The Arab Peace Initiative, boosting moderates

by Hassan A. Barari
By all yardsticks, the Arab Peace Initiative adopted by the Arab League in March 2002 in Beirut is the boldest move ever taken by the Arabs to date. The initiative, which proposes full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders as a quid pro quo for peace, normalization and a guarantee of security, is the recipe for a lasting peace in our region. Unfortunately, this gallant initiative failed to gain momentum.

Reviving the Arab Peace Initiative necessitates a full appreciation of the dynamics of peace in our region. Hence, one needs to make a distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions for peacemaking. The former means that external factors create a political atmosphere conducive for a successful conclusion of the peace process. I contend that had the Arab Peace Initiative been managed properly and wisely, it could have helped contribute in creating such a condition. The sad fact is that the Arabs failed to launch an effective diplomatic offensive in order to win the approval of the key players to the conflict, particularly the American Administration. Notwithstanding Bush’s lukewarm praise for the move, he failed to embrace it as a blueprint for a comprehensive solution to the chronic conflict.

Surprisingly, Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia—the one who was behind this initiative—has neither addressed the Israeli public nor has he done much to promote the initiative internationally. More troubling, though, is that Egypt, a key player in the peace process, was irked by the fact that the initiative came from Saudi Arabia. For that reason, it was left to Jordan to promote the initiative. Seen in this way, it was the Arabs’ fault for not vigorously seeking to elicit the required backing of major players in the world.

Having said that, however, this necessary condition is by no means sufficient. We need urgently to address the Israeli society by taking subtle moves aimed at propelling moderate forces into power. We have to acknowledge that in Israel, any peace that entails territorial compromise is a hot topic and leads to internal divisions. Therefore, waiting for a national consensus in Israel is a waste of time. We can only hope for an Israeli majority that would genuinely back the principle of land for peace and normalization as stated in the Arab Peace Initiative. To achieve this majority we need to cultivate Israeli public opinion, the majority of which are obviously not against peace. The Israeli public has genuine and legitimate security concerns. Therefore, without assuring the Israeli public that their security is guaranteed there is little hope that the disgruntled Israeli public, which elected a security-oriented government because of the security situation, will respond positively to such an initiative.

Against this backdrop, the Palestinians should consider the positive impact on the Israeli public of bringing an end to the Intifada. It goes without saying that the hawkish trend among Israelis has been caused and sustained by the persistence of the suicide bombings. Therefore, bringing the Intifada to a halt will not only enfeeble the hawkish trend but equally important will pose different questions to the Israeli society with which the Sharon-led government is unlikelyto contend. Failing to internalize this logic, coupled with the absence of an effective third party intervention, will only play into the hand of the extremists on both sides.

I have been always of the opinion that Sharon’s government, due to its make up, is committed to an ideology that bestowed a precedent land over any other value such as peace. As a corollary to this, Sharon’s government is incapable of making peace with the Arabs. Interestingly, in its hesitant approval of the roadmap, one of its fourteen reservations was the demand to delete any reference to the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for future settlement. Therefore, a change of the political configuration of power within Israel is a must should we wish for a pragmatic government that believes in peace as the ultimate value.

Given the three years of bloodletting and the demonizing of Arafat in the Israeli public, it would be improbable that a genuine peace process will start as long as the Palestinians do not change their current leadership. Arafat is totally unacceptable to the bulk of Israeli society and is considered as a major impediment to peace. Thus, the Israeli public is loath to change its leadership despite its obvious failure in bringing about peace and security.

In short, a just peace is beyond reach as long as the right wing government in Israel remains in place. The Palestinians could catapult a change within Israel if they demilitarize the Intifada, cease suicide bombings, change their leadership, and launched a campaign to win over the rejectionist forces within Israel. Only then can the new dynamics be created that would bring about a moderate and pragmatic government that would respond positively to the Arab Peace Initiative.

- Researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, and the author of "Israeli Politics and the Middle East Process, 1988-2002.” This article is part of a series of views on “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 Initiative Revisited and Revived
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 Initiative Revisited and Revived by Tawfiq Abu Bakr
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