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Edition 1 Volume 1 - November 10, 2010

Present at the founding: what the API framers intended
Genesis, development and present status  - byNabeel Shaath
The achievement is in effect formidable.

Not only still relevant, but desirable  - byMarwan Muasher
The central premise of the API is that it shifts the emphasis from incremental, bilateral negotiations to a comprehensive package.

We come in peace  - byAmre Moussa
We stated our position eight years ago and we are still firmly holding to it, though with growing difficulties.

Happy to be proven wrong  - byEzzedine Choukri Fishere
The text of the initiative was the best one could hope for given political constraints.

Genesis, development and present status
by Nabeel Shaath

It was in early 2002 that the idea of an Arab peace initiative was born. After the failure of the Camp David negotiations, the end of the Clinton presidency and the election of Ariel Sharon, the intifada was raging, turning into a violent confrontation. Israeli settlement policy, Hamas' suicide bombings and Israeli bloody attacks, incursions and siege threatened to destroy the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Early efforts to save the day, including the Sharm al-Sheikh summits and the Mitchell report, did not bring any relief. 9/11 had taken place a few months earlier, and the American mood was ominous. The Bush administration was determined to go to war. All that had been built since 1988 was in jeopardy.

Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had started his own mediation with the Bush administration to urge a more positive American involvement in the peace process some weeks before 9/11. But, with the revelations about the participation of many Saudi nationals in the al-Qaida attacks, these efforts were aborted. Ideas of new initiatives were suggested to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. The Thomas Freedman article ushered the "Saudi initiative" to the world's attention. The initiative was received with a lot of interest. I was invited by the Crown Prince to discuss the initiative. After the initial meeting, and consultations with President Yasser Arafat, who supported the initiative, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and I travelled again to Saudi Arabia for further discussions.

The Saudis later invited Arab League Secretary General Amre Moussa and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Other consultations took place, all leading to major discussions in Arab foreign ministers' meetings designed to gain Arab acceptance to turn the Crown Prince's Saudi initiative into an Arab initiative.

In our consultations, the initiative was refined to gain Palestinian and Arab support, and official adoption. The Crown Prince was encouraged by general reaction, particularly from Palestinian and Israeli public opinion polls, which were quite positive. The mood in Riyadh was buoyant.

In the refinement process, an "independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital" was added, so was a "just solution of the refugee problem to be agreed upon, in accordance with resolution 194". This formulation had already been discussed in the Camp David and the Taba negotiations. The initiative was ready for Arab adoption. During the refinement stage, some skepticism was voiced in many Arab quarters, but that opposition ended once the final draft was reached.

The Arab Summit of Beirut on March 27, 2002 unanimously approved the initiative, turning it officially into an Arab peace plan. Later on, The OIC Islamic Summit approved the plan, transforming an offer made initially by 22 countries into a further regional solution of 57 countries sponsoring and supporting the peace plan.

The achievement is in effect formidable. This was the first time ever that a unanimously-accepted Arab plan offered Israel peace agreements, recognition, and normalization of relations in return for its fulfillment of its obligations under resolutions 242 and 338 of the United Nations Security Council, and resolution 194 of the General Assembly, thus accepting Israel on the borders of 1967, and considering that the Arab-Israel conflict would come to an end once Israel fulfills its obligations.

The euphoria received its first violent shock with Israel's "Defensive Shield" operation on the 29th of March, two days after the Beirut Summit decision was taken. The operation, taking place after Hamas' Netanya suicide operation, led to the full reoccupation of the West Bank. No straight official Israeli response to the Arab initiative was issued, but several Israeli suggestions attempted to reverse the order of implementation of the Arab peace plan by asking for normalization with the Arabs first, before Israel offers anything in return, thus vitiating the whole idea of the initiative.

The Saudis, with Palestinian support, continued to push for the initiative, succeeding in getting the Arab League to form a ministerial follow up committee to keep the plan alive and to obtain international support. The initiative received praise from international sources including the US, and was included in the preamble of the roadmap and in a United Nations Security Council resolution. Despite the generally negative Israeli position, the Arab Peace Initiative remains the official Palestinian and Arab position on the end result of the peace process. It was never rescinded or retracted.

At present, there is not much that can be expected given the current position of the Israeli government. Early rounds of negotiations showed Israeli regression not only from anything resembling the Arab peace plan, but from all the agreed terms of reference governing the peace process so far. On the ground, a systematic policy of de-arabizing East Jerusalem, deepening occupation of the West Bank through the settlement process, full military occupation, and denial of jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority required under the Oslo agreements constitute real barriers to any hope for progress in the peace process during the present Israeli government. If you add the savage and illegal Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip, hope for the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative grows even dimmer.

Israel has refused to honor its obligations under previous agreements and international law. At the same time, unfortunately, there is a lack of international will to enforce international law in Palestine.

