The Arab Initiative Revisited and Revived

by Tawfiq Abu Bakr
It has been my opinion, for a long time now, that a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict should be sought within an Arab framework, because the achievement of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace is the only way that leads to true stability in the region--even if the peace process has to pass through a series of phases, ebbing and flowing. This is inevitable. But leaving one Arab party, such, as Syria for example, outside the peace that is being sought, would provide fertile ground to mobilize public sentiments in the Arab and Islamic worlds against the achieved peace.

The Israelis, too, are demanding such a comprehensive peace, although some, especially from the right side of the political spectrum, are doing so to isolate the Palestinians in the shadows of an inequitable balance of power tipping in their favor. For this reason, they insist on negotiating final status issues (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements) with the Palestinians alone, in order to impose their stringent conditions. Undoubtedly, this is political shortsightedness by the Israeli elite leadership, because the peace that will last for generations to come will be that which reflects a balance of interests and not a balance of power. It will be the one that achieves the attainable justice and not the one imposed by military superiority.

It is in the interest of the common Israeli citizen that there be a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace that allows him or her to travel freely to any Arab country, feeling that the era of conflict with Arabs is gone once and for all. It is also to the benefit of the common Palestinian citizen that Arabs stand by him at the negotiating table, with all their political, military and strategic negotiating cards, until a peace agreement is achieved with reasonable conditions. A comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement will leave no leeway for accusing Palestinians of reaching a unilateral solution to an issue that has a pan-Arab nature, as was claimed within Arab official and popular circles after the Oslo accords.

In 1982, at the second Fez summit, after the Palestinian leadership had left Lebanon in the summer of that same year, the Arabs put forward a peace initiative, considered the first of its kind. Yitzhak Shamir, the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, responded not only by rejecting the eight-point Arab peace initiative that, in essence, recognized Israel for the first time, but also by calling for and implementing the establishment of eight new settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories: a settlement for each point of the initiative.
The first peace initiative, of 1982, had come to light following Arab failure in supporting the Palestinians on the eve of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, led by then Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. The Arab initiative, endorsed by the Arab summit in Beirut, came during a similar situation, when the Arabs again failed to provide the Palestinians with adequate support that could bring about some change in the balance of power in their present intifada-support that goes beyond treating the injured and providing donations.

Needless to say, the Palestinians made a mistake by yielding to the policies of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad by opting for armed struggle against a superior enemy, armed militarily to the teeth. They erred by believing that the Arabs might take certain measures that could mount to severing relations with Israel, and even preparing for a military confrontation on a limited scale. Eventually, the Arabs headed for the option they should have taken in the first place: launching an initiative for a comprehensive solution based, in essence, on an Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab and Palestinian lands, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, in return for comprehensive Arab normalization with the Jewish state.

The Israeli public picked up this novel offer of normalization by all Arab states, including Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. According to the first public opinion poll carried out after the Arab summit, 59% of Israelis supported the new Arab initiative. Unfortunately, extremists on both sides moved swiftly to nip the initiative in the bud. Only a few hours after the initiative was declared, Hamas carried out the Park Hotel bombing during a Passover celebration, killing and wounding many Israelis. Sharon cultivated the ensuing horror by waging an unprecedented military campaign, which circumvented any talk of peace based on the Arab initiative. A series of violent events ensued, killings and counter-killings. Vengeance became rampant, and talk about the Arab initiative came to a halt.

The Road Map finally arrived, representing an international collective position, citing the Arab initiative as one of its references. The text of the Road Map stipulates that “the settlement shall take into special consideration the continued importance of the Arab initiative adopted by the Arab summit in Beirut, as an integral part of the international efforts aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace on all tracks, including the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.” As such, the Arab initiative contained some details necessary for the third stage of the Road Map, presented as general headings that complement it, rather than conflict with it.

Moreover, the initiative emphasizes the normalization with Israel that, in itself, should represent a motive for Israel to embrace the Initiative. But the extremist government in Tel Aviv is apparently not interested in a comprehensive and balanced solution, despite the Israeli and Palestinian peoples’ support for the Arab initiative.

In a survey carried out by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research a few weeks after the initiative was released, 75% of those surveyed supported the Arab initiative. This suggests that there should be new elections in Israel and the Palestinian territories, at a certain stage of the implementation of the Road Map and the Arab initiative.

The recent too-much-talked-about “Switzerland Agreement,” initialed at the Movenpick Hotel on the shores of the Dead Sea by Israeli and Palestinian leftists, calling for a comprehensive solution of all issues of the conflict, refers clearly to the Arab initiative as one of the references of the memorandum of understanding. Hence, the forthcoming Arab summit should reactivate its initiative through a number of practical steps, such as the formation of an Arab negotiating delegation to embarrass the other side, which, most certainly, will reject the idea, resulting in the acceleration of widespread reactions within Israeli society. If Sharon were to fall, and the peace forces to win, after the failure of the myth “what cannot be achieved by force can be achieved with more force,” this would undoubtedly affect the Palestinian public, which would push the enemies of progress to the back rows.

Until this happens, international institutions and forces, official and non-governmental equally, are invited to support Arab and Palestinian moderation with more force and resolve.

* A veteran political analyst, the director of Jenin Center for Strategic Studies and a member of Palestinian National Council. This article is part of a series of views on the “Arab Peace Initiative” published in partnership with the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
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Toward a Track-two Dialogue between Israelis and Syrians
Toward a New Arab Peace Initiative
A Syrian Perspective on the Arab Peace Initiative
Between Two Hotels in Beirut and Netanya
The Arab Peace Initiative, boosting moderates
Arab Initiative Can Bring Peace and Normalcy
An Israeli View of the Arab Peace Initiative
The Feasibility of Peace and the Arab Peace Initiative
There is No Alternative to Peace in the Middle East
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Other articles in this series

Toward a Track-two Dialogue between Israelis and Syrians by Gerald Steinberg
Toward a New Arab Peace Initiative by Ambassador Robert H. Pelletreau
A Syrian Perspective on the Arab Peace Initiative by Dr. Murhaf Jouejati
Between Two Hotels in Beirut and Netanya by Hazem Saghiyeh
The Arab Peace Initiative, boosting moderates by Hassan A. Barari
Arab Initiative Can Bring Peace and Normalcy by Judith Kipper
An Israeli View of the Arab Peace Initiative by Ambassador Shimon Shamir
The Feasibility of Peace and the Arab Peace Initiative by Nizar Abdel-Kader
There is No Alternative to Peace in the Middle East by Sa’ad Eddin Ibrahim