Nabeel Kassis
Bitterlemons (Opinion)
November 10, 2010 - 1:00am

It was in early 2002 that the idea of an Arab peace initiative was born. After the failure of the Camp David negotiations, the end of the Clinton presidency and the election of Ariel Sharon, the intifada was raging, turning into a violent confrontation. Israeli settlement policy, Hamas' suicide bombings and Israeli bloody attacks, incursions and siege threatened to destroy the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Early efforts to save the day, including the Sharm al-Sheikh summits and the Mitchell report, did not bring any relief. 9/11 had taken place a few months earlier, and the American mood was ominous. The Bush administration was determined to go to war. All that had been built since 1988 was in jeopardy.

Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had started his own mediation with the Bush administration to urge a more positive American involvement in the peace process some weeks before 9/11. But, with the revelations about the participation of many Saudi nationals in the al-Qaida attacks, these efforts were aborted. Ideas of new initiatives were suggested to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. The Thomas Freedman article ushered the "Saudi initiative" to the world's attention. The initiative was received with a lot of interest. I was invited by the Crown Prince to discuss the initiative. After the initial meeting, and consultations with President Yasser Arafat, who supported the initiative, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and I travelled again to Saudi Arabia for further discussions.

The Saudis later invited Arab League Secretary General Amre Moussa and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Other consultations took place, all leading to major discussions in Arab foreign ministers' meetings designed to gain Arab acceptance to turn the Crown Prince's Saudi initiative into an Arab initiative.

In our consultations, the initiative was refined to gain Palestinian and Arab support, and official adoption. The Crown Prince was encouraged by general reaction, particularly from Palestinian and Israeli public opinion polls, which were quite positive. The mood in Riyadh was buoyant.

In the refinement process, an "independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital" was added, so was a "just solution of the refugee problem to be agreed upon, in accordance with resolution 194". This formulation had already been discussed in the Camp David and the Taba negotiations. The initiative was ready for Arab adoption. During the refinement stage, some skepticism was voiced in many Arab quarters, but that opposition ended once the final draft was reached.

The Arab Summit of Beirut on March 27, 2002 unanimously approved the initiative, turning it officially into an Arab peace plan. Later on, The OIC Islamic Summit approved the plan, transforming an offer made initially by 22 countries into a further regional solution of 57 countries sponsoring and supporting the peace plan.

The achievement is in effect formidable. This was the first time ever that a unanimously-accepted Arab plan offered Israel peace agreements, recognition, and normalization of relations in return for its fulfillment of its obligations under resolutions 242 and 338 of the United Nations Security Council, and resolution 194 of the General Assembly, thus accepting Israel on the borders of 1967, and considering that the Arab-Israel conflict would come to an end once Israel fulfills its obligations.

The euphoria received its first violent shock with Israel's "Defensive Shield" operation on the 29th of March, two days after the Beirut Summit decision was taken. The operation, taking place after Hamas' Netanya suicide operation, led to the full reoccupation of the West Bank. No straight official Israeli response to the Arab initiative was issued, but several Israeli suggestions attempted to reverse the order of implementation of the Arab peace plan by asking for normalization with the Arabs first, before Israel offers anything in return, thus vitiating the whole idea of the initiative.

The Saudis, with Palestinian support, continued to push for the initiative, succeeding in getting the Arab League to form a ministerial follow up committee to keep the plan alive and to obtain international support. The initiative received praise from international sources including the US, and was included in the preamble of the roadmap and in a United Nations Security Council resolution. Despite the generally negative Israeli position, the Arab Peace Initiative remains the official Palestinian and Arab position on the end result of the peace process. It was never rescinded or retracted.

At present, there is not much that can be expected given the current position of the Israeli government. Early rounds of negotiations showed Israeli regression not only from anything resembling the Arab peace plan, but from all the agreed terms of reference governing the peace process so far. On the ground, a systematic policy of de-arabizing East Jerusalem, deepening occupation of the West Bank through the settlement process, full military occupation, and denial of jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority required under the Oslo agreements constitute real barriers to any hope for progress in the peace process during the present Israeli government. If you add the savage and illegal Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip, hope for the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative grows even dimmer.

Israel has refused to honor its obligations under previous agreements and international law. At the same time, unfortunately, there is a lack of international will to enforce international law in Palestine.

This dark scenario has led the Palestinians and the Arab League to start discussing alternatives to the current framework of negotiations.

The current situation has only enabled the Israeli colonization of our land while some third parties keep talking about the importance of a "peace process" that has nothing of peace and a lot of process. Having still the Arab Peace Initiative in the horizon, we are exploring options to get to this goal, including our call for international recognition of the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, as well as its admission as full member to the United Nations.

In conclusion, the Arab initiative is still there: a Palestinian, Arab, and Islamic commitment. Calls for withdrawing it have failed to get any support. As long as there is any hope of resolving the Arab-Israel conflict, with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at its core, the two-state solution remains the best road to peace. Therefore the Arab peace plan will remain as the guideline for achieving and supporting it. This is at present the official Palestinian policy, and it is the Arab official policy as well.

How long can this policy survive? That is difficult to predict. It depends a lot on what will develop in the Israeli political scene during the coming months.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017