This dark scenario has led the Palestinians and the Arab League to start discussing alternatives to the current framework of negotiations.

The current situation has only enabled the Israeli colonization of our land while some third parties keep talking about the importance of a "peace process" that has nothing of peace and a lot of process. Having still the Arab Peace Initiative in the horizon, we are exploring options to get to this goal, including our call for international recognition of the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, as well as its admission as full member to the United Nations.

In conclusion, the Arab initiative is still there: a Palestinian, Arab, and Islamic commitment. Calls for withdrawing it have failed to get any support. As long as there is any hope of resolving the Arab-Israel conflict, with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at its core, the two-state solution remains the best road to peace. Therefore the Arab peace plan will remain as the guideline for achieving and supporting it. This is at present the official Palestinian policy, and it is the Arab official policy as well.

How long can this policy survive? That is difficult to predict. It depends a lot on what will develop in the Israeli political scene during the coming months.-Published 10/11/2010 © bitterlemons-api.org

Nabeel Shaath was the first foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority and is currently a member of the Palestinian negotiations team, and is commissioner for international relations for Fateh.

Not only still relevant, but desirable
by Marwan Muasher

As someone closely associated with the development and drafting of the Arab Peace Initiative, I find it instructive to remember why and how that document came into being. The year was 2002, 14 months after formal negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis ended at Taba with the divide between the two sides largely bridged in principle, yet still without formal agreement. With negotiations suspended, Ariel Sharon in power in Israel, violence on both sides and a United States administration preoccupied after the September 11 attacks, any hope for reaching an agreement between the two sides had evaporated. Both publics, Israeli and Palestinian, had shifted dramatically to the right with an entrenched belief that the other side was not serious about peace.

Given this atmosphere, it was important to move the goalposts and change the context within which negotiations were conducted so that peace prospects could be reinvigorated. The incremental approach had exhausted its possibilities by then and had not resulted in a final status agreement that would put the conflict to rest once and for all. The maximum that either side felt it could give did not meet the minimum demands of the other--although it was close on both ends. A bold initiative was required, one that would allow both sides to reach a settlement that served their national interests instead of relying on international pressure to cajole them to act.

The central premise of the Arab Peace Initiative is that it shifts the emphasis from incremental, bilateral negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis to a comprehensive package between every Arab country and Israel. By offering such a comprehensive regional agreement, the initiative attempts to address the needs and concerns of all the key players, including Israel, Palestinians, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the whole Arab world.

The Arab Peace Initiative calls for Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, including on the Golan Heights, and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. But it also addresses all the major needs of the average Israeli: a collective peace agreement with all Arab states, security guarantees with the Arab world, an end to the conflict with no further claims (designed to address Israeli concerns that Arabs will demand pre-1948 Palestinian territories), and an agreed solution to the refugee problem. Implicit is that the Arab Peace Initiative's reference to security guarantees signifies an Arab obligation to deliver Hamas and Hizballah and transform them into purely political organizations.

The formulation of the Arab Peace Initiative proved to be difficult. While the Saudis and we wanted a simple formulation that was not loaded with details and that would send a clear and powerful signal to the Israelis--full withdrawal for full normalization with the Arab world--the Syrians and the Lebanese wanted a clear reference to all UN resolutions, including General Assembly Resolution 194. In fact, the Lebanese were not satisfied with implementing 194, which calls for the return of willing refugees back to their homes and for compensation for those not wishing to return. Lebanon wanted even those who choose compensation to leave. We struggled with finding a text that would uphold international law but would also send a clear signal that Arabs were looking for a practical solution that does not imply a demand for four million refugees to go back. After much work, I believe we managed to do that.

A regional settlement provides both parties with a regional safety net. For Palestinians and Syrians, it assures Arab (and Muslim) acceptance of an agreement that involves historic decisions on their part. For Israelis, it ensures regional peace, security and acceptance, not with part of the Palestinians but with the entire region. This was clearly the intention of King (then Crown Prince) Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who wanted to signal to the Israelis and the international community that Arabs are committed to peace in return for an end to the Israeli occupation of Arab land. Similarly, the reference to an agreed solution to the refugee problem indicates that Arabs are serious about finding an acceptable and practical solution to this issue. This was the spirit of the meeting, which resulted in unanimous acceptance of the proposal by all Arab states.

The Arab Peace Initiative should be viewed as a bold step to move beyond the failed incremental approach, rather than a rigid proposal. This is why it is even more relevant today.

