The Arab Peace Initiative, which was re-adopted by the Arab League
in March 2007 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is the most momentous
declaration to come out of the Arab world in recent years. It would
be tragic to allow the Initiative to die the way it withered and
died in Beirut, Lebanon, when it was first introduced by Saudi
Arabia in March 2002. It offers the only hope for a comprehensive
Arab-Israeli peace and has the potential to extinguish many of the
horrific fires and extremism that have engulfed the Middle East, to
the detriment of America and its allies in the region.
The continued benign neglect of the Initiative by the United States
and Israel will send a dangerous message to the Arab world that
neither country is interested in ending the debilitating 60-year
conflict. As such, it will be left to the extremist Islamic groups
- the terrorists, the jihadis and the Takfiries - to hijack the
political agenda and make today's turmoil and bloodshed seem a
mini-rehearsal of the ominous days to come.
Essentially, the Initiative calls on Israel to agree to full
withdrawal from the occupied territories; to arrive at a just
solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, based on United
Nations General Assembly Resolution 194; and to accept a
Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as
the capital. Having spoken about the Initiative with scores of Arab
and Israeli officials, I feel strongly that the demands made by the
Initiative can be fully reconciled with Israel's core requirements
for peace, which are: 1) ensuring Israel's national security and
territorial integrity; 2) sustaining Israel's Jewish national
identity; 3) securing the unity of Jerusalem as Israel's capital
while accommodating the Palestinians; and 4) establishing normal
relations with the entire Arab world.
Why is the Arab Initiative so critical to the future stability of
the Middle East?
First, timing: The Iraq war continues to rage with no end in sight;
Iran has ambitions to become the region's hegemon armed with
nuclear weapons; there is a major Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq
threatening to engulf the entire region; and extreme Muslim
radicalism and terrorist groups are gaining popular support and
pose a clear and present danger to the U.S. and its allies,
especially Israel and the Sunni Arab states in the region.
Second, unlike any other peace proposal, including the Road Map,
the Geneva Initiative or the Clinton Parameters, this Initiative is
an Arab one and represents the entire Arab body politic. This is
particularly important because the Arab streets today are openly
antagonistic toward the U.S. and Israel. Both intuitively and
psychologically, the Arab communities will relate far more
positively to an initiative from their own governments, and it will
engender wide public support.
Third, since there are many extremist Arab groups that oppose the
peace process, such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah, only the
collective Arab political will can rein in these groups by any
means. Moreover, without such a collective effort, it will be
impossible to successfully combat terrorism unless the communities
that support such terrorists groups are alienated from their
leadership. Here too, only the Arab states working in concert can
bring about the communal socioeconomic and political changes, in
combination with the use of force if necessary, to achieve that
Fourth, the Initiative is comprehensive in that it covers all
outstanding conflicting issues between Israel and the Arab states.
To achieve a comprehensive peace, the conflict between Israel and
Syria over the Golan Heights must also be settled. Syria is a
critical player, and the efforts by the Bush administration to
isolate or marginalize it have done nothing but further aggravate
the security conditions in northern Israel, Lebanon and Iraq.
Moreover, luring Syria back into the Arab Sunni fold will suck out
much of the wind that fans the Sunni-Shiite conflict.
Fifth, since Iran has thrived and continues to thrive on Arab
discontent with the U.S. and Israel, any major progress made on the
Initiative will erode Tehran's influence in the region and offer
Iranian moderates a greater say in the affairs of their state.
Distancing Syria from Iran will also force Tehran to limit its
outreach to the Mediterranean, reassess its regional ambitions and
dramatically limit its sway with Hizbullah, Hamas and other
To be sure, the Arab states have decided to reintroduce the
Initiative because of their heightened vulnerability caused by the
convergence of events resulting from the war in Iraq and its
explosive regional potential. They see an end to the Arab-Israeli
conflict as a precondition to effectively addressing many of the
problems that have plagued the Middle East, stabilizing the region
and securing their regimes. But they must not sit on their hands
and wait. All the Arab leaders, not only those from Egypt and
Jordan (assigned by the Arab League to pursue the Initiative with
Israel), must reach out to Israel and demonstrate that their
Initiative is genuine and that they are ready to engage the
Israelis on any level, while remaining true to the Initiative's
Many opportunities have been missed in the Middle East, resulting
in as many tragedies. Is it any wonder why, 60 years later, we are
still mired in the same senseless, bloody and debilitating
conflict? I submit that no greater tragedy will befall the Middle
East if the Arab Peace Initiative is allowed to die, except this
time there will be no chance of it being resurrected.