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Edition 3 Volume 1 - December 01, 2010

A double standard  - Shlomo Brom
It will be difficult for Israel to accept that acquisition of territory by force is legitimate when done by an Arab party and illegitimate when done by Israel.

A package deal  - Ghassan Khatib
What Israel needs to understand is that it cannot use the virtue of its power and military might to prevent a full withdrawal from all Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.

A Syrian perspective  - Imad Moustapha
Syria cannot be expected to wait endlessly until the other side understands that ending occupation is the only means to attain peace.

Syria's two red lines  - Elias Samo
For Syria, the presumed rejectionist, to have supported such an initiative was eye-opening.

A double standard
 Shlomo Brom

The Arab Peace Initiative offers to Israel peace, normalization and security guarantees from the entire Arab world after the conclusion of agreements on the three bilateral tracks--Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese. But it also presents the framework of agreements acceptable to the Arab world.

The clause that pertains to the territorial aspect of these peace settlements determines that the agreements should include, "Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon."

There is a clear difference in the way the API treats the Palestinian and Syrian cases and the way it treats the Lebanese case. In the two first instances, the demand is to return to the lines of June 4, 1967. In the Lebanese case, Israel is asked to withdraw from the occupied Lebanese territories in South Lebanon without specifying when they were occupied.

This implies that the API is applying a double standard. In the Lebanese case, one can understand based on past Lebanese demands that the API is demanding that Israel withdraw to the line of the Israel-Lebanon Armistice Agreement of March 1949. That means that all the changes that took place since 1949 are null and void, including changes that took place between 1949 and 1967. The present dividing line between Lebanon and Israel, the so called blue line, is not an agreed border between the two states.

The disputes between Lebanon and Israel are of two categories: disputes that resulted from the 1967 war, and disputes about more minor changes that occurred mostly between 1949 and 1967. The Shebaa farms and Ghajar are examples of the first category, while the second category includes some points along the armistice line in which there was no agreement on the accurate delineation of the border because the two parties did not complete a process of joint border delineation that began at the beginning of the 1950s and was stopped.

In the Syrian case, the API demands a withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 line because Syria does not want to give up territory that it acquired between 1949 and 1967 through acts that violated the armistice agreement with Israel. The June 4, 1967 line is not identical to the lines of the Israel-Syria Armistice Agreement of July 1949 because Syria took control by force of important parts of the demilitarized zones that were determined by the agreement, including the al-Hama area.

It will of course be difficult for Israel to accept the double standard that acquisition of territory by force is legitimate when it is done by an Arab party and illegitimate when it is done by Israel.

In the Palestinian case there is no such problem because the armistice line is identical with the 1967 line, the so-called green line. Nevertheless, the language of the API may become an obstacle to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on a common border. If one takes the API literarily, Israel should withdraw precisely to the green line. Yet in fact, the two sides have already made much progress in their border negotiations and both accept that as long as the Palestinians get the same size territory as that constituted by the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on June 4, 1967, some equal swaps of territory are acceptable. There is still a debate over the size of the swapped territories, which the Palestinian side wishes to minimize, and their location, but there is agreement on the principle. It would be a pity if the API were to preclude this progress and interfere with the capacity of Israel and the PLO to reach a reasonable agreement.

This raises the question, how significant is this clause in the API? It is only natural that when discussing the wording of the API in March 2002, the Arab parties in the three bilateral tracks, Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese, did not want to compromise their negotiating positions and therefore chose this wording. One can also assume that the authors of this clause wanted to adopt a simple principle that is acceptable to the entire Arab world of return to the June 4, 1967 lines without complicating it with the peculiarities of each case.

The result is a compromise between these two requirements. It is a fair assumption that the Arab world will accept any reasonable peace agreement that is concluded by the parties. In this sense, the API is only significant because it reflects the positions of the direct parties. But after so many years of peace process, these positions are in any case already known and with greater detail.

The clear conclusion is that the API clause that deals with borders should not prevent Israel from stating that it can accept the API as a basis for peace negotiations and cooperation with Arab parties even if it has some reservations regarding the details of future agreements.- Published 1/12/2010 © bitterlemons-api.org

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv.

A package deal
 Ghassan Khatib

Like the roadmap, the Arab Peace Initiative is unique in its ability to address all of the legitimate concerns of parties to the conflict. In this way, it illustrates that the legitimate requirements of Israel are not incompatible with those of the Arabs and Palestinians.

The need to end the Israeli occupation of territory acquired in 1967 (the Gaza Strip and West Bank including East Jerusalem, as well as the Golan Heights of Syria and remaining occupied Lebanese territories) is the most important concern of the Arab side of the conflict.

Likewise, Palestinian and Arab willingness to recognize Israel within the borders of 1967 is the other side of the coin, the trade-off for Israeli willingness to end that occupation and allow for an independent Palestinian state next to Israel.

