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Edition 9 Volume 2 - April 13, 2011

How could or should Israel accept the API?
Accept with minor "interpretations"  - Yossi Alpher
There should have been an official Israeli response long ago.

We need a very different Arab League approach  - Mordechai Kedar
Is there any Arab state that would agree to be dictated to by a foreign entity?

A sensible future  - Mennat Maassarani
History is being created, decisions made, tactics drawn, goals set and plans laid.

Save a generation  - Omar Rahman
The two-state compromise only exists as long as Palestinians believe it is the best way forward.

Accept with minor "interpretations"
 Yossi Alpher

There is a certain formalistic justification in Israel's standoffish attitude toward the Arab Peace Initiative. After all, the API was never seriously "marketed" to Israel. The concluding paragraph of the API asks every relevant institution in the international community to "pursue the necessary contacts to gain support for this initiative"--everyone, that is, except Israel itself, the target of the initiative. At one point a few years ago, in response to protest over this lacuna, the Arab League sent the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers to Jerusalem to present the API. But they visit Israel on occasion anyway and this gesture left no impression.

Imagine the Israeli public response had King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia asked to come and present the API to the Knesset. The late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat demonstrated in 1977 how readily Israeli public opinion can be turned around by a sincere, hands-on Arab approach.

Still, given the revolutionary nature of the API, these formalistic protestations cannot excuse the absence of any official Israeli response. There should have been one long ago. Israel has every reason to officially accept an Arab offer of comprehensive normal relations and security in return for peace agreements based on the 1967 lines. It should attach three relatively minor "interpretations" to its acceptance.

First, Israel should accept the principle of the 1967 lines, but with agreed land swaps. This would reflect the progress already made in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations: both sides have agreed to the principle. It would also suggest an acceptable formula for negotiating the territorial gaps between Israel and Syria generated by the Syrian demand for the 1967 lines as opposed to Israel's potential readiness to return to the international border between the two countries. That the API stipulates the 1967 lines for Syria as well as the Palestinians reflects the influence of Damascus' unreasonable demand to ignore a well-delineated international boundary. Moreover, in the case of Israel-Syria, there is no clear record of the 1967 lines, which reflected land-grabs by both sides inside demilitarized territory. So the Israeli "interpretation" in this regard should not seem unreasonable.

Second, Israel needs to stipulate its interpretation of United Nations
General Assembly Resolution 194, which is cited by the API as the basis of a just and agreed solution to the Palestinian refugee issue. Back in 1949, the Arab UN members voted against 194, precisely because it did not stipulate a specific "right of return" of all refugees. Since then, the Palestinians have successfully recast 194 and persuaded many quarters in the international community that it does indeed offer a comprehensive right of return. Israel should cite its understanding that 194 refers only to the original refugees and not succeeding generations, that it never mentions "right of return", and that it conditions return upon Israeli agreement and a willingness on the part of a refugee to live at peace in Israel.

Only a few tens of thousands of the original refugees are still alive. Israel has in any case frequently offered over the years to compensate all refugees and allow a few to return based on humanitarian considerations. Since the API conditions a refugee solution on Israeli agreement, it obviously leaves room to discuss Israel's interpretation of 194. But better to place that interpretation up front when Israel accepts the API. This is also the place for Israel to add that it expects the Arab countries to discuss compensation for the hundreds of thousands of their Jewish citizens who fled and came to Israel in 1948 and thereafter as a consequence of Arab hostility to Israel's existence.

Finally, Israel should cite an offer made on at least one occasion by then Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, to implement the API in phases that correspond with phases in Israel-Arab peacemaking. As Abul Gheit apparently recognized, rewarding Israel with aspects of normalization and security in return for a partial peace agreement or for agreement with one Arab neighbor prior to the others, would provide incentives for further peace-making and persuade the Israeli public that the API is a serious offer.

Because I believe the API is indeed a serious offer, I hope the Arab League finds a way to respond to the kind of Israeli acceptance described above, if and when it happens. Unfortunately, under current circumstances, Israel's pro-settler government is not likely to accept the API with these or any other "interpretations". And in view of the turmoil in the Arab world, the Arab League will in any case probably not be in a position to respond or reciprocate for some time to come.-Published 18/4/2011 © bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

We need a very different Arab League approach
 Mordechai Kedar

The Arab Peace Initiative comprises both positive and negative elements, and I have plenty to say about them. But I would prefer to describe an experience I had that, I believe, reflects the real objective of the API.

Several years ago, I appeared on the Arabic-language satellite channel al-Hurra, which is run by the US State Department, in a discussion of the API. With me on the panel, from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was Dr. Muhammad Al Zulfa, diplomatic adviser to King Abdullah. I believe, not without foundation, that he was the brains behind the API, which entered the world as a Saudi initiative presented to the Arab League summit in March 2002 in Beirut.

