Accept the Saudi Initiative
JERUSALEM - Four years after it was first presented, the Arab Peace
Initiative is finally coming to centre stage. Rumours of behind the scenes
meetings and negotiations on the Initiative between Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert and Saudi national security advisor Prince Bandar bin Sultan have
been strengthened by reports that the Saudi prince is trying to modify the
Initiative so that it will be more acceptable to Israel.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni stated that Israel cannot accept the Initiative
in its present form because it mentions UN Resolution 194, which is the
foundation of the Arab claims for the right of return of refugees from the
1948 war to their homes inside of Israel.
Israel also rejects the direct reference to the June 4, 1967 lines in the
Initiative. Israel rightly claims that in negotiations with the Palestinians
on borders, the principle of territorial exchanges has already been
accepted, so why go back to the 1967 lines, which ignore any of the new
realities on the ground and the very tenuous nature of those lines for
Despite the rumours that Bandar is trying to modify the document, it is very
unlikely that the Arab world will agree to change the proposal, which was
already hammered out between various interests and forces within the Arab
world. But the Arab League could improve the document's appeal by marketing
it better to Israel. For one, it is possible to state that the Arab Peace
Initiative is a "framework, a basis or a platform" for renewing the peace
process rather than having it appear as a document that must be accepted in
full or rejected in full.
The Arab League summit that will be held in Riyadh at the end of this month
could decide to send a high level representative to appear in the Knesset
and in the Palestinian Legislative Council in order to present the
Initiative directly to the people of Israel and Palestine. That would be the
kind of triggering event that would completely change the political climate
surrounding the Initiative since 2002.
Since the Initiative has been widely overlooked by Israeli politicians, it
is certainly worthwhile to point to its primary advantages and reasons why
Israel should accept it quickly before it is no longer relevant.
The Arab Peace Initiative was accepted unanimously by all of the member
states of the Arab League in March 2002. It was once again unanimously
ratified at the meeting of the League of Arab States in Khartoum in May
2006. The Initiative calls for the recognition of the State of Israel, full
peace and normalized relations between all of the member states of the Arab
League and Israel.
There is huge significance to the reference to normalized relations. It
should be understood that the notion of normalization of relations with
Israel has been a steadfast taboo in Arab political culture since 1948. For
the Arab League to call for normalized relations is no less than a political
The Initiative also calls for "achievement of a just solution to the
Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General
Assembly Resolution 194". This is the first time that an Arab document uses
the word "agreed" in this context. That would mean that this issue could be
negotiated between the parties. In its operative paragraph on refugees, UN
Resolution 194 states: "That the refugees wishing to return to their homes
and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the
earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the
property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to
property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should
be made good by the governments or authorities responsible".
The resolution does not state that all refugees must be allowed to return
and opens the door for those who do not wish to return to receive financial
compensation instead. An agreement between Israel and the PLO that would
award Palestinian refugees compensation instead of return would certainly
fulfil the requirements of the Arab Peace Initiative and should not hinder
Israeli agreement to the Initiative.
In order to receive the benefits of the proposal Israel must allow for the
creation of an independent sovereign Palestinian state, in borders that will
be mutually acceptable to Israel and the PLO, with East Jerusalem as its
capital. This step is clearly in Israel's national security interest. Israel
would still need to resolve the issue of the Shebaa Farms area with Lebanon
and Syria, and must withdraw from the Golan Heights. Removing the northern
front from the domain of possible war is also clearly an Israeli national
Solving these issues provides the means for achieving peace. Now with the
Arab Peace Initiative, the results of such moves would not only bring peace
with the Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria, but with the entire Arab world.
The peace camp created would extend from Marrakech all the way to
Bangladesh. Only Iran would be outside of the region of peace, but it has
also been reported that the Iranian president, during his recent visit to
Riyadh, also stated his support for the Arab Peace Initiative.
This is almost too good to be true. It is now the turn of the leaders of
Israel to turn to the Arab world and to say "yes" loud and clear. The
government of Israel should send a message to the Arab League summit that it
accepts the Arab Peace Initiative, even in its current form, as a framework
for the renewal of the peace process and bilateral negotiations that should
commence as soon as possible. Prime Minister Olmert, in announcing his
acceptance of the Initiative as a framework, should declare his willingness
to speak before the Arab League summit. The Quartet should declare its
willingness to escort Olmert to Riyadh and to lend its support to
immediately organizing a regional peace conference for the re-launching of
all the bilateral and multilateral tracks aimed at reaching full agreements
within one year on all fronts.
For the first time in the history of the Middle East, the possibility for
genuine comprehensive peace is much more real than fantasy. The opportunity
is placed at our doorstep. If we miss it, we will have no one to blame for
the next war but ourselves.
* Gershon Baskin is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for
Research and Information (www.ipcri.org).
Source: Jerusalem Post, 5 March 2007,
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שירות החדשות CGNews מציע חדשות, מאמרי דעה, כתבות ופרשנויות של
מומחים מקומיים ובינלאומיים, העוסקים בטווח רחב של נושאים הקשורים