The three "No's" of the Khartoum Summit (June 1967) rejecting the recognition of, reconciliation or negotiation with Israel did not constitute the essence of the official Arab orientation following the 1967 defeat. In point of fact, it was the Khartoum Summit that instituted the shift from the strategy of "liberation" to that of "erasing the effects of the aggression," and adopted the political and diplomatic option as the chief course to follow in order to regain the lands occupied by Israel in 1967. And if the military option was not dropped altogether, it was relegated to a precautionary alternative "to face any arising eventuality." As for the economic weapon, especially petrol, the delegates saw the potential of exploiting it as a "positive weapon" to bolster the economies of the confrontation states and to help them in their steadfastness (sumud). Instead of cutting off oil supplies as a means of pressure on the countries backing Israel, the pumping was resumed to even greater levels while a small percentage of the returns was allotted to the countries directly affected by the Israeli invasion. Thus the Khartoum Summit drew the parameters of a strategy that places the emphasis on the political and diplomatic effort, divorced from any pressurizing mechanism that would have lent it the necessary clout to influence international or Israeli decisions.

It is within these parameters that the official Arab position has been fluctuating during the subsequent decades, most notably after the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's declaration that the October War (1973) was the last Arab-Israeli war - an implicit declaration of intent to drop the Arab military option completely. This coincided with the collapse of the oil embargo and the beginning of negotiations on disengagement.

The Arab position has seen several developments - some of great importance - regarding the substance and framework of a Middle East settlement. They had varying degrees of impact on the course of the conflict and the peace efforts, but they never rose to the level of spearheading an initiative. They were mostly accommodations to initiatives and conditions put forth by other parties concerned with the conflict.

The early perception by the Palestinian leadership of these facts led to a dramatic change in its strategic vision and to the adoption of what was then known as the "Transitional Program" (1973-1974). Reinforced by the upsurge of the Palestinian resistance inside and outside the occupied territories, this change was behind the first notable development in the official Arab position regarding the substance of a peace settlement. Until the 1973 war, "removing the effects of the aggression" used to signify a return to the pre-June 1967 situation. The only condition spelled out by the Khartoum Summit in this respect was "securing the withdrawal of the Israeli aggressors from the Arab lands occupied after the June 5 attack."

A solution along these lines would have eliminated the Palestinian reality from the Arab agenda after it had imposed itself as a core element in the conflict. The Transitional Program was to block the road to such an eventuality by underscoring two major demands: The first is the right of the Palestinian people to "self-determination on any liberated Palestinian land, including the right to establish an independent Palestinian state within the borders of June 4, 1967." The second is "the right of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to express the will of the Palestinian people regarding the future of their national question in its capacity as their sole legitimate representative."

The Algiers Summit (end of November 1973) marked the first step towards the endorsement of these two demands as integral to the Arab concept of a peace solution. The summit posited that "peace requires the fulfillment of a number of conditions," most importantly:

* The Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied in June 1967 and at their forefront Jerusalem;
* The restoration of the inalienable national rights of the Palestinians in accordance with what the PLO decrees in its capacity as their sole representative.

Some months after the adoption of the 10-Point Program by the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in Cairo, a clearer definition of the essence of the "inalienable national rights" of the Palestinian people came in the Rabat Summit (end of October 1974), which affirmed "the right of the Palestinian people to return to their homeland and to self-determination," and "their right to establish an independent national authority on any Palestinian territories liberated from occupation, under the leadership of the PLO, as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people."

Then followed other summits with their resolutions, starting with the Baghdad Summit (November 1978), dispelling any ambiguity about the statement "full liberation of all the Arab lands occupied during the June 1967 aggression… and to recover the national rights of the Arab Palestinian people, including their right of return, self-determination, and the establishment of the independent Palestinian state on their national soil."

In spite of its being stripped of any pressurizing leverage, the Arab position could have been more effective in determining the course of peace efforts, had there been a concrete implementation of the principle espoused theoretically by the successive Arab summits that "just peace" is a "comprehensive peace" on all tracks. This was the thrust of the Rabat resolutions (1974), which spelled out the "inadmissibility of any partial political settlements, emanating from the national aspect of the cause and its indivisibility." But this principle was soon deserted because of the need to comply with the American "step-by-step" policy, due to the absence of any other pressurizing options.

