New life for the Arab Peace Initiative

This posting has these items. Their number reflects our failure to cover the issue consistently and Israel’s blanking of the initiative:

1) Arab peace initiative: full text, the document, March 28, 2002;
2) JPost: It’s time to revisit the Arab Peace Initiative, USP of API* is that it will affect the whole region, January 2015;
3) JPost: Lapid backs Saudi initiative as basis for peace talks, two months ago, Yair Lapid called for peace talks on the basis of the API, September 2015;
4) Times of Israel: Why is Israel so afraid of the Arab Peace Initiative?, when a former Likud minister says ‘it’s the best plan ever’ why does Israel persist in scorning it? June 2013;
5) Haaretz: After All This Time Working Toward Peace, I’m Still an Optimist Tony Blair explains why he thinks the API, with some revisions, is a good basis for negotiations, November 2015;
6) Times of Israel: Arab Peace Initiative, take 2: Major development or ‘scam’?, Ralph Ahrens asks several veteran peace-makers what it would take to get Israel to take the API seriously, 2010;
7) openDemocracy: Will Israelis ever accept the Arab Peace Initiative, Gershon Baskin, who thinks highly of the API, says Arab states should all recognise Israel and Israelis should take the document seriously, 2009;
8-Washington Institute: Stalled Arab Peace Initiative Reaffirmed, part of a report on why the API failed, 2013;
9) Al Monitor: Saudi Peace Initiative takes back seat to Iran, a rare article acknowledging Saudi Arabia’s retreat from the API, 2014;
10) Haaretz: Peace Would Be Possible With the Arab Peace Initiative at Its Core, Prince Turki Al Faisal picks up the API baton, July 2014;
11) Notes and links, more on the facts of the API, and links to those who say it’s defunct;

The Arab Peace Initiative as presented on the Arab League website. Note the Iranian flag at the bottom. Editors have added the arrow pointing to Iran, which is not an Arab country. Screenshot via

Arab peace initiative: full text

Published in The Guardian, March 28th, 2002.

This is the full text of an agreement reached at the Arab League summit in Beirut
Thursday 28 March 2002

The Arab Peace Initiative

The Council of the League of Arab States at the Summit Level, at its 14th Ordinary Session,

· Reaffirms the resolution taken in June 1996 at the Cairo extraordinary Arab summit that a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of the Arab countries, to be achieved in accordance with international legality, and which would require a comparable commitment on the part of the Israeli government.

· Having listened to the statement made by his royal highness Prince Abdullah Bin Abdullaziz, the crown prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in which his highness presented his initiative, calling for full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967, in implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, reaffirmed by the Madrid Conference of 1991 and the land for peace principle, and Israel’s acceptance of an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in return for the establishment of normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel.

· Emanating from the conviction of the Arab countries that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties, the council:

1. Requests Israel to reconsider its policies and declare that a just peace is its strategic option as well.

2. Further calls upon Israel to affirm:

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

b. Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194.

c. The acceptance of the establishment of a Sovereign Independent Palestinian State on the Palestinian territories occupied since the 4th of June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza strip, with east Jerusalem as its capital.

3. Consequently, the Arab countries affirm the following:

a. Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region.

b. Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.

4. Assures the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries.

5. Calls upon the government of Israel and all Israelis to accept this initiative in order to safeguard the prospects for peace and stop the further shedding of blood, enabling the Arab Countries and Israel to live in peace and good neighborliness and provide future generations with security, stability, and prosperity.

6. Invites the international community and all countries and organizations to support this initiative.

7. Requests the chairman of the summit to form a special committee composed of some of its concerned member states and the secretary general of the League of Arab States to pursue the necessary contacts to gain support for this initiative at all levels, particularly from the United Nations, the security council, the United States of America, the Russian Federation, the Muslim States and the European Union.

President Mahmoud Abbas and Qatar’s prime minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani arrive at a meeting of the Arab Peace Initiative Committee in Doha in 2013. Photo by Reuters

It’s time to revisit the Arab Peace Initiative

A successful initiative would resolve the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and open up a host of new diplomatic and economic relations in the region.

By Lesley Terris, Opinion, JPost
January 12, 2015

Proposed by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and endorsed by the Arab League in 2002, and then re-endorsed in 2007, was never debated seriously by the Israeli government. The proposal, which has undergone several revisions, calls for Israeli withdrawal from the Arab territories occupied since 1967 with the option for mutually agreed territorial swaps; the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital; and a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the Palestinian refugee question in accordance with UN Resolution 194.

In exchange, 57 Arab and Muslim states would establish “normal relations” with Israel. Received in Israel with indifference under the claim that the proposal offered Israel nothing new, the Initiative was placed in some metaphorical attic, probably in the hope that it would be forgotten forever.

The time has come shake off the dust from the Arab Peace Initiative and examine its merit as a basis for negotiation for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Not as a take-itor- leave-it document, but as a basis for negotiations. This was the general theme of a conference on “The Arab Peace Initiative: Opportunities, Likelihood and Risks” that was held last week at the IDC Herzliya by the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) headed by Prof. Alex Mintz.

Speakers at the conference, which included a host of Middle East experts, scholars and researchers, and two former heads of the Mossad, were more or less of one opinion: the Arab Peace Initiative actually does offer Israel something new, in fact dramatically new: the opportunity to reach a settlement with the Palestinians that is supported by the Arab world, alongside the forging of diplomatic relations with 57 Arab and Muslim countries.

A successful Arab Peace Initiative would resolve the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and open up a host of new diplomatic and economic relations in the region.

The main Arab players in the region, in particular Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both of which enjoy special status in the Arab and Islamic worlds, are crucial to the success of an Israeli-Palestinian deal. Any agreement between Palestinians and Israelis will require first and foremost their explicit stamp of approval. Moreover, they possess the necessary leverage to push the Palestinians toward an agreement they themselves support. One need only look to the recent past to see the influence of Arab states over the Palestinians.

In 1995 when Yasser Arafat was slow to sign the Oslo II Accords, Mubarak forced him – using highly undiplomatic language – to the table. In the Camp David talks in 2000 Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and president Mubarak opposed prime minister Ehud Barak’s proposals regarding Jerusalem and went so far as to threaten Arafat with political excommunication if he accepted the offer. We know how these incidents ended – both times in Palestinian compliance with their larger Arab brothers.

Therefore the Arab Peace Initiative warrants serious consideration by Israel, not because its proposals regarding the core issues in dispute are favorable to Israel. Favorable terms are a goal to be achieved through negotiations based on the document. Rather, the initiative deserves serious consideration because a process based on a document endorsed and supported by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other member states of the Arab League would enjoy legitimacy in large parts of the Muslim and Arab world.

Second, Arab states will be more committed to negotiations based on a proposal they have endorsed and more prepared to invest time and resources in order to obtain a successful outcome. Third, with their reputation on the line, they will be committed to upholding an agreement reached. Finally, and most importantly, the Arab states have greater ability, or moving-power, than any other party, including the United States and Europe, to influence the Palestinians to co-operate.

Certainly, Israel is sceptical about the prospect of involving Arab states, friends of the Palestinians, as mediators in negotiations. Yet, one might learn here from the experience of Egypt, which was the first Arab state to accept Israel’s friend, the United States, as a mediator in its conflict with Israel. For Egyptian president Anwar Sadat this was certainly a way to improve Egypt’s relations with Washington. Yet more importantly, Sadat understood that US mediation, not the Egyptian army, could restore the Sinai to Egypt. He understood that the United States, because of its close relationship with Israel, was the only country with sufficient leverage to pressure Israeli leaders to agree to significant concessions. This line of thought went against the commonly held belief among Arab states that the United States’ bias toward Israel prevented it from serving as an acceptable and effective mediator.

Studies on mediation in international conflicts have shown that in negotiations where a mediator is closer to one side than the other, the favored side tends to make the larger concessions. Thus, involving moderate Arab states through the Arab League-endorsed proposal may not only help put the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track, but might also provide the necessary pressure on the Palestinians to make certain concessions as well as the legitimacy to do so. Currently, given the dangers entailed in continuing the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, and given the alignment of interests between Israel and such heavyweights in the Arab world as Egypt and Saudi Arabia vis-àvis more radical and dangerous forces in the region, now is an opportune moment to revisit the Arab Initiative as a basis for talks on an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

The author is a researcher and lecturer on negotiations and mediation in international relations at IDC Herzliya.

Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, backs API. 2013 photo by Getty images.

Lapid backs Saudi initiative as basis for peace talks

Yair Lapid blasts Netanyahu for “turning Israel into a Republican satellite”

By Gil Hoffman, Ro Yeger, JPost
September 20, 2015

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Sunday called to restart the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians, using a regional approach based on the controversial Saudi-Arab Initiative of 2002.

