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Edition 11 Volume 2 - May 18, 2011

Arab opposition to the API
Putting opponents of the API on the defensive  - Nizar Abdel-Kader
An Assad regime that survives the popular protests would find a deep interest in joining such a peace effort.

"Stillborn"  - an interview withSalah Bardawil
The Arab initiative was killed upon its birth by the Israeli occupation.

Two-plus-two is four  - Mark Perry
Since the API was proposed, world leaders--and most particularly Israeli leaders--have questioned its legitimacy, pertinence and importance.

Resistance tooth and nail  - Heiko Wimmen
Hizballah will try hard to derail any attempt to revive the Arab Peace Initiative, but it need not succeed.

Putting opponents of the API on the defensive
 Nizar Abdel-Kader

The repeated failures of bilateral negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and Israel and Syria may be attributed to a number of factors, including a deep-seated mistrust that has not been addressed. Israel's concerns over long-term security and domestic-political constraints have been a major obstacle to its making the required concessions to reach an agreement. Besides the contribution of these elements to the current stalemate, the one critical missing ingredient has been the Israeli refusal to accept the Arab Peace Initiative, which represents the collective will of the Arab states, as a comprehensive framework for peace.

The API offers the best possible means of achieving a durable peace, provided that all parties to the conflict (states and non-state actors) understand its objectives and historic implications--which have eluded them for more than two decades.

However, opposition to the API has not been limited to the Israeli side. The Iranians and Syrians have formed a rejectionist axis that comprises Hizballah, Hamas and Palestinian factions. Iran has been very vocal in its opposition to the API and called, along with Hizballah and Hamas, on Arab summits to adopt a clear stand rejecting any kind of settlement with Israel and to come forward to support the resistance militarily and financially in its struggle to end the Israeli occupation.

Syria, in its turn, has been a strong supporter of Hizballah and Hamas and has provided a base in Damascus for the head of Hamas' political bureau, Khaled Mashaal. With unrest and violence raging throughout Syria, the Hamas leadership has come to realize the importance of focusing domestically on reaching a Fateh-Hamas reconciliation deal. Reaching such a deal by turning to Egypt as a mediator represents a dramatic transformation in Hamas' political choices and indicates a willingness to join efforts to gain full membership for Palestine as a state at the United Nations in September 2011. The Palestinian move towards the United Nations is in turn an understandable response to the failure of the US peace initiative.

Time is now becoming an important factor. Key Arab states like Egypt and Syria are undergoing dramatic changes that will not only affect the political status of both countries but will greatly influence other states and political dynamics throughout the entire region. Egypt will again be more involved in following up on regional events and will probably try to circumvent Iranian influence and check Iranian proxies such as Hizballah in Lebanon and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

Syria has been weakened by its internal uprising. Even if the Assad regime succeeds in reaching a compromise with the opposition, matters would not remain the same and the viability of the Damascus/Tehran/Hizballah axis would be weakened. Such a change in the Syrian stance would reduce Iran's influence over Arab affairs in both Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories.

Under these new regional conditions, international efforts should be concentrated on creating favorable conditions for the resumption of the peace process on all tracks according to the Arab Peace Initiative. An Assad regime that survives the popular protests would find a deep interest in joining such a peace effort, in the hope of breaking its isolation and guaranteeing the return of the Golan Heights. Given such a positive Syrian attitude, a Palestinian unity government formed of Fateh and Hamas would fully participate in such a peace plan. Lebanon, in its turn, would be encouraged by Syrian actions and the support of other Arab states to join the peace process.

Iran and Hizballah would thereby suffer a severe setback for their strategy of opposing any kind of negotiation to settle the Arab-Israel conflict. Given the present winds of change blowing throughout the region, it can be presumed that Hizballah would be thrown on the defensive. Although Hizballah remains a very powerful player, politically and militarily, the March fourteenth coalition is starting to sense the tide turning in its favor.

Syria could play a key role in reducing opposition to the API if it decides to distance itself from Iran and cease its support for Hizballah and Palestinian rejectionist factions. Such a Syrian stance would depend greatly on the American, European, and GCC states' attitude towards Assad's effort to suppress the present uprising.

To repeat: Israel has long-term security concerns, most of which can be fully addressed in the context of the API offer of a sustainable framework for regional security that takes into consideration security constraints on a Palestinian state. In addition, other regional actors have a stake in the outcome of any peace agreement; they would like to ensure that such an agreement satisfies their territorial requirements even as it deals with Israeli security concerns.

In the end, although Iran would do anything it could to undermine Israel's security, it would feel hard-pressed to openly oppose the collective Arab and Palestinian will to strike a deal under the API. The Arab states--speaking with one voice and supported by the international community and by all Muslim states--will provide the international legitimacy needed for the API to achieve a comprehensive peace.-Published 19/5/2011 © bitterlemons-international.org

Nizar Abdel-Kader is a journalist, political analyst and author of three books: "Iran and the Nuclear Bomb"," A Nation without a Fence", and "The Israeli Strategy to Destroy Lebanon".

an interview with Salah Bardawil

bitterlemons-api: What is Hamas' position on the Arab Peace Initiative?

