Discussing the Arab peace initiative at the H
Discussing the Arab peace initiative at the H Herzliya Conference

A diverse group of political figures representing the right and left, including Yuval Rabin, co-author of the Israeli Peace Initiative, and Dani Dayan, former head of the Yesha Council, debated the merits of the Arab Peace Initiative at a round-table discussion at the Herzliya Conference on Monday.

The Arab Peace Initiative was originally proposed in 2002 by the Saudi government. The intiative demanded that Israel surrender all land liberated in the 1967 Six Day War, and a return to the 1948 armistice lines.

The deal was the best Israel was going to get, said Ashraf al Ajrami, former PA Minister for Prisoner Affairs, who participated in the panel. "The Arab Peace Initiative can give Israel what it needs all along - peace with the Arab world, the regional envelope, and international support. It's the only plan that can give Israel the ability to be integrated in the region,” he said. However, he added, Israeli leaders have repeatedly rejected the plan as unrealistic or irresponsible.

Rabin said he launched his own plan, essentially the same as the Arab initiative, because he felt that Israel lost the initiative by failing to respond properly to the Arab peace plan. He added that the issues of peace with the Arab world will have to be addressed sooner or later. "There is no stable state," he said. "It's an illusion to rely on the relative calm to disregard the burning issues we need to deal with."

Dayan said he believed a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians was no longer possible. "The expectation that Israel will accept in a governmental decision returning to the 1967 lines and the "right of return"…no responsible Israeli leader will accept that," he said. "[A two-state solution] is the prelude another regional conflict."

Shalom Turgeman, who served as an advisor to Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert disputed that the demands of the Arab plan were unrealistic. The problem with the plan, he said, was not its content but its timing.

"The Arab Peace Initiative is about two issues – borders, which are negotiable, and refugees, which are negotiable," he said. "Israel wasn't ready in 2002, but was ready in 2007, and the Arabs hesitated. Now, the Arabs are ready, and Israel is not."

Omer Bar-Lev, and MK with the Labor party, said he was not deterred by the fact that the plan may be unrealistic. "The whole Zionist movement was illogical and irrelevant," he said. "It was based on leadership, will, spirit, and courage."

Those qualities, he said, were echoed in comments from Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni at a Herzliya Conference session the previous evening.

Danny Rothschild, former chairman of the Herzliya Conference, said the next development he'd like to see in the plan is to bring Arab leaders into the process, rather than just offering normal relations at the very end.

"It's hard to explain to the man in the street what he's getting," Rothschild said. "That way, we can show that there is something in it for him."