Lapid expanded on a diplomatic plan that he first revealed exclusively at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York in June. He purposely chose Bar-Ilan University as the site of Sunday’s speech, because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed a Palestinian state at the religious Zionist university six years ago.

“A regional summit as the opening salvo for a comprehensive regional agreement is the most effective tactical and political tool to start the process,” Lapid said. “The summit needs to be based on a joint statement confirming that it will lead to a regional agreement.

The framework of the discussion will be the Saudi-Arab Initiative of 2002, which was reaffirmed in Riyadh in 2007.

The advantage of this initiative is that it doesn’t look to reach an agreement only with the Palestinians, but full and normal relations – diplomatic and economic – with the whole Arab world.”

Lapid stressed that he did not agree with every word of the Saudi initiative, which calls for the 22 Arab League member countries to normalize relations with Israel in return for the creation of a Palestinian state, as well as a withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem, and a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. But he praised the initiative for giving Israel more of an incentive to pursue a diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

“Israel should not have left [the initiative] unanswered for 13 years,” Lapid said. “The lack of a response causes the world to think that we’re not really looking for a solution, only excuses to avoid an agreement.”

Lapid called for a regional summit under American auspices with two tracks: a direct Israeli-Palestinian track and a multi-lateral Israeli-Arab track that will deal with the questions of borders, security measures, the economy and the rehabilitation of Gaza in exchange for Hamas decommissioning its weapons.

“There are two basic principles which we must not stray from,” he said. “The first is that we must not repeat the mistakes of Gaza. The Palestinian state will not become a base for terrorism and rockets against Israel. We must maintain the security coordination which exists and which allows us into the West Bank to prevent terrorism against Israel. The second stems from the first – Israel’s security cannot be in the hands of others. It has to be in the hands of the IDF, and only the IDF.”

Lapid warned that if Israel did not reach an agreement with the Palestinians, at some point 3.5 million of them would ask to be absorbed into Israel, which he said would threaten everything that is important to the continued existence of the Jewish state.

“My father [former justice minister Yosef (Tommy) Lapid] didn’t move here from the ghetto to live in a bi-national state,” he said. “He moved here to live in a Jewish state. And if we don’t separate from the Palestinians, the Jewish character of Israel is at risk.”

Lapid criticized Netanyahu for preventing him from advancing a regional diplomatic approach when he served as his finance minister. He also attacked the prime minister for failing to provide security to Israeli residents, to stop Russian arms proliferation in the region, and to stop the Iranian nuclear deal in Congress.

“No-one takes seriously, and I say that politely, Netanyahu’s claim that he was seeking only a ‘moral victory,’” he said. “For months, his people told anyone who was willing to listen that he knows how to defeat the [US] president in Congress and then he lost, a crushing defeat. It wasn’t a defeat on points; it was a defeat by knock-out. There wasn’t even a need for a presidential veto, some of our closest friends in Congress voted for the deal. The position of our security establishment on supervision wasn’t even heard.”

Lapid said that rather than attack US president Barack Obama, he should have coordinated his strategy against the Iran deal with new Saudi King Salman. He even suggested that had Netanyahu handled himself better, Israel could have been invited to join the six P5+1 countries at the negotiating table with Iran. He warned that Israel’s problematic relations with the US were not temporary and would not be fixed by Obama leaving the White House in January 2017.

“He misread the map of the new United States which has changed dramatically in the past decade, turned the administration into an enemy, turned the Democratic Party into an enemy and turned the Israeli government into a satellite of the Republican Party,” Lapid said of Netanyahu. “He created a head-on confrontation with the administration at the exact moment we most needed the administration with us.”

Lapid said that had Obama come to the Knesset without coordinating it with Netanyahu and called for MKs to vote against Netanyahu and his policy, the country would be justifiably furious. But he did not mention that when Obama came to Israel in March 2013, he turned down an invitation to address the Knesset in favor of a speech to left-wing students in which he urged them to call for their newly elected government to make territorial concessions and stop construction in settlements.

The Yesh Atid leader, who considers himself a candidate for prime minister, suggested Netanyahu has not only failed to create a more secure Israel, but has instead spent the last seven years as prime minister harming Israel’s national security.

“Fear is not a policy. Sowing hatred and anxiety is not a policy,” he said.

Netanyahu’s number two in Likud, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, attacked Lapid on Twitter, saying that separations from the Palestinians means mass withdrawals from land and that the Saudi Initiative calls for a Palestinian “right of return.” Lapid responded directly on the social media site by saying that without his plan, Israel’s future as a Jewish state is in jeopardy.

When Lapid accused Netanyahu of sending Erdan to attack him, Erdan responded that it is not the prime minister who should be worried by Lapid’s plan but opposition leader Isaac Herzog, because “Lapid bypassed him on the Left.”

President Abbas presents the API to the World Economic Forum in Jordan, May 26, 2013 as still the best foundation for a Middle East Peace Process (MEPP). Photo by Jim Young/AP

Why is Israel so afraid of the Arab Peace Initiative?

ANALYSIS It promises full diplomatic ties with the Muslim world, including Iran. It’s the ‘best idea ever,’ says an ex-Likud minister. So why does the government reject the Arab world’s ostensible path to peace?

By Raphael Ahren, diplomatic correspondent Times of Israel
June 18, 2013

Israel could easily make peace with Iran: it only needs to evacuate some settlements, allow a few Palestinian refugees to enter Israel, and the bitter enmity between Jerusalem and Tehran is a thing of the past.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple — but there is a theoretical kernel of truth to the aforementioned proposition. According to the Arab Peace Initiative, 57 Arab and Muslim states will establish “full diplomatic and normal relations” with Israel, in exchange for a “comprehensive peace agreement” with the Palestinians. The Islamic Republic of Iran is among the countries that endorse the initiative.

Though not Arab, Iran is a member state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which time and again expressed its support for the Arab Peace Initiative, including this past May in Cairo.

A decade earlier, in May 2003, a conference of the member states’ foreign ministers in Tehran “reaffirmed its support to, and adoption of, the Arab peace initiative for resolving the issue of Palestine and the Middle-East.” Indeed, an information leaflet about the peace initiative posted on the Arab League’s official website shows the flags of all countries that endorse the proposal, including those of Libya, Syria — and Iran.

First adopted by the Arab League in 2002, the Arab Peace Initiative has become a hot political item again since the organization mentioned for the first time the possibility of mutual agreed land swaps. The move was widely understood as a nod to changed realities on the ground that would allow Israel to retain major settlement blocs in the West Bank in a future final-status agreement.

Yet Jerusalem remains steadfast in rejecting the overture, or at least in assertively ignoring it. Just this Friday, in Washington, Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon dismissed the Arab initiative as “a spin” and “a dictation” that would force Israel to make great concessions before being able to present its own demands.

Why the objections, the reservations, the mistrust? Okay, the likelihood of peace with Iran may sound beyond improbable, but why doesn’t Israel at least ride the initiative toward normalization with ostensibly moderate Arab states, many of which appear to be interested in teaming up with Israel against their common enemies in Tehran? (Some analysts say that the Gulf states are especially willing to normalize relations with Israel, mainly because they seek allies in their struggle against the Iranian threat.)

Sceptics say the Arab Peace Initiative is unacceptable to Israel because of certain clauses that no government can ever agree to. Well, if so, why doesn’t Jerusalem at least try to engage with the Arab world by professing interest in the initiative, if only to demonstrate the will for peace and avoid being labeled as the party that prevents an agreement? There is so much to gain — politically and economically — in making peace with the entire Arab world. What is Israel afraid of?

Originally, the Arab Peace Initiative offered Jerusalem diplomatic relations with the entire Arab world in exchange for a “full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967,” the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the Palestinian refugee question.

In 2002, the Israeli government was curious but perceived the initiative as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition it couldn’t possibly embrace. “On the surface, the proposal looked appealing, with its provision that the Arab states welcome peace with Israel — something they had been unwilling to do since the state’s inception,” the son of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, Gilad Sharon, wrote in a 2011 memoir of his father. “But the details made the offer unacceptable.”

Today, Israel’s leaders make very similar comments.

But in the interim, it wasn’t always like this. Six years ago, then-prime minister Ehud Olmert welcomed the initiative, and in a remarkable but little-known episode of Arab-Israeli interaction, a semi-official Arab League delegation came to Jerusalem and discussed the peace proposal with Olmert and then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni.

In March 2007, after an Arab League summit held in Riyadh reaffirmed the original peace offer, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem asserted that “Israel is sincerely interested in pursuing a dialogue with those Arab states that desire peace with Israel.”