Bardawil: The Arab initiative was killed upon its birth by the Israeli occupation. [Then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon said immediately it was not worth the ink used in writing it.

The new facts Israel is creating on the ground also fight and destroy the Arab initiative, in addition to violating United Nations and international law. Accordingly, talk about the initiative is something from the past.

All the initiatives have proposed giving Israel recognition for free; in return, Israel has never shown any commitment towards Palestinian rights.

bitterlemons-api: What are the positive and negative aspects of the Arab Peace Initiative?

Bardawil: If it was positive then, Israel has used it to create new realities and facts on the ground, expanding settlements, and changing all of Jerusalem's landmarks, so that it [the initiative] has become negative. It was "positive" because it has uncovered the real face of Israel, and that Israel is the party that isn't interested in peace.

But [the initiative was] negative because the Arabs gave the Israelis free concessions and free recognition without gaining any European or American value for it. In addition, the right of return for refugees was not made clear in the initiative.

bitterlemons-api: After the changes in the Arab world, is the Arab Peace Initiative still alive?

Bardawil: Neither before nor after the changes in the Arab countries was this initiative alive. In any case, the Arab League was planning to withdraw it. I don't think the Arab nations will accept humiliation.

bitterlemons-api: Do you think that if the Arab Peace Initiative were activated, non-state groups like Hizbollah or even Hamas would actively oppose it?

Bardawil: I believe that, were the Arab initiative reactivated, Israel would once again reject it and again embarrass the Arabs, if they were to offer more concessions. It is completely unacceptable to us, but we will not be the reason for its failure. We will leave that to Israel. -Published 18/5/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Salah Bardawil is a leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006.

Two-plus-two is four
 Mark Perry

We have before us the example of George Orwell, the eccentric British author of 1984, whose real name was Eric Blair. What's interesting about Orwell (or, perhaps, simply predictable) is that he adopted his pen name to save his respectable parents the disgrace of having to admit that their son didn't work for a living, but was (oh, the humiliation) . . . a writer. And the irony: this same Orwell spent years toiling over a story whose theme is that it's possible to erase the past by a simple act of denial. Thus, Winston Smith ("1984"'s main character) is told in a torture chamber of the "Ministry of Love" that his belief that his country, "Oceania" was, at one time, not at war with Eastasia is a delusion: "Oceania is at war with Eastasia," he is told. "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia."

Orwell would tell us that those who read "1984" and put it aside in relief ("thank God we don't live in a world like that"), miss the point. The past is altered continuously, even perniciously--and now (some 63 years after the book's publication) no more constantly than when it comes to the Middle East. "Mubarak is a moderate," "we have always supported democracy in Egypt" and "the Arabs aren't interested in peace" are perhaps not as insidious as "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia," but they're damned close. The beauty of these phrases (as Winston Smith learned) is that if you utter them often enough, they actually become true. Hence, we described former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a moderate so often that we actually came to believe it--and were taken by surprise when we discovered the Egyptian people didn't agree. So? So now we're worried that the current revolution will deny the Egyptian people their fundamental rights. Unlike with Mubarak--who was chock full of them.

Human beings are good at this kind of thing, as it turns out, because adopting these phrases ("we have always supported democracy in Egypt") helps us evade responsibility for the state of the world. Then too, it's easier to follow the script than to utter the truth--"Mubarak is a tyrant, but what the hell, we supported him anyway," "we've never given a fig for democracy in Egypt" and (finally) "it's not the Arabs who aren't interested in peace, but Israel." It's this last phrase that seems most pertinent now, when the-take-it-or-leave-it 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is being discussed (again), as a possible resolution of the Arab-Israel (and, hence, the Palestinian-Israeli) conflict.

Articles in these pages testify to the opportunity provided by the initiative--that it presents a baseline for a comprehensive agreement, that it is a fair and transparent offer that provides Israel both peace and security, that it was put forward in good faith by a respected ruler who is tired of war and has come to accept the fact of Israel's existence. But just as often the essays here touch on the initiative's obstacles: the Arab states "were never that interested" in it, they can't "deliver on it" anyway, it can't do for the Palestinians what they won't do themselves and now, alas (and in the midst of the Arab spring) the Arab world is just too unstable for anyone to take it seriously.

It's also possible, of course, that even were the API to be accepted by every Arab nation, a known and unknown set of extremist groups (we can name them, easily: Hamas, Hizballah, radical offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Brotherhood itself--or groups we haven't even heard of yet), will undermine its legitimacy, attack its authors and fight Israel to the last ditch. Which is another way of saying that, since the API holds out no hope of convincing everyone everywhere that peace is not only possible but can be put in place (and since it cannot protect every Israeli everywhere and all the time), it is simply (and finally) unworkable. Or worse: the initiative was put forward to mask the Arab world's real intent of lulling Israel into a false security, after which its antagonists can move in for the kill. It's not only not good, it's "double-plus bad"--as Orwell's "Newspeak" would have it.

