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Edition 8 Volume 2 - April 06, 2011

The Arab spring and the API
Saudi dilemmas and the Arab Peace Initiative  - Madawi al-Rasheed
Saudi Arabia has many dilemmas and Palestine is not one of them.

An empowering Arab peace plan  - Akram Baker
2011 is a completely changed world.

Time for a positive Israeli response to the API  - Mark A. Heller
Israel has been and will somehow continue to be injected into all of this, probably to its detriment.

The API in thrall to the Arab
 - Nathalie Tocci
In the short run, the API is likely to remain where it has been for years: shelved.

Saudi dilemmas and the Arab Peace Initiative
 Madawi al-Rasheed

The Arab Peace Initiative, proposed by Saudi Arabia's then-Crown Prince Abdullah (king since 2005) and announced during the Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002, is hard to resurrect amidst revolutions and protests in the region. Not only was the initiative a stillborn baby, but over time it became a corpse in need of a death ritual. We all know how important such rituals are for the living, but unfortunately, the illusion of peace persists while the reality attests that "no solution has become the solution".

For a long time, championing the Palestinian cause with either the threat of war, large economic handouts, peace initiatives or even simple delusional rhetoric has been Arab dictators' most favorite road to celebrity status. Turkey and Iran are the contest's most recent arrivals. Unfortunately for Saudi Arabia's king and other aspiring rulers, this road has become a dead end. Neither the Palestinians nor the Arab masses are impressed by previous performance.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia proposed peace in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders. He pressed for the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and called for a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Israel did not accept. Five years later, the initiative's revival in March 2007 did not bring tangible results.

The aging 87-year-old Saudi monarch is a king of transition. It will not be long before a new king, most probably from the small circle of the seven Sudayri princes, replaces him. This will not bring about major Saudi foreign policy shifts vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Saudi Arabia is not in a position to activate its involvement in conflict resolution at this time for several reasons.

Despite Saudi largesse, the country's influence has been shrinking in the Arab world. In Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Palestine, and more recently Egypt, the Saudi leadership lost acumen, long-established on the basis of sacred geography and black gold. More than any other Arab country, Saudi Arabia had a lot to lose as a result of Iran's rising influence in the region. Its equally aging foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, is looking frail and can hardly inspire confidence in a region that is experiencing a sudden political awakening triggered by youth bulges.

Since 2003, Saudi Arabia has lost all hope of bringing Iraq back to the Arab fold. Its involvement in the Iraqi elections proved futile in the face of Nour al-Maliki's new iron fist. When revolutions broke out in Tunisia and Egypt, Saudi Arabia became increasingly associated with a bygone era. Hosting one of the Arab world's most corrupt and brutal dictators, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, meant that Saudi Arabia had begun to be seen as a safe haven for deposed autocrats. Saudi Arabia lost a close ally when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak packed his suitcases and moved to Sharm al-Sheikh. The king was so devastated he offered to compensate Mubarak for the loss of US aid.

The country's relations with Syria have been fraught with suspicion and mistrust since Israel's war on Lebanon in 2006. When protests broke out in Deraa two weeks ago, Syrian sources alluded to a Saudi conspiracy against the regime in Damascus. Bashar al-Assad had called Arab leaders half men when they blamed Hizballah for the Lebanon conflagration. The Saudis went into a frenzy. Personal insults of this kind have a lasting impact on inter-Arab personalized politics. Saudi Arabia had always aspired, though unsuccessfully, to wean Syria off Iran's largesse.

Backing one Palestinian faction against another and remaining silent over the Israeli blockade of Gaza did little to endear the Saudi leadership to substantial sections of the Palestinian population. From the perspective of the Arab street, Turkey cared more about Palestinians than did the Saudi king. Since the 1979 Camp David agreement, Saudi Arabia has aspired to replace Egypt as the main orchestrator of a different peace. With its aging leadership and fading diplomacy, it has stagnated and become more and more irrelevant to the persistent conflict.

Today Saudi Arabia is looking to consolidate its position, not on the shores of the Mediterranean, but on those of the Persian Gulf. It moved troops to the small island of Bahrain to save the ruling al-Khalifa family and crush a peaceful protest movement demanding more political rights. Its own Shiite and Sunni population is looking increasingly agitated and ready to engage in street protest.

As the Bahraini demonstrations were being crushed, a more deadly protest movement started in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has long supported the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, but can no longer rest assured that he will remain in power. Saudi Arabia is facing external threats from its poor southern neighbor that has an armed population not so appreciative of Saudi interference in its affairs. From the Zaydi Huthis in the north to the separatists in the south, Yemenis have come to associate Saudi Arabia with meddling.

