Israeli Critic Calls Saudi Plan Suicidal

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - A five-year old Saudi initiative for Israeli-Palestinian "peace" that is being recycled by the Arab world and others in a bid to move forward the Arab-Israeli negotiating process is more like a suicide pact than a peace process, according to a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S.

The initiative is a "recipe for the destruction of Israel" as it currently stands, and it furthermore allows no room for change, Zalman Shoval said Tuesday.

The plan's references to Palestinian refugees' return to Israel and to Israel returning to borders that would exclude the entire West Bank, Golan Heights and Jerusalem are suicidal, he told Cybercast News Service.

Ahead of a meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday evening, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert voiced hope that a meeting of Arab heads of state in Riyadh would reaffirm "the positive elements" of the 2002 Saudi initiative and strengthen the chances of negotiations.

The initiative, which Israel rejected out of hand five years ago, offered full normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories it captured during the 1967 Six-Day war, including the eastern section of Jerusalem.

Later, a reference was added to the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees - an attempt to make the initiative more palatable to Arab League member states.

Foreign Ministry deputy spokeswoman Zehavit Ben Hillel said that from Israel's perspective, the upside to the initiative was recognition of Israel and a chance to move towards ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The downside is the question of refugees," Ben Hillel said.

Both Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have reiterated that United Nations resolution 194 - which covers the "right of return" issue - is a "red line" for Israel, Ben Hillel said.

Shoval noted that resolution 194 would entail hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants moving to Israel.

Israeli politicians across the political spectrum agree that because of high Arab birthrates such a move would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

An unnamed Arab diplomat was quoted Monday as saying Israel should accept the "right of return" in principle now and then it should negotiate the details of its implementation.

Shoval said that was like agreeing to commit suicide and then negotiating the terms of how to carry it out.

He also warned against the plan's call for Israel to return to 1967 borders, noting that this would leave Syria in control of territory running all the way down to the Sea of Galilee. The lake is Israel's largest source of drinking water.

Although the Israeli-Syrian front has been quiet for decades, Syria remains hostile to Israel. It also hosts the headquarters of the most radical Palestinian terror groups in its capital and backs the Hizballah terrorist organization in Lebanon.

Left-wing members of Israel's Labor Party have been viewing the Saudi initiative in a positive light.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz of Labor told the American pro-Israel lobby AIPAC that the Saudi initiative could represent a breakthrough in efforts to advance the peace process, and Livni was also quoted as referring to "positive elements" in the Saudi plan when addressing the lobby.

Senior Labor Party lawmaker Colette Avital called the initiative "very good" and said that while not everything in it was acceptable to Israel, it could serve as a basis for moving forward.

Since Israeli-Palestinian talks are at a standstill, there are new regional realities with so-called "moderate" Arab states who are interested in recognizing Israel, she said in a radio interview. It would be "very stupid on the part of Israel not to take advantage of that new situation."

Shoval argued, however, that while positions in the Saudi initiative are "perfectly legitimate" as starting points, the plan sets those positions as "preconditions."

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