The negotiations on "troop disengagement" that initially were justified as essentially military arrangements produced partial settlements that were political settlements par excellence, based on limited Israeli withdrawals on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts, combined with the stringent arrangements of an internationally supervised truce which solidified the final exclusion of the military option. The stagnation that emanated from these settlements could only be avoided, given these conditions, by following the logic of the step-by-step approach to its final conclusion: a separate solution. This is what Sadat had decided to follow when he signed the Camp David Accords and the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement.

While the separate peace agreement allowed Egypt to recover its occupied national soil up to the borders of June 4, 1967 (irrespective of the severe restrictions that were placed on Egyptian military presence and, consequently, on Egyptian sovereignty rights in Sinai), it undoubtedly weakened to a perilous degree the Arab negotiating position on all the other tracks. It did away with the last bastion of Arab strength that could have conceivably compensated the imbalance in the negotiation equation - the solidarity predicated on the comprehensiveness of the solution.

The Egyptian leadership, in an attempt to cover up the separate nature of its agreement with Israel, sought to link this agreement with an understanding about the features of a solution to the Palestinian issue. Thus we had the "Palestinian Chapter" of the Camp David Accords. This plan embodied the step-by-step approach, partial and transitional arrangements, to become an ingrained principle in the essential content of a peace solution on the Palestinian track, and not only in its mechanisms.

Thus, for the first time, with the approval of an Arab partner, the format of self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza was accepted for an interim period of five years during which negotiations would be held for a final settlement. What happened, therefore, was the breaking up of the "comprehensive settlement" into separate tracks; then the splitting up of the solution on one track (especially the Palestinian) into separate transitional stages, without identifying the final end for this presumed "transition."

Tackling the fissures in Arab unity as result of the above was the primary concern of the Ninth Arab summit held in Baghdad at the beginning of November 1978. The members issued a declaration stressing their "non-approval" of the Camp David Accords and "the rejection of all that emanates from these agreements." They called upon Egypt to revoke these agreements and "not to act unilaterally with matters pertaining to the Arab-Zionist conflict." Egypt's membership in the Arab League was temporarily suspended as a result.

This attempt to contain the tear in the fabric of Arab unity caused by the Camp David Accords soon began to erode due to certain important developments in the region, such as the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, resulting in the exodus of the Palestinian leadership and resistance from Beirut and the divisions that ensued among Palestinian ranks.

The gradual breakdown of Arab consensus about Camp David can be traced back to the Fez Summit. The first round of this conference, held in November 25, 1981, a year after the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, was characterized by sharp disagreements among the Arab parties thwarting the arrival at a resolution. They regrouped for a second round at the beginning of September 1982, after the two wars in the Gulf and in Lebanon caused a fundamental shift in the balance of power in the region. The summit adopted the plan of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd Abdel-Aziz, after the introduction of some minor rectifications, as an Arab peace plan. The new element here was the proposal to place the West Bank and Gaza - after the Israeli withdrawal from them - under UN supervision for a transitional period "not exceeding a few months, as a prelude to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital." The plan called upon the Security Council "to provide guarantees for peace among all the states in the region," thus implying the readiness of the other Arab countries to join in a comprehensive peace with Israel, with international guarantees.

The only mechanism adopted by the conference to activate its peace plan was the formation a committee to "initiate contacts with the permanent members of the Security Council, to probe their position and that which the U.S. had recently declared." This was a reference to the "initiative" launched by U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the wake of the ceasefire in Lebanon, which reiterated the commitment of the U.S. to a Middle East peace based on the framework of the Camp David Accords. The initiative also made an ambiguous reference to "the right of the Palestinians to a homeland," without specifying its borders or the nature of its sovereignty.

The period following the Fez Summit saw a total standstill in the search for a settlement. Jordan's efforts - after the signing of the Jordanian-Palestinian agreement on February 11, 1985 - failed to reinvigorate the process, which ultimately led to the unraveling of the agreement. In the absence of international interest in the conflict, the most noted development in the Arab position was the call for an international peace conference in the Middle East to be held under the auspices of the UN, with the participation of the five permanent members of the Security Council and all parties to the conflict, including the PLO. But this invitation did not elicit any response in light of Israel's insistence - with the blessing and encouragement of the U.S. - on direct bilateral negotiations with American mediation.

