Forty years after the 1967 War and 60 years after the 1948 War,
Israel still lacks Palestinian recognition and Arab legitimacy.
Though a substantial change took place within the Palestinian
national movement and in the positions of most of the Arab
countries towards reconciliation and political compromise with
Israel, no similar change is envisaged on the Israeli official
policy level. The Palestinians abandoned their goal to regain all
of Palestine and destroy Israel, and opted for the two-state
solution: a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. This
change was adopted by the Palestinian National Council (the
Parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO]) in its
session in Algiers in November 1988. Since then and up to 2002, the
traditional position of the Arab countries has been that the Arabs
would accept and support whatever the Palestinians accept.
After the failure of the Camp David talks in 2000 and the outbreak
of the second intifada the Arab countries were blamed for not
supporting the peace talks and backing Yasser Arafat to bring about
a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. As a result,
the Arab position became more formalized and an Arab peace
initiative was put forward.
The shift in the Arab stance came when Crown Prince Abdallah of
Saudi Arabia formulated the contours of a possible peace agreement
with Israel, which he later presented at the 18th Arab summit in
Beirut in March 2002. The Saudi plan was adopted at the summit and
became known as the Arab Peace Initiative. However, the escalation
of violence and military activities between Israel and the
Palestinians, and the negligence on the part of the U.S.
administration to follow up on the efforts by President Bill
Clinton to achieve a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict pushed the Initiative to the sidelines.
The Arabs felt betrayed and disappointed because their initiative
did not receive the due attention, though they are partly to blame
because they did not prepare the ground or market their initiative
effectively, either in the relevant international circles including
the U.S. or within Israeli public opinion. However, and due to new
regional developments, the Initiative was reaffirmed in the 19th
Arab summit in Riyadh in March 2007.
The increasing influence of Iran in the region, the polarization
between Sunni and Shia Muslims, the growing power of fundamental
Islamist movements in general, and the deteriorating security
situation in Iraq led some Arab countries to conclude that ending
the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would allow them to devote all
their resources and energy to confronting the new dangers and
threats instead of being preoccupied with the old Arab-Israeli
The Arab states reiterated their will to recognize Israel and to
establish full peace and normal relations with it if Israel accepts
to withdraw from the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967,
enables the creation of an independent sovereign Palestinian state
alongside the state of Israel, with Arab East Jerusalem as its
capital, and seeks an agreed-upon solution to the Palestinian
refugee problem. Unfortunately, this offer from 22 Arab states
failed to elicit the expected reception and acceptance on the part
of Israel or the U.S. administration.
Since the early years of occupation, Israel adopted the policy of
annexation and expansionism by establishing Jewish settlements in
the occupied Palestinian territories. This policy was enhanced by
right-wing Jewish circles to establish facts on the ground, create
more obstacles, and prevent future withdrawal under any possible
international pressure. Settlement activities continued and
included Arab East Jerusalem over the last four decades. Now Israel
is focusing on expanding and thickening settlement blocs around
Jerusalem and along the 1967 ceasefire lines. Settlements have
proven that they can be an obstacle to peace. The right-wing in
Israel has succeeded so far in blocking the road to peace and
diverting attention from real positive developments on the
Palestinian/Arab side. Meanwhile, the absence of peace and the
continued occupation, with its oppression of the Palestinians, have
bred more extremism and radicalism on the Palestinian side - mainly
the Islamic movement.
In this issue of the Palestine-IsraelJournal we will
discuss the Arab Peace Initiative. Why has the Initiative failed to
achieve any breakthrough? What else can be done to promote it? Why
has Israel failed to meet the challenge of the Arab Peace
Initiative? Can the Palestinians and the Israelis solve their
problems bilaterally? Or is there a need for a third-party role?
How and why?
Most of the answers to these questions are known to all of us. Yet
we believe that debating them will help highlight the necessity of
making peace and shed more light on how to make it.