Arab Peace Initiative returns to the table

April 9, 2013
Sarah Benton

AP and Ma’an news reports are followed by Mondoweiss comment.

President Mahmoud Abbas meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Ramallah Sunday, April 7, 2013. Photo by Mohamed Torokman, AP.

Decade-old Mideast peace plan re-emerges as possible between Israel and Palestinians

By AP/Washington Post
April 07, 2013

JERUSALEM — A dormant, decade-old Mideast peace plan has suddenly emerged as a possible key to breaking years of deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians.

A top Palestinian official said Sunday that the visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed interest in reviving the so-called Arab Peace Initiative, a 2002 plan in which the Arab world offered comprehensive peace with Israel in exchange for a full pullout from all territories it captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Arab officials confirmed the Arab League was set to discuss the matter on Monday.

The initiative was revolutionary when it was introduced by Saudi Arabia’s then crown prince, King Abdullah, and later endorsed by the 22-member Arab League at a summit in Beirut. However, the plan was overshadowed by fierce Israeli-Palestinian fighting at the time* and greeted with skepticism by Israel. The Arab League re-endorsed the plan in 2007, and technically, the offer remains in effect.

Key obstacles remain. Israel has not softened its objections to the plan, and the Palestinians turned down a request from Kerry for changes in it.

In the 1967 war, Israel took control of the West Bank, east Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, Sinai and Golan Heights. Israeli returned the Sinai to Egypt in 1982 in the framework of a peace treaty and pulled out of Gaza unilaterally in 2005. Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, and peace talks with Syria over the territory have repeatedly failed.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been deadlocked since late 2008, in large part over the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians refuse to talk while Israel settles its population on the occupied territories where they want to establish their state. They have demanded that Israel accept the 1967 lines as the basis for a future Palestine. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects a return to the 1967 lines and calls for talks with no preconditions.

The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation has also endorsed the 2002 Arab peace initiative.

The plan, if adopted, considers the Arab-Israeli conflict “ended,” offers “normal relations” with Israel and calls for providing “security for all the states of the region.”

Israel has rejected a return to the 1967 lines for both security and spiritual reasons. Israeli leaders have long argued that the 1967 frontiers are indefensible. In addition, a return to those boundaries would mean a withdrawal from east Jerusalem, home to the city’s holiest Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious sites.

Israel has annexed east Jerusalem, and Netanyahu has vowed never to share control of the sensitive area. The Palestinians say there can be no peace without establishing their capital in east Jerusalem. These conflicting claims to east Jerusalem are perhaps the most emotional and explosive issue in the conflict.

Kerry on Sunday kicked off what is expected to be several months of shuttle diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinians with a stop in the West Bank for talks with President Mahmoud Abbas.

It was not immediately clear whether the Arab initiative came up in Sunday night’s talks. A senior State Department official said the meeting “included a discussion on how to create a positive climate for negotiations,” but that Kerry had asked all participants to keep the details confidential. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of Kerry’s orders not to brief reporters.

Abbas spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said Abbas urged Israel to release Palestinian prisoners it is holding, called on Israel to halt settlement construction and urged Israel to commit to a solution based on the 1967 lines. He did not say whether the Arab peace initiative was discussed but confirmed Abbas was leaving Monday for talks on the plan at an Arab League meeting in Qatar.

Mohammed Subeih, the Arab League’s undersecretary for Palestinian affairs, confirmed a special committee on the peace initiative would hold “an urgent meeting” in Doha on Monday.

He said the prime minister of Qatar would chair the meeting, and foreign ministers of key countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Palestinians, would attend. The Arab League’s chief Nabil El-Araby is also expected, he said.

Subeih said the committee would form a delegation, chaired by El-Araby and the Qatari prime minister, to travel to Washington in the coming weeks. In Washington, the delegation will try together with the American side draw a road map to “end Israeli occupation,” he said.