The Palestinian intifada that broke out in December 1987 was a catalyst for a chain of dramatic transformations in the Arab position regarding the Palestinian problem. These began with the extraordinary Arab summit in Algiers in June 1988. A resolution was taken that merged the Fez peace plan with the call for an international peace conference "based on the relevant UN resolutions," and insisting on "PLO participation on an equal footing and with the same rights as the other parties." In keeping with the spirit of the Algiers Summit, the Jordanian government took the decision to disengage with the West Bank. This paved the road for the declaration of independence of the state of Palestine and the adoption by the PLO of a Palestinian peace initiative, which proclaimed for the first time Palestinian readiness to accept a two-state solution based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338.

This coincided with the end of the Iran-Iraq War and with exceptional efforts to put an end to internal dissent and to clear the air among the Arab countries, including ending the boycott of Egypt and its return to the fold of the Arab League. All this was decided in the extraordinary summit held in Casablanca in May 1989, where a committee was formed headed by Morocco's King Hassan II to hold international contacts "in order to revive the peace process and to participate in the preparation for an international conference." These Arab efforts, against the backdrop of the intifada, helped secure wider international recognition of the Palestinian declaration of independence and the upgrading of the Palestinian representation in the UN. However, they collided with two obstacles. The first was Israeli rejection to negotiate with the PLO, although an official dialogue had been initiated between the organization and the U.S. The second was the American-backed Israeli insistence on the format of bilateral negotiations in lieu of an international conference and following the framework of Camp David as a basis for a solution on the Palestinian track.   

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait shifted international attention once again to the Gulf away from the Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But the contrast between the extraordinary international mobilization to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait contrasted with the decade-long dilly-dallying to put an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the Golan and South Lebanon, was a real embarrassment to the Arab countries forming part of the U.S.-led alliance. They were pushed into exerting significant pressure on the U.S. to commit to an active resumption of the Middle East peace process immediately after the completion of the "liberation of Kuwait."

In the spring of 1991, Washington began effectively to prepare for the Madrid Conference. It retained the prerogative to decide the mechanisms and bases of the negotiating process. Outwardly, the format seemed to take into consideration the demands of the Arab countries and other international players for an international framework for comprehensive negotiations based on UN resolutions. In essence, though, the chosen format coincided with the Israeli-American concept of direct bilateral negotiations as charted by the Camp David Accords.

During the conference, negotiations on land and rights were carried out in separate bilateral tracks. The Palestinian representation consisting of personalities from the occupied territories, not affiliated with the PLO, and incorporated into a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, negotiated over the conditions of an interim period of self-rule during which negotiations (without set goals) would be held regarding the permanent settlement. As for the multilateral tracks, those were restricted to issues of security, regional integration and economic and environmental relations; i.e., everything that pertained to the normalization of Arab-Israeli relations and the incorporation of Israel within the region.

This formula could not lead to a comprehensive peace, nor could it provide the Arab side with the minimum level of counter-balance against the American-backed Israeli side. But it did facilitate a dramatic breakthrough through secret negotiations on the Palestinian-Israeli track that culminated in the Oslo Accords and later opened the door for the signing of the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement.

With the erosion of the Madrid process and the fragmentation in Arab ranks in the wake of the Second Gulf War, the region witnessed a total collapse of the Arab political order which the extraordinary summit held in Cairo in June 1996 failed to avert. And in the absence of joint Arab action, it became unrealistic to talk about an "Arab role" in the peace process at a time when such a role was sorely needed, especially with the hitches in the Oslo process and the deadlocked negotiations on the Israeli-Syrian track.

The high hopes hanging on the Oslo process gradually dissipated, especially after the Likud victory and the formation of Binyamin Netanyahu's government in May 1996. The threats coming out of the Cairo Summit to the effect that the Arab states "would review" their position vis-à-vis Israel if the latter procrastinated or reneged on its commitments lacked weight and credibility and failed to overcome Israeli intransigence, which blocked the progress of  a peace process that had become a complete hostage to American unilateralism.