But perhaps--and just perhaps--we have this backwards. Since the API was proposed, world leaders--and most particularly Israeli leaders--have questioned its legitimacy, pertinence and importance. Do the Arabs really mean it? Are the Arabs willing to implement it? What is the true agenda of its Arab authors? So you see, the problem that Israel has with the Arab Peace Initiative is not with the word "peace" (which is what we all assume) it's with the word "Arab". Put another way: if the Arab Peace Initiative had been proposed by (say) the United States and was (thusly) named the American Peace Initiative, the questions asked about its legitimacy, pertinence and importance wouldn't be asked at all. And to ask whether all Arabs everywhere (and all political currents and movements) would follow it, is to simply cloud the one, overwhelming and unspeakable truth: that for many Israelis the words "Arab" and "peace" simply don't belong in the same sentence--while the words "America" and "Israel" and "peace" do. In our mouths, it's the truth, in theirs, it's a lie. Published 18/5/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Mark Perry is a military and foreign policy analyst and the author of eight books. His most recent is "Talking to Terrorists".

Resistance tooth and nail
 Heiko Wimmen

According to Hizballah, the Arab Peace Initiative is a dead horse that no amount of flogging will bring back to life. Indeed, the very idea of a negotiated peace with Israel is dismissed as an "option that cannot be promoted in the Arab and Islamic worlds anymore," in the words of the party's habitually unsmiling spokesman Mohammed Raad. Hizballah's position may well be summed up by the famous three no's declared at the Khartoum summit of the Arab League back in the fall of 1967: no peace, no recognition, no negotiations.

Quite a few observers believe that, behind this uncompromising facade, the Shiite party is really hedging its bets. By implanting itself deep in the institutions of the Lebanese state, or so the tale goes, Hizballah is preparing for the day when, with peace imminent, its military arsenal can be traded for a better bargain for the Shiite community in Lebanon's sectarian system.

Such views may be guided by the wish to make as little as possible of the obstacles that any new peace initiative will encounter, or they may be intended to undermine the party's Arab-nationalist credentials by exposing a not-so-hidden sectarian if not Iranian agenda. Either way, they are based on a serious misconception of what Hizballah is all about.

Hizballah was created through and thrives on "resistance". During the nearly 30 years of its existence, it has converted the historical centerpiece of Shiite spirituality--oppression at the hands of unjust rulers--into a religious and moral imperative to fight the oppressors of our time: Israel, and with it the United States. This ideology of resistance is promoted throughout an extensive web of institutions ranging from schools and hospitals to state-of-the-art urban development. The sense of community thus produced has instilled a formerly dejected population with a sense of dignity and pride to be part of a larger, indeed divine cause.

None of this can be compensated for by a few more Shiite members of parliament or other token concessions in Lebanon's sectarian bazaar--which anyhow the other groups will be loath to grant. Renouncing resistance would remove the cornerstone of the ideological and social structures that support the party. Ultimately, it amounts to renouncing the party itself, by removing its reason to exist.

Hizballah can thus be expected to use its political leverage to prevent Lebanon from participating in any attempt to revive the Arab Peace Initiative. Most likely, Lebanese claims to seven border villages that were transferred from French Mandate Lebanon to British Mandate Palestine in 1924 will be unearthed once again. More substantially, the party will attack the unavoidable compromises on the refugee question and Jerusalem as a sellout of Palestinian and Muslim rights. And if it sees the peace initiative picking up real steam, it may even be tempted to pick a fight.

Such attempts have succeeded before. When Israel withdrew from South Lebanon in the year 2000, obscure claims to some 20 square kilometers on the slopes of Mount Hermon--the famous Shabaa farms--were concocted to create what even some loyal supporters of Hizballah conceded to be a rather flimsy pretext to deflect calls for disarmament. It worked nevertheless, in particular because the second intifada provided ample material to underscore the underlying message: occupation or not, Israel, by its very nature, remains a mortal threat to every Arab and Muslim.

To prevent similar strategies from succeeding once more, any new peace initiative will have to make bold steps and proceed fast. To create a momentum that can overwhelm hard-line rejectionists, results on the ground are needed, as well as a determined core group of credible Arab leaders and in particular credible Palestinian leaders. This is why the current moment--with the transition in Egypt and hopefully soon in Syria, and the fresh Palestinian reconciliation--may be particularly auspicious. Any return to incrementalism will give hardliners of all stripes ample opportunity to put sticks in the wheel.

Credible and tangible progress on the path to dignified peace will undermine Hizballah much more reliably than any arms embargo could. Its supporters are neither congenital anti-Semites nor rabid, death-craving religious fanatics. They are also not sheep: they follow the party because its ideology rings true with their own experience and with that of the Palestinians, who are their direct neighbors, across the border and on the margins of many Lebanese cities. Once they are convinced that the tide is turning for real, they will no longer be willing to live through yet another war for the sake of a few heaps of rubble on the other side of the fence. When this moment comes, the Party of God will have to adapt or, perhaps, it may simply disappear.-Published 18/5/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Heiko Wimmen is a doctoral candidate at Freie Universitat Berlin and a fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Studies in Berlin.

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