Olmert at the time keenly expressed his desire to meet the Saudi king to further explore the proposal, but no meeting was scheduled. Surprised by Olmert’s enthusiasm, the Arab League refused an encounter lest it be seen as engaging in “normalization” with the Zionist regime. The only Arab officials who could meet with the Israeli government were those whose countries already had peace treaties with Jerusalem, it was clarified, and so, months later, Livni met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and her Jordanian counterpart Abdul Ilah Khatib.

Then-foreign ministers Tzipi Livni, of Israel grips the hands of Abdul-Ilah Khatib, of Jordan, and Ahmed Aboul Gheit, of Egypt, in Jerusalem, July 25, 2007. Photo by Orel Cohen/Flash90

The Arab world could play an “important role” in helping Israel and the Palestinians make peace, Livni said in Cairo on May 10. At the end of this meeting, Gheit said an “Arab League preparatory team,” consisting of himself and his Jordanian colleague, intended to visit Israel “within the next few weeks as representatives of the Arab League,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry stated at the time, adding this would be “the first visit by official representatives of the Arab League in Israel.”

Gheit and Khatib indeed came to Israel, on July 25, but they insisted on diplomatic protocol that would “make it evident they’re representing their countries and not the Arab League,” according to an Israeli Foreign Ministry official. “So much for confidence building measures,” he scoffed.

Still, at a joint press conference in Jerusalem, Gheit said he was “very happy to be here as the foreign minister of Egypt on assignment by the Working Group of the Arab Summit.” Khatib, the Jordanian foreign minister, said the offer he and his colleague came to Jerusalem to present is an “opportunity of historic magnitude — it will provide Israel with the security and recognition and acceptance in this region to which Israel has long aspired.”

Gheit added that he planned to present a report to the Arab Ministerial Council within days and “relate to them what we have heard and convey the proposals we have listened to, and then we shall probably suggest some ideas to strengthen and ensure the continuation of this process.”

In other words: the two foreign ministers said they had good and constructive talks, and would take them back to the Arab League — “and were never heard of again,” the Israeli official said. “We did try to reach out to the Arab League, but they disappeared. We did it openly and publicly, but it did not help moderate Hamas, whose extremism and striving for power and violence is still there.” Later that summer, Hamas took over Gaza in a bloody coup. The rest is history: the Palestinian Authority fails to accept Olmert’s 2008 offer for a Palestinian state, two wars with Hamas in Gaza, a stalled peace process.

Enter US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been working tirelessly to restart negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians ever since he took office in February. On April 29, he hosted an Arab League delegation in Washington, during which Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani for the first time signalled that a “comparable and mutual agreed minor swap of the land” would be acceptable.

The Washington meeting: US Secretary of State John Kerry, second from right, with the Arab League led by Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, second from left, and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby speaks to the media following their meeting at Blair House in Washington, Monday, April 29, 2013.  Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta /AP

While most analysts and pundits said this was nothing new, as it was clear to everyone that a future peace agreement would entail land exchanges, for some Israeli lawmakers it showed that the Arab world is still interested in peace and that Israel should not waste this opportunity.

Some 40 MKs signed a petition that forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appear in the Knesset for a special session dedicated to the Arab Peace Initiative. In his speech, Netanyahu called on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to “give peace a chance” and enter negotiations without preconditions, yet barely addressed the Arab League’s reissued peace proposal.

“We are attentive to any initiative and we are ready to discuss any initiative that is proposed and that is not a dictate,” Netanyahu said, referring to a much-cited argument that some of the Arab Initiative’s demands — such as a return to the 1967 lines and the right of return — are non-starters for Israel yet appear non-negotiable for the Arabs. Some understood Netanyahu’s statement to mean that he “signaled readiness” to consider the peace initiative, pointing out that he did not explicitly reject it, but his words could hardly be considered a ringing endorsement.

Danny Danon: ‘You have to sacrifice a lot, and on the other hand you’re not really going to get peace. I don’t think we should even consider this offer’

Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon, [L] a declared opponent of a Palestinian  state, suggested that those behind the Arab Peace Initiative don’t really intend to  ever accept Israel in their midst. “You have to sacrifice a lot, and on the other hand you’re not really going to get peace,” he told The Times of Israel last week.  “Maybe if you sit in Qatar or Abu Dhabi it sounds good,” but those who know what happened in Gaza after the Hamas take-over fear that the terror group could also conquer the West Bank and rain rockets on central Israel from there, he suggested. “I don’t think we should even consider this offer.”
Indeed, security is one of the main arguments for opponents of the Arab Peace Initiative, because they argue that the ’67 lines, land swaps notwithstanding, are indefensible.

“I don’t foresee any Israeli government willing and/or capable of returning to the 1967 lines, with or without territorial swaps,” said Dani Dayan, a former chairman and current chief foreign envoy of the pro-settler Council of Jewish Settlements. True, Dayan contended, Netanyahu formally endorses a two-state solution, but he also made it amply clear that Israel is not ready to return to the Green Line.

“Territorial swaps do not make the 1967 borders more defensible. Territorial swaps have to do with demography, they have nothing to do with security,” Dayan said. “I do not see any territorial compromise that can reconcile Israeli and Palestinians demands. Therefore the Arab Peace Initiative, exactly like Oslo and John Kerry’s initiative, are a waste of time.”

Everyone agrees that Israel has legitimate security concerns, but if a regional peace agreement is implemented, they should be much less serious, countered Galia Golan, a professor at Herzliyah’s Interdisciplinary Center who specializes in the Arab-Israeli conflict. In addition, “demilitarizations and international border monitoring have also been agreed at various times in the past,” said Golan, a veteran Peace Now and Meretz activist. “At the very least, in circumstances of 21st century warfare, continued occupation of the territories — or even part of them without equal swaps — probably does not offer more security than the creation of a Palestinian state and taking a chance on peace and end of the conflict.”

Besides security, there are other troubling demands that make the Arab initiative a nonstarter in the eyes of critics, such as the refugee issue. True, proponents say that the text of the initiative specifies that any solution needs to be “agreed upon” by both sides, meaning that Israel will not forcibly be flooded by millions of Palestinians. However, it also says that any such solution needs to be in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which resolved that “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.”

Another little-known clause in the Arab Peace Initiative rejects “Palestinian patriation,” which implies that refugees living in camps on Israel’s borders will not be granted citizenship of their current host countries. This issue seems resolvable in the framework of a future Palestinian state, but critics fear it could further complicate issues.

International Relations and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who principally accepts the idea of a (demilitarized) Palestinian state, is less than enthusiastic about the proposal. “Every peace initiative is welcome but no peace initiative can replace bilateral negotiations between us and the Palestinians,” he told The Times of Israel last week. “We need to worry about genuine peace with genuine security — these items are not included in the Arab Peace Initiative.”

Steinitz was unwilling to even consider the proposal as a framework for peace talks. Negotiations are supposed to be bilateral, between Israelis and Palestinians, he said. “There are bilateral issues and it would not be right to discuss them with the entire Arab world, such as demilitarization and security arrangements that are essential for us.”

The Arab League has not been able to make peace in the Arab world. Why should anyone trust the Arab League with peacemaking?

Peace can only be made with countries which with one is in a territorial conflict, a veteran diplomatic official concurred. “Peace is a worthwhile objective, yet all promises of regional peace are futile and groundless,” he said. Negotiations and agreements occur when two parties sit down and try to resolve their conflict, he asserted. It is true that every time the Palestinians entered negotiations with Israel they did so with the encouragement of Arab states such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and at some point also Morocco, he allowed. But while those countries were able to make a difference in the past, the Arab League as an umbrella organization never did, asserted the official, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the issue.

The Arab League endorsed the eponymous peace initiative but, beyond that, never played a significant role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace track, the official continued. “The Arab League has not been able to make peace in the Arab world — between Algeria and Morocco, between Libya and Sudan, Iraq and Kuwait, and so on and so forth. Why should anyone trust the Arab League with peacemaking?”

And yet there are those who believe the Arab Peace Initiative is an opportunity Israel cannot afford to miss — and they aren’t just a bunch of gullible lefties and peaceniks. Former minister Meir Sheetrit, who for 25 years sat in the Knesset for the Likud party and today serves as faction chairman for Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, has always been a staunch supporter of the plan.

MK Meir Sheetrit. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90

“The Arab Peace Initiative was relevant from its first day in 2002, when Saudi King Abdullah proposed it. Today, like then, I think that is the best idea that has ever been heard, through which we can achieve peace,” the Moroccan-born politician said recently in an interview. “It is over a decade later, and it still remains the fastest and best path to achieve peace. Because it is a comprehensive initiative bringing 56 Islamic countries to the table who proclaim, ‘If you return to the 1967 borders and find a just and accepted solution for the refugees, we –all 56 Arab states — are ready to make full peace with Israel.’ That is an amazing thing.”

