Amr Hamzawy
Bitterlemons (Opinion)
November 10, 2010 - 1:00am

The turmoil in the Middle East must be brought to an end. A serious path leading to a strategic deal has to take place. In this, we should not follow delusions, yet we should seek a just settlement for all. We seek real solutions that address the core problems of our region. There will be no peace in the region unless we tackle its problems with an honest, futuristic and comprehensive approach.

It is with this spirit that the League of Arab States adopted the Arab Peace Initiative in March 2002: a comprehensive initiative that offers the basis for a fair settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict. It stipulates a full recognition of Israel by all the Arab countries, in exchange for complete withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, a just settlement for the problem of Palestinian refugees and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. This initiative is the strategic offer presented by the Arab countries to put an end to the Arab-Israel conflict.

This requires a comparable commitment on the part of the Israeli government. However, instead of a commitment to peace through an adequate response to the Arab Peace Initiative, successive Israeli governments have been trying continuously and deliberately to divert attention from the core problem--the occupation of Arab territories since 1967. Terms like "religious war", "moderates versus extremists"--while claiming that Israel should be regarded as a part of the so called "moderate" camp, regardless of the policies it adopts--are misleadingly used by Israeli officials to confuse the whole situation in the region. Moderates and extremists exist on both sides. Extremists are getting stronger because of the lack of a just and durable peace.

The world should not forget that the Palestinian question is about national liberation. Occupation was and remains the central problem, and ending this occupation through withdrawal is the key to reaching a settlement, establishing peace and achieving security and stability in this part of the world.

Under a professed goal of reaching a peaceful settlement, we have been dragged to endless rounds of talks. The term "peace process" is now associated with a negative stigma. It has become a label for talks that lead to nowhere, while facts are being established on the ground in a way that threatens to make the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state close to impossible. We have seen this being done time and again for the past 20 years. Proximity talks, direct negotiations or whatever we name them will hold the same negative stigma unless they are conducted with clear-cut goals, an agenda and within a timeframe. In addition, an effective mechanism for follow up, and honest leadership, are necessary to push the process forward.

Furthermore, a serious and effective engagement is required by the international community, i.e., the United Nations, to shoulder its responsibilities in addressing the situation in the Middle East. The window of opportunity will not be open for long. We cannot count on managing the conflict with an attitude of more of the same or "business as usual". No one should imagine that the status quo can be preserved. We will either advance toward peace or move toward an uncontrollable explosion. In light of that, the time has come to consider alternatives to the usual approach, i.e., to the "peace process". That is what we on the Arab side, as well as many other concerned parties worldwide, are currently doing.

Yes, the Arab League and its members do come in peace. We stated our position eight years ago and we are still firmly holding to it, though with growing difficulties. The Arab Peace Initiative is not a bargaining chip. There will be no derogation from its principles. It is a collective position that reflects a deep belief in and a genuine quest for peace.

There are those who criticize the Arab side for not "publicizing" the Arab Peace Initiative. I never understood or believed in the sincerity of such an argument. When 22 Arab states officially adopt at the summit level an initiative that has been declared publicly for eight years, what sort of "publicity" is needed?

The Arab Peace Initiative has been welcomed by the international community and in countless forums, including the United Nations Security Council. It has been recognized among the terms of reference for peace negotiations. Moreover, prior to the Annapolis Conference, the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan were designated by the Arab Peace Initiative Committee of the Arab League to travel to Israel to officially inform its government of the initiative and urge its acceptance. Also, the Palestinian Liberation Organization carried out several campaigns to reach out to the Israeli public and inform them about the Arab Initiative. The PLO has published the text of the initiative in major Israeli newspapers.

We have repeatedly called on Israeli governments to meet our hand extended in peace. Throughout eight years, what we got from the Israeli side was a separation wall, two major wars--in Lebanon and Gaza--more settlements, and a brutal siege on Gaza.

The Arab Peace Initiative is an opportunity to create a historic shift in the region. We stand ready to turn the page of conflict and start a page of full recognition and cooperation, if Israel is also ready for the same by fully withdrawing from the occupied territories and establishing a viable Palestinian state. Yes, we need to achieve a durable peace deal in the Middle East. Israel should prove its readiness for achieving peace by fulfilling its obligations according to international law, starting with halting all settlement activities in the occupied territories of 1967, and engaging in serious and productive talks.


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