The coup de grâce to the Oslo process came at the hands of Ehud Barak's Labor government that proved just as inflexible as Likud's, especially on permanent-status issues. In spite of the personal intervention of U.S. President Bill Clinton, the Camp David negotiations (August 2000) failed to rescue the peace process from the impasse it had reached.

The second Palestinian intifada, which broke out on September 28, 2000 as a reaction to Israeli stalling and intransigence, was a wake-up call for the Arab leadership. The anger that swept the Arab street in solidarity with the intifada was, in one sense, a protest against Arab impotence and inaction, and a pressurizing factor to revive joint Arab action. The response was the extraordinary Arab summit held in Cairo on October 21, 2000, and which was described by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as the embodiment of "the pulse of the Arab street everywhere and an expression of the great justifiable anger that took hold of he Arab and Muslim nations in their entirety."

The conference had been hastily convened and its resolutions were restricted to restoring the regularity of the Arab summits, the establishment of US$1 billion in funds to support the intifada and Palestinian steadfastness, and the renewal of threats to freeze or even terminate relations with Israel. The resumption of the joint Arab action on the one hand, and the continuation of the Palestinian intifada and its transformation into a bloody confrontation with Israel on the other, compelled the international community to assume a more active role to move the peace process forward. They also led to the restitution of an internal dialogue between the Arab countries in order to review their common stance for a solution. Once again, Saudi Arabia took the initiative through proposals floated by then-Crown Prince Abdullah ibn-Abdel-Aziz. Following deliberations of more than a year and the introduction of important amendments, these proposals were unanimously adopted as an Arab peace plan at the Beirut Summit in March 2002.

It was the first time that the Arab countries proposed publicly and unanimously the establishment of normal relations with Israel within the context of a comprehensive peace agreement that ensures security for all the countries in the region - contingent on the fulfillment of three conditions:

* The total withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 borders from all occupied Palestinian and Arab lands;
* The arrival at a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 194; and
* The acceptance of the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The immediate and peremptory Israeli rejection does not diminish the importance of the initiative. First, after over two decades of discord and the race for separate solutions, it has succeeded in reunifying the Arab position, based on a common notion of a comprehensive peace that safeguards the minimum level of Palestinian and Arab rights recognized by international legitimacy. Second, it has presented a balanced approach that takes into consideration the vital interests of all parties and, consequently, is able to attract support and wide international acceptance. And, finally, the Arab initiative has come to be regarded as one of the reliable references adopted internationally for a process of peace, and was recognized as such by the Road Map and UN Security Council Resolution 1515.

The initiative has succeeded, then, in achieving one of its functions: Arab consensus regarding a peaceful solution to be presented to the world in a balanced and acceptable formula. But real success in influencing the course of the peace process, in reviving it and leading it to fruition calls for more than justice, balance and international approval: It needs to be shored up by concrete leverage to bring the international community to bear pressure on Israel to seriously comply with the requisites of peace.

The experience we have lived through over the last four decades is proof enough that, in order to have an impact on the direction of peace efforts, the Arab states should be committed to put into effect the resolutions they have adopted theoretically at more than one summit. Among these are:

* To safeguard Arab solidarity, to avoid internal strife and peripheral conflicts, and to reinforce joint Arab action by giving priority to the resolution of the Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict ahead of the other challenges facing the Arab world;
* To adopt a common Arab negotiating line that adheres to the formula of comprehensive and joint negotiations, within the framework of an international conference on the basis of UN resolutions and the Arab peace initiative;
* To commit to the resolutions which bind the level of relations between the Arab countries and Israel to the degree of progress in the peace process and the extent of Israeli adherence to its stipulations;
* To reactivate the Joint Defense Treaty between the States of the Arab League for the achievement of a strategic balance of power that guarantees symmetry in the negotiating equation;
* To utilize the Arab economic potential to strengthen the Palestinian and Arab negotiating position in accordance with a realistic plan that takes into consideration the complexity of internationally intertwined economic relations in an era of globalization;
* To safeguard the independence of the Arab decision pertaining to the core question, the Palestinian-Arab-Israeli conflict, and to curtail negative external pressure;
* To adopt a determined, active and persistent policy to use international platforms, especially the UN, in order to contain Israeli intransigence, to expose the double standards in American policy and to press for the achievement of a comprehensive and equitable peace settlement based on the principles of international legitimacy.