The Feasibility of Peace and the Arab Peace Initiative

by Nizar Abdel-Kader
With US President Bush supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state, hope remains alive that, despite the current stall in the implementation of the Roadmap, the peace process will resume. To that purpose, a new effort must be deployed by the Quartet to break the cycle of violence between the Palestinians and Israelis. Past experience on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides does not encourage optimism, but lately there have been encouraging signs of change on the Israeli side that were manifested by the Israeli peace camp at its September 22 peace rally. On the Palestinian side, the resignation of the Abbas government may open the way to a new government capable of handling the security issue in a more effective way, cornering Hamas and the Islamic Jihad – although this may be doubtful. Under these circumstances, can the Arab Peace Initiative again be a useful platform for the achievement of peace?

The Arab Peace Initiative adopted by the Beirut Arab League summit in March 2002 was based on Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s proposal stating that in return for Israel’s complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, the attainment of a just solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Arab states would consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over and sign a treaty establishing normal relations with Israel.

The text of the initiative, known as the Beirut Declaration, is a historical marker in the Arab strategy towards Israel, and it is necessary to keep it alive as a genuine call for peace. The importance of this declaration was stated at the close of the Beirut summit by the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prince Saud al Faisal: “The initiative is a declaration of the Arab will for peace requiring Israel to come forward in a similar step and express its will for peace.” But the Israeli government refused the offer, and the expectations of Saud al Faisal, that a positive Israeli answer would be formulated in as clear expressions as those used in the Arab initiative, were not met.

The analysis of the initiative, as well as the explanation given at the close of the Beirut summit, presents a clear call to the Israeli leadership to meet the Arab leaders halfway to achieve comprehensive and lasting peace. This call, surprisingly, fell on the deaf ears of Sharon’s right wing government.

In the context of this offer, the Arab leaders expected to generate a new atmosphere by shifting the focus from violent confrontation back to a political process. The initiative brought forward, for the first time, a clear, unanimous Arab will to achieve peace with provision of security for all the concerned parties in the region.

The welcome for the Arab initiative that was initially expressed by the international community, including the US, faded away with the smoke of the raging cycle of violence. Hopes remain that the Quartet will take the lead to include the Arab initiative in its efforts to revive the peace process.

The follow-up committee for the Arab initiative was seemingly sidetracked from its task by pressures resulting from the invasion of Iraq as well as by the search to establish a new Palestinian leadership capable of handling security matters dictated by the Roadmap. Thus, it has seldom been mentioned in any diplomatic moves during the past few months. However, it is imperative for the Arab leadership to adopt a position with good political rationale and logic of moderation, in order to contain the ramifications of Iraqi developments and the Israeli policy to step-up attacks on the Palestinians.

At the time the Beirut Declaration was made, violence was at its peak, and President Bush had not yet formulated his vision on how to renew the peace process. However, the current situation is different, as the implementation of the Roadmap was initiated at the Aqaba summit. The eruption of a new wave of violence should not stall the process started by President Bush and the Quartet. New diplomatic moves should be undertaken by all parties. Arab diplomacy and, especially, the follow-up committee must focus in two directions: first, towards the US to reemphasize the Arab pledge to peace and to show backing for the US resolve in its policies, and, second, towards the Palestinians to ensure their moderation and unity for the objectives of peace.

The Israeli people must be made to realize that the Arab initiative represents a serious offer to influence a change in direction of the current conflict – from being an open conflict to being a political process in which radicals on both sides are pushed aside. The Israelis should understand that the new framework does not aim to achieve a temporary truce but an irreversible opportunity towards honorable peace with all Arab states. The objective of Arab diplomacy should be a concerted, continuous effort to explain this initiative to the Israeli people, as well as to the Jewish communities around the world, especially those in the US. This effort should not be exclusive to Arab diplomats but should include the creation of an Arab peace movement parallel to the peace camp in Israel for the purpose of creating a popular consensus to back the peace process on both sides. Moderation and joint efforts in defeating terrorism are the key elements to promote reconciliation and peace.

The media, including satellite television, should be urged to stop all incitement and to begin a campaign to promote peace, not only targeting the Israeli government, but also the Israeli people, the Arab peoples and the American people. Every effort must be made to convince the Palestinians to give up on suicide bombings and to stop the radicalization of their “street.” In this campaign aimed at the people on both sides, it would be very important to emphasize that the conflict cannot be resolved within the borders of the West Bank and Gaza alone and that there is a significant role to be played by the Arab states within the framework of the Arab initiative. Within this new drive towards peace, the international community must come forward and play a responsible and courageous role.

- A political analyst at the Beirut-based Ad-Diyar newspaper. 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
The Arab Peace Initiative, boosting moderates
Arab Initiative Can Bring Peace and Normalcy
An Israeli View of 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
Arab Initiative Can Bring Peace and Normalcy by Judith Kipper
An Israeli View of the Arab Peace Initiative by Ambassador Shimon Shamir
There is No Alternative to Peace in the Middle East by Sa’ad Eddin Ibrahim