The peace and security that is required by all parties to the conflict--and that is the most prominent Israeli concern--is rooted in the culmination of the two-state solution, which will consequently allow the Palestinian party the rights of self-determination, freedom and liberty through their independent state within the borders of 1967.

The Arab Peace Initiative holds out for "full Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied since 1967". The word "full" here is important to the Palestinian and Arab side--first, because the occupied Palestinian territory is very small and excluding parts of it from Israeli withdrawal would affect significantly its viability as an independent state.

But second and more important is the Palestinian and Arab desire to base their positions upon international legality, which cannot be compromised. Were we to compromise on international law by conceding the borders of 1967, then we would allow the negotiations over borders to fall hostage to the balance of power between the two sides, which is obviously not in our favor.

Finally, need anyone be reminded, Palestinians have rights to historic Palestine beyond the borders of 1967. Palestinians have compromised their rights to the lands beyond the 1967 borders in the hopes of gaining a state of their own. However, it is important to recall that the only other borders besides the lines of 1967 with legal significance are the lines of the 1948 partition plan encoded in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181.

What Israel needs to understand is that it cannot use the virtue of its power and military might to prevent a full withdrawal from all Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. By trying to do so, it risks scuttling the two-state solution and shouldering the blame for missing the historic compromise that the Arab Peace Initiative is calling for. In short, it risks peace in the region.

Israel usually raises three arguments against full withdrawal from the occupied territories. First is the settlement reality. However, we are forced not to take this seriously because Israel insists on expanding settlements in order to justify its control over more territory.

The second excuse is security, and the Palestinian side has been in negotiations very flexible in accepting any requested security guarantees, including an international military presence, as long as they come with a full territorial withdrawal.

Third, Israel says it cannot abandon the holy sites in Jerusalem. Here the Palestinian position is very clear and logical: political sovereignty does not follow religious or historic attachment. Followers of different faiths should and can be guaranteed the right to access and worship at holy sites no matter who is in control of the territories. Jews, Christians and Muslims should have equal and free access to their relevant religious sites, no matter if these fall in the Jewish or Palestinian state. Today, two sites revered by the Jewish people fall under Palestinian Authority control in Nablus and Jericho. These sites have been developed and respected by the Palestinian Authority and Jewish worshippers given access. Indeed, no one has complained.

The Arab Peace Initiative is a package deal and cannot be dealt with selectively. Israel, in return for a full withdrawal, is guaranteed comprehensive peace, security and economic prosperity. It must, however, withdraw to the borders of 1967.-Published 1/12/2010 © bitterlemons-api.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

A Syrian perspective
 Imad Moustapha

Two important developments took place in November that will leave an indelible impact on the peace process (or lack thereof) in the Middle East.

First, the US offered Israel an unprecedented bribe for simply agreeing not to undermine the prospects of resuming talks with the Palestinians for a mere 90 days. In return for extending the moratorium on building settlements in the West Bank--that excludes Jerusalem--the US administration has committed itself to providing Israel with both the wherewithal to further consolidate its occupation of Arab territories, and a guarantee to oppose any attempt to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state. In the long annals of US acquiescence to Israeli blackmail, this is a remarkably unique instance of amply rewarding the culprit for agreeing to partially abstain from breaking international law for a brief period of time.

Second, the Israeli Knesset passed a resolution that will prevent any Israeli government from evacuating the occupied East Jerusalem and Syrian Golan without a general referendum. Given the stark shift to the right in the Israeli body politic, one immediately realizes that the real purpose of this resolution is to render the possibility of freeing East Jerusalem or the Golan a practical impossibility.

The implications of both actions are grave and nefarious. They only reaffirm that the Israeli government lacks both the will and the capacity to make peace with any of its neighbors.

By imposing additional constraints on the possibility of an eventual Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, the Israeli Knesset is legislating what is illegal and unlawful. By doing so, it reveals to the rest of the world the extent of Israel's obstructionist stance toward the Obama administration's peace efforts and the Mitchell mission.

Meanwhile, Syria still believes that peace should be given a chance. A paramount national objective of Syria is freeing its occupied Golan from the Israeli military occupation, and allowing the Syrian population expelled from the Golan to return to their towns, villages and homes.

For Syria, the return of the occupied Golan back to the June 4, 1967 line is non-negotiable. Complete and full withdrawal to that line is not only the basis for a just solution, but also for conducting peace talks with Israel. Negotiations would focus solely on the modalities and implementation of a peace agreement.

All parties will benefit if the return of the occupied Syrian Golan can be achieved through peaceful negotiations based on the principle of land-for-peace. However, patience has its limits, and Syria cannot be expected to wait endlessly until the other side understands that ending occupation is the only means to attain peace. With the passage of time, more and more Syrians are losing faith in the possibility of achieving this through peaceful negotiations.

For this reason, Syria insisted in the last round of Turkish-mediated indirect peace talks with Israel that it will not move toward direct talks unless Israel guarantees that the line of June 4, 1967 will be the basis for a peace agreement. Syria believes that if direct peace talks resume without guarantees for their fruitful conclusion, the repercussions for those who still believe in the possibility of a negotiated peace agreement will be devastating.

