by Saeb Erekat
We realize that the following points form the cornerstone of the strategy for stability in the Middle East: the achievement of peace in the region and the end of the 1967 Israeli occupation, the establishment of an independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the withdrawal from the Syrian Arab-occupied Golan and the rest of the Lebanese territory. The implementation of the Roadmap and the Arab Peace Initiative are the foundations for such a strategy.
Furthermore, another equally important pillar which is complementary to peace is reform and democracy in all the Arab countries and Iran, with no exceptions.
Defining Arab-Western relations starts with the achievement of peace and democracy. Should the Western states opt for supporting individual rule in order to maintain their oil interests and continue to deal with Israel as a state above the law with no accountability, the outcome would lead the region and its nations into chaos, violence, extremism, instability and bloodshed.
The U.S. and Western states need to start a serious dialogue with Iran to ensure the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region. At the same time, the U.S. needs to start a serious dialogue with Israel on how to put an end to the 1967 Israeli occupation, in a manner that ensures the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital along the borders of June 4, 1967.
Furthermore, the U.S. and the rest of the Western states should open a serious dialogue with all Arab countries to push forward reform and democratic governance and set the foundations for economies that are able to respond to the needs of their peoples. This must include absorbing youth into the labor market, fighting corruption and considering the public interest before those of individuals and the ruling elite, through accountability, transparency and monitoring.
It is necessary to invest in building a strong economy in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Jordan and Morocco. The economies of Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen have contracted by approximately $56 billion during the first nine months of 2011.
One can conclude with certainty that the real threat for U.S. and Western interests in the Middle East lies in the absence of democracy and peace. The West’s allies in the Middle East should adopt reform and democracy without hesitation, and Israel, as an ally, should make a strategic decision to forge peace and end the 1967 occupation.
The totality of Western wars in the region during the past decades, whether directly or through others, has failed to create security, stability and prosperity. The real investment required from the U.S. and Western countries is investment in democracy and peace. Such an investment in these countries requires far more than the $2 billion announced in aid to Egypt or in loans from the World Bank.1
The Palestinian Position
The Palestinian position on the Arab Spring was expressed by President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in Ramallah on March 15, 2011, and this was followed by his speech before the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 23, 2011.
The events in the Arab World were triggered approximately two months after the Palestinian leadership decided to halt political negotiations with the Israeli government. Several meetings were held between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Washington on Sept. 1-2, 2010, followed by a meeting in Sharm el Sheikh on Sept. 14, 2010, and in West Jerusalem on Sept. 15, 2010. Another meeting was held between the Palestinian and Israeli delegations, headed by Yitzhak Molcho and myself, respectively, in New York on Sept. 22, 2010.
The meetings were attended at least partially by U.S. President Barack Obama, then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah II, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator George Mitchell and Ambassador David Hill, along with other senior U.S. officials and Quartet Envoy Tony Blair.
In the wake of these meetings, the Israeli government refused to halt settlement expansion or accept the principle of the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. Hence, in the name of the Palestinian leadership, Abbas announced a halt to political negotiations, stressing that stopping settlement expansion and acceptance of the two-state solution are not Palestinian conditions, but rather commitments by the Israeli government as stated in the first phase of the Roadmap.
On March 16, 2011, Abbas defined the Palestinian strategic parameters. This followed the fall of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine’s ousted regime in December 2010, the removal of Mubarak’s regime in February 2011, the eruption of war in Libya in February and the events in Syria in March 2011, along with the events in Yemen, Oman, and Bahrain and the continuation of weekly protests in Jordan, constitutional changes in Morocco and Palestinian protests calling for an end to the division. Abbas announced the following in front of the Central Palestinian Council Meeting:
A. Palestinian reconciliation
Abbas considered the Palestinian reconciliation a top Palestinian priority:
As a confirmation from me on the insistence, and sincere desire to end the division, open a new page in our internal Palestinian relations, as respect and appreciation to the willingness of our people, who have spontaneously demonstrated yesterday and today, in all innocence, asking for the end of division, I hereby present to the Palestinian people wherever they are, and to the Hamas movement in particular, a new initiative to end this division. I announce henceforth, that I am willing to head to Gaza tomorrow, to put an end to the division, and immediately establish a government of national independent personalities (this means I will not go to discuss, but rather to agree on the establishment of a government, to agree on legislative, presidential elections and a national council) within six months or at the soonest possible opportunity under the auspices of the United Nations; the Arab League; the Islamic Organization; the international legal institutions; the Carter Center, Desmond Tutu, and whoever you wish. I am also ready to postpone the establishment of the government now, if an agreement is reached tomorrow or after tomorrow. National Unity is the top priority (I would like to hand over the pledge), while my mind is at rest. I have mentioned many times in the past, and I repeat this today, that I will not re-run for elections.2
The events in the Arab World conveyed a message that was clearly received by the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) leadership. Abbas’ response was also clear as he announced his readiness to head to Gaza immediately, with no conditions, to end the division. He also included a message to the Palestinian people about his intention not to run for re-election, that he exercises the policy of alternating power, that he is responsible for the Palestinian Authority (PA), but does not own it, and that he respects the results shown in the ballot boxes as the choice of the Palestinian people. At a time when Arab rulers did everything possible to remain in power, Abbas showed a first-of-its-kind culture in the Arab World: that of a president who decides to exit through the ballot boxes, the exact manner which led him to the presidency.
