by Walid Salem
With the ongoing stalemate on the Israeli-Palestinian bilateral track, all who actively seek peace still see the Arab Peace Initiative (API) of 2002 as a potential point of departure for breaking the impasse, contingent on the Israeli government’s readiness to accept the API as a basis for discussion. The draft United Nations Security Council resolution circulated by France refers to the API; there are reports that the United States may be developing a new API-based plan for peace; and the European Union has shown interest on many occasions in moving in that direction. Many Israeli parties have developed API-based plans for peace such as MK Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid), the Zionist Camp, Meretz and others. Even Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman wants to distort the API’s content by calling for normalizing relations with the Arab countries without withdrawing from the Palestinian and Arab territories occupied in 1967.
Some have suggested a UN and Quartet-led international conference based on the API; others suggest a U.S.-led process in coordination with Egypt and Jordan; and a third group suggests a gradual Arab normalization track with Israel parallel to the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. A fourth group thinks that the Arab states should play a supportive role, with Jordan and Egypt directly involved in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations by either being present in the negotiations room, as one version suggests, or by supporting the two sides from outside the negotiations room, as another version suggests.
Different proposals have been made about the expected role of the Gulf countries in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, in the process. Some have even proposed implementation of the API as a point of departure for the establishment of an Arab-Israeli coalition against Iran, forgetting that the API was approved by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation at their meeting in Tehran in 2003 — that is, the API is backed by the consensus of all the Arab and Islamic countries, and therefore it is against its internal logic to call for its implementation in order to create a pact of so-called moderates against the extremists.
In the last few months, due to the continuing impasse, the proposals about the API have started to focus on developing a new UNSC resolution that some say should be an alternative to UNSC Resolution 242. These proposals indicate that the API is facing a new context that requires new functions.
The API and Its Mechanisms
The API is becoming well known, including to 65% of Israelis, according to a public opinion poll conducted in February 2015. It represents a departure from the traditional Arab position regarding Israel (“no peace, no recognition and no negotiation”) into a “yes” with both recognition and normalized relations if Israel withdraws from the Arab and the Palestinian Territories occupied in 1967 and accepts an agreed-upon solution to the Palestinian refugee problem in accordance with the UNGA Resolution 194.
The API was initially introduced by Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, crown prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and approved by the 2002 Arab League Summit held in Beirut. The main significance of the API is that it is an initiative that represents the consensus of all 22 Arab countries (and subsequently all 57 Islamic countries), making it a plan of all Arab countries and not only the so-called “moderate Arab countries.” Therefore, Israeli acceptance of the API would lead to a comprehensive peace with all Arab (and Islamic) countries, regardless of their ideological differences.
Beyond this, the API carries a second international significance, since it has been confirmed by UNSC Resolutions 1850 and 1860 in 2008 and 2009. It was mentioned in the Quartet’s Performance-Based Roadmap of 2003, and subsequently in all relevant Quartet statements and EU statement, thus becoming an international, Arab and Islamic plan presented to Israel, and not only an Arab plan. Therefore, the international community is no less responsible, based on its own decisions, for the promotion and the implementation of the API than are the Arab and Islamic states.
The third, less widely known significance of the API is that the Arab League has created mechanisms for its promotion and implementation to facilitate cooperation with the international community on API implementation. These two mechanisms are: 1) Jordan and Egypt were delegated by the Arab League to represent the API with Israel; and 2) an Arab Peace Initiative follow-up committee was created and tasked with representing the API with the international community. This committee is chaired by the state holding the Arab League’s rotating presidency.
