The arab league declared in Riyadh late last month that all 22 Arab countries are still ready for peace with Israel if it withdraws from all the Arab lands it seized in the 1967 war and agrees to a just solution for Palestinian refugees.
This is a measure of their panic as they calculate the psychological impact of a forthcoming U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (which will emerge as the first Shia ruled Arab country in eight centuries) and the likelihood that western Iraq will become a Sunni Arab rump state dominated by fanatical Islamists.
The Riyadh offer essentially repeats the proposal for a comprehensive peace settlement first made by the Arab League at a summit in Beirut.
At that time, it was completely ignored by Israel, since Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister in 2002, had no interest in trading land for peace. He is gone now, but it is very unusual in the diplomatic world to make the same offer again at a later date. It looks too much like begging. Why did they do it?
Ehud Olmert is even less likely to be interested in trying to sell Israeli voters on the Arab demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to their original homes within what is now Israel.
No doubt he could negotiate a deal in which only token numbers of refugees returned if he were willing to yield on those other points, but it is as important symbolically in Israeli politics that none of the Palestinians whose families were driven out of what is now Israel in 1948 be allowed to return as it is to Palestinians that they all be permitted to.
The Arab League's real reason for bringing up the Beirut offer again last month was that a number of key members are worried about the security of their own regimes after U.S. forces in Iraq give up and go home.
A few countries with large Shia populations worry a bit about their loyalty, but the big concern everywhere is that Sunni Islamist extremists have gained immensely in prestige and popular support across the Arab world because of their performance against the American occupation forces in Iraq.
In virtually every Arab state, the main opposition to the regime is Sunni Islamists, and in many of them the relationship is already one of suppressed civil war. The American invasion of Iraq utterly destabilized the region (as King Abdullah II of Jordan warned in July 2002, "All of us are saying, "Hey, United States, we don't think this is a very good idea''), and the U.S. defeat in Iraq is destabilizing it even further.
In Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and some of the smaller Gulf states, the countries nearest to the epicentre of the upheavals, and even in Egypt, there are grave concerns about Islamist coups, uprisings or even full-scale revolutions.
So now would be a good time for the regimes to win themselves some credit by doing a peace deal with Israel that creates a proper Palestinian state in the Israeli-occupied territories and lets at least a few refugees go home while compensating the rest.
However, the very vulnerability that now persuades Arab regimes to revive this proposal automatically makes it less attractive to Israelis. How can they be sure that the Arab regimes they make a deal with will actually survive long enough to make such a deal worthwhile?
Aluf Benn of the newspaper Haaretz put it plainly about a year ago: "Israel could always do business with Arab dictators; [they were] a barrier protecting it from the rage of the "Arab street.' That was the basis of the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan [and with] Yasser Arafat and his heirs... but those days are over. Henceforth Israel will have to factor into its foreign policy something it has always ignored Arab public opinion.'
Indeed, Israel may soon have to deal with more regimes that fully reflect the "rage of the Arab street,' as it is already dealing with (or rather, failing to deal with) the Islamists of Hamas, freely elected in the Palestinian occupied territories over a year ago.
Such governments would not be interested in making new peace agreements with Israel, or even in maintaining existing ones.
So the quite genuine offer of the Arab League will be ignored, not just because the current Israeli government wants to hold onto most of the settlements, but because no Israeli government would accept the deal the Arab League is offering unless it could be sure that its key partners on the other side were capable of carrying out their part of the deal. It cannot be sure of that any more.
The repercussions of the Iraq fiasco are just beginning to unfold, and nobody knows what the Middle East will look like five years from now.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries. He appears in NOW weekly.