However, most importantly, Syria realizes and firmly believes that the core of the Arab-Israel conflict is the Palestinian question. Here lie two issues: Jerusalem and the right of return. It is only when an independent, contiguous and viable Palestinian state is established that real peace can prevail throughout our region.

As such, the pan-Arab peace initiative remains the only available option at present.

Whereas it came as no surprise that Israel flatly rejected this peace plan, the lingering setback rests in the total incapacity of successive US administrations to comprehend the merits of this initiative and, in turn, utilize their leverage on Israel to seriously consider it.

Until this happens, if ever, Syria believes that all available options should be pursued to guarantee our inalienable right: the return of the land to its rightful owners.-Published 1/12/2010 © bitterlemons-api.org

Imad Moustapha is Syrian ambassador to the United States in Washington, DC.

Syria's two red lines
 Elias Samo

The Arab Peace Initiative adopted unanimously by the Arab summit in Beirut in March 2002, constitutes a giant Arab leap forward on the road to Arab-Israel peace. For Arabs, the initiative represents a new era of accepting Israel compared with the preceding decades-long rejectionist era epitomized by the Khartoum three "nos": no peace, no recognition and no negotiations.

The initiative represents an Arab collective consensus on a total and comprehensive peace package with Israel. The unanimously-adopted API required a lot of courage on the part of Arab leaders, because what they say in the initiative is a total reversal of entrenched Arab positions vis-a-vis Israel. Thus, the Arab leaders state that the Palestinian problem is the consequence of the 1967 war and if the damage caused by that war--Israeli occupation of Arab territory--is undone, then the conflict will be settled, as if nothing happened prior to 1967 with the exception of a shy and ambiguous reference to the refugee problem. As if there were no Nakba, expulsions, killings, the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages, occupation of land, building of settlements on occupied land and an attempt to eradicate Palestine from human memory.

The Arab leaders also say that they are willing to make peace with Israel knowing it extends from the Mediterranean Sea in the north to the Gulf of Aqaba in the south, thus dividing the Arab world into two permanently disjointed parts, east and west, and preventing any possibility of Arab geographic unity. And they state as Arab leaders that while they know, as do Arabs, Muslims and many others, that Zionism is a racist colonial settlement project, they nevertheless recognize the legitimacy of racist Zionism and the right of expansionist Israel to exist.

For Syria, the presumed rejectionist, to have supported such an initiative was eye-opening to say the least. What made it possible for Syria to swallow the API was the fact that Article 2-I "calls upon Israel to affirm .... Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines...." This provided Syria what it had always insisted upon: that withdrawal from the Golan is not negotiable.

Article 2-I is consistent with the two red lines President Bashar Assad would not cross in any peace agreement with Israel. First, Syria would not accept an agreement with Israel that gives Damascus less than what President Anwar Sadat got in the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty: an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai to the June 4, 1967 line (which at the time Syria condemned vehemently as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause). The second red line is the Rabin deposit in which Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin committed Israel to withdraw from the Golan within the framework of a Syrian-Israeli peace package.

It is generally accepted even by some Israeli leaders that the cornerstone of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria is what article 2-I calls for. The question is, if the Israeli leadership is genuinely interested in peace with Syria, why hasn't it accepted the API? For the Syrians as well as other Arabs, the API is the litmus test of Israeli peace intentions and the Israelis have failed that test. Israel could and should have either accepted the initiative with reservations or put its counter plan on the table. It did neither and proved to the Arabs that its intentions are not toward peace with the Arabs, but something else.

The irony is that while the Syrian and Arab motive behind offering the API was to close the gap separating the two sides and get closer to a peace agreement, what has happened in view of Israel's rejection of the initiative is a rise in radical, intolerant and rejectionist religious sentiments and movements on both sides. Both have lost faith in and turned against the peace process. Therefore, it is very unlikely there will be peace between the two sides any time soon, irrespective of the fair and reasonable API.

Does this mean that the initiative is dead? The Israelis are behaving as if it is, and they keep pounding new nails in its coffin: no withdrawal to the 1967 lines, resumption of settlement construction, Jerusalem will remain the united capital of Israel, the Arabs must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, etc.

Finally, for Syria article 2-I falls within the framework of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, the Madrid Conference's "land for peace" formula and Rabin's deposit. Therefore, President Bashar's hand for peace with Israel remains extended even though there is no taker on the other side. For Israel, the choice is between article 2-I and the status quo. However, since the Golan has been quiet for almost four decades and "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", Israel has opted for the status quo. Israel is gambling on the necessary--peace--in the hope of winning the superfluous, land. This is a dangerous and unnecessary gamble.- Published 1/12/2010 © bitterlemons-api.org

Elias Samo is professor of international relations at American and Syrian universities.

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