The Hamas movement has also awakened in light of the global developments and quickly announced its attitude regarding the Palestinian reconciliation and ending the division. The consequences of the Arab events (Arab Spring) were seen with the signing of the reconciliation agreement in the Arab Republic of Egypt on May 4, 2011.
B. Palestinian state-building continues
Abbas stressed that state-building is part and parcel of the Palestinian strategy. In his speech before the UN on Sept. 23, 2011, he noted3:
During the last two years our national authority has implemented a program to build our State institutions. Despite the extraordinary situation and the Israeli obstacles imposed, a serious extensive project was launched that has included the implementation of plans to enhance and advance the judiciary and the apparatus for maintenance of order and security, to develop the administrative, financial, and oversight systems, to upgrade the performance of institutions.
In the midst of this massive national project, we have been strengthening what we seeking to be the features of our State: from the preservation of security for the citizen and public order; to the promotion of judicial authority and rule of law; to strengthening the role of women via legislation, laws and participation; to ensuring the protection of public freedoms and strengthening the role of civil society institutions; to institutionalizing rules and regulations for ensuring accountability and transparency in the work of our Ministries and departments; to entrenching the pillars of democracy as the basis for the Palestinian political life.
C. Activation of the PLO
Abbas stressed that the PLO is the entity responsible for the entire Palestinian people locally and in the Diaspora. He emphasized that Palestinian National Council elections will be held concurrently with the presidential and legislative ones.
D. Relations with the Arab countries
Abbas is committed to resuming consultations with the Arab brethren based on interests and not slogans, as he stated in his speech: “We started to consult with the Arabs individually or collectively, represented by the Arab Peace Initiative, where we consult continuously, and we are calling the Arab Peace Initiative on the ministerial level to open a dialogue.”
Furthermore, President Abbas announced his respect for the Arab nations’ democratic choice and denounced interference in internal Arab affairs. He also added that the issue of Palestine is the Arab World’s issue. Consultation is necessary in both minor and major issues, but the final decision is to be taken by the Executive Committee of the PLO.
E. Relations with Israel
Abbas talked in depth about the negotiations that occurred with the Israeli side, whether with Ehud Olmert’s or Netanyahu’s governments, and stressed the following:
We have placed ourselves in the right setting, and not in a comfort zone, the right one that conserves the rights of our nation. Upon reaching a solution, we will put it forward to the Palestinian people in a general referendum, to accept the nation’s opinion whether negatively or positively.
He also added the political Palestinian parameters for negotiations as follows:
The resumption of talks requires the definitions of terms of references, and a settlement freeze. There are no negotiations with continued settlement expansion. We strive to achieve a state on 1967 borders, a just solution to the refugees as per the Arab Peace Initiative, with East Jerusalem as a capital for the State of Palestine. No compromise will be done for one thousand and one reasons, all of them legitimate. We might clash with the international system at times, however, if our nation’s interest’s lie in saying no — then we say no.
This is the clearest position that Abbas and the Palestinian leadership have provided since the beginning of the negotiations in 1991. Such a policy was set not to please the crowds but rather to lay the foundations of Palestinian political principles based on transparency and accountability. Here lie the Arab Spring objectives, which the President translated into deeds rather than words.
In his speech before the General Assembly of the UN on Sept. 23, 2011, and to the UN Secretary-General regarding the Palestinian bid for full membership in the UN, Abbas went further by saying:
It is a moment of truth and my people are waiting to hear the answer of the world. Will it allow Israel to continue its occupation, the only occupation in the world? Will it allow Israel to remain a State above the law and accountability? Will it allow Israel to continue rejecting the resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations and the International Court of Justice and the positions of the overwhelming majority of countries in the world?