At the March 2015 summit in Sharm A-Sheikh, Egypt, this year’s committee chair, added a third mechanism: a committee that includes Egypt (the current holder of the Arab League presidency), Jordan (the Arab Representative in the UNSC), Morocco (the holder of the 2016 presidency), Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Al Arabi, and Palestine. This new committee was delegated with the task of elevating the status of Palestine in the UN. The committee met on April 6 in Cairo and decided to go to the UNSC with an Arab draft resolution that calls, under the API umbrella, for an end to the Israeli occupation of the OPT within a restricted timeframe. This decision echoes the Arab foreign ministers’ call in Cairo on March 10, and the call by King Salman Abdel Aziz of Saudi Arabia at the Arab Summit. King Salman called also on the UN to appoint a new special envoy who will work toward the implementation of the new API-based UNSC resolution. The Arabs expect the mechanisms decided by them to be respected. Therefore, nobody should offend Saudi Arabia by asking it to communicate or negotiate the API officially with Israel, when the Arabs have already designated Jordan and Egypt for this task.
The final significance of the API is represented by the steadfast support it has garnered, despite the chaos in the region. The new regimes in Iraq, Libya, Tunisia and others have accepted it, and the mechanisms that were developed by the Arab League are still in place and have even become more active with the API becoming an international plan.
The primary role of the API in the Israeli-Palestinian context today is to elevate Palestine to a more symmetrical position with Israel, as a way to pressure the Israeli government — by using diplomatic tools such as facilitation of Palestine’s membership in the UN, a new UNSC resolution and other international mechanisms, while also building Palestinian facts on the ground via concerted international and Arab efforts, mainly in East Jerusalem and Area C, and the reconstruction of Gaza.
Stages for Implementation of the API
The starting point would be a new UNSC resolution that will include, and be followed by, the implementation of the API that will lead to the establishment of two states living side by side in peace and security, through the following stages:
1. A strong engagement on the part of the U.S. and the other Quartet parties with the new Israeli government is critical in order to formulate terms with the Israeli prime minister about what he will present later on at the negotiating table, and whether this will meet the minimum requirements of the Palestinians.
During this pre-negotiation engagement, the Israeli prime minister should also be advised not to demand Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” or as a “State of the Jewish People,” as long as he does not clearly define its borders, does not accept Jerusalem as two capitals for two states, and does not guarantee the status of the Palestinians of Israel as Israeli citizens so neither they nor their areas of residency will be transferred to the Palestinian state. The prime minister should also be advised that this process, being based on the API, will lead to the creation of normalized relations between Israel and the Arab and Islamic countries.
Parallel to engagement with the Israeli government, the Quartet should intensively engage the Arab League, Jordan, Egypt and Palestine in drafting together the content of the new UNSC resolution in order to develop it in a manner that will make it acceptable to the Palestinian leadership. Developing only a series of vague parameters or overall principles in a new UNSC resolution will be counterproductive, as previous experiences have shown. After 25 years of negotiations since 1990, the Arabs and Palestinians will not accept anything less than a clear-cut resolution that includes a timetable for getting to the two-state solution that also includes tools and procedures to be used against any party that fails to fulfill its obligations according to the resolution.
Based on these preparations, the Quartet should prepare memoranda of understanding to be presented to the parties prior to the resumption of the negotiations.
To proceed without such a preparatory stage would be and a recipe for disaster and a failure of the negotiations.
2. Once the initial stage is completed, the international community would call on the two sides to engage in negotiations on the permanent status issues, starting with a launching of an international conference. The conference will be attended by the Quartet countries, the Arab League, core Arab countries, Israel, the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and representatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The conference will decide the parameters for upcoming negotiations on the basis of the new UNSC resolution, and will accordingly set up an international follow-up committee for the bilateral negotiations.
The committee would intervene in the negotiations when needed to bring in bridging proposals. Such a committee could include the U.S., the EU, some EU countries like France, Germany and the UK, BRICS, the Arab League, and Arab countries, mainly Jordan and Egypt.
