The intention of the Arab Peace Initiative was to correct an
omission in the Quartet structure by adding the Arab states to the
international circle of support for a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian
Reach out to the clear majority of Israelis
Toward a New Arab Peace Initiative
Robert H. Pelletreau , Al-Hayat in Partnership with
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The Middle East Road Map makes an intriguing reference,
among its cited foundations for a settlement, to “the initiative of Saudi
Crown Prince Abdallah – endorsed by the Beirut Arab League Summit – calling
for acceptance of Israel as a neighbor living in peace and security, in the
context of a comprehensive settlement.” The intention of the drafters was to
correct an omission in the Quartet structure by adding the Arab states to
the international circle of support for a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian
peace agreement, giving the Road Map as broad shoulders as possible to carry
a new negotiating effort forward.
Crown Prince Abdallah’s initiative, brilliantly conceived and launched in
February 2002, subsequently foundered on the cruel rocks of Arab summit
politics and a coincidental catastrophic terrorist bombing in Israel, but it
should not be forgotten or too quickly consigned to the dustbin of failed
ideas. Its essential elements remain valid and should be nurtured and called
forth anew as peace efforts haltingly proceed.
Abdallah’s initial target audience was the United States, its leaders in the
Administration and the Congress and its influential Jewish community.
Selecting the respected and widely read columnist Tom Friedman as the
transmission vehicle ensured wide distribution and discussion.
As conceived, the Saudi initiative would then be presented to the Beirut
Summit in March where Abdallah’s address would form the basis of a summit
declaration and reach out to Israel’s people and government with a message
of peace and reconciliation. That this did not occur was the result of
watering down and amendment of the original initiative in order to achieve
Arab consensus and the summit’s unfortunate coincidence with the horrific
Netanya bombing, which closed Israeli ears to its new and positive aspects.
The Sharon Government quickly, perhaps too quickly, rejected it, and the
United States, too, was turned off by the other major project at Beirut,
Arab reconciliation with Saddam sealed by a Saudi-Iraqi embrace. The
follow-up mission to Western capitals, led by Arab League Secretary General
Amre Moussa, could gain no traction and the Beirut Summit, therefore, lost
The Road Map, while not prospering, continues to be the most generally
accepted way forward both in the region and internationally. Although Israel
expressed 14 “reservations” to it, including a requirement to remove any
references to the Arab initiative, Prime Ministers Sharon and Abbas and
President Bush gave it and each other strong endorsement at their Aqaba
meeting in June. However, subsequent implementation by each of the three
parties has faltered, driven by internal dynamics.
Trust between Israelis and Palestinians remained dormant and was set back by
the Abbas resignation. Israelis did not understand the hudna concept or that
no party to it enjoyed full control over its theoretical adherents, making
some violations inevitable. Nor could they accept Abu Mazen’s continuing
deference to Arafat and inability to gather the remnants of the various
Palestinian security forces under his authority. They repeatedly made
unrealistic demands of the Palestinian police who were still in the early
stages of rebuilding and in no position to respond effectively.
Palestinians, for their part, leapt to interpret Israel’s slow dismantlement
of proto-settlements, selective prisoner release and continued work on the
wall of separation as bad faith rather than understanding Israel’s internal
motivations or the fact that their own lack of performance was in good part
The Bush Administration’s promising start after the President’s June trip
was not consolidated into the proactive diplomacy required to make progress.
As an election year in the U.S. approaches, and with violence again on the
upswing, the President’s true commitment to Middle East peace negotiations
remains uncertain. The Road Map continues to hover over the region as the
theoretical way forward but it has not set down roots and needs to be
What is needed at this point is a fresh injection of vigor and direction to
the peace effort. This can most effectively come from the Arab world, but
the difficulty in bringing it about must not be underestimated. To have the
most positive impact in Israel, a new Arab initiative should clearly affirm
recognition of the existence of the State of Israel and acceptance of the
vision of a region living in peace and security with normal diplomatic
relations among its governments and minimal restrictions on its peoples to
develop trade, tourism and other societal interaction. In this way, it could
usefully build upon Crown Prince Abdallah’s initial formulation, as reported
by Friedman, of full withdrawal, full peace and full normalization of
relations. It should unambiguously denounce violence and terrorism in all
its forms and include, or point to, a context in which Arab and Israeli
representatives would come together to provide a supportive context for
Palestinian-Israeli negotiations and eventually to endorse a
Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement.
An initiative in this direction will be difficult to achieve, not because
the key Arab leaders do not recognize its validity and usefulness, but
because of the constraints imposed by their respective political contexts
and volatile public opinions. They must not be seen as responding to
pressure from Washington; nor can they be seen as making concessions to
Israel or surrendering Palestinian rights.
The trick will be to design an approach which revitalizes the flagging Road
Map process and re-engages the United States, whose continuous and
high-level involvement is indispensable, without delegitimizing the
initiators themselves through alienating opinion at home or attracting
poisonous criticism from unpersuaded brethren.
At this time, consideration should be given to an Arab initiative that seeks
common ground with Europe in the first instance. This would avoid the
pitfall of appearing as U.S. puppets while at the same time joining together
essential components of the international support structure who have not
been in the recent forefront to shore up the entire process.
Key Arab and European leaders should come together in a European or Arab
capital for this purpose, enlist Mr. Friedman and other mega-communicators
to their cause, and then send appropriate emissaries to the United States,
Israel, Palestine, Russia and the U.N. Secretary General.
Such an initiative could reach out to the clear majority of Israelis and
Palestinians who want peace and overcome Israel's earlier, hasty rejection.
Coming at a time of renewed violence and flagging American attentiveness, it
could arrest the slide toward violent chaos and at best, set the entire
process back on track. Even at worst, it would have the effect of keeping
the international framework for peace intact, ready to support renewed
negotiations at the next opportune moment.
Ambassador Pelletreau is a former Assistant Secretary of
State for Near Eastern Affairs and former Ambassador of the United States to
Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain.
From the Common Ground News Service
31 October 2003