Two days prior to this speech, Abbas met with Obama in New York and said: “The Palestinian Authority was created to deliver the Palestinian people from occupation to independence. Now that the Israeli Government has annulled the Authority’s presence, with no authority at all, it is a circumstance that cannot continue under no condition”.4
The question to be asked is: Where are we heading? The Palestinian leadership is waiting for an answer to this question. In any case, Israel’s continued refusal of the terms of reference, and ending the occupation that started in 1967, will lead to a breakdown of all the efforts exerted to reach democracy and peace in the region.
F. Relations with the US, Europe, Russia, UN, and the rest of the international community
On Sept. 23, 2011, several hours after Abbas’ speech before the General Assembly, the Middle East Quartet issued a statement calling for the resumption of negotiations between the two sides, based on previous statements made in Obama’s speech on May 19, 2011. It also called for both sides to honor their commitments as per the first phase of the Roadmap.
The Palestinian leadership welcomed this statement, and indeed the Palestinian delegation participated in all of the meetings called for by the Quartet and presented its comprehensive positions on borders and security.
Similarly, the Palestinian delegation presented its positions on borders and security in its meeting on Jan. 3, 2012, hosted by Jordan. These positions were submitted to the Israeli representatives in the presence of the Quartet members and the Jordanian foreign minister.
The Israeli government, however, has insisted on continuing its settlement expansion and creating facts on the ground. It also has refused to submit any position regarding borders and security in line with the Quartet’s statement. At a time when the Palestinian side is still dealing with the Quartet representatives, the Quartet is required, now more than ever, to hold Israel accountable for its actions.
At the end of the day, enhancing democracy in the Middle East region is bound to peace. Should the Western states continue to deal with Israel as a state above the law, this will create obstacles before the realization of the objectives of the Arab Spring (setting the pillars of a political life based on democracy, transparency, accountability and transfer of power).
The United Nations and Its Institutions
The backbone of the Palestinian strategy is to obtain full membership at the UN and its institutions. Abbas’ speech before the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23, 2011 linked this to the Arab Spring as follows:
At a time when the Arab peoples affirm their quest for democracy — the Arab Spring — the time is now for the Palestinian Spring, the time for independence.
I would like to inform you that, before delivering this statement, I submitted, in my capacity as the President of the State of Palestine and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, to H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, an application for the admission of Palestine on the basis of 4 June 1967 borders, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital, as a full member of the United Nations.
I do not believe that anyone with a bit of conscience and compassion can refuse our admittance as full members in the UN and to become an independent state.
Shortly after, Palestine was admitted to full membership in UNESCO on Oct. 28, 2011. Full membership in the UN and the other main international institutions remains a major pillar of the Palestinian strategy.
Conclusion and Recommendations
When change occurs in the Arab World, it is rapid and usually unexpected. The consequences will not be similar to Europe’s events in 1989 but rather to the events of 1848. Changes and developments will be slow-paced, with regressions, and there will be real challenges for democracy and peace.
The question that arises is the following: What can the intertwined parties do to ensure a quicker and more efficient path toward peace and democracy?
1. At the Arab World level:
a) Enhance state-building in all spheres (political, diplomatic, cultural, educational, parliamentary and economic) through devising constitutions that are based on the citizens’ participation in governance and through defining rights and obligations based on transparency, human rights, women’s rights, and political pluralism.
b) Restructure the economy to be able to respond to the people’s needs for employment and investment opportunities, enhance the basis and pillars of free trade and fight corruption in all its forms.
c) Reactivate the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and emphasize it as the backbone of enhancing peace opportunities in the region.
d) Emphasize the use of democracy, international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by all the participating Arab political parties, especially those who win elections.
e) Establish a financial fund that flows from the more affluent countries to assist countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Palestine, Morocco and other Arab states that are in need.
f) Rebuild the structure of the Arab League to further develop modern Arab political regimes, based on their needs and requirements. These regimes should be founded on democracy and free economy, and they should find mechanisms to contain or solve conflicts as well as intervene as necessary when they do occur between or within Arab countries.
2. At the Palestinian level:
a) Achieve Palestinian reconciliation, given that the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip are one geographic unit.
b) Continue institution-building, including systems for accountability, transparency and counter-corruption, as well as ensuring democracy, human rights, women’s rights and public and personal rights.
c) Reactivate the PLO’s departments, including the completion of the Palestinian National Council Elections Law.
d) Continue collaborating with Arab countries in all areas, especially in regards to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
e) Enhance relations with the international community (Middle East Quartet), China, Japan, Latin American countries, Asia, Africa and others.
f) Emphasize the right of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital on the 1967 borders to gain full membership at the UN and its institutions, as this would entail security, stability, democracy and peace in the region.
g) Define the relationship with Israel based on the PA’s function to deliver the Palestinian people from occupation to liberation. More specifically, Palestine must refuse the substitution of this function with one of an economic-security nature, as per the desires of the Israeli government. Under no circumstances may the status quo be maintained.
h) Devise a comprehensive strategy for popular civic peace resistance to end the occupation, settlement expansion, and placing facts on the ground as practiced by the Israeli government.