As Sheetrit points out, the initiative has been approved four times in Arab League conventions since 2002. “Only with us [Israelis] — nothing doing. No prime minister wants to hear about it.”

For Yossi Beilin, a former justice minister and the chief architect of the Oslo Accords, it is clear why Israel’s right-wing governments were and are not interested in the Arab Peace Initiative: it refutes their dogma that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, rather than being a territorial dispute, stems from the Arab world’s refusal to accept a Jewish state in the region, regardless of its borders.

Israel’s right-wing ideologues do not want to believe in the Arab offer’s sincerity because this would destroy their entire Weltanschauung, Beilin suggested. “Out of the blue, 11 years ago, came the Arab world and said, ‘You make peace with your neighbors, we will make peace with you.’ It’s as simple as that,” he told The Times of Israel. “But rather than saying, ‘Hey, this is a revolution! Say it again!,’ we said, ‘No, you don’t really mean it. You can’t mean, after all — we know you.’”

This was Sharon’s initial reaction, and since then every right-wing leader to date has rejected the initiative for the same reason, Beilin said. “Once they accept the idea that we might be accepted by the Arab world if we make peace with the Palestinians, it puts the entire onus in the Arab-Israeli conflict on Israel… And [Israel’s right-wing leaders] are not ready, ideologically, to pay the territorial price for peace.”

‘We will not get New Year’s cards from Iran, Sudan, or Libya under any foreseeable circumstances. It is nothing but a lack of seriousness to rely on such promises’
The fact that the Arab League adopted the peace initiative on the very same day that a suicide bomber blew himself up in the dining hall of a hotel in Netanya, during a Passover seder, “made it easier” for opponents of the plan to play down its importance, Beilin said. Twenty-nine people died and 64 were injured in the March 27, 2002, Park Hotel attack, for which Hamas claimed responsibility.

According to Elie Podeh, a Hebrew University professor focusing on inter-Arab and Arab-Israeli relations, Israelis were suspicious of the peace initiative from day one. “This was not the result of a rational consideration of the initiative’s inherent potential; it’s an emotional reaction,” he wrote in Haaretz last month. “The Arab and Muslim world, in our minds, are generally linked to threats and danger; when they ‘launch’ a peace proposal at us, we don’t know how to react.”

Whether it’s realistic and sincere or not, given the nature of Israel’s current government it does not look like the Arab Peace Initiative will become a reality any time soon.

And what about Iran? Even optimists and incorrigible peaceniks who swear that the Arab world is willing to normalize relations with Israel don’t believe in peace with the Islamic Republic in our days. “Indonesia, Malaysia and others would have joined, but of course with Iran it won’t happen,” Beilin said (adding, however, that this is “not only because of them but also because of us”).

An Israeli official who preferred to stay anonymous put it even more succinctly: “Peace with Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan — very funny. Let’s be clear: We will not get New Year’s cards from Iran, Sudan or Libya under any foreseeable circumstances. It is nothing but a lack of seriousness to rely on such promises.”

At visit to UN-run school in Gaza City, Tony Blair on February 15, 2015, speaks with Palestinians who had lost their homes in 2014 war with Israel. Photo by Associated Press

After All This Time Working Toward Peace, I’m Still an Optimist

Peace is still in the interests of both peoples, still supported by both peoples, still wished for by both peoples. But a new approach is required.

By Tony Blair, Haaretz
November 12, 2015

My visit to Israel for the Haaretz conference will be my 147th since leaving office. The first eight years were spent working as an ex officio envoy for the Quartet – the international management group comprising the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union. This part-time, unpaid role focused in terms of its mandate on the Palestinian economy, and excluded the political process.

Though I left the position earlier this year, I remain heavily involved in efforts to get beyond the impasse, including through my own initiative for the Middle East, which has a more overtly political ambition.

Through this time and all its travails, I have acquired a deep appreciation of the issues and possibly some degree of understanding.

So here are some conclusions.

The heart of the problem is not an inability to solve the so-called core issues – borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem. The solutions to those are pretty clear to most serious observers and participants. If there were trust, goodwill and a sense of potential partnership between Israelis and Palestinians, these issues, although difficult, could be resolved.
It therefore follows that the issue is, rather, about why these qualities do not presently exist and how to create them.

The reason that a conventional peace process – putting the parties in a room and waiting for an agreement – will not work is that over the years since Oslo, two things have happened. In Israeli public opinion, the conventional peace camp has suffered a series of reverses. The second intifada broke the trust between the peoples. The withdrawal from Gaza, including uprooting settlers – in Israeli eyes – was followed not by peace but by rockets and terrorism. The takeover of Gaza by Hamas made a similar withdrawal from the West Bank all the more difficult. From the Israeli perspective, even if the current Palestinian leadership wanted to deliver peace, it couldn’t. Recent events have reemphasized this perception and weakened the credibility President Mahmoud Abbas had in Israel.

So, in Israel, the whole basis of the notion that a conventional peace process leading to a Palestinian state is the route to security has taken a huge battering.

As for the Palestinians, they have watched as over the years Israel has grown into a successful First World country, admired today globally, including in the emerging powers of China and India, for its remarkable technology achievements. The disparity in income and living standards is now vast. In the West Bank, Palestinians continue to suffer under the occupation, and settlements continue to grow. In Gaza, they’re in a semipermanent state of lockdown. Young Palestinians are frustrated, alienated even, from much of their own politics, and increasingly without hope.

They’re convinced the Israelis no longer want peace or care about it. What has the vibrant Mediterranean city of Tel Aviv got to do with Gaza City 70 kilometers down the coast?
Trust and credibility

Given all this, a conventional “put them in a room together” peace process won’t work. Instead, three things are preconditional to creating trust and credibility.

First, the involvement of the Arab powers in such a process is essential and long overdue. The Arab Peace Initiative in 2002 was a landmark event. Of course it needs revision in the light of events in the region in recent years, but its framework offers a way to negotiate where both Israel and the Palestinians have the confidence that the negotiations are supported by the region as a whole.

A few years ago, this would have been impossible or incredible. Today – when Arab nations face exactly the same threats of extremism either of the Sunni variety or the Shi’ite one promoted by Iran – there is an objective shared interest between Arabs and Israelis. The Palestinian issue is the key which opens this door.

The engagement of the Arab world has to be in helping grip and drive the peace process – not, as has been traditional, responding reactively.

Done in the right way, constructively, this would give Israelis far more confidence in any peace process than one whose weight rested solely on the shoulders of present Palestinian politics.

The second is that life on the ground for Palestinians has to improve radically, and immediately. From around 2007-2010, growth in the West Bank was in double digits. For the last years, it has been stalling. Over the next decade, 100,000 new jobs need to be created every year in the West Bank alone as its young population graduates and joins the workforce. Gaza lacks even the basic infrastructure for electricity, sanitation, clean drinking water and housing. It is true that Israel is allowing in over 700 trucks of materials per day. But the private sector is moribund, unemployment a perilous 40 percent, and the ability of Gaza to be connected to the world drastically limited.

There is a virtual consensus on what needs to happen to improve daily life – in Gaza and the West Bank. These are not things with security implications. In fact, improving Palestinians’ living conditions would serve Israel’s security. We need to agree them and do them.
Without significant and real change in the way Palestinians live, there is no hope for a political process.

Third, there will be no lasting peace without Palestinian reconciliation and unity on a basis that supports the two-state solution, where Israel is secure and the Palestinian state is viable.

Palestinian politics has to offer a unified leadership that can bring about the decisions necessary for statehood. At present, the division and therefore paralysis in Palestinian politics means there is not a plausible strategy for the Palestinians to achieve statehood.
None of this absolves Israeli politics of the responsibility to articulate why a binational state is a disaster and why the building of a Palestinian state is a strategic interest of the Israelis.

But we have a far better chance of achieving this outcome if what happens on the ground stimulates and does not undermine the credibility of peace.

Finally, and perhaps unbelievably, I remain an optimist. Peace is still in the interest of both peoples, still supported by both peoples, still wished for by both peoples. But it requires a new approach to translate these hopes into reality.

The writer served as Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1997 to 2007, and as Quartet representative from 2007 to June 2015.

Arab Peace Initiative, take 2: Major development or ‘scam’?

Gershon Baskin claims that Israel has complained that the Arab peace initiative doesn’t take into account changes that have happened on the ground since 1967, but with the the Arab League agreeing to the principle of territorial swaps, they have in fact adopted what was the position of George W. Bush in his famous letter to Ariel Sharon.

