by Ziad AbuZayyad
Forty years after the 1967 War and 60 years after the 1948 War, Israel still lacks Palestinian recognition and Arab legitimacy. Though a substantial change took place within the Palestinian national movement and in the positions of most of the Arab countries towards reconciliation and political compromise with Israel, no similar change is envisaged on the Israeli official policy level. The Palestinians abandoned their goal to regain all of Palestine and destroy Israel, and opted for the two-state solution: a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. This change was adopted by the Palestinian National Council (the Parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO]) in its session in Algiers in November 1988. Since then and up to 2002, the traditional position of the Arab countries has been that the Arabs would accept and support whatever the Palestinians accept.
After the failure of the Camp David talks in 2000 and the outbreak of the second intifada the Arab countries were blamed for not supporting the peace talks and backing Yasser Arafat to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. As a result, the Arab position became more formalized and an Arab peace initiative was put forward.
The shift in the Arab stance came when Crown Prince Abdallah of Saudi Arabia formulated the contours of a possible peace agreement with Israel, which he later presented at the 18th Arab summit in Beirut in March 2002. The Saudi plan was adopted at the summit and became known as the Arab Peace Initiative. However, the escalation of violence and military activities between Israel and the Palestinians, and the negligence on the part of the U.S. administration to follow up on the efforts by President Bill Clinton to achieve a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict pushed the Initiative to the sidelines.
The Arabs felt betrayed and disappointed because their initiative did not receive the due attention, though they are partly to blame because they did not prepare the ground or market their initiative effectively, either in the relevant international circles including the U.S. or within Israeli public opinion. However, and due to new regional developments, the Initiative was reaffirmed in the 19th Arab summit in Riyadh in March 2007.
The increasing influence of Iran in the region, the polarization between Sunni and Shia Muslims, the growing power of fundamental Islamist movements in general, and the deteriorating security situation in Iraq led some Arab countries to conclude that ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would allow them to devote all their resources and energy to confronting the new dangers and threats instead of being preoccupied with the old Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Arab states reiterated their will to recognize Israel and to establish full peace and normal relations with it if Israel accepts to withdraw from the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, enables the creation of an independent sovereign Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel, with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital, and seeks an agreed-upon solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. Unfortunately, this offer from 22 Arab states failed to elicit the expected reception and acceptance on the part of Israel or the U.S. administration.
Since the early years of occupation, Israel adopted the policy of annexation and expansionism by establishing Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. This policy was enhanced by right-wing Jewish circles to establish facts on the ground, create more obstacles, and prevent future withdrawal under any possible international pressure. Settlement activities continued and included Arab East Jerusalem over the last four decades. Now Israel is focusing on expanding and thickening settlement blocs around Jerusalem and along the 1967 ceasefire lines. Settlements have proven that they can be an obstacle to peace. The right-wing in Israel has succeeded so far in blocking the road to peace and diverting attention from real positive developments on the Palestinian/Arab side. Meanwhile, the absence of peace and the continued occupation, with its oppression of the Palestinians, have bred more extremism and radicalism on the Palestinian side — mainly the Islamic movement.
In this issue of the Palestine-Israel Journal
we will discuss the Arab Peace Initiative. Why has the Initiative failed to achieve any breakthrough? What else can be done to promote it? Why has Israel failed to meet the challenge of the Arab Peace Initiative? Can the Palestinians and the Israelis solve their problems bilaterally? Or is there a need for a third-party role? How and why?
Most of the answers to these questions are known to all of us. Yet we believe that debating them will help highlight the necessity of making peace and shed more light on how to make it.