3. At the Israeli level:
a) Declare the acceptance of the two-state solution based on 1967 borders, with agreed-upon land swaps and acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative.
b) Halt all settlement activities, including in East Jerusalem.
c) Take the opportunity to achieve a framework for all the final status issues with a timeline not beyond the end of December 2012.
Should the Israeli government carry out these measures, it will have contributed to setting the pillars of democracy and peace in the Middle East. However, the Israeli government has decided instead to do the following:
a) Consider the events in the Arab World as a step backward from democracy and peace.5
b) Refuse the principle of the two-state solution on the 1967 borders.
c) Insist on settlement expansion, specifically in Jerusalem and its periphery.
d) Refuse the two-state solution based on 1967 borders, even at the initiative of the Royal Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on Jan. 3, 2012 when it gathered all parties with the Quartet in Jordan’s presence. It insisted on settlement expansion and refused to submit its positions on borders and security, as stated in the Sept. 23, 2011 Quartet statement.
Thus, the Israeli government has decided not to give democracy in the Arab World a chance. As mentioned previously, democracy remains incomplete unless peace is achieved, and likewise peace can only be achieved with democracy.
4. At the U.S. level:
a) Find the right mechanisms to implement the principle expressed by Obama that democracy in the Arab World and U.S./Western interest do not clash.
b) Change the manner in which it deals with the Israeli government based on the question “What can the Israeli government do?” must become “What is the Israeli government required to do?”
c) Officially ask the Israeli government to acquiesce to Obama’s statements of May 19, 2011 and accept the two-state solution based on 1967 borders, with agreed-upon land swaps.
d) Ensure that peace and democracy in the Middle East go hand-in-hand.
e) Insist on the continuation of political and economic reforms in the Arab states, with an enhancement of individual and civil rights, especially women’s rights.
f) Establish a monetary fund in cooperation with the G8 countries and the World Bank to support the economic structures of Arab countries, especially Egypt.
g) Do not use the Islamic movements’ victories in the parliamentary elections as a scarecrow. It is essential to deal with them and assist them if they form new governments. This should be carried out with an emphasis on the principle not to withdraw from democracy and a c ommi tme n t to the Universal De c l a r a t ion of Human Rights.
Should each party honor its commitments, this would hasten the achievement of the pillars of democracy and peace in the region. However, should some stakeholders attempt to overlook these requirements, opportunities for peace and democracy would not be eliminated, but they would be hindered, at the cost of victimizing people, their economies, security and stability. Hence, the U.S. and the West should look at the larger picture and clearly define the specific needs and requirements of all parties involved.
The real issue does not lie in what needs to be done, but rather, it pertains to the desire of the interlocked parties to carry out such actions. Therein lies the role of the U.S. and the West, should they truly wish to lead the region and its nations toward security, stability, peace and democracy, free from violence, chaos, extremism and bloodshed.
They should demand of Israel what is required in regards to the peace process, on the basis of the two-state solution on the 1967 borders, and inform all Arab states the necessary actions at the level of democracy, reform and citizen governance-participation.
The underlying questions remain: Have the U.S. and Europe defined their positions so that these principles and goals can be realized? Do interests supersede principles? Do the actions of the U.S. and Europe indicate that they both are striving to approach interests and principles differently? Will these countries stop dealing with Israel as a state above the law?
This article is a summary of a comprehensive study by Dr. Saeb.Erekat on the topic of “Changes in the Arab World and their Repercussions on the United States of America and the West, Palestine, and Israel”.
1 Daniel Wagner, “The Arab Spring’s Impact on Cross Border Trade and Investment,” Journal of Foreign Affairs, December 2011.
22 President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech before the Palestinian National Council in Ramallah on March 16, 2011.
3 http://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/mahmoud-abbas-speech-at-the-united-nationstranscript- sept-23-2011/
4 Statement by President Mahmoud Abbas to President Barack Obama during their meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Sept. 21, 2011, also attended by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Dr. Saeb Erekat.
5 Barak Ravid. Haaretz Nov. 24, 2011, quoted previously.