Raphael Ahren,  Times of Israel
March 28, 2010

In 2002, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon tasked his foreign policy adviser, Danny Ayalon, with further exploring the idea of the Arab League’s new peace initiative.

“He sent me to find out if the Saudis were serious,” Ayalon recalled recently, adding that he tried to arrange, through middlemen, a meeting with Adel Jubeir, an adviser to then-crown prince (now King) Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Earlier that year, Abdullah had proposed the plan, which seemed to offer Israel normalized relations with the Arab world in exchange for territorial concessions, a formula for handling Palestinian refugee claims and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“We almost met in a restaurant in Washington and at the last minute he didn’t want to meet,” Ayalon said of Jubeir. “We promised it would be under the radar, it would be very low-profile.” The Saudis reneged on the scheduled meeting, and the rest is history — Israel never formally responded to the offer.

Ayalon, who served as deputy foreign minister until earlier this year, said Jerusalem never warmed to the proposal because it was presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, with no room for discussions. However, he said in early March, it could serve “as a basis for negotiations in the future, when conditions are much clearer here.”

Two months later, it is harder to argue that the peace initiative’s terms are written in stone. On Monday, the Arab League — which formally adopted the proposal at a March 2002 summit in Beirut — for the first time showed some flexibility in allowing that, to reach a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “comparable,” mutually agreed and “minor” land swaps could be possible.

After both Israeli and Palestinian leaders signalled a certain satisfaction with the Arab League’s move, it seems that a renewal of peace talks may be imminent. But would such talks actually stand a chance? Is the fact that the Arab League now seems to have wrapped its mind around the idea that Israel will never agree to fully withdraw to the 1967 lines enough to enable a breakthrough?

‘In a way, it puts the ball in Israel’s court. It is really now going to be up to Israel to respond to this in some way’

After all, the idea of mutually agreed land swaps has been around for more than a decade, and has been accepted, to varying degrees, by all parties involved. Also, the Saudi-inspired peace initiative asks for more than an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank; some of its demands are ostensible nonstarters for Israel’s newly elected government, such as returning to Golan Heights and dividing Jerusalem.

Still, “this is a significant development in several areas,” said Middle East expert and historian Joshua Teitelbaum. “In a way, it puts the ball in Israel’s court. It is really now going to be up to Israel to respond to this in some way, either through an initiative of its own or beginning to explore the peace process based on the positive aspects of the Arab initiative.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tacitly welcomed the steps to advance the peace process taken by the Arab League. “Israel is ready to start negotiations — anytime, anywhere — without any preconditions,” an Israeli official told The Times of Israel Wednesday. Israeli politicians from the left and the center, ranging from opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) to cabinet members such as Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid), were pleased with the renewed initiative and urged the government to see it as a real opportunity to advance the peace process.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who hosted the Arab League delegation in Washington that announced its softened stance on the 67 lines, sounded even more optimistic. While the path to a peace agreement was still long, “I don’t think you can underestimate… the significance of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, [United] Arab Emirates, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and others coming to the table and saying, ‘We are prepared to make peace now in 2013,’” he said.

Teitelbaum, a senior researcher at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, assessed that “chances are not good” for the current government to reach a final-status agreement based solely on the Arab League’s slightly more flexible stance. Yet he called on Jerusalem not let this opening go unnoticed in Arab capitals.

“At times, Israel needs to acknowledge when there’s flexibility on the other end,” he said. “For many years it was a take-it-or-leave-it proposal, and now it’s not anymore. Now they accepted some language that is not entirely objectionable to Israel and many aspects of this peace initiative are acceptable to Israel.”

The author of a comprehensive paper about Israel’s position regarding the Arab peace initiative, Teitelbaum said that despite this week’s modification, there are still many gaps between the Arab and Israeli positions that might prove difficult to bridge.

“There are some nonstarters; they are very difficult and they’re not going away,” noted Teitelbaum, who also serves as consultant for several US and Israeli government agencies. “The question is, tactically, should Israel answer in the positive and say that we have objections to the peace initiative but since now the Arab League has shown some flexibility we will be willing to discuss it in an acceptable forum? That would go a long way toward positioning Israel as a state that is pursuing peace. And it would improve our relations with the United States. It could be a very positive development.”

Gershon Baskin, the co-chairman and founder of the Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information, concurred.

“Israel has complained that the Arab peace initiative doesn’t take into account changes that have happened on the ground since 1967,” he said. “In agreeing to the principle of territorial swaps, they have in fact adopted what was the position of George W. Bush in his famous letter to Ariel Sharon.”

In April of 2004, the former US president wrote to the Israeli leader that “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” Rather, Bush wrote, it is “realistic to expect” that a peace agreement will be on “the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”

Already back in 2000, then-US president Bill Clinton spoke of a “land swap,” in what came to be known as the “Clinton parameters.” At the time, Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak accepted the proposal, albeit with certain reservations. The idea of annexing the settlement blocs to Israel and offering the Palestinians territory from Israel proper in return has since been cited countless times as a model to arrive at a two-state solution.

“We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” US President Barack Obama declared in May 2011. This proposition has been accepted, in principle, by both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the previous Israeli government under Ehud Olmert. (Netanyahu’s idea of a two-state solution remains unclear.)

So if territorial swaps are a generally agreed-upon concept, is the Arab League’s acceptance of it really such a big deal?

It is, said Akiva Eldar, a veteran Israeli reporter on the peace process. “Up until now, the Americans paid lip service to the Arab Peace Initiative, and Obama mentioned it in his speeches, but there weren’t any official diplomatic contacts to move the process from a bilateral level to a regional peace initiative that also involves the Arab countries,” he said.

“It’s a formal upgrade,” Eldar added. “Up until now, the idea of land swaps was merely an ‘oral tradition.’ Now, the Arab states authorized [Abbas] to reach an agreement that’s based on the Clinton parameters, the road map proposed by the Middle East Quartet, and previous agreements.

It is also important to note that the Arab League’s overture comes at a time of regional upheaval, said Eldar, who wrote for many years for Haaretz and is now a senior columnist at Al Monitor. Despite, or maybe because of, worries about Syria falling apart and Iran heading toward a nuclear weapon, the Arab League is willing to soften its stance vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Even Egypt, which is ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, supports the adjustment of the 2002 peace offer, Eldar pointed out. “The initiative contains the words ‘normal relations’ [with Israel], which is very hard for an Islamist state to accept, but these words are still there. It’s very significant that today they can talk about this. And it also isolates Hamas, which is not ready to recognize Israel’s right to exist,” he said.

Still, despite the ostensible rapprochement, some pundits don’t see how the mere acceptance of land swaps could help reach a genuine breakthrough.

Barry Rubin, director of the Herzliya-based Global Research in International Affairs Center, thinks the Arab peace initiative is “both a good thing and a scam.” While he agrees that the Gulf States are ready to consider ending the conflict with Israel, partly because they are afraid of Iran and could use good publicity in the West, there are a number of issues he thinks will make peace on the Arab League’s terms impossible.

First of all, Rubin doubts that all countries which signed on to the initiative really mean it. “Are we to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt, the Hezbollah-dominated regime in Lebanon, and the quirky but pro-Hamas and pro-Muslim Brotherhood regime in Qatar have suddenly reversed everything that they have been saying in order to seek a compromise peace with Israel? Highly doubtful to say the least,” he wrote.

Rubin also points to several provisions in the text of the Arab Peace Initiative that were hardly mentioned in the media coverage this week, and that in his view will kill any prospects of a deal. For instance, the initiative calls for a “just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem,” which he understands to mean that Israel would have to accept “the immigration of hundreds of thousands of passionately anti-Israel Palestinians” within its borders.

However, Israeli proponents of the initiative point to a clause in the draft that states that any solution to the refugee question needs “to be agreed upon,” meaning that Israel will have a definitive say in the number of Palestinians who would enter its territory.

The Arab League initiative also contains several other possible deal-breakers: a demand to make East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state; a provision allowing Arab states to refuse to take in Palestinian refugees; and a call for Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria. To whom should Israel give the Golan?, some analysts wonder: Syria is deeply embattled in a bloody civil war, with no side willing — or able — to sign, much less honor, an agreement with Israel.

Yet more optimistic pundits say that none of the issues is unsolvable. With regards to Syria, the Arab League is willing to leave a seat empty for Syria, suggested Eldar, just like Jews do for the Prophet Elijah on seder night.

“Even the Arabs understand that now is not the time; they are not expecting Israel to return to the 1967 lines in the Golan. They are rational enough to know there is no one with whom to conduct negotiations. But it leaves an opening for the moment there is a proper government in Syria,” he said.

