Alon Ben-Meir - March 27, 2007
Dr. ALON BEN-MEIR – His exceptional knowledge and insight gained by more than 25 years of direct involvement with foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, have allowed Dr. Alon Ben-Meir to offer a unique and invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, ethnic conflict, and international negotiations.
A noted journalist and author, Dr. Ben-Meir is the Middle East Director of the World Policy Institute at the New School for Social Research, and a professor of International Relations and Middle-Eastern studies at the Center for Global Studies at NYU and at the New School. Born in Baghdad and currently residing in New York City, he holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University.
In addition to his essays on contemporary global conflict oriented issues, Dr. Ben-Meir writes a weekly syndicated column about current international policies and events, which is published by United Press International.
Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Dr. Ben-Meir began his career as a journalist. His frequent travels to the Mid-East and conversations with highly placed sources in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Israel, and Palestine provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness of and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news.
Dr. Ben-Meir is the author of numerous books, including: The Middle East: Imperative and Choices, Israel: The Challenge of the Fourth Decade, In Defiance of Time, Framework for Arab-Israeli Peace, The Last Option, and A War We Must Win. He expects to publish his latest book Defeating Terrorism in the summer of 2006.
Dr. Ben-Meir's views on contemporary international affairs are often sought out by major television and radio networks, and he is a frequent speaker before groups and organizations at venues as varied as world affairs councils and town hall meetings. He is a popular lecturer on international relations at a variety of universities besides the New York University and the New School.
The Israeli government should accept the Arab initiative because it has a solemn
obligation to explore any possibility, however remote, to peacefully end the
Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel can accept the Arab initiative in principle, and
as long as it negotiates in earnest, the whole world will listen to its
legitimate national concerns. But any negotiation the government enters into and
any peace agreement it may reach must not betray Israel's three core
requirements: 1) maintaining indefinitely the Jewish national identity of the
state, 2) ensuring its national security and territorial integrity, and 3)
ending the state of belligerency while establishing normal relations with the
entire Arab world. No Arab nation or any other global power should ever expect
Israel to compromise on these three tenants because they form the core of its
Accepting the Arab initiative is not a sign of weakness; on the contrary, it is
a sign of strength. Israel has never been stronger militarily or economically
than it is today. Israel can accept the initiative by openly and courageously
stating its three core principles, which no Israeli government can give away and
no serious interlocutor can deny.
First, maintaining the Jewish national identity: I believe that the Arab world
has come to accept the principle that Israel will never voluntarily do or accept
anything that in any shape or form compromises the Jewish national identity of
the state. For this reason, Israel simply cannot literally accept the 1948 UN
General Assembly resolution 194, commonly known as the "Right of
Return" of the Palestinian refugees. Although some Arab states or
organizations still insist that Israel accept the principle of return, the vast
majority today talk about finding a just solution to the Palestinian refugee
situation, as the initiative suggests, in the context of resolution 194 and also
of resolution 242. In this context, Israel's acknowledgment of the
refugees' plight, and participation in finding a just solution, including
resettlement inside or outside of the Palestinian future state as well as some
form of compensation will ultimately be an acceptable compromise. While Israel
must admit to the existing Palestinian refugee problem, no one can force Israel
to commit political suicide by forcefully changing the demographic makeup of the
state through the implementation of 194. Regardless of how sensitive this issue
may be for the Palestinians, the existence of Israel as the last refuge for the
Jewish people, rests entirely on the securing of a sustainable Jewish majority
Second, ensuring Israel's national security: Accepting the Arab initiative
would also mean that Israel relinquish lands equivalent to 100 percent of the
territories captured in 1967. I say equivalent to 100 percent because to achieve
secure borders and because of some hard facts on the ground, Israel will have to
swap some land. There are many Israelis--and even more supporters of Israel in
the United States and elsewhere--who still equate territory with national
security. History has proved this notion to be utterly wrong. Forty years of
occupation have not enhanced Israel's security a single iota. Those who
claim that the withdrawal from southern Lebanon and Gaza turned these
territories into a new staging ground of violence against Israel are being
disingenuous at best. The withdrawal was neither complete nor executed in a
manner that could foster improved relations. In addition, the withdrawal from
both territories was involuntary. Southern Lebanon became a killing field for
Israelis, and the pullout from Gaza was prompted by the demographic nightmare
scenario. No one who is lucid can possibly believe that the Arab states will
ever make peace without recovering the territories. Israel needs peace more than
the Arab nations or even the Palestinians do; they can wait for another 100
years, but the Israelis cannot. In the end, Israelis must choose between peace
and territory; they cannot have it both ways.
Third, normalizing relations with the Arab states and ending the violence: This
third core requirement is of paramount importance for Israel because any hope of
future stability and progress depends on it. To be sure, only a comprehensive
peace and a complete end to hostilities can offer Israel the ultimate security
it seeks. Whereas the initiative promises just that, Israel must be able to
translate the peace between governments into people to people peace, in which
the Arab people develop a vested interest in the peace and so are motivated to
preserve and protect it. To promote such a positive situation, the Arab states
will have to demonstrate that they have the capacity and the political will to
rein in extremist groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Israel must realize that as a result of the Iraq war; the political and security
conditions in the Middle East have changed dramatically, posing a serious
challenge to the region's old geopolitical order. Iran's regional
ambitions alarm both the Sunni Arab states and Israel, which creates the
possibility of an alliance of necessity. The reintroduction of the Arab
initiative at this particular time is not accidental. It is designed principally
to change the region's new political dynamic in a central way, by ending the
Arab-Israeli conflict. The confluence of events offers Israel an opportunity it
cannot afford to miss.
Israel's national security depends on its military and economic prowess, but
Israel's ultimate survival as an independent, secure, and free nation will
depend on the ingenuity and resourcefulness of its people, leaders, and the
moral tenets on which its institutions stand. Occupation degrades the occupied
and dehumanizes the occupier. Israel will never realize its true potential as
long as it remains an occupying force. Only by ending the occupation will Israel
fulfill its destiny and become the "light onto other nations.