Don't panic March 13 2002

What is the Saudi peace plan for the Middle East, and what do they mean by 1967 borders"?"

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud recently threw his hat (actually, his headdress) into the Israeli-Palestinian dispute with a new proposal for peace. In exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, all Arab countries would normalize their relations with Israel. In addition, if the Israelis promise to quit making "camel" jokes, the Arabs have vowed to lay off the "cheap" jokes.

The Saudi proposal is essentially a restatement of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. The resolution came about in November 1967, just a few months after Israel defeated Arab armies in a six-day war known as, um, the Six-Day War. During that war — which, to clarify, lasted six days — Israel handily defeated its enemies, conquering large chunks of land from its three primary enemies: Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

From Egypt, Israel got the Sinai Peninsula. Despite being heavily outnumbered there, the Israelis had the advantage of knowing their way around pretty well because they once wandered there for 40 years. From Syria, Israel captured the Golan Heights, a hilly region located between the two countries, the possession of which is militarily advantageous. From Jordan, Israel grabbed the West Bank (home of the little town of Bethlehem) and East Jerusalem, site of the Western Wall (and this great little falafel joint around the corner from it, which you totally have to try if you ever go).

The premise behind U.N. Resolution 242 was — and is — that, as hard as the surrounding Arab nations had tried, Israel was there to stay. So instead of fighting the same war over and over again, why not just give the land conquered in 1967 back to the Arabs in exchange for a peace treaty? Easy enough, right? Not really.

Many Israelis want to keep the Golan Heights and some of the West Bank. And pretty much all of them want to keep the whole of Jerusalem. On the other side, the Arab countries weren't really sure about whether they wanted to recognize the validity of, or make peace with, Israel. And after a while, Jordan didn't really want the West Bank back anymore, because it didn't want to deal with all of the Palestinians there — even though they are fellow Arabs.

After fighting another war to a stalemate in 1973, Egypt finally broke ranks with the rest of the Arab world and made peace with Israel. In exchange for the return of the Sinai Peninsula and economic aid from the United States, Egypt recognized, and made peace with, Israel in a 1979 agreement known as the Camp David Accord (so called because, rumor has it, then-President Jimmy Carter shuttled between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin at Camp David in a fuel-efficient Honda Accord).

Though the current Saudi proposal is based on an old plan, this is the first time Saudi Arabia has explicitly expressed a willingness to offer peace and full-diplomatic recognition to Israel. It's also the most significant move toward peace since the most recent Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation began in 2000. Other Arab nations, including Syria, have already indicated a willingness to go along with the proposal.

Each side's biggest obstacle won't be the other side, but rather the extremists on both sides. Drunk on the stupid belief that their god says it's all right to murder people in your efforts to possess "holy" land, extremists may need another bloody all-out war like 1973 or 1967 to make them see that a peace treaty is a good idea.

E-mail questions to andisheh@creativeloafing.com.??

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