For decades, Israelis have tried to convey the fictitious and somewhat paranoid idea that their tiny, helpless Jewish state is perpetually under threat because it is surrounded by perennially hostile Arab regimes. At no point in history has this idea seemed as absurd and out of touch with reality as it does now. Quite the contrary, the Arab League summit in Riyadh this year extended a hand of peace to Israel yet another time, re-adopting the Saudi-penned peace initiative which was first unanimously approved by all Arab states in 2002 in Beirut and accepted at subsequent gatherings.That certainly never happened in the past.
But as in the past, Israel's response to the renewal of the Arab League's historic offer has been remarkably cold. Israeli officials initially rejected it out of hand, saying that they could not possibly accept the offer in its current form. Premier Ehud Olmert later tried to soften Israel's stance, and on Sunday he said that he would be "willing to hold a dialogue with any grouping of Arab states about their ideas." But there is little point in discussing the details of the offer, particularly since it is straightforward, arguably even generous, and more importantly, grounded in international law. Instead of jostling to secure themselves a better deal (and more Arab land), the Israelis ought to accept the principles of the offer as it stands.
The Israelis would be foolish to assume that they can continue to occupy Arab lands indefinitely or to think that that they have the leisure of postponing peace until a later date. As Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani put it over the weekend, "the Israelis should realize that antagonizing the Arabs and delaying the delivery of their rights is not in their interest, and that it could bring a catastrophe to Israel." It is possible, he added, that the Israelis "might face in the future an Arab generation that rejects peace with them."
Sheikh Hamad is correct to point out that future generations of Arabs will be less likely to make peace overtures if they grow up knowing that such offers were flatly turned down so many times in the past. The Israelis should consider the message that they would be sending to the more than 300 million people around them if they reject this current Arab hand of peace. We would have no choice but to believe the evidence in front of us: that the Israelis simply do not want to abide by international law or exist in peace with their neighbors.