The division of Jerusalem is another key element of the Arab Peace Initiative that will likely prevent the current government from accepting it as the basis for peace talks.

Netanyahu is a staunch opponent of any plan that would divide the city. So are the two key allies in his coalition — centrist Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, of the right-wing Jewish Home party.

“I’ve been saying and writing for a long time that there is an Arab partner but there is no Israeli partner,” Eldar said. The only way for the current government to endorse the peace plan is for Lapid “to wake up and realize the potential he has,” he added. “He could bring down the government. But I don’t believe that will happen.”

Baskin, who two years ago initiated the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas that led to the release of Gilad Schalit, believes that a final-status agreement is possible — even with the current government. In the past, more than one Israeli leader pledged never to touch Jerusalem, only to later conduct serious negotiations about its division, he said. “Peace negotiations have a dynamic of their own.”

Will Israelis ever accept the Arab Peace Initiative?

By Gershon Baskin, openDemocracy
May 04, 2009

After 16 years of Israeli-Palestinian bilateral negotiations for peace there is a growing realisation that there is very little likelihood of a bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiated agreement. This realisation seems equally evident in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Brussels, Moscow and now in Washington. Everyone appears to be searching for a new formula for peace and in that search the Arab Peace Initiative has once again reappeared as a possible saviour. The positive statements regarding the Arab Peace Initiative (API) by President Obama and members of his team have again placed it centre stage.

Six years after it was first presented, the Arab peace initiative may finally be coming of age. Previous Israeli leaders have basically trashed the API in its present form for many reasons. One of the main reasons is that 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.

Additional Israeli objections include the direct reference in the Initiative to the June 4, 1967 borders. Israel rightly claims that in negotiations regarding these with the Palestinians, the principle of territorial exchange has already been accepted, so why as far as Israel is concerned go back to 1967 borders which ignore any of the new realities on the ground and consequently can have only a very tenuous nature? The new Israeli right-wing Government of Binyamin Netanyahu completely rejects the idea of return to the 1967 borders. The most objectionable and perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the API for Israelis is the sense that this is a ‘take it or leave document’ and if this is the case, the majority of Israelis say ‘leave it’.

The Arab Peace Initiative is not a peace plan. It has no operative aspects to it. There is no mechanism for implementation and even no clear plan for how it should begin. The only operative part of the Initiative states: ‘Requests the chairman of the summit to form a special committee composed of some of its concerned member states and the secretary general of the League of Arab States to pursue the necessary contacts to gain support for this initiative at all levels, particularly from the United Nations, the Security Council, the United States of America, the Russian Federation, the Muslim states and the European Union.’ Who is conspicuously left off this list? Israel of course! There is nothing in the Initiative which addresses itself directly to the Israeli government or the Israeli people.

The Arab League needs to address Israeli concerns, not ignore them as has been the case since it was first presented in 2002. The Arab League should find its way to stating 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. It has been reported that King Abdallah II of Jordan has now proposed a form of an ‘Arab peace deposit’ (an analogy with the so-called ‘Rabin deposit’ on the Golan Heights) that would in fact provide some clarifications or additional incentives to Israel to accept the API.

Since the initiative has been widely overlooked by Israeli politicians it is certainly worthwhile pointing out 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. On the day that it was presented thirty people were killed and 140 injured – 20 seriously – in a suicide bombing in the Park Hotel in the coastal city of Netanya, in the midst of a Passover holiday seder with 250 guests. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. This attack was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back that led to the ‘Defensive Shield’ Israeli offensive leading in turn to the full re-occupation of the West Bank and the placing of Palestinian President Arafat under siege in the muqata’ in Ramallah. The Israeli mindset, at that time when suicide bombing were a daily event and under the leadership of Prime Minister Sharon was hardly in any mood to consider an Arab peace initiative.

But the initiative was once again unanimously ratified at the meeting of the League of Arab States in Khartoum in May 2006 and again in 2007 in Riyadh.

The Arab world has tried to impress upon Israelis what is new and revolutionary in the Initiative, but Israelis have failed to understand this. The Arab world has pointed out the following: The initiative 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 fulfill 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 has been (until now) clearly understood to be within Israeli national security interests. Israel would still need to resolve the issue of the Shaba 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 security aim.

Solving these issues provides the means for achieving peace. 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 area of peace for Israel would extend from Marrakech all the way to Bangladesh. Only Iran would be outside the region of peace.

The most significant element of the Initiative is its call for the recognition of the State of Israel, and full peace and normalised relations between all of the member states of the Arab League and Israel. There is huge significance to the reference to normalised relations. Israelis fail to understand that since the notion of normalisation of relations with Israel has been a steadfast taboo in Arab political culture since 1948, the Arab League call for normalised relations constitutes no less than a political revolution.

This is almost too good to be true and had it been presented 20 years ago, it might have been received much more positively in Israel. But today, there is no peace camp in Israel anymore. Israeli society has lost its faith in peace. Israelis no longer dream of getting into their car and having humus for lunch in Damascus. Israelis do not want to visit Cairo or Amman and do not particularly care if Jordanians or Egyptians come to visit Israel. If President Mubarak and King Abdallah II don’t want to come to Jerusalem, so be it. Israelis no longer believe that giving up territory will bring peace. The general Israeli interpretation of the ‘territory for peace’ scheme is that we withdrew from areas in the West Bank and created the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat which then attacked us with weapons that we provided for them. In Gaza, which Israel left entirely – withdrawing both settlements and military, we got qassam rockets in exchange. Whether this reflects what really happened and why is not relevant. This is the way that the overwhelming majority of Israelis understand that reality. So, in this context, the Arab Peace Initiative is not particularly attractive.

What do Israelis want? They want quiet. They want security. They want to be able to be part of the neighbourhood without the threat of terrorism, but they no longer believe that the way to gain security is by giving back territory. During the days when Oslo was popular and there was hope that peace could actually emerge, it was possible to talk about ‘peace and security’. Today, the philosophy of the Netanyahu government and the political culture and mood that brought it to power is that first there must be security and only then can there be peace. This is not merely a game of semantics. This is a worldview and it is essential to understand it in order to be able to understand the Israel of 2009.

The Israeli public and government will not be enticed by promises of normalisation, acceptance and free movement in the region. This is the ‘heart’ of the Arab Peace Initiative and it has not produced the desired results in all the past years. The Israeli public and government insist on seeing real evidence of a willingness to make peace with Israel that goes above and beyond words.

In public opinion research of the Israeli public that we carried out in IPCRI in order to understand what would motivate Israelis to accept making significant concessions, such as those called for in the Arab Peace Initiative, we discovered that the notion of ‘partnership’ was the crucial factor. When asked ‘what would convince you that the Palestinians (or Arabs) were in fact true partners?’, the main responses, overwhelmingly, were ‘when they teach peace in the classroom’ – meaning when their educational curricula and text books reflect that Israel exists and has a right to exist, and when Islamic religious leaders and preachers say the same thing in Mosques.

With this in mind, it appears that we are in a kind of ‘Catch 22′ situation. Arabs, as reflected in the Arab Peace Initiative state that Israel will get the recognition and security it desires when it fulfills the requirements of the Initiative – in other words, gaining recognition, peace and security is the outcome of the process. Israelis, on the other hand, are saying that recognition and security is a pre-requisite of the process that aims to create peace.

There may be ways to bridge the gaps between these two positions or state of mind, but they have not yet been proposed or developed. If there remains a peace camp in Israel, Palestine and in the Arab world, the next challenge they must face is how to bridge this gap in consciousness. Without that bridge, the Arab Peace Initiative will fade away into the piles of other past Middle East peace initiatives.

Gershon Baskin is the former Israeli Co-Director and founder of the  Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information (IPCRI) – a  joint Israeli-Palestinian public policy think tank he founded in  1988 following ten years of work in the field of Jewish-Arab  relations within Israel, in Interns for Peace, the Ministry of  Education and as Executive Director of the Institute for Education for Jewish-Arab Coexistence (established by the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Prime Minister’s Office). Dr. Baskin has published several books in the Hebrew, English and Arabic press on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Beginning with the Histadrut Prize for Peace in 1996, he has received many international awards for his work.

Stalled Arab Peace Initiative Reaffirmed

By David Makovsky, Washington Institute
May 01, 2013


Despite its image as a foundational contribution to the Roadmap for Peace (2003) and the Annapolis Conference (2008), the API has failed to translate into an effective mechanism for Arab-Israeli peace.