Earlier Sunday, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said Kerry has been floating the Arab initiative as a possible way out of the deadlock.

Officials say Kerry has proposed two small changes to make it more palatable to Israel, saying the 1967 lines could be modified through mutual agreement and pressing for stronger security guarantees. Security-obsessed Israel has grown increasingly jittery during the upheaval that has swept through the Middle East over the past two years.

Speaking to the Voice of Palestine radio station, Erekat said the plan could not be changed. “Kerry asked us to change few words in the Arab Peace Initiative but we refused,” he said.

Israeli officials refused to comment on the matter. An Israeli official said the Israelis were planning to offer “a wide spectrum of ideas” to Kerry when they meet with him in the current days. The official declined to elaborate. He spoke on condition of anonymity because nothing has been formally presented yet.

In the past, Netanyahu has described the Arab peace initiative as a welcome sign of acceptance from the Arab world but refused to accept it in its current form. Netanyahu has said that presenting the plan as an ultimatum would undermine negotiations.

But after years of deadlock, and growing international isolation over continued Israeli settlement construction, Netanyahu could find himself in a difficult position if the offer is again extended.

AP writers Mohammed Daraghmeh and Bradley Klapper in Ramallah, West Bank and Hamza Hendawi in Cairo contributed to this report.

* 30 people at a Passover seder were killed by a suicide bomber on March 27. The Israelis responded with Operation Defensive Shield in which 30 Israeli soldiers were killed. Different methods of counting give 497 Palestinian deaths (the UN) or 240 (B’Tselem).

Officials: Kerry offers Abbas incentives to negotiate
By Ma’an news

April 07, 2013

RAMALLAH  — US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday offered President Mahmoud Abbas incentives to return to direct negotiations with Israel, Palestinian sources said.At a meeting in Ramallah, Kerry offered to release all Palestinian funds and to ensure Israel does not withhold Palestinian tax revenue in the future, Palestinian officials told Ma’an.

Washington’s top diplomat also offered to extend the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction, particularly in Area C — the 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control. The PA only has full jurisdiction of around 18 percent of the West Bank.

Kerry also proposed allowing Palestinians to build more freely in Area C of the West Bank, the officials said.

Abbas responded that Palestinians seek a return to direct talks, but that Israel must stop illegal settlement building and release Palestinian prisoners first, according to the officials.

The official PA news agency Wafa reported that Abbas said Palestinians were a peaceful people who were willing to cooperate with international efforts to achieve peace and a state on 1967 borders.

He told Kerry that settlements could not be tolerated, particularly Israel’s planned E1 settlement project which would divide the West Bank and isolate Jerusalem, Wafa reported.

The US secretary of state arrived in Israel on Sunday for a new round of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on how to break a years-long impasse in direct peace negotiations.

Kerry headed straight for Ramallah where he met Abbas for their third meeting in just over a month.

He last met Abbas in Amman on March 23, when the president told him that Israeli settlements “endanger” peace efforts, while flagging up the need to address the flashpoint issue of prisoners held in Israeli jails.

The two had previously held talks in Riyadh on March 4 in their first meeting since Kerry took over as secretary of state.

Ahead of the meeting, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said Abbas was likely to just listen to what Kerry had to say,

“We will just listen to him. Kerry listened to our position, and we will listen to him to see if he will bring something new,” he told AFP on Saturday.

“This meeting was called by Kerry, and President Abbas will meet him to see what he has because the United States knows our position clearly.”

When Abbas hosted Obama for talks in Ramallah last month, the president made clear there would be no return to negotiations without a settlement freeze.

But he has also made it known he would suspend for two months all unilateral efforts to seek international recognition to give US-brokered efforts a chance, a Palestinian official told AFP last week.

Abbas also wants Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to present a map of the borders of a future Palestinian state before talks can resume.