To claim there are no easy solutions to the Arab-Israel conflict is to state the obvious. There is little chance for a breakthrough in direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis today, meaning that time has almost run out on a two-state solution. It is unlikely that further negotiations between the two parties will change these conditions. But a regional agreement, one that is based on both the Clinton parameters and the Arab Peace Initiative, is both possible and, I dare say, desirable for the two sides. The conflict has finally reached a point where postponing difficult decisions today in the hope of better conditions tomorrow only creates conditions that will prove even harder to address in the future.- Published 10/11/2010 © bitterlemons-api.org

Marwan Muasher, former foreign minister of Jordan, is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he oversees its work on the Middle East.

We come in peace
by Amre Moussa

The turmoil in the Middle East must be brought to an end. A serious path leading to a strategic deal has to take place. In this, we should not follow delusions, yet we should seek a just settlement for all. We seek real solutions that address the core problems of our region. There will be no peace in the region unless we tackle its problems with an honest, futuristic and comprehensive approach.

It is with this spirit that the League of Arab States adopted the Arab Peace Initiative in March 2002: a comprehensive initiative that offers the basis for a fair settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict. It stipulates a full recognition of Israel by all the Arab countries, in exchange for complete withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, a just settlement for the problem of Palestinian refugees and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. This initiative is the strategic offer presented by the Arab countries to put an end to the Arab-Israel conflict.

This requires a comparable commitment on the part of the Israeli government. However, instead of a commitment to peace through an adequate response to the Arab Peace Initiative, successive Israeli governments have been trying continuously and deliberately to divert attention from the core problem--the occupation of Arab territories since 1967. Terms like "religious war", "moderates versus extremists"--while claiming that Israel should be regarded as a part of the so called "moderate" camp, regardless of the policies it adopts--are misleadingly used by Israeli officials to confuse the whole situation in the region. Moderates and extremists exist on both sides. Extremists are getting stronger because of the lack of a just and durable peace.

The world should not forget that the Palestinian question is about national liberation. Occupation was and remains the central problem, and ending this occupation through withdrawal is the key to reaching a settlement, establishing peace and achieving security and stability in this part of the world.

Under a professed goal of reaching a peaceful settlement, we have been dragged to endless rounds of talks. The term "peace process" is now associated with a negative stigma. It has become a label for talks that lead to nowhere, while facts are being established on the ground in a way that threatens to make the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state close to impossible. We have seen this being done time and again for the past 20 years. Proximity talks, direct negotiations or whatever we name them will hold the same negative stigma unless they are conducted with clear-cut goals, an agenda and within a timeframe. In addition, an effective mechanism for follow up, and honest leadership, are necessary to push the process forward.

Furthermore, a serious and effective engagement is required by the international community, i.e., the United Nations, to shoulder its responsibilities in addressing the situation in the Middle East. The window of opportunity will not be open for long. We cannot count on managing the conflict with an attitude of more of the same or "business as usual". No one should imagine that the status quo can be preserved. We will either advance toward peace or move toward an uncontrollable explosion. In light of that, the time has come to consider alternatives to the usual approach, i.e., to the "peace process". That is what we on the Arab side, as well as many other concerned parties worldwide, are currently doing.

Yes, the Arab League and its members do come in peace. We stated our position eight years ago and we are still firmly holding to it, though with growing difficulties. The Arab Peace Initiative is not a bargaining chip. There will be no derogation from its principles. It is a collective position that reflects a deep belief in and a genuine quest for peace.

There are those who criticize the Arab side for not "publicizing" the Arab Peace Initiative. I never understood or believed in the sincerity of such an argument. When 22 Arab states officially adopt at the summit level an initiative that has been declared publicly for eight years, what sort of "publicity" is needed?

The Arab Peace Initiative has been welcomed by the international community and in countless forums, including the United Nations Security Council. It has been recognized among the terms of reference for peace negotiations. Moreover, prior to the Annapolis Conference, the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan were designated by the Arab Peace Initiative Committee of the Arab League to travel to Israel to officially inform its government of the initiative and urge its acceptance. Also, the Palestinian Liberation Organization carried out several campaigns to reach out to the Israeli public and inform them about the Arab Initiative. The PLO has published the text of the initiative in major Israeli newspapers.

We have repeatedly called on Israeli governments to meet our hand extended in peace. Throughout eight years, what we got from the Israeli side was a separation wall, two major wars--in Lebanon and Gaza--more settlements, and a brutal siege on Gaza.

The Arab Peace Initiative is an opportunity to create a historic shift in the region. We stand ready to turn the page of conflict and start a page of full recognition and cooperation, if Israel is also ready for the same by fully withdrawing from the occupied territories and establishing a viable Palestinian state. Yes, we need to achieve a durable peace deal in the Middle East. Israel should prove its readiness for achieving peace by fulfilling its obligations according to international law, starting with halting all settlement activities in the occupied territories of 1967, and engaging in serious and productive talks.-Published 10/11/2010 © bitterlemons-api.org

Amre Moussa is secretary general of the League of Arab States.