Arabs blamed the Bush administration and Israeli government for API’s lack of success, saying that they failed to take it seriously. Israelis were stung that the API had its inception on the same day an Israeli hotel was blown up during Passover, killing civilians — a tragedy that was not even mentioned at the Beirut Arab League summit. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert did indeed praise the API, while Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu have been more hesitant in their support due to the reference to Resolution 194 and the call for full withdrawal on all fronts to the pre-1967 lines. At present, Israelis cannot foresee the feasibility, let alone the desirability, of withdrawing from the Golan Heights while civil war decimates Syria. Israel complains that the Arab League has never even sent a full delegation to Israel to discuss the API. And, of course, the regional upheaval in the Mideast that began in early 2011 has pushed the API further back in priorities since the early post-9/11 days. Moreover, the recent Arab League summit in March did not mention the idea of “normal relations,” but did call for full withdrawal in return for peace. The summit opposed the idea that “Israel declare itself a Jewish state” and the Qatari leadership announced a contribution of $250 million toward a billion-dollar fund so that Jerusalem could retain its “Arab and Islamic identity.”

A few steps can be taken to make the API more effective. First is the issue of sequencing: the implication that Israel would need to withdraw from everywhere before the API can be enacted. As such, every step in this withdrawal would be hard fought in Israel. For the initiative to work, Israel and the Arab world must each take steps in response to the other, in parallel so to speak. A back-loaded approach will not reinforce the fragile progress between the parties, and a front-loaded approach is equally unrealistic. Even though it is likely that Washington will want the Arab states to take interim steps, doing this formally could increase the likelihood of Arab demands on Israel and a move away from bilateral negotiations.

Second is the issue of creating more clarity and flexibility in the API’s terms. Given the chaos in Syria, it is hard to believe any Arab leader would expect Israel to withdraw from the Golan — at least not now. Furthermore, it would be helpful if the Arabs would clarify that while all Palestinians could go to a Palestinian state, Israel would have the sovereign right whether to admit refugees into Israel.

Finally, a hopeful passage of the API says that if its terms are fulfilled, Arab League states would “consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region.” It is legitimate to ask Arab states — even those who already have peace agreements with Israel — to discuss with Israel now how it views “security for all states in the region” in the event that Israel accepts the API.

A shifting regional environment will not make it easy for Kerry to engage the Arabs, given their other priorities. In principle, Kerry is correct in assessing that the political cover of Arab states could be helpful to Israelis and Palestinians. For the API to be a catalyst for action, however, it needs a different approach than has been tried before now: a more direct approach with Israel.

David Makovsky is the Ziegler distinguished fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia three years before his death in 2015. As Crown Prince he initiated and steered through the API. Photo by Hassan Ammar, AP.

Saudi Peace Initiative takes back seat to Iran

Although the Arab peace initiative may be going nowhere, there may be a Saudi-Israeli convergence of interests on the threat from Iran.

By Madawi Al-Rasheed, Al Monitor
May 29, 2014

Due to their sensitivity, Saudi contacts with Israel have historically been conducted behind closed doors. When they become public knowledge, they are bound to generate sensational stories in the kingdom. In the past, such contacts used to be denounced by almost all Saudis, but not anymore.

Earlier this spring, al-Madarik, a Saudi publisher run by journalist Turki al-Dakhil, translated a book by Israeli academic Joshua Teitelbaum titled “Saudi Arabia and the New Strategic Landscape.” Opponents regarded the translation as a gradual normalization with the Zionists that comes at a time when several European and American forums called for boycotting Israeli academic research. Other Saudis justified the translation on the grounds that it was better to “know thine enemy” than remain in the dark. Such overtures into Israeli intellectual productions and opinions have become regular, as Saudi newspapers such as al-Sharq al-Awsat and Qatari Al Jazeera television regularly include Israeli personalities among their commentators.

Yet, the heated debate over the book translation quickly evaporated in favor of another, more sensational story. On May 26, the former Saudi intelligence director and former ambassador in London and Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Saud, appeared with the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, in a public debate organized in Brussels by the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Most Saudi media reported the event in passing, but divided Saudi opinions were expressed on social media. Many Saudis tweeted links to the debate, adding their varied commentaries. There were those who praised the clarity and sharpness of the prince, commending him for explaining the Saudi position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to a Western audience, while others condemned him as the architect of normalization and Saudi close relations with Israel.

It was not the first time the prince met Israeli officials; such meetings have taken place in academic and think-tank forums in Europe and the United States. By now, the meetings have a well-known formula. The Saudi side, represented by Turki, resurrects King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz’s 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, according to which Arabs recognize the State of Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from the 1967 Israeli-occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. The Israeli side usually meanders and explains the obstacles to implementing such an initiative.

This time, Yadlin rejected the Saudi and Arab position that insists on a “take it or leave it” approach, preferring step-by-step negotiations. He argued that most Israelis are not aware of this initiative, to which Turki replied that it is the responsibility of the Israeli leadership to raise its people’s awareness of the prospect for a permanent peace with the Arabs under the umbrella of the Arab Peace Initiative.

After such unproductive encounters, Israelis invite the prince to visit Jerusalem and convey Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s willingness to turn up in Mecca.

The Saudis, including Turki, are still under the illusion that the Arab Peace Initiative might still be well-placed on the table for negotiations. There have been some recent efforts, including by pro-peace Israelis, as presented here in Al-Monitor, to keep the initiative alive. The initiative is, however, by now a dead solution and has been so for a long time. Israel is under no pressure to withdraw from any territories and is determined to indefinitely keep Jerusalem as its capital. Sacred places are often hard to divide, given that each side claims that it holds a God-given mandate over the sanctuary.

Moreover, Israel has no appetite for dealing with Palestinian refugees who have been displaced so many times since 1967. In Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and most recently Syria, Palestinian refugees have paid a high price for Israeli occupation of their territories and Arab regimes and non-state actors’ violence against them. From Tall al-Zaatar, Sabra and Shatilla and Yarmouk, the memory of exile and displacement of the first generation is mixed with the experience of massacres inflicted on the second or third generation by fellow Arabs. The Palestinian exodus and subsequent massacres will remain alive regardless of whether Israel shows any kind of interest in reaching a humane and just solution to this disaster. It will no doubt haunt those Israelis whose conscience is still alive and resistant to the propaganda of their hawkish leadership. But whether this Israeli minority is to be counted on remains to be seen, as signs suggest that it has become insignificant and marginalized in Israeli politics.

Turki can tour think tanks and meet with former Israeli intelligence officials but the reality on the ground militates against Israel’s accepting the Saudi initiative and granting its architect, Abdullah, the honor of being remembered for ending the six-decade Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Today, Arabs cannot threaten Israel militarily, given that the three big armies in the region are preoccupied with domestic troubles. The Egyptian army is busy with crowning its general as an elected president, the Iraqi army is fighting sectarian battles against the Sunni population and the Syrian army is equally preoccupied with reclaiming territories from various rebels.

There are non-state actors such as Hezbollah of Lebanon that continue to pose a threat to Israel if the latter ventures into its strong base in south Lebanon. But as long as Hezbollah is busy on the Syrian front, the danger is somehow remote at the moment. Moreover, Israel does not face a threat from jihadist groups, despite the rhetoric and alarmist propaganda of both the Israeli and al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations. Most noise coming from these groups is more focused on eradicating the Shiites and other sects wherever they are encountered. It will take a long time before they turn their attention to the Jews, if ever they do so.

If Israel accepts the Arab Peace Initiative, it may not be guaranteed peace, for such nonstate actors do not feel compelled to abide by its terms even if they are now busy with other conflicts. Therefore, Israel does not seem to have an incentive for reaching a peace that may not alter real threats on the ground.

Despite US involvement in reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks with the initiative of US Secretary of State John Kerry, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians, not to mention the Arabs, are truly excited about the prospect of a realistic and imminent solution. Israel is content with the status quo in which no solution is the solution.

The Arab Peace Initiative, a breakthrough when it was announced 12 years ago, must be added to the list of Saudi foreign policy failures, at least for now. Perhaps there is a faint pulse, and new leadership in the kingdom, Israel and the region might someday resurrect it in one form or another.

In the meantime, the new priority is Iran, and keeping the heat on with continuous alarmist propaganda about the Iranian threat, which has replaced Israel as the enemy of choice.

This policy had at its disposal a media empire that pumped out anti-Iranian propaganda, which it might have to reverse after Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal invited his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to visit Riyadh.

Like their neighbours in the Gulf, the Saudis are truly out of the conflict with Israel, although there may be longer-term security and economic interests in building ties.

The prospect of Saudi-Israeli ties at first may seem a stretch, but the Saudi leadership may not be so concerned with domestic public opinion and not fear a backlash from their conservative Salafist backers.

The latter will no doubt draw on the Prophet Muhammad’s tradition to justify close ties with Israel, thus casting an Islamic legitimacy on Saudi foreign policy as they always do. There is an Islamic tradition upon which to make the case, when the time comes.

