My interlocutor isn’t a political figure. As a civil servant and a diplomatic expert, he served for 10 consecutive years at the crossroads of Israel’s top-level diplomatic decision-making. Although he no longer serves in this capacity, he is more versed in the details than anyone I know. This week we talked about the “Saudi Initiative,” which later became known as the “Arab Peace Initiative,” noting how over the years, each party — in its respective turn — missed it.
To recall, this initiative was first unveiled by Thomas Friedman from The New York Times following his conversation with the Saudi crown prince in Riyadh in 2002. It addressed the issue of a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world in return for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also sought to find a “just and agreed upon” solution to the refugee problem. This happened during the second intifada as Israel’s streets were awash in rivers of blood. Suicide bombers stormed Israelis at coffee shops, on buses and in youth disco clubs. The late Ariel Sharon had just been elected prime minister. His primary mission was to stop the terrible wave of terror. Before the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Sharon did not recognize the Saudi Initiative and refused to refer to it explicitly. He had other fish to fry. His agenda was dominated by a Herculean effort to overcome this unprecedented wave of terrorism, which consisted of dozens and hundreds of suicide bombers storming Israel. This was the first time that the initiative was missed. Israel was wholly responsible for it, albeit there were extenuating circumstances.