There is No Alternative to Peace in the Middle East

by Sa’ad Eddin Ibrahim
A few weeks have passed since the thirtieth anniversary of the October War (Yom Kippur), and a quarter of a century since the signing of the Camp David peace treaty between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, under the auspices of the American President Jimmy Carter.

This double October anniversary profoundly symbolizes the Middle East problem--the elements of the conflict, as well as the elements of the solution. It is a war between the Arabs and Israel, the only way out being an American-brokered peace. This has been the solution since the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.

Certainly, Arabs and Israelis alone are capable of initiating any war, but, to date, at least six wars later, they are incapable of putting an end to the war and initiating peace by themselves. The two parties need to achieve this under international auspices-- American, to be precise.

It is also clear that if either of the two parties proposed an initiative for peace, such a move would not be complete without the involvement of other foreign parties, one of which would have to be the United States. This applied to the armistice of 1948, halting the tripartite aggression (1956), the ceasefire in the Six-Day War and Resolution 242 (1967), the ceasefire in the October War and Resolution 338 (1973), the Camp David Agreement (1978), the peace conference in Madrid (1991), the Oslo accord (1993), the second Camp David negotiations and the Taba talks (2000), and, finally, U.S. President George Bush’s initiative, known as the “Road Map” (2003).

The United States, therefore, has become a permanent party in the conflict, in war and in peace. It provides large amounts of aid to Israel, as well as to a number of Arab countries, and has huge oil interests in the Gulf area, especially in Saudi Arabia. This clear American integration may be one of the reasons for its presence in and large influence on managing the conflict, in war and in peace.

No matter how negative the Arab public opinion is towards the United States, due to its clear prejudice in favor of Israel, most observers agree that it is in the interest of the United States that conditions improve in the Middle East. It is in its interest that peace prevail between the Arabs and Israel, especially since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, for the United States has no enemy or competitor in the region any more.

This domineering and permanent presence of the United States in the Arab- Israeli conflict, as in other conflicts in the region and the world, does not negate the role of regional parties in inflaming or calming down the conflict. Dramatic examples of this are the Egyptian President’s initiatives for war (1973) and peace (1977).

In this context, let us go back to talking about the peace initiative proposed by Saudi Prince Abdallah, adopted by the Beirut Arab Summit. The Initiative is based on three main pillars: Israeli withdrawal from Arab land occupied in 1967 - the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights, and the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel, in return for a permanent peace and a full Arab recognition of Israel, in terms of its existence and borders.

Despite an initial international welcome for Prince Abdallah’s peace initiative, and despite the fact that it was one of the main references in ensuing American peace plans, including the Road Map, the sounds of the armed clash between the Israelis and the Palestinians continued. The escalating tempo of the suicide-revenge cycle between the two, in addition to the regional and international preoccupation with the war in Iraq (since the spring of 2003), led to a receding interest in the Saudi initiative.

It is important, however, that all powers that believe in peace, Arab, Israeli and international, revive interest in this initiative, and embrace it, as they embraced and supported the Road Map. Any regression or slack in this context would mean relinquishing the arena to the enemies of peace and the warmongers on both sides, and continuing the bloodshed of Palestinians and Israelis. This is in addition to the impossibility of ensuring that the armed conflict will not spill out of its confines in Palestine into neighboring countries, especially Syria and Lebanon. We have actually seen an example of this in the Israeli air raid on a position in Syria, with an Israeli claim that it is a training site for terrorists.

Peace is the best strategic option for Arabs and Israelis. I will concentrate, for the balance of this article, on the importance of this option to the Arabs, leaving the discussion over its benefits for Israel to Israeli researchers and analysts themselves. It is worth noting, however, that all public opinion surveys there reveal that over 70% of Israelis want peace, with therecognition of a Palestinian state. The Israeli public has realized that it is impossible to continue repressing Palestinians and ignoring their legitimate national demands, regardless of Israel’s military might, its technological capability and its economic superiority.

What is important now is that the Arab public, in turn, realizes that it is impossible to vanquish or annihilate Israel, regardless of the number of suicide bombings. It is also important to realize that no matter how long conflicts persist, they are bound to come to an end with peaceful settlements and historic reconciliations. These settlements and reconciliations must include mutual compromises.

This is how conflicts in Europe, East Asia, Ireland and South Africa came to an end. In each of these regions, peace, followed by economic cooperation and then prosperity, replaced the conflict. The only extended and raging conflicts remain in the Middle East and South Asia and some areas in the African southern desert. International reports indicate that these very areas are the poorest, most corrupt, most repressive and destroyed in the world. (The most recent of these reports was published by the United Nations Development Program in 2002, entitled: Arab Human Development Report.)

The Arab-Israeli conflict, like all conflicts around the world, cannot be settled by war, regardless of time, due to the mixture of geographic, historic, cultural, religious, identity and interest considerations involved. If the public is convinced of this impossibility, decision makers will work hard to reach settlements and bring about historic reconciliation that saves face and respects the interests and dignity of all parties involved, and puts an end to bloodletting and destruction. This is what Sadat saw in 1978, and what the Saudi Crown Prince aspired to a quarter of a century later. We do not need to wait another quarter of a century, or even one more year, to re-discover the same.

- Human rights activist and Director of the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies in Cairo. 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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"I have received six questions from several individuals working for the Common Ground News Service. I hope that students and specialists in our university (Al Azhar), as well as those concerned with general intellectual matters, will take note of the effort behind these questions, how they came to be issued only after extensive information - gathering and study that could fill shelves, and after the kind of organized thought that draws connections between various facts and which does not busy itself with the illusions, trifles, and pettiness that upend the edifice of knowledge."

- Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt

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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
The Feasibility of Peace and the Arab Peace Initiative
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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
The Feasibility of Peace and the Arab Peace Initiative by Nizar Abdel-Kader