After all, many Salafists remember that the Jews of Medina hosted Muhammad when he fled pagan Mecca. In the 1990s, then-Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Ibn Baz issued a fatwa about the permissibility of (sulh) peace with the Israelis, citing various aspects of the prophetic tradition. The Saudi mufti died in 1999.

The trend will develop gradually, of course, as the kingdom cannot get too far ahead of the Palestinian case, which still may have the potential to surprise. The evolution of price-tag killings in the West Bank, Israeli strikes on Gaza and provocation by Israeli settlers and others at the Dome of the Rock could spark another wave of violence and reaction among Saudi, Arab and Muslim communities worldwide.

Turki may be the most willing member of the Saudi royal family to engage in open dialogue with Israeli officials, simply because he can always claim that he does not hold an official post in government or represent his country’s foreign policy. But we all know that the line between the private and the public is always blurred in an opaque country such as the kingdom. The prince will no doubt continue to play a key role in developing ties with Israeli officials, which may be needed not for peace but for war, especially if Saudi-Iranian relations unexpectedly deteriorate further in the future.

Dr. Madawi Al-Rasheed is a visiting professor at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science as well as a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Gulf Pulse. She has written extensively about the Arabian Peninsula, Arab migration, globalization, religious transnationalism and gender. On Twitter: @MadawiDr

Prince Turki Al Faisal dreams of a Middle East without barriers. Photo by Sebastian Derungs, Flickr.

Peace Would Be Possible With the Arab Peace Initiative at Its Core

The 2002 initiative still provides a template for a just solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and the Arab world.

By Turki Al Faisal, Haaretz
July 07, 2014

Sometimes, at the darkest moments, what matters is that men and women of courage and imagination not only hold on to the idea of peace, but also try to imagine what that peace might look like.

Nowhere is this truer than in the Middle East. Two peoples – Palestinians and Israelis – are seeking to realize their dream of statehood. Only a two-state solution can give flesh to that dream, and meet the national aspirations of the two peoples. Such a solution was at the heart of the vision set out by the UN General Assembly in the 1947 partition plan, but which the international community failed to implement then, and which many peace processes since have failed to bring into being.

The result is a human tragedy, for Palestinians living under the unjust burden of Israeli occupation, and also for Israelis, trapped in a situation which over time sharpens their international isolation. With the efforts of U.S. Secretary John Kerry currently paused, and with disillusion growing as a result of this latest setback to U.S. diplomacy, now, more than ever, is the time to imagine the peace all people of goodwill.

The Arab Peace Initiative, first proposed by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and adopted by the Arab League in 2002, still provides a template for peace – a formula for a just and comprehensive solution to Israel’s conflict, not only with the Palestinians but also with the Arab world, in the firm conviction that no military solution can give countries in the region the peace and security they all desire.

The API says that all the Arab countries will establish normal relations with Israel once Israel withdraws from the territories occupied in the June 1967 war, and accepts an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. Exact borders and the achievement of a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees would, of course, have to be agreed in negotiations in accordance with international principles.

In Lebanon, the lands occupied by Israel can be ceded to the United Nations until there is a viable Lebanese government to take them; and in Syria, as well, the occupied Golan Heights can be put under UN administration until a new government can take them. With goodwill, and the backing of the United States and the Arab League, nothing is impossible.

And I hope indeed that Israelis registered the line taken by an Arab League delegation to Washington in April last year, making it clear that the API was not simplistically prescriptive, but could be adjusted to take account of whatever was freely agreed to by Israelis and Palestinians in their negotiations.

Like others in the region, I remain saddened, too, as to why there has never been an Israeli government response to the API, despite the Arab world’s continuing to endorse it at every Arab League summit over the last 12 years, and at every summit organized by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and by the Gulf Cooperation Council. An Arab delegation went to Israel to deliver it directly to the Israeli people. Many times, there were those among the Arabs who said that it has not worked and should be discarded and abandoned. But we have stuck by it and continue to stick by it; and it is still very firmly on the table.

Let us dream for a moment of how this troubled land might look after an agreement between those two people… Let me dream, too … Imagine if I could get on a plane in Riyadh, fly directly to Jerusalem, get on a bus or taxi, go to the Dome of the Rock Mosque or the Al-Aqsa Mosque, perform the Friday prayers, and then visit the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. If, the next day, I could visit the tomb of Abraham in Al-Khalil, Hebron, and the tombs of the other prophets, peace be upon them all. I could then drive to, and visit Bethlehem, the site of the Nativity. I could go on to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust center and museum as I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, when I was ambassador there.
And what a pleasure it would be to be able to invite not just the Palestinians but also the Israelis I would meet to come and visit me in Riyadh, where they can visit my ancestral home in Dir’iyyah, which suffered at the hands of Ibrahim Pasha the same fate as Jerusalem did at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the Romans.

Just imagine too how commerce, medicine, science, art, and culture between our two peoples would develop …

The alternative, I fear, is continued conflict, with the realities on the ground – particularly the ongoing settlement enterprise in the occupied Palestinian territories – pushing us closer and closer to the day when the issue will no longer be how to achieve a two-state solution, but whether conflict and bloodshed will continue to be the norm. Is that really what Israel wants?

Land grabs by settlers and exclusive “for Israelis only” highways on Palestinian West Bank lands deny the viability of a contiguous and viable Palestinian nation. While paying lip service to the two-state solution, the government of Israel is pursuing a policy which is effectively creating a one-state outcome, not a one-state “solution,” and it is hard to see it as anything other than a recipe for disaster, with the lack of equal political, economic, and human rights in that one state space.

I hope the Israel Conference for Peace will join in the effort to imagine the peace which would be possible with the API as the key foundation stone. And I look forward to the day when it would be possible for me to attend such a conference, and indeed for those Israelis who will be taking part to fly to Riyadh and take part in conferences on how we might all work together to address and resolve the many other pressing problems which challenge us in the region.

HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal was Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Chief from 1977 to 2001 and the Kingdom’s ambassador to the U.K. and Ireland from 2002 to 2005 and the U.S. from 2005 to 2006.

Notes and Links

* Unique Selling Point of Arab Peace Initiative

Arab Peace Initiative

From Wikipedia

The Arab Peace Initiative (Arabic: مبادرة السلام العربية‎) is a comprehensive peace initiative first proposed in 2002 at the Beirut Summit of the Arab League by then-Crown Prince, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and re-endorsed at the Riyadh Summit in 2007. The initiative attempts to end the Arab–Israeli conflict, which means normalizing relations between the entire Arab region and Israel, in exchange for a complete withdrawal from the occupied territories (including East Jerusalem) and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee crisis based on UN Resolution 194 (which calls for a diplomatic resolution to the conflict and resolves that any refugees “wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours” should be able to do so or, if they otherwise wish, should be provided with compensation). The Initiative was initially overshadowed by the Passover Massacre, a major terrorist attack that took place on March 27, 2002 (the day before the Initiative was published) and that had been claimed by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing. The Arab League has since readopted the Initiative on several occasions, including during the 2007 summit.

Although a number of Israeli officials have responded to the Initiative with both support and criticism, the Israeli government swiftly rejected the initiative, saying it was a “non-starter” at the time. Then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the new plan cannot be accepted because it would replace UN resolutions 242 and 338, which call for negotiations. In 2007, Benjamin Netanyahu, as opposition leader, as well as a number of Likud members, rejected the initiative outright.^ In 2009, President Shimon Peres expressed satisfaction at the “u-turn” in the attitudes of Arab states toward peace with Israel as reflected in the Saudi initiative, though he did qualify his comments by saying: “Israel wasn’t a partner to the wording of this initiative. Therefore it doesn’t have to agree to every word.” The Palestinian Authority strongly supports the plan and Mahmoud Abbas officially asked U.S. President Barack Obama to adopt it as part of his Middle East policy. Islamist political party Hamas, the elected government of the Gaza Strip, is deeply divided, with most factions rejecting the plan.

More recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed tentative support for the initiative, saying he accepts the “general idea” with significant caveats, specifically its calls for Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights and accept the relocation of millions of Palestinian refugees into Israel.

George Mitchell, then the United States special envoy to the Middle East, announced in March 2009 that President Barack Obama’s administration intends to “incorporate” the initiative into its Middle East policy.

* * * * *

It’s all over

Return of the Arab Peace Initiative, Yossie Alpher, oD, Sept. 19th, 2013

Plenty of diplomacy but slim hope for ME peace, Saudi Gazette, Oct 24th, 2015

Interestingly, the Saudi Gazette has removed an earlier article titled  Arab peace initiative is still on offer: Saudi Arabia

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