Is it time to dust off the 15-year-old Arab Peace Initiative?
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told a Jordanian newspaper recently that the 15-year-old Arab Peace Initiative is the only proposal on the table — “unchanged, not even tweaked.”
Proposed by the Arab League in 2002, the initiative called for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories with borders that existed on June 4, 1967, the day before the Six-Day War began. East Jerusalem would be the capital of the new state. At the same time, the Palestinian refugee problem must be solved according to terms set out in Resolution 194 of the UN General Assembly.
Despite the lack of trust between the Israelis and Palestinians, and more importantly the problems caused by the Israeli occupation, I believe the Arab plan is still a good opportunity for permanent peace in the region.
The most important aspect of the plan is that any future agreement between Israel and the Palestinians be endorsed by the Arab League that will automatically normalize its relations with Israel. Another important feature of the initiative is that it was proposed by Saudi Arabia and adopted at the same time by the 22 states in the Arab League.
The Israeli government rejected a peace plan involving the Arab League, saying the conflict could only be resolved through bilateral negotiations. In 2007 the Arab League reaffirmed its support of the plan. And while then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert did not endorse the plan at the time, he did not totally reject it.
Olmert’s successor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saw good elements in the proposal. But because of various events, especially local turmoil, the initiative failed. Israel’s main concern is the right of return for descendants of refugees from the 1948 Palestinian exodus. Israel claims that a refugee return would threaten the Jewish majority in the country. Another thorny issue is East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as their capital.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is among the most perplexing and difficult diplomatic problems in the world. However, both sides must seriously weigh the damaging consequences if the status-quo continues. Israel, the stronger player in the conflict, has to consider seriously that the Arab Peace Initiative could be a chance for permanent peace in the Middle East.
At the same time, global powers such as the US, Russia, China, and even Britain which bears historic liability for the creation of the conflict, must pressure Israel to make concessions. Undoubtedly the Two State Solution, in which Israel and Palestine will be side by side, is the only solution for peace and stability in the region. Otherwise, armed conflict and terrorism will always loom at the expense of stability, human dignity, and peace.