If the neighbors are troubled and troubling, the interior of the country is looking even bleaker. Inspired by the peaceful Egyptian pro-democracy movement, Saudi activists circulated more than two lengthy petitions calling for constitutional monarchy. Others called for the fall of the regime. Since March 11, the so-called "Day of Rage" organized by Saudi Facebook activists, the security sources have arrested more than 160 men and women, according to Human Rights Watch. Feeling the heat, the king distributed benefits worth $36 billion. Heavy policing and threats of the wrath of God from mosque minarets ensured that the demonstrations fail. Yet the leadership remains on edge. It has resorted to a "wait and see" policy at home and is flexing its muscles against the Shiites of Bahrain.

The internal Saudi scene, coupled with major external challenges, will confine Saudi Arabia to a marginal role in resurrecting the API in the near future. The only external force that can make a difference in this ongoing conflict, is in fact not Saudi Arabia, but a democratic Egypt. It may take several years to stabilize and return to its major regional role. But when it comes back, Egypt can make a difference, especially with a new political leadership untarnished by its contribution to the Israeli injustices inflicted on Palestinians.

In the long term, the obstacle remains the increasingly religious right-wing state of Israel. The growing "Judaization" of the conflict means that crises persist as compromises disappear. It has never been easy to divide the sacred or share it, but political compromises are always possible.

If there is a change in Israeli internal politics towards more rationality and away from religious mystification, Palestinians and Israelis will have a better chance of reaching the conclusion that they alone can make a lasting peace. Neither the Saudis nor other external players can offer them what they cannot offer each other.

The "no solution solution" may not be a viable option in times of regional turmoil. These autocrats have lived off this conflict for too long. To wait for Egypt is also not an option. Under the revolutionary law of contagion that has taken the region by surprise, the Palestinian human crisis may erupt in the face of Israel at any moment. Saudi Arabia will not be relevant as it is busy expanding eastward towards the Gulf. Saudi Arabia has many dilemmas. At the moment, Palestine is not one of them. -Published 6/4/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Madawi al-Rasheed is a professor at King's College in London.

An empowering Arab peace plan
 Akram Baker

The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 was a far-reaching document laying out an offer of comprehensive peace with Israel in exchange for an end to Israel's occupation of Palestine. At the time, during the dark years of the Bush administration, it caused a bit of hand-wringing among Israelis afraid that the world would begin to see Israel for what it was: an illegal occupying power resistant to real peace. However, there was really no cause for concern: neither the United States, the international community, nor illegitimate Arab rulers were willing to take the steps necessary to implement the plan.

Nine years have passed since then, and the peace plan is even more irrelevant than ever. But its irrelevance is materially different now, with the entire region in the throes of an unprecedented democratic upheaval. Massive popular demonstrations have already forced the ouster of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Regimes in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria are shooting their own people in a desperate bid to put down rebellions. While this has caused wholesale panic among the region's despots from Morocco to the Gulf, its effect on Israel is enormous.

The reasons are simple. Israel has always been on the wrong side of history, choosing military occupation instead of peace. It has always been a quiet and not-so-quiet supporter of the Arab "strongman", greatly preferring dictators to democracy. This has conveniently provided it with ammunition in the half-baked claim of being the "only democracy in the Middle East" but also has directly supported the crushing of all Arab public opinion and pressure.

In 2002, the Arab world was reeling from the fallout of the al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, looking for some way to get off the world's most-despised list. The Arabs listened to their masters in Washington and threw out a bone.

But 2011 is a completely changed world. The "Arab spring" began spontaneously when a vegetable seller in a small town in Tunisia, humiliated and manhandled by security agents, decided to publicly immolate himself, sparking the wide-reaching intifada by the disaffected Arab masses against their leaders. For the first time in history, the Arab peoples have taken their fate into their own hands. It is important to note that the aforementioned regimes had always used the issue of Palestine as a convenient excuse to oppress their people. Feigning concern over the plight of Palestinians, the Arab regimes have consistently co-opted "The Cause" to leverage security and economic measures. After the upheavals in Tunisia and especially Egypt, this causus belli for repression is no longer valid.

Interestingly enough, the rallying cry of freedom for Palestine is more or less absent in the tumult underway in the region. This should not be seen as an abandonment of the Palestinian cause, but as a sign that the populations in the Arab world are thoroughly sick and tired of their illegitimate rulers. The people are clamoring for true democratic change and have shown themselves willing to face down brutal repression. Most of all, they have shaken off their fear (like the peoples of Eastern Europe in 1989) of their regimes.

For Israel, the idea of Arab democracy is frightening. It is messy, and democratic countries do not accept diktats from foreign powers. The API never threatened the Israeli occupation because Israel was 100 percent sure that it was never meant to be implemented. Therefore, Israel ignored it and continued to entrench its occupation on an unprecedented scale.

