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Press Release
Contact Information: Hussein Ibish
May 16, 2007 - 12:00am

Washington D.C., May 17th -- The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) and the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) cosponsored a briefing today at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Affairs Department Negotiations Support Unit (NAD-NSU). The briefing was titled “New Beginnings from Old Realities: The Arab Peace Initiative as the Basis for Peace”. The three NSU members featured were Ms. Zeinah Salahi NSU Legal Advisor for Borders, Mr. Khaled Elgindy NSU Policy Support Advisor for Settlements, and Mr. Issa Kassissieh, Assistant Chief of Staff to President Mahmoud Abbas.

Ms. Zeinah Salahi began the address by explaining why their delegation was discussing the peace process when the situation on the ground is so tumultuous and dire. For Ms. Salahi, the most effective way to quell the chaos and despair is through the progression of the peace process. The reason that there is such instability in Gaza today is because there is no peace process. Each of the three panelists discussed the Arab Peace Initiative, previous attempts at peace and Israel’s responsibility in destabilization through unilateral measures.

In order to provide context for the presentation, Ms. Salahi briefly characterized the main points of the Arab Peace Initiative: Israeli withdrawal to internationally recognized 1967 borders, a just and agreed upon solution to the refugee problem, and East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state. In return, Israel would receive normalized relations with all 22 countries in the Arab league, a huge payoff for Israel. Moreover, the Organization of Islamic Countries has also signed on to the Arab Peace Initiative. This means that Israel would have full diplomatic relations with 57 countries. Ms. Salahi reiterated the unprecedented and profound incentive this is for Israel.

It is also important to note that the Arab Peace Initiative is being presented as a starting point, as a framework for peace. The language is purposely ambiguous in order to provide all parties involved with a certain level of flexibility. The “fair and just” solution to the refugee problem epitomizes the flexible language. It means that Israel will not have any clauses of the Arab Initiative unwillingly imposed on them. Ms. Salahi also described the main obstacles to peace. The first is the devastated Palestinian economy. A drastic reversal in the economic condition of the Palestinians is an essential element of stabilization. Secondly, the facts on the ground are further destabilizing and preventing the peace process. In other words a complete cessation of the continual intra-factional violence must occur in order for Palestinians to unite under a common vision. Furthermore, Israel’s refusal to deal with the refugee issue, essentially unilaterally removing it from the bargaining table, has proved to be a non-starter. Finally, Ms. Salahi suggested that the failure of previous attempts has served to push the peace process into a chasm of despair. The previous ‘piecemeal attempts’ such as the Oslo Accord and the Movement Access Agreement, have resulted in no substantive changes.

Mr. Khalid Elgingy began his address by suggesting that Israeli unilateral implementations have served as a major contributing factor in quelling the peace process. Israeli “facts on the ground”, which include settlements, the wall, settlers and bypass roads and closures, have created a systematic and structural segmentation of the West Bank. Interestingly, as violence against Israel has decreased, the Israeli closure regime has intensified. A recent World Bank report demonstrated that the West Bank is characterized by a presumption of closure, not movement. In order for any economy and society to function there must be a basic assumption of mobility and predictability, which are non-existent in the West Bank.

In reference to East Jerusalem, Mr. Elgindy and his colleagues agreed that it must be the capital of a Palestinian state. Without East Jerusalem as the capital, which is responsible for 35%-45% of the Palestinian economy, there cannot be a viable Palestinian state. Mr. Elgindy also addressed where he believed the current situation stands in the context of previous attempts at peace. For Mr. Elgindy, the Roadmap to Peace (2003) is the foundation of the current push towards peace. President Bush’s meeting with President Abbas in 2005 is also important to the current situation and the opportunity presented by the Arab Peace Initiative. However, in order for any progress to be made a political horizon must be defined. The contours of Palestinian statehood must be defined.

President Abbas’ Assistant Chief of Staff Mr. Issa Kassissieh concluded the presentation by relaying a message from President Abbas. Mr. Kassissieh explained that President Abbas vehemently believed in the vital opportunity that the Arab Peace Initiative offers. The Arab Peace Initiative did not arise out of a vacuum and it does not represent a zero-sum game. The willingness of all Arab (and Islamic countries) to normalize relations will produce a massive shift in regional dynamics. The Israelis and Palestinians on the ground are tired and polls consistently evidenced their willingness to accept a comprehensive peace agreement. In order to stand united against extremism the international community must reinforce agents of moderation like President Abbas. Mr. Kassissieh believes that this is the best mechanism to encourage peace in the region.

The delegation concluded by summarizing three main points: 1) The U.S. and the Quartet should work with key Arab states to help the parties define a clear political horizon. 2) The international community should encourage Israel to seize the historic opportunity represented by the Arab Peace Initiative. 3) The U.S., the Quartet and other influential third parties should continue in parallel efforts to improve conditions on the ground, including the freezing of settlements.


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