Happy to be proven wrong
by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere

It was chilling in Jerusalem in January 2002, and not only because of the weather. The sandbags, the metal detectors, the security guards with their visible guns at entrances to restaurants, malls, hospitals; almost a guard for every door. This was a country seized by a deep sense of threat and disillusionment. In the West Bank, a second winter of heavy repression closed and terrorized villages and towns. Those who had to leave their homes for work, an errand or a family visit, couldn't know when, if, they would come back. This was a whole nation denied hope, and grounded. On both sides, this was another winter of killing, with each side doing its best to hurt the other, in the flesh.

For me and my colleagues in the United Nations' political office, this was another year of oscillation between hope and fury. After numerous diplomatic failures, we thought that what Israelis and Palestinians needed most was listening--truly listening--to each other. The two sides mirrored one another's image and most of their needs were compatible, if not mutually dependent. There was a solution to their conflict, but it couldn't be reached as long as they ignored each other. The killing spree was not only cruel, it was unnecessary. If each side expressed its concern in a way that made sense to the other, they would be able to find common ground. But they didn't. As we shuttled between the two killing fields we were revolted by the parties' self-centeredness, yet hopeful that one day we would find a way to break this infernal circle.

Then came the news of a brewing Arab peace initiative. We got excited; this could be the opening we were looking for. If only we could convince the Arabs to speak a language Israelis could relate to. At the Arab League Summit in Beirut's Phoenicia Hotel, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his senior colleagues talked to Arab leaders while my colleagues and I discussed, more bluntly, with our counterparts. We asked: why won't Arab leaders be more forceful in affirming their willingness to accept Israel as a normal member of the region? Why can't Arab leaders fly to Jerusalem and speak to the Israelis directly? What is the point of mentioning the right of return if the objective is an agreed solution on refugees?

Our interlocutors were on a different level. Almost everyone at the Phoenicia Hotel anticipated a negative reaction from Israel's prime minister: "Sharon is not interested in peace," many concurred. "This would be politically foolish," a senior diplomat explained. "In the absence of a binding deal, any concession made in the initiative will be pocketed by the Israeli government and become the new baseline. And you from the UN will come next time to ask us for more concessions."

They pointed to the disillusionment of Arab public opinion after ten years of sterile negotiations and after Arafat "gave Israel everything". No Arab leader can afford to make a positive gesture toward Israel while it represses the Palestinians and expands settlements, they said. We retorted: "but look at Sadat's example." They retorted back: "Exactly! Look how Begin 'rewarded' Sadat's gesture, look how the story ended." For them, these were real-life political realities. For my UN colleagues, this was lack of leadership and vision.

I left my UN colleagues and wandered among Arab diplomats. I asked friends and former colleagues why Arab leaders bother at all coming up with an initiative if their assessment of the situation is so bleak. Some trivialized the whole affair: "The initiative says nothing new; we have been saying mutual recognition and 1967 borders for 30 years. Why is this suddenly interesting?" Others speculated that the Saudi initiative was not meant to resolve the Arab-Israel conflict but to salvage Saudi-American relations, which were on the rocks since 9/11. Many spoke of irritation and suspicion among Arab leaders at the initiative: "Look who is present and who is absent."

We argued and argued the merits of "speaking to the other side", but what we said didn't count much. Arab officials were too busy struggling with their own political realities to pay attention to what foreign diplomats said. After pushing and pulling, the crafty Arab League chief drafted a compromise text while, ominously, a senior Saudi official had a heart attack and was carried out of the meeting on a stretcher.

The text of the initiative wasn't a resounding example of public diplomacy, but it was the best one could hope for given political constraints. I thought that its message would resonate with the Israelis who wanted to believe that the conflict wasn't inescapable, a kind of fate that they, the tragic heroes, have to face, and that what they thought to be an irreconcilably hostile Arab world was ready to accept them as neighbors.

But I was wrong. Words couldn't compete with political realities; Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dismissed the initiative almost immediately and the international community's interest in it faded. When a bloody suicide bombing at a Passover celebration was followed by a bloody invasion of the West Bank, talk about peace ceased.

The Arab Peace Initiative had failed to become the political tool we were looking for. During the ordeals that followed, our focus in the UN shifted to drafting a "roadmap" that would take the parties from their mayhem to a political solution. The Arab Peace Initiative was turned from a tool into a "parameter for the endgame" in that "roadmap for peace". Ultimately, nothing came of either. As I left the Holy Land in summer 2004, I thought the Arab Peace Initiative was dead and buried with the roadmap and similar documents. Fortunately, I was proven wrong again.-Published 10/11/2010 © bitterlemons-api.org

Ezzedine Choukri Fishere is a novelist and professor of political science. Previously, he worked as an Egyptian diplomat and, alternately, a UN political advisor.

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