It has been said that the Arab uprisings of 2011 are a death knell for the Middle East peace process. This is nothing short of--at best--willful ignorance. The so-called peace process was dead and gone a long time ago. (And this includes the API of 2002.) In its place, after a period of allowing democracy to settle in (which could take five to ten years and perhaps include violence), the Arab countries will be in a position of increased leverage vis-a-vis both Israel and the West. This will ultimately lead to progress on the peace front because the nations in question and their elected leaders will be sovereign, independent entities that focus on their national interests and not only the interests of the corrupt few.

The Israeli leadership (and the international community) is well aware that for Israel to gain peace it must end its occupation of Palestine. The changes taking place in the Arab world may just force Israel to make a stark choice: make peace or pay the price of failure. With the power of democracy behind them, a new API (maybe of 2016?) will not only declare the willingness to make peace, but have the clout and legitimacy to make it happen.-Published 6/4/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Akram Baker is a Palestinian American entrepreneur and independent political analyst.

Time for a positive Israeli response to the API
 Mark A. Heller

The upsurge of opposition to authoritarian rule, widely described as the "Arab spring," has not been good for the forests. Ever since the first anti-regime demonstrators took to the streets of the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid in late December, the commentariat on things Middle Eastern has grown exponentially, and the print media--along with the blogosphere--have been inundated by a flood of commentary, analysis, prediction and prescription. Some of this has been insightful and knowledgeable, some has been informed (or deformed) by political agendas, some has been wishful thinking, and some has been sheer nonsense. But perhaps the clearest dividing line in this tsunami of words is between those commentators who admit that they don't know how all this will play out and those who delude themselves into thinking that they do.

Of course, revolutions--if these are, indeed, revolutions--follow notoriously unpredictable paths. It is difficult, even in retrospect, to know how, why or by whom the attempts to overthrow existing orders were initiated. And it is impossible to extrapolate from unfolding events the course of these developments, that is, to predict whether regime change will actually come about and, if it does, in which Arab political systems that will happen, what sorts of successor regimes will emerge and whether they will differ in truly significant ways from their predecessors or else amount to little more than a change in the cast of leading characters.

Even this does not begin to exhaust the list of known unknowns, much less address the question of the unknown unknowns, so it is more than a bit presumptuous to trace any future connection between turmoil in Arab states and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All that can be said with some confidence is that Israel has been and will somehow continue to be injected into all of this, probably to its detriment.

This is not to say that enmity to Israel is in any meaningful sense a factor that precipitated or facilitated the Arab spring. It is to say, however, that in those states geographically closest to the Israeli-Palestinian arena, popular hostility to Israel is a sentiment that regime and/or opposition try to exploit in the unfolding contest between them, the most blatant example being Syrian President Bashar Assad's claim that demonstrations against his regime are part of an Israeli-directed plot to weaken and undermine Syria. Anti-Israel sentiment is also something that contending forces may try to leverage, if and when incumbent regimes are overthrown, in order to enhance their prospects in the ensuing struggle for power among them. Finally, and perhaps most ominously, successor regimes may be dominated by radical nationalist or Islamist forces ideologically committed to an aggressively anti-Israel policy even though the revolution they made or hijacked was not originally inspired by an anti-Israel agenda.

Israel therefore has a clear interest in removing itself completely from domestic Arab political conflicts. Of course, the only way that can happen is through a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and resolving the conflict peacefully is something that Israel cannot, by definition, do unilaterally. Israel could, however, take some actions that might lower whatever salience it has in the unfolding Arab spring and its aftermath. These actions might be grouped under the heading of public diplomacy by deed and word, whose main purpose would be to devalue the currency of anti-Israel rhetoric used by forces on one side or the other of the barricades in the struggles associated with the Arab spring.

An example of Israeli public diplomacy by deed might be the oft-promised dismantling of unauthorized outposts in the West Bank. The public diplomacy by word most likely to resonate would be a considered response to the Arab Peace Initiative that Israeli governments have hitherto ignored. This need not entail an unconditional acceptance of the API, because almost all Israelis have some reservations about some parts of it. But there is no reason why the Israeli government, rather than ignoring the API, should not declare that it has given it careful consideration, views it in a positive light, and believes that it is a constructive basis for further discussions that it desires to pursue with the authors of the initiative.

