Arab Initiative Can Bring Peace and Normalisation
By Judith Kipper *
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President George W. Bush is committed to a
two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will provide
recognition and security for Israel and sovereignty for the Palestinians.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah took a historic step when he initiated
a peace plan, endorsed by all the Arab states, that provides for recognition
and security for Israel, and Palestine, once the conflict is resolved. But
even these dramatic steps by the U.S. President and the Arab states were not
sufficient for the Israelis and Palestinians.
Now the Road Map for Israelis and Palestinians,
supported by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and
Russia, finally has a destination. Knowing what comes at the end of the road
is the only worthwhile incentive for Israelis and Palestinians to commit to
making the difficult concessions to permanently end their bloody conflict.
The Geneva Accord, a detailed peace plan negotiated by prominent Israelis
and Palestinians led by Yosi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, as well as the
important initiative of Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh, have provided the
missing elements for Israelis and Palestinians to make peace.
Israelis and Palestinians, by a vast majority, have continued to support a
resolution to their conflict along the lines outlined in the Geneva Accord,
despite years of violence and bloodshed. Both Israelis and Palestinians are
deeply traumatized and passionately believe that their very existence and
identity are at stake. Neither side is capable of taking the first step, of
stopping the violence or negotiating, without knowing where they are going.
The Arab League’s resolution, now called the Arab Peace Initiative, adopted
in Beirut in March 2002, was a historic move that was not recognized at the
time. Perhaps even the Arabs, who had privately supported recognition of and
relations with Israel for many years, did not fully understand the
importance of finally announcing their commitment in public. The Arab
initiative needed to be explained and discussed in the region, in Israel and
among the members of the Quartet. The Quartet - United States, United
Nations, European Union and Russia - when engaged in finding common ground
to produce the Road Map, recognized the Arab initiative without integrating
its historic importance in an international plan for peace. Suicide bombers
attacking civilians in Israel have so preoccupied Israelis that they have
not yet fully appreciated that peace with the Palestinians means recognition
and normal diplomatic relations with all the Arab states.
Ultimately, Israelis and Palestinians will make peace, though they cannot do
it on their own. The involvement of the President of the United States,
supported by the members of the Quartet who have made significant
contributions, is essential.
Israelis and Palestinians need help to break the vicious cycle of violence,
to be able to negotiate and hold a referendum to test acceptance of the
Geneva Accords as a model for a treaty. The Arabs have to do more than wait
for their historic peace initiative to be accepted. The Arabs need to
communicate with both Israelis and Palestinians. A long-term and
well-thought-out strategy is needed to communicate to the Israeli public
that normalcy in the region, including relations with the Arab states, will
be part of an Israeli-Palestinian treaty. For the Palestinians, a strategy
to convince them that the Arab states are committed to a two-state solution
that will end the conflict permanently is vital to give them hope for the
Saudi Arabia, a leader in the Arab world, along with other Arab states,
including Egypt and Jordan, which have peace treaties with Israel, cannot
simply wait for the United States or others to resolve the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arabs have an important role to play in
“marketing” their initiative, promoting dialogue with Israelis and
Palestinians, and encouraging the mass media to report accurately and
support peace. Educational, economic and political reform in the Arab states
will not only develop those societies, but will also create an environment
in the region which is conducive to peace.
Convincing Arab publics, with some 70% of the population under the age of
25, that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will lead to
normal relations throughout the region is a daunting task for Arab leaders.
It is no longer possible to separate the resolution of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict from domestic problems. How can Arab youth
contemplate a strategic shift in the region when they do not have a sense of
normalization in their own daily lives? Young Arabs need hope for a better
life, to know that if they work hard, there will be opportunities for them
to prosper. Deprived of hope, these youngsters become susceptible to
extremism instead of becoming productive citizens.
The richness of Arab culture, tradition and history is the real wealth of
the region. The foundation for excellence in modern education should be to
teach students to think for themselves and to prepare them for jobs in a
globalized economy. The explosion of media outlets in the Arab world also
provides avenues for presenting accurate information, analysis, and cultural
and entertainment programming. Around the world, satellite television has
become a window on how globalization has created opportunities, diversity
and interdependence. Arab populations deserve to see the world as it
actually is, full of contradictions, but also vast possibilities.
Peace will come to the Middle East, sooner or later. It is now universally
understood what an Israeli-Palestinian treaty will look like. Crown Prince
Abdullah’s historic Arab Peace Initiative can help bring the peace sooner by
convincing Israelis, Palestinians and Arab publics that genuine peace and
normalcy are possible in the region and domestically.
* Director of the Middle East Forum for the Council on Foreign Relations and
consultant on international affairs to ABC News. This article is part of a
series of views on “Arab Peace Initiative” published in partnership with the
Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
From the Common Ground News Service