Skeptics point out that all that happened yesterday was that Arab leaders acknowledged what everyone already knows — that if and when Israel makes a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, it won’t return exactly to 1967 borders.
This is true. When the Arab League indicated that it is updating its position from its Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, to accept some degree of land swapping so that Israel won’t have to return to 1967 borders, it was really just a matter of its leaders coming closer to earth and recognizing that the Green Line won’t become a border. The Palestinian Authority and the international community have long realized that Israel will cede land in its sovereign borders in return for holding on to parts of the West Bank.
In fact, when the so-called Palestine Papers were leaked in 2011, they showed that the Palestinian Authority had been prepared to deviate significantly from the 1967 lines, at least in Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, stating the obvious can be important. The road to peace is obstructed by taboos from both the Israeli and Palestinian side, and the breaking of each and every taboo is an important landmark. Only when key players publicly break a taboo can the discourse start to shift, closer to agreement. The fact that the Arab League has shown willingness to revise its “1967 lines” mantra, and inject some flexibility in to the take-it-or-leave-it Peace Initiative could, if capitalized upon, present an opportunity.
There is still a huge gulf that divides Israel and proponents of the Peace Initiative, with massive differences in important areas. But the latest development updates it from an offer frozen in its time to one that could potentially be revived and form the basis of talks.
One of the most interesting questions is how, if this leads somewhere, will Hamas react. Hamas’ ideology is uncompromising, and doesn’t lend itself to the idea of agreements. However, in the scenario that the Arab world, represented by the Arab League, moves forward, there could be significant pressure on Hamas not to stand in its way. Hamas has kept its reaction to the plan in check in the past, resisting the temptation to vote against it at an Arab League summit in 2007 and instead abstaining.
But there’s another less obvious factor that could prove relevant. It was Qatar that met with John Kerry and announced the openness to land swaps. Hamas is increasingly reliant on Qatar for donations and political credibility. In October the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, visited Gaza - giving the regime kudos by going there and promising $385 million, for building projects. This gives Qatar obvious leverage withHamas.
Yesterday’s development is by no meant a fast-track to a peace agreement, but it could simplify a still-difficult route.