes in the region and turning the cold Egyptian-Israeli peace into a warm peace.
Al-Sisi did not reveal the content of his initiative, but the announcement coincided with his talk of the situation in Israel, who he urged to respond to the requirements of peace. This is a sign that was understood and interpreted as a reflection of his hope that a change will be made in the governing coalition that would allow for the launch of his initiative.
After Al-Sisi's speech, a number of Israeli sources said that his initiative did not come out of nowhere, and that it was a result of an effort made by a number of parties, including Tony Blair who visited Egypt and Israel on numerous occasions for this purpose. In addition to this, Yitzhak Molcho, adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, visited Cairo many times when work was being done to include the Zionist Camp, led by Isaac Herzog, in the government in order to alleviate some of its extremism and enable it to participate in the implementation of the French initiative. This French initiative was rejected by Netanyahu in the past; he favoured an agreement on the conditions and references of the on-going settlement process, which he has vigorously been trying to revive.
Instead of including the Zionist Camp and Herzog in the government, the extremist Avigdor Lieberman, who had called for "the destruction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt" and for "turning the Gaza Strip into a football stadium" was included in the government. This is after Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon was pushed to resign, despite the fact that he wanted to "iron the Palestinian consciousness" and stubbornly refused the establishment of a Palestinian state. However, this was a punishment for him due to some of the professional and moral positions he openly expressed, such as his defence of the deputy chief of staff's description of what was happening in Israel as similar to what happened in Nazi Germany before the rise of Hitler.
Herzog also said that Netanyahu lost a historic opportunity and that his actions were insane. Indeed, including Lieberman in his government was a blow to all the mediators and those seeking to rescue what is left of the two-state solution, including Al-Sisi. It put them in an awkward situation; how can Al-Sisi go through with his initiative after the right-wing, religious and most extremist parties have taken over Israel? It has even reached the point that Ya'alon addressed the extremism that has taken control of Likud and the government in his resignation speech, as well as during the press conference held afterwards. This also drove former Prime Minister Ehud Barak to warn against the signs of fascism in Israel.
We are afraid to listen to opinions justifying the actions taken to propose moderate Arab initiatives, despite the fact that Lieberman has joined the government, because it may expose and embarrass Netanyahu's government and help convince the influential parties of the international decision to pressure Israel. This is a possibility that deserves to be discussed, but cannot be relied on, as on one hand, the entire world is afraid of the repercussions of the rampant extremism in Israel and from the decline, or death, of the so-called two state solution. However, on the other hand, we must take the following into account:
First, the Arab situation is in its worst conditions given the civil, doctrinal and sectarian wars that have practically divided a number of Arab countries, most significantly Iraq and Syria, and threaten to divide other countries. This threatens further Arab concessions, evidenced by the increased Israel-Saudi meetings, albeit on an unofficial level and the increased talk about a Sunni Arab-Israeli meeting to confront what is known as the Iranian threat. In addition to this, if what we are hearing from Israel's Channel 10 is true, Saudi Arabia has expressed its willingness to amend two of the Arab initiative's clauses (regarding the Golan Heights and the right of return), while the Arabs have previously expressed a willingness to add the concept of "land exchanges or swaps" which legitimise settlements, to the initiative. We have also heard talk about American efforts being made in order to remove the condition of Arab normalisation with Israel as a condition for accepting the initiative and instead urging Israel to accept the initiative. This was recently requested by France in order for its initiative to succeed. The situation in the Arab world is a weak point, making it tempting to pressure the Arabs, thus making them more prone to responding to the pressure than Israel.
Secondly, Egypt is in a bad situation, if not in its worse situation, given the economic conditions in the country and the war on terror. Al-Sisi is not like Sadat who was armed with the October victory when he made the initiative to visit Israel. Therefore, whatever means Al-Sisi possesses to pressure Israel will be reliant on returning to the futile negotiations. This is because no practical person can imagine Netanyahu's government agreeing to enter negotiations with international auspices and references, regardless of whether Herzog is included or not. There has also been news of Israel possibly changing its position on the French initiative after France promises that the international conference will not be a substitute for bilateral negotiations, but rather a platform to launch them.
Thank you to Netanyahu who missed the opportunity to achieve new historical achievements for Israel. This is because he realised that the success of the French and Egyptian initiatives will threaten his government. He also has not lost hope in the fact that the Arabs, who are weak and torn, will seek to ally with him. In this case, the Palestinian cause will be the victim on the premises that peace can only be achieved by the extremist right wing in Israel. The proof of this is the fact that it was Menachem Begin's government that signed the peace treaty with Anwar Sadat.
Some Palestinians welcomed the French initiative and others rejected it before knowing its content, despite the fact that it is gradually progressing towards being similar to the Israeli positions and conditions. This is evidenced by the fact that France changed its position by proposing the draft resolution to the Security Council, which was its original plan two years ago. Instead, to made this step the final step after the draft resolution is agreed upon regionally and internationally in order for it not to face the American and Israeli veto.
France also backed down from its demand for a timeframe to end the negotiations and from its promise to recognise the Palestinian state if its initiative fails. We also saw that the French draft resolution included the recognition of the "Jewishness" of Israel, as well as France's shameful failure to vote in the UNESCO ballot and its withdrawal of its promise to fix this mistake in the next vote. All of this is France's response to Israel's rejection of the French initiative which may even reach the point of asking France to add a clause in the initiative that recognises the Jewish link to Jerusalem by means of the so-called Temple Mount.
In order for the Arab position not to be viewed as extreme or reigned, they must insist that the reference for any action must be the recognition of UN resolution 19/67, which includes the end of the occupation and the establishment of a state. However, if the reference of any political action, such as the current French action, is unclear or incomplete, it will lead to one thing: the stronger party will impose its views and interpretations on the weaker party.
Taking action without a clear and binding reference will make the Arab and non-Arab mediators' goals either to take action in an effort to avoid a vacuum that may be filled with other undesired initiatives and parties, which would be bad because it will keep the current ever-deteriorating status quo. Or, their goal will be to mediate between the two current Palestinian and Israeli positions, where Israel is completely extreme and the Palestinians and Arabs are extremely moderate, which means reaching any compromise will be based on imposing more conditions and demands on the Palestinians.
After the failure of the so-called "peace process" and after Israel has withdrawn, even from the infamous Oslo Accords, and assumed its previous positions, the Palestinian must go back to the starting point and withdraw all of the heavy concessions they made. These include the recognition of Israel's right to exist on 78 per cent of Palestine's land, economic and security dependence, normalised relations, the rejection and renouncement of the resistance, and the acceptance of the concept of land exchanges and an agreed upon solution regarding the refugee issue.
Translated from Arabi21, 25 May 2016.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.