In the ensuing televised discussion, I argued that the API comprised positive components like recognition of Israel and comprehensive Arab peace with us. The Arab League should, I stated, negotiate with Israel regarding the details. Al Zulfa insisted that Israel must accept the plan word for word without deleting a single letter and implement it, only after which the Arabs would agree to talk to Israel. The Arabs would not negotiate with Israel over anything until the latter completed implementation. Al Zulfa insisted this was a non-negotiable condition.

I went on to offer my opinion on this approach by posing a simple question: would Saudi Arabia accept and implement any proposal whatsoever, down to the most elementary issue, if it had not participated in drafting and determining the conditions? Is there any other Arab state that would agree to be dictated to by a foreign entity? Is it conceivable for Israel to accept a document relating to Israeli national security that has been drafted by the Arab summit without having the right to change a single word?

This approach, as presented by the most important formulator of Saudi foreign policy, projects a sense of superiority and disdain, and broadcasts a clear intent to bring Israel to its knees, to deny it security and return it to the 1948 borders that all agree are not defensible ("Auschwitz borders", according to the late Abba Eban). The Arab desire to tear away the Old City of Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years, essentially reflects an Islamic refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish religion and expresses the belief that Islam emerged to replace Judaism rather than coexist with it. (Incidentally, according to this approach, Christianity too lost its role after the arrival of Islam.)

It's my sense that the intention behind the API, as presented in this discussion by its originator, is to create an irreversible situation in which Israel has given up its territorial assets, following which all or some of the Arabs will find excuses for not delivering on their part of the deal. They might cite the "non-return" of demilitarized zones separating Israel and Syria prior to 1967 or of land north of Gaza where the moshav Nativ HaAsara is now located, or some aspect of the refugee problem that is impossible to solve in accordance with refugee demands.

At a time when voices are increasingly heard in Egypt calling for cancelling the peace treaty, Israel has no long-term guarantee that peace, however cold and partial, will survive the revolution there. Jordan's fate, too, is uncertain in view of the wave of unrest sweeping through the Arab world.

Israel would have to be clearly suicidal to enter today into a process that enables the establishment of another Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria after we already have a terror state in Gaza that torments Israel with rockets and missiles made there or smuggled from Iran. There is no country in the world that can guarantee that the Arab League commitment to recognize Israel will be honored by a new Palestinian state, particularly if it is again taken over by Hamas through elections as in January 2006 or a military coup as in June 2007. Will the armies of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Libya come to the territory of a Palestinian state to disperse the Izzedine al-Qassam brigades or confiscate missiles and mortars from Islamic Jihad?

If the Arab League, led by its summit, wants to persuade Israel to accept the API, it must treat Israel as a negotiating partner and engage in serious discussions of conditions for peace. Once agreement is reached concerning the outline and phases of the peace process, we can discuss the substance of peace. But the words of Mohammad Al Zulfa, spoken to the Arab nation, point to a different outcome: the Saudis and the Arab summit have no intention save the defeat of Israel without a fight, by means of false premises that harbor no commitment to real implementation.

In view of the sorry state of the Arab world today, with key Arab states confronting unprecedented challenges, Israel and the world must wait patiently until the smoke clears. Only then will it be possible to discuss negotiations--nothing less--in which Israel might concede strategic assets.-Published 13/4/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Mordechai Kedar is a lecturer in the Department of Arabic and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University.

A sensible future
 Mennat Maassarani

The democratic awakening that has crept through most Arab countries in the past few months has left the planet in awe of the magnitude of a place long labeled the "third world". Every Arab has witnessed a rapid change in societies long stagnant, ruled by dictators.

The people are still far from achieving their goals--yet they have taken the first steps. The future is still fogged by the unknown; the path not yet revealed. Now is the time to move forward with small torches to guide the footsteps. It started with Tunisia, followed instantly by Egypt and neighboring countries, all crying out for one goal: democracy. It should come as no surprise that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict joins them, as the oldest and most brutal conflict of them all.

For years on end, systems and tactics have been imposed to exploit third world countries, casting a shadow over life's realities and resulting in overwhelming ignorance simply to weaken the people. If any of these dictators had been in touch with the evolution of human capabilities and technology, they would have anticipated the changing needs of their people and prepared techniques to maintain their goals. Instead, they applied old tactics that were no longer relevant and fired back by antagonizing the people, leading directly to failure.

Every system has a cycle that breaks down over time. This is precisely the case in the Arab world. The changes occurring nowadays are not only affecting states internally but have stretched to every inch of the world. Sooner or later, they will touch the long-lived Palestinian-Israeli conflict. If there is a time to create peace and start cooperating, it is now.

The Arab Peace Initiative of the 2002 Beirut summit proposed ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and normalizing relations between the entire Arab world and Israel. It didn't get the attention it deserved in those years nor at the Riyadh summit of 2007 when it was re-adopted. No wonder that it should rise once again with the current events--yet it requires all Arab countries and Israel to fully engage in order to achieve its purpose.

