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June 01, 2011 Edition 12

Consistent support
Ghassan Khatib

The Arab Peace Initiative adopted at an Arab summit conference in 2002 and reiterated in another summit in 2007 was never controversial among Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Articles in this edition
American public opinion and the Middle East peace process - John Zogby
The real issue is political leadership - David Pollock
Consistent support - Ghassan Khatib
The iron wall - Tamar Hermann
This peace initiative, which calls for a two-state solution on the borders of 1967 and a just solution for the refugee problem on the basis of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 (which calls for the right of return for refugees) is generally compatible with the political solution advocated by a comfortable majority of Palestinians, especially in the period from 1993 and onwards marked by the peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis.

This should not be seen as a seamless consensus since Palestinian public opinion has reflected differences over the possible solution of the conflict with Israel. For example, in the years when support for the peace process was at its highest, between one-third and one-fourth of Palestinians were either skeptical or opponents of the two-state solution. Sometimes this was for political reasons, and at other times this was for ideological and religious reasons.

For the Palestinian people, the significance of the Arab Peace Initiative is not only that it fits with the vision adopted by the majority. Rather, it was seen as an effective move reflecting a united Arab position in support of ending the occupation and achieving the right of return. It unified the Arab position behind Palestinians, giving them the weight necessary to influence a solution in favor of the Palestinian position.

This unified Arab position backing Palestinians was seen by Palestinians as a strategic asset and strength that might tempt the Israelis to move forward with a solution based on the API. Palestinians used the Arab Peace Initiative as leverage and an asset to bargain with. In other words, a peace settlement based on the API would not only offer Israel peace with Palestinians, but rather peace with the rest of the Arab world, without exception. That was thought to be tempting enough for Israel because it also offered, in addition to peace with all the Arab countries, the normalization that Israel always sought.

As a result, over the years since the initiative was born, public opinion polls among Palestinians showed a steady and comfortable majority of roughly two-thirds supporting the initiative and viewing it a good solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There was some insignificant fluctuation, but for the most part, the steady majority was consistent.

Even during the years when the public's support for Hamas formed a plurality, polls show the same consistent support for the API. Indeed, Hamas itself allowed the inclusion of a paragraph supporting the Arab Peace Initiative and accepting a solution on its basis within the political platform of the national unity government formed in 2005 headed by Hamas, that won the vote of confidence of the Hamas-majority parliament.

Since the Arabs adopted this initiative and to this day, despite the changes within Palestinian public opinion and despite signs of radicalization on other issues, the Palestinian public has maintained its support for the API, which even today remains an acceptable framework for a solution were Israel to accept it and embrace it.-Published 1/6/2011 © bitterlemons-api

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