Can the Arab states rescue the peace process? U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry seems to think so. Last week's announcement by the Arab League endorsing land swaps, the re-emergence of the Arab Peace Initiative, and rumors of a June summit meeting in Amman, Jordan, suggest we're seeing a reprise of that old canard.
Kerry is right to try. But we should have no illusions: The odds are the Arabs won't step up.
And here's why.
The Arabs love principles …
The pattern of Arab state behavior toward the peace process has been fairly predictable for a pretty long time. Identify big-picture concepts and principles, enshrine them in communiqués at summit meetings, wrap the Arab world in a safe lowest-denominator consensus, urge the United States and Israel to accept it, and hammer them when they don't.
This has now been the case for more than half a century. And it is quite natural, logical, and even understandable. After all, those Arab states that don't share common borders with Israel can't be expected to have the same stake in the conflict as those that do.
Two of the four sovereign states that share a border with Israel, Egypt and Jordan, have moved to protect themselves by cutting a deal with the Israelis. That has put Cairo and Amman in the anomalous position of defending those deals, even while they blast the Israelis in Arab councils. But unsurprisingly, both countries have traditionally played the most positive role in trying to facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
Those Arabs states outside the conflict zone are another matter. By and large, most have been suspicious of the peace process, critical of Israel and America's pro-Israeli bias, and singularly uninformed about the details and logic of the negotiations.
There were exceptions. During the good old days of the 1990s, a number of Arab states -- including Morocco, Tunisia, Oman, and Qatar -- established diplomatic, economic, and political contacts with Israel. But their overall role and influence were still marginal.
… but they're not so good on the details.
The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is perhaps the most constructive approach the Arabs have ever taken on the peace process. Its tone is positive, and the implications of its central conceit -- peace between Israel and the Arab world -- is really quite historic.
Yet it remains a collection of slogans and sound bites, not a blueprint for peace. It only offers up a fuzzy quid pro quo: Israel fully withdraws from all territory occupied in the June 1967 war, and in return the Arab world declares the conflict over and agrees to diplomatic normalization in the context of a comprehensive peace. There, we're done.