Akiva Eldar
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 22, 2012 - 12:00am

About a month ago, I participated in one of the many seminars on the Arab Spring taking place around the world. One of the outstanding speakers was a retired general from the Saudi Arabian army who now heads a research institute in Jeddah. The general went out of his way to praise the Arab Peace Initiative that had been the brainchild of Saudi King Abdullah more than a decade ago. He explained how this initiative could contribute toward stabilizing the Middle East and helping it to flourish, and he wondered why the Israelis were ignoring a proposal that includes recognition of the state within the 1967 borders and normalization of relations with the entire Muslim world.

I proposed to him that he publish the main points of his lecture in an article in Haaretz and he responded willingly. We exchanged business cards and we concluded with a handshake in front of other seminar participants and the organizers' camera. I am still waiting for the article.

I had a similar experience more than three years ago, when I requested an interview with the crown prince of Bahrain, Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. That was in the wake of an article he published in The Washington Post calling on the Arabs to speak with Israel, in which he reproached the Arab leadership for not bothering to present the peace initiative to the Israelis and showing them that not all Muslims want to throw them into the sea. In order to achieve peace, we have to do more, he wrote.

My request to come to Bahrain to hear what he had to say was not answered.

Indeed, in order to achieve peace, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, as well as Egypt and Jordan, have to do more - and now, before the January elections in Israel. Arab leaders have to state loudly and clearly to the Israeli voter that an Israeli peace coalition would be a welcome partner in a regional peace coalition.

Moreover, they have to assist in a campaign to encourage the Arab citizens of Israel to go to the polls in their masses and vote for parties that declare their support for negotiations on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative (not including Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party, which has fallen in love with the West Bank settlement of Ariel ). A percentage of votes identical to that of the Jewish citizens is likely to contribute three or four seats to the center-left bloc and to decide the election.

Is there anything wrong with propaganda that is aimed at motivating Israel's Arab citizens to take part in the elections to the Knesset and to encourage them to support parties that are in favor of peace?

Foreign intervention in elections is an accepted practice in these parts. The Republican candidate in the U.S. presidential elections, Mitt Romney, came all the way to Jerusalem to be photographed alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to curry favor with the Jewish electorate in his own country. The Democrats' candidate, Barack Obama, responded by giving Israel a gift voucher for equipment for its Iron Dome rocket-interception system. Other than shouting "Vote Romney," Netanyahu has done everything possible to stand behind the rival of the incumbent president. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has balanced the picture by showing sympathy for Obama. American billionaire Sheldon Adelson has loosened his purse strings to ensure that Netanyahu remains in office.

In the upcoming elections, as in the past few years since Adelson set up the free newspaper Israel Hayom, the right-wing in Israel has enjoyed the support of someone from abroad to an unparalleled extent. For the first time, hundreds of thousands of Israeli voters are being exposed to an organ that openly supports Netanyahu. (Unfortunately, the Israeli left does not have wealthy businessmen who are prepared to invest their money and influence in disseminating its message. )

Is a foreign citizen who endangers Israeli democracy and is prepared to endanger Israel in a regional war allowed to intervene in the elections, while an Arab leader who supports a two-state solution to the conflict and proposes regional peace to Israel is not allowed to do so? Do the results of the elections in Israel affect the citizens of New York more than the citizens of Riyadh?

At the conference, after the general from Saudi Arabia concluded his lecture about the Arab Peace Initiative, an Israeli lecturer in international relations whispered in my ear that none of his master's students know anything whatsoever about it. Someone should tell that to the general from Jeddah.


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