Kerry suggests that Palestinians change Arab Peace Initiative to suit Israelis

By Ira Glunts, Mondoweiss
April 08, 2013

Various news sources report that the Obama administration has notified the Palestinian Authority that the new U.S. approach to peace negotiations will be based on the Arab Peace Initiative (API) of 2002. The plan, which was unanimously adopted by the Arab League, is sometimes referred to as the Saudi Peace Initiative since it was presented at the Beirut Arab summit by then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Sheera Frenkel, at McClatchy Newspapers, quotes an unnamed source who stated,

‘It [the Arab Peace Initiative] was raised directly by Obama during his visit and during his closed-door discussion with the Palestinian leadership,’ said a senior Palestinian official directly involved in the talks. ‘It was made clear to the Palestinian leadership that this would be the new direction of U.S. diplomacy in the region.’

The Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel a comprehensive peace and normal relations from all nations in the region, in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories and the return to Syria of the Golan Heights. The relevant paragraphs of the initiative are:

2. I. – Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.

2. III. – The acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

When the API was proposed, it was summarily rejected by then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and following Israel’s lead was mostly ignored by the Bush administration. Although Benjamin Netanyahu “blasted” the Saudi proposal in 2002 and 2007, now “Israel’s government is suddenly claiming it has always ‘publicly praised’ the API and looks forward to the talks,” according to Jason Ditz at The Israeli Prime Minister’s sudden warming to the Arab Peace Initiative is not surprising if reports of the U.S. desire to revive the plan are true. This is because the United States always makes its proposals known to the Israelis and U.S. strategies are coordinated with Israel before they are presented to the Palestinians. (See Rashid Khalidi’s latest book, Brokers of Deceit.)

What makes little sense is that the Israelis would agree to base negotiations on a document that demands full withdrawal from all occupied territories when Netanyahu publicly reprimanded Obama in May of 2011 for stating that the pre-1967 armistice lines should be used as a basis or starting point in any Palestinian-Israeli negotiation. In addition, why would Obama now support the API, with its demand for complete Israeli withdrawal, when he has backed away from his call for just basing negotiations on the pre-1967 borders?

The answer may be found in the Fox News account of the April 7th meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and a Palestinian delegation which included President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. (Palestinian) “Officials say Kerry has proposed two small changes to make it more palatable to Israel, saying the 1967 lines could be modified through mutual agreement and pressing for stronger security guarantees.”

Calling these small changes is ridiculous since allowing negotiation on borders negates one of the defining proposals of the API; that there be a full Israeli withdrawal from all territories Israel conquered in 1967. Secondly, requiring stronger security guarantees is a euphemism for less Palestinian sovereignty. Its application usually is understood to include Israeli control of Palestinian air space, borders,water resources, as well as long-term permission to station Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley.

It is not clear if the characterization of Kerry’s words as “small changes” is his or that of Fox News. Either way, they were not well-received in Ramallah.

Speaking to the Voice of Palestine radio station, Saeb Erekat said the plan could not be changed. “Kerry asked us to change [a] few words in the Arab Peace Initiative but we refused,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority has always supported the Arab Peace Initiative.

Despite the apparent initial rejection of the proposed American changes, the API will be on the agenda at the upcoming Arab League meeting in Qatar. Abbas, who will attend, has been rumored to be interested in finding a way to restart the talks with Netanyahu if only to please his American patron and give the impression to his constituents that his administration is working to achieve Palestinian statehood.

The U.S. involvement in the “peace process” has been more about supporting Israeli occupation and less about achieving any tangible results. The Israelis love to appear to be conciliatory and are willing to negotiate with the Palestinians for the foreseeable future as long as they are not forced to make realistic territorial concessions or significantly interrupt expanding Jewish-only West Bank settlements. Proposing negotiations based on the 2002 Saudi initiative may make the U.S. appear engaged diplomatically, but by trying to force the Palestinians to accept a gutted Arab Peace Initiative, the Obama administration will continue to show that only the Israelis benefit from American intervention.

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