Factors to Be Taken into Consideration in the Negotiations
1. The negotiations will be on all the permanent status issues between the two sides without exclusion;
2. The previously agreed-upon issues between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be recognized and will not be the subject of renegotiation, but will be presented in order to go hand in hand with the implementation plans of what is agreed upon about them;
3. The negotiations should not be gradual but based on a timetable and benchmarks;
4. The negotiations should aim for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders that lives in peace and security with Israel, and an agreement on a just solution for the Palestinian refugee problem;
5. Negotiations should be directed by the Quartet, in coordination with the Arab League, and the relevant Arab countries in order to push the implementation of the API forward on the Israeli-Palestinian track. Coordination with different international blocs such as BRICS will be necessary in order to move the process forward, in addition to the revival of some of the multilateral working groups.
Unilateral Steps to Be Taken by Israel
Steps to be taken unilaterally by Israel during the negotiation period in order to build confidence in the process and to fulfill previous agreement obligations include:
1. Allowing the return of all persons displaced in 1967 to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem;
2. Allowing the free movement of goods and individuals between the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem;
3. Freezing settlement expansion, dismantling settlement outposts and allowing Palestinian construction and development in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem;
4. Reopening the Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem that Israeli authorities shut down;
5. Releasing Palestinian prisoners;
6. Avoiding any incursions into the Palestinian territories;
7. Allowing for rebuilding Gaza.
What the Quartet/International Community Should Do
Other steps to be taken by the Quartet and the international community during the negotiations include:
1. Supporting Palestinian development projects in Area C, East Jerusalem and Gaza;
2. Monitoring Israeli restrictions and violations in Area C and East Jerusalem and the freedom of movement between the West Bank and Gaza, and taking action against violations;
3. Ending the international opposition to internal reconciliation among Palestinian factions and supporting elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council and president in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and elections for the Palestinian National Council that would include the Palestinian Diaspora around the world;
4. Supporting the Palestinian Authority finances, and the PA as the infrastructure in the making for the future Palestinian state, and preventing Israel from freezing the transfer of Palestinian tax revenues collected by Israel;
5. Ensuring Israel’s commitment to all its obligations under previous agreements between the parties;
6. Boycotting Israel settlement products and avoiding investing in those settlements.
The Alternative Plan
If the international community fails to convince the new Israeli government to accept the minimum requirements for the resumption of negotiations, it should present a Plan B consisting of an international plan for the two-state solution, with a timetable and benchmarks to be met by both parties. The international community must then follow through on the implementation of that plan, using the economic, technological and other means of support for the two sides as “carrots” and “sticks” to move the process forward.
These moves must be accomplished by:
1. Supporting the Palestinian initiative to elevate the status of the State of Palestine to that of a UN member state, and creating an international coalition of the countries who voted in favor of accepting Palestine as a non-member observer state to work toward full UN membership;
2. Fostering systematic cooperation between the EU and the Arab League, based on the articles and principles of the declarations adopted at the meetings of Arab League and EU foreign ministers in Cairo in November 2012 and in Athens in June 2014, and working accordingly with a joint plan for the implementation of the API toward the achievement of a comprehensive Middle-Eastern peace;
3. Supporting the Palestinians’ nonviolent struggle against the occupation and promoting the Israeli, Arab and international peace camp and solidarity organizations participation in it.
Recognition of a Palestinian State Would Create a More Level Playing Field
The API cannot be used to encourage Arab countries to exert pressure on the Palestinians to make compromises. Abbas and the Palestinian leadership have already made all the concessions needed, yet the response from Israel has been more settlement expansion and more extremist positions. Israel has yet to officially respond to the API. It sees the API proposal as yet another way to delegitimize Israel. The issue of Palestinian refugees has been used as the main justification for this non-response, despite the fact that the API refers to “an agreed upon solution to the refugee problem.”
Therefore, pressure connected to the API should be placed only on Israel to accept it.
This is the time for an API-based international plan for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders that can be achieved with or without any further negotiations between the parties. This will require a tough international hand on the Israeli occupiers, starting with a clearcut new UNSC resolution for ending the occupation, combined with well-defined tools and procedures that can be used to achieve that goal.