Of course, such a declaration would leave unanswered some important questions, particularly about with whom the potential of the initiative might be authoritatively explored. Nor would it guarantee that the dormant discourse of peace in the region would be immediately reenergized. Nevertheless, the mere injection of such a declaration into the public domain might at least reduce the potency of anti-Israel rhetoric in the Arab spring and whatever season will follow it, if not among those in the Arab body politic unalterably opposed to peace, then at least among those disposed to coexistence but brought to believe that the obstacle is Israel's unalterable opposition to peace. In the present circumstances, that prospect, alone, justifies the activation of a component of Israeli public diplomacy that has been absent for far too long.-Published 6/4/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Mark A. Heller is principal research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv University.

The API in thrall to the Arab

 Nathalie Tocci

The Arab Peace Initiative, first endorsed at the Beirut summit in 2002, was born of a specific context. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, what was to become the "moderate" Arab camp was intent on asserting its credentials to the West. Offering Israel full normalization of relations in return for an end of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights and an (unspecified) "just" solution to the refugee problem was an unprecedented move.

So historic an offer was it that, despite the abysmal lack of concrete action that followed, the API has remained on the table. It was re-endorsed by the Arab League in 2007, is ostensibly part of the Obama administration's Middle East diplomacy and has also been repeatedly supported by the European Union and the Quartet.

The world in 2011 looks very different from that of 2002. The Arab world is undergoing profound change. Decades-long dictatorships of the likes of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt have been swept away by a tide of popular mobilization and tacit military support. Neighboring Libya is in the midst of war, and while a return to the status quo ante under Muammar Gaddafi is difficult to contemplate, the alterative remains extremely murky.

Further east, Bashar Assad's regime in Syria trembles, and while it recognizes the need to move fast on political reforms, we have yet to see whether it too is already behind the curve. Likewise, the regimes in Bahrain and Yemen sit uneasily on the fence, as protests and violence rage on.

What then of the API in this profoundly transformed regional environment? In the short-run, the API is likely to remain where it has been for years: shelved. The dust of the current revolts will take time to settle, and when it does, the challenges are daunting.

A singular characteristic of the Arab spring is its fundamentally domestic nature. Responses to youth unemployment, soaring food prices, rampant corruption, political repression and widespread human rights violations are the bread and butter of the protesters' demands. No burning foreign flags or Islamist slogans on the streets of Cairo, Tunis and elsewhere. This is not to say that the "Arab street" is oblivious to Palestine, still less that it is supportive of the foreign policies pursued hitherto by its regimes. It is simply to say that the nuts and bolts of the revolts are quintessentially domestic in nature. And it is with these domestic economic, social and political questions that future leaders will have to grapple.

Likewise, the international community will continue to be absorbed by these events and their aftermath. In Libya, even in the best of possible circumstances in which armed conflict soon comes to a close, the post-Gaddafi future remains a worrying black box. More broadly, the European Union will be deeply engaged in reorganizing its Mediterranean policies that have been rendered obsolete or, at the very least, in dire need of a serious rethink by events in the region. The United States, for its part, will be fully occupied by the Gulf and by the evolution of what Robert Springborg calls Egypt's "coupvolution". A clear signal of these international priorities is the relative international neglect of the recent disturbing re-escalation of violence in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

But what about the long run? Much will depend, of course, on the balance sheet of the "Arab spring." Let us assume, for the sake of optimism, that tomorrow's Middle East will be more democratic (or less authoritarian) than that of previous decades. If the political stars were to align, the API's prospects might be rosy, or at least rosier.

Were Egypt to move in the direction of greater democratic accountability, we may well imagine that it could re-appropriate its lost mantle of Arab leadership in the Middle East. Cairo would probably revise its Palestinian policy, moving towards a genuine commitment to intra-Palestinian reconciliation and a less sanguine policy towards Hamas. Alongside this, it may feel sufficiently emboldened to dust the API off the shelf and actively work towards translating it into political reality. The Syrian regime may also change or be severely weakened by internal dissent. This might reduce Iranian leverage on the Arab world, lifting prospects for the API.

At some point in the, hopefully, not-too-distant future, the international community, led by the US, will also recast its energy on the Arab-Israel peace process, currently derailed by Israeli obstinacy and a discredited PLO leadership. Particularly if it wishes to stave off the current trend of unilateralism--through the Palestinian Authority's drive for recognized statehood and Israeli threats of retaliation--the US may recommit to a more muscular mediation and find erstwhile and more effective (albeit more independent) allies in the Arab Middle East in this endeavor.

A final question mark regards Israel. To date, Israel's reaction to the Arab spring has been marked by fear and retrenchment. Its mourning of Mubarak's departure jarred with the rest of the world's applause. Yet with time and introspection, Israel may come to realize that swimming against the tide of change in the region is not in its best interest. And there is no better anchor than the API to bring Israel into synch with its region and the world.-Published 6/4/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Nathalie Tocci is deputy director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali in Rome.

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