The Arab Peace Initiative: Not a Framework for Negotiations Any More


Walid Salem – TRANSCEND Media Service

In the Eve of Arab Coming Summit in Morocco

18 Feb 2016 – By the end of next month, the Arab Peace Initiative (API) will turn down its 14th year, and start the 15th. In the meanwhile, the Arabs are preparing for the coming summit to be held in Morocco in the end of the first week of April this year. The significance of the API is that it steadfast for all this period regardless to the absence of any Israeli official positive response to it. But what Morocco upcoming summit will decide about the API after all these years? This article will try to answer this question.

When initiated in Beirut Arab Summit of March 2002, the API requested Israel to accept it as a point of departure for the bilateral negotiations that will be held on the Israeli- Palestinian, the Israeli- Syrian, and the Israeli- Lebanese tracks, followed by the creation of normal relations between all the 22 Arab countries and Israel.

Referring to the international relations theories: At that time, the Arabs selected a Constructivist approach that was confronted with an Israeli realistic approach towards the API, creating by thus a deaf and mute communication about it from the beginning.

At the Israeli side, the launching of the API was thus understood as a result of an Arab impotence towards the Israeli deterrence and power capability that is combined with the Jabotinskian iron wall that protect Israel. Some Israeli and international commentators went even further stating that the API launching in 2002 is a Saudi response aiming to present Saudi Arabia as a peaceful and innocent from the 9th of September 2001terrorist attacks which were committed by Saudi Citizens.

The Arab approach to the API was completely opposite of these realistic interpretations that are based on power and interests relations. In this regard the Arabs considered the API presentation as a crowning event to the process of Moderation that the Arabs started after the 1973 war between the Arab Countries and Israel. Based on the results of that war the Arabs thought that they achieved the strategic balance with Israel, which made them capable to go on the path of win- win peace with it. Based on that estimation the Arabs accepted the invitations to Geneva peace conference sent by the USA and the Soviet Union by then, also the PLO organized a Palestinian delegation in order to participate in Geneva conference by then, but this delegation was not invited to attend.

This 1973 move of the Arabs, combined with the resolution of the Palestinian National Council of 1974 that accepted for the first time” the establishment of a Palestinian national authority in any span that will be liberated or Israel withdrew from”, was a move beyond the three ” no,s” of 1967 Arab summit of Khartoum: No recognition, no reconciliation, and no normalization with Israel.

This 1973- 1974 of the Arabs was followed by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia peace initiative that was presented during the Arab summit of Fez/ Morocco in 1982, followed in 1988 by the Palestinian National Council resolution to accept the establishment of a Palestinian State on 1967 borders, and this development was followed by the Arab Summit of Cairo of 1996 resolution that considered peace to ” be the Arab Strategic option”.

It is then a long Arab way to moderation that started in 1973 and continued by different steps ever then till it was crowned by the API in 2002. This short historical synopsis show also that all the Arab Israeli conflict was subject to be solved directly after the 1973 October war, but this was an opportunity that was missed followed by other missed opportunities that were documented by the good book of Professor Elie Podeh in this regard.

Yet the Arab constructivist approach to the API as a point of departure for peace that “we construct together, and for the good for all”, has another angle in addition to the historical path to moderation presented above. This other angle is represented by the Quranic language included in the API preamble, and that was lost in the translation of the API from Arabic to English, this phrase translates as follows;” If they Lean to peace, you should Lean to it”. The inclusion of this Quranic phrase aimed to present the API as a representative to the ethical peaceful background of Islam.

This all was not understood by the Israeli realists, who looked at the API as a signal to an Arab weakness, and that should be used in order to push the Arabs to make further concessions. The rest of the story after is well known, by attacking the API on its phrase about refugees while it is not about the right of return, or differentiating between the Saudi Initiative and the API, or calling for modifications to the API in regard to the Golan Heights and the Jerusalem issue, or by asking for a coalition between the Arab moderate countries and Israel against the extreme countries and Iran( despite that all approved the API), and finally by calling for the use of the API to establish a regional process for security and for the solution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict( assuming As if Saudi Arabia will accept through this regional track a solution to the Jerusalem issue for instance that is less than what the PLO demanded for regarding the city, which is a wishful thinking).

This regionalization attempts reached these days their final destination because of Mr Netanyahu non-readiness to withdraw from any span of the Palestinian Territories that were occupied in 1967.

With that non readiness emerging,  the last Arab summit held in Cairo in last March 2015 took a new path, and instead of focusing on the resumption of the negotiations, it focused in addition on the elevation of Palestine in the UN, and a new committee that consist of Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, and the General Secretary of the Arab League was established in order to work on this elevation.

Thus Cairo summit created two tracks: One is a diplomatic that aimed to create a new UN Security Council resolution that is based on the API and will prepare for the resumption of the negotiations, and the second track focused on the elevating of Palestine in the UN in order to salvage the two states solution from being destroyed by the Israeli annexation policies.

After Cairo summit a lot of efforts were made in order to push forward the diplomatic track in cooperation mainly with France who suggested holding an international conference for peace to be based on the API and followed by the widened Quartet together with the Negotiations Support Unit which it was suggested to be composed from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the General Secretary of the Arab League.

This focus on the diplomatic track led to the postponement of the process to elevate Palestine in the UN till the fruits of the diplomatic track became clear.

Today, in the eve of the Arab Summit in Morocco next April, the diplomatic track reached its final destination with Netanyahu rejection to the French proposal and the idea of the international conference.

With that becoming clear, then it might be up to the Morocco summit to declare the end of the use of the API as a point of departure for negotiations as a public relations play that is incapable to get the required results, and instead focus on elevating Palestine, not in the UN only but also in the ground by creating Palestinian facts there in cooperation with the international committee, with the hope that this process will salvage the two states solution, and will create some kind of symmetry between the two sides that will pressure the Israeli Government to negotiate on a new basis that aims to demarcate the borders between the two states and achieve an agreed upon solution to the Palestinian refugees problem.

The tools for this elevation are diplomatic, legal, and economic, combined all with a comprehensive Palestinian non-violent struggle that the Israeli peace camp and the internationals will participate in, with the aim of making the occupation costly to the Israeli Government, and thus leading it to think changing path.


Dr. Walid Salem is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment. He was born in East Jerusalem in 1957 and teaches democracy and human rights at AlQuds University. He is a writer of thirty books and training manuals, and tens of research papers on Democracy, civil society, citizenship, refugees, and Jerusalem. He is also a consultant, evaluator, and trainer for several public and private bodies. Salem trained more than thirty thousand Palestinians on these issues since 1990, and, since 1993, he is the Director of The Centre for Democracy and Community Development, East Jerusalem. He is the Coordinator of Middle East Citizen Assembly as regional network of experts and activists on citizenship issues that include participants from 19 countries from the region since 2004. He has lectured at several international conferences and seminars about democracy, Jerusalem, refugees, and development in Palestine.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 22 Feb 2016.

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