Israelis have been oppressed, diminished and exiled, but now the situation has changed. They have claimed a piece of land and established their state. The Middle East and North Africa area has many resources and all countries can benefit from mutual cooperation on the economic level. It's time for the Israelis to adopt new strategies if they want to live in peace with their neighbors, adapting to the new democratic demands of the Arabs. It is not to Israelis' advantage to isolate themselves and show no interest in an initiative that has gained the world's respect. Israel should consider withdrawing to the borders of 1967, which would locate both Israel and Palestine as two independent states practicing their rights equally.

At this point in time, history is being created, decisions made, tactics drawn, goals set and plans laid. Any step made will hugely alter the future, leaving the past behind. Now is the time to calculate all moves and act wisely.-Published 13/4/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Mennat Maassarani manages the Egyptian culture radio station Sound of Sakia.

Save a generation
 Omar Rahman

Just over one week after the ninth anniversary of the Arab Peace Initiative, some leaders within the Israeli business and security community have found the need to address this monumental peace proposal with a "partner declaration" of their own.

The latest initiative, launched on April 6, admittedly stems from fears that Israel is being diplomatically isolated on the international stage, that the region around it is changing dramatically, and that time is no longer on Israel's side. Hence, it is imperative that the Israeli public put pressure on its leaders to save the two-state solution before it is too late.

The desire to engage with the Arab Peace Initiative, although belated, is well-founded. The political environment in the region is changing rapidly and there is no guarantee that the outcome will be favorable for Israel. However, even more fundamental than this is the transformation currently taking place within Palestinian society, and what may follow.

As Thomas Friedman wrote in a December 2010 column, the Americans cannot want peace more than the parties involved; likewise, Palestinians believe they should not want the two-state solution more than Israel. The feeling in Palestine is that while Palestinians have been working to negotiate two states for the last 20 years, Israel has been making that solution an impossibility by altering the situation on the ground.

And in reality, the two-state compromise only exists as long as Palestinians believe it is the best way forward, or at least a possibility. As soon as that impression is gone--and the world starts to agree--then the impetus for the fulfillment of Palestinian national rights becomes a push for equal rights in a single state.

At the moment, Palestinians are not far from reaching this conclusion. The younger generation of Palestinians, which is now beginning to take to the streets like their Arab counterparts, has no attachment to the two-state compromise, which was born out of the older generation of leaders' inability to liberate the whole of their country. All they know is the situation, as it exists today, and the record of injustice against Palestinians that they read in their history books.

Concurrently, the Palestinians in power are coming to terms with a peace process that has been unable to produce statehood, and may never will. The current Israeli government inspires no confidence among Palestinian leaders, and the steady shift of the Israeli public to the right does little to generate hope that future Israeli statesman will be able to conclude a just solution.

These two things taken together could produce a reassessment of the Palestinian liberation struggle and its ultimate goals. The Palestinians accepted the two-state compromise, not because building a state on 22 percent of historic Palestine was a just solution, but because years of struggle forced certain elements inside the PLO into realizing that it was probably the best they would get. However, those leaders are now either gone or on their way out.

The new generation looks around and does not even see the possibility of two-states because Israeli settlements have gobbled up the remaining land on the 22 percent. If by September the United Nations recognizes the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders and Israel refuses to end its occupation, then it becomes much easier to convince the world that it is Israel that is making the two-state compromise impossible. At that point, the push for a single state becomes a realizable goal.

Thus, today there are some voices from within Israel calling for their country to be part of the group recognizing the state of Palestine at the UN in September. There are those who have sponsored the Israeli Peace Initiative, which provides a framework for peace more similar to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's peace proposals in 2008, than those included in the Arab Peace Initiative. And there are many leaders from Israel's political left and right, including Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, and perhaps even Binyamin Netanyahu and many others, that have come to terms with the necessity of a Palestinian state in order to prevent the emergence of a one-state movement.

Yet these leaders fail to understand that what is needed is a just solution, not one that tries to garner the best possible deal for Israel. The Palestinians already believe that two states is a major concession of their rights, but one they are willing to live with. However, if the contours of the Palestinian state continue to be chipped away at, and the settlements in and around Jerusalem are allowed to remain, then the prospect of a separate Palestinian state no longer seems appealing, and the most attractive alternative may be the long struggle for equal rights in one state.

If Israel accepts the precepts of the Arab Peace Initiative--full withdrawal to the 1967 lines and a just settlement to the refugee problem based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194--without caveats, then it may save us all from a protracted conflict that is sure to ruin the lives of another generation of Palestinians and Israelis, instead of fulfilling the promise of peace, security and prosperity that a mutually acceptable agreement entails.-Published 13/4/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Omar Rahman is a journalist and former advisor to the Palestinian negotiations team in Ramallah.

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