Arab Initiative Can Bring Peace and Normalcy

by Judith Kipper
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President George W. Bush is committed to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will provide recognition and security for Israel and sovereignty for the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah took a historic step when he initiated a peace plan, endorsed by all the Arab states, that provides for recognition and security for Israel, and Palestine, once the conflict is resolved. But even these dramatic steps by the U.S. President and the Arab states were not sufficient for the Israelis and Palestinians.

Now the Road Map for Israelis and Palestinians, supported by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, finally has a destination. Knowing what comes at the end of the road is the only worthwhile incentive for Israelis and Palestinians to commit to making the difficult concessions to permanently end their bloody conflict.

The Geneva Accord, a detailed peace plan negotiated by prominent Israelis and Palestinians led by Yosi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, as well as the important initiative of Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh, have provided the missing elements for Israelis and Palestinians to make peace.

Israelis and Palestinians, by a vast majority, have continued to support a resolution to their conflict along the lines outlined in the Geneva Accord, despite years of violence and bloodshed. Both Israelis and Palestinians are deeply traumatized and passionately believe that their very existence and identity are at stake. Neither side is capable of taking the first step, of stopping the violence or negotiating, without knowing where they are going.

The Arab League’s resolution, now called the Arab Peace Initiative, adopted in Beirut in March 2002, was a historic move that was not recognized at the time. Perhaps even the Arabs, who had privately supported recognition of and relations with Israel for many years, did not fully understand the importance of finally announcing their commitment in public. The Arab initiative needed to be explained and discussed in the region, in Israel and among the members of the Quartet. The Quartet - United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia - when engaged in finding common ground to produce the Road Map, recognized the Arab initiative without integrating its historic importance in an international plan for peace. Suicide bombers attacking civilians in Israel have so preoccupied Israelis that they have not yet fully appreciated that peace with the Palestinians means recognition and normal diplomatic relations with all the Arab states.

Ultimately, Israelis and Palestinians will make peace, though they cannot do it on their own. The involvement of the President of the United States, supported by the members of the Quartet who have made significant contributions, is essential.

Israelis and Palestinians need help to break the vicious cycle of violence, to be able to negotiate and hold a referendum to test acceptance of the Geneva Accords as a model for a treaty. The Arabs have to do more than wait for their historic peace initiative to be accepted. The Arabs need to communicate with both Israelis and Palestinians. A long-term and well-thought-out strategy is needed to communicate to the Israeli public that normalcy in the region, including relations with the Arab states, will be part of an Israeli-Palestinian treaty. For the Palestinians, a strategy to convince them that the Arab states are committed to a two-state solution that will end the conflict permanently is vital to give them hope for the future.

Saudi Arabia, a leader in the Arab world, along with other Arab states, including Egypt and Jordan, which have peace treaties with Israel, cannot simply wait for the United States or others to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arabs have an important role to play in “marketing” their initiative, promoting dialogue with Israelis and Palestinians, and encouraging the mass media to report accurately and support peace. Educational, economic and political reform in the Arab states will not only develop those societies, but will also create an environment in the region which is conducive to peace.

Convincing Arab publics, with some 70% of the population under the age of 25, that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will lead to normal relations throughout the region is a daunting task for Arab leaders. It is no longer possible to separate the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from domestic problems. How can Arab youth contemplate a strategic shift in the region when they do not have a sense of normalization in their own daily lives? Young Arabs need hope for a better life, to know that if they work hard, there will be opportunities for them to prosper. Deprived of hope, these youngsters become susceptible to extremism instead of becoming productive citizens.

The richness of Arab culture, tradition and history is the real wealth of the region. The foundation for excellence in modern education should be to teach students to think for themselves and to prepare them for jobs in a globalized economy. The explosion of media outlets in the Arab world also provides avenues for presenting accurate information, analysis, and cultural and entertainment programming. Around the world, satellite television has become a window on how globalization has created opportunities, diversity and interdependence. Arab populations deserve to see the world as it actually is, full of contradictions, but also vast possibilities.

Peace will come to the Middle East, sooner or later. It is now universally understood what an Israeli-Palestinian treaty will look like. Crown Prince Abdullah’s historic Arab Peace Initiative can help bring the peace sooner by convincing Israelis, Palestinians and Arab publics that genuine peace and normalcy are possible in the region and domestically.

- Director of the Middle East Forum for the Council on Foreign Relations and consultant on international affairs to ABC News. 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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OTHER ARTICLES IN SERIES
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
The Arab Peace Initiative, boosting moderates
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
The Arab Peace Initiative, boosting moderates by Hassan A. Barari
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