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Time for Arab states to reconsider the Arab Peace Initiative

Maurice Hirsch, Adv.  |

Since the announcement that Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are to normalize relations, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party have denounced the move. One of their central claims is that the move violates the Arab unity and support for the “Arab Peace Initiative” (API).

PLO Executive Committee Secretary, Saeb Erekat, made the point:

“The Palestinian leadership demands that the Arab League General Secretariat and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) do all that is required of them and defend the decisions of the Arab and Islamic summit conferences, and especially the Arab Peace Initiative, and not deviate from the international institutions’ resolutions regarding the Palestinian cause…”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Aug. 19, 2020]

The API was adopted by the Arab League in 2002. Sponsored by Saudi Arabia, the API was launched just one day after the Passover meal massacre in the Park Hotel in Netanya, in which 30 Israelis were murdered by a Palestinian suicide bomber.

From the outset, it was clear that the API did not truly lay out a vision for peace. Rather, it was merely a restatement of the same positions held by the Arab countries since 1948, disguised with the bait of Arab recognition for the existence of the State of Israel.

In a nutshell, the API demanded that Israel:

  • Consent to unilaterally withdraw from all the remaining territories gained in the 1967 Six Day War, including the entire Gaza Strip, all of the West Bank, the Golan Heights and also withdraw from Lebanese territory allegedly still held by Israel;
  • Consent to the creation of a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital;
  • Agree to flood itself with millions of so-called Palestinian refugees, which the Arab states committed to not absorbing.  

In return for Israel fulfilling the demands, the API suggests that the Arab countries would enter into an agreement and normalize relations with Israel.  

While these demands may have sounded reasonable to the Arab countries, for Israel, their implementation was and remains nothing short of national suicide. Furthermore, as the API reflected the maximalist Palestinian demands, it also emboldened them to reject any offer of peace that did not meet all the requirements set in the initiative. In the years that have passed, the provisions of the API have proved to be even more futile.

The following are just some of the difficulties with the API.

Hamas rules the Gaza Strip
When the API was adopted, the Palestinian Authority was dominated by Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party. In January 2006, the internationally designated terror organization Hamas won the last general elections held in the PA. In September 2005, just months prior to the elections, Israel withdrew entirely from the Gaza Strip. While Arafat’s replacement, Mahmoud Abbas, deposed the Hamas government in the West Bank, Hamas now controls the Strip. Despite the full Israeli withdrawal, terror attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel have continued. According to statistics published by the Israel Security Agency, in the 15 years that have passed since the Israeli withdrawal, Hamas and the other Palestinian terror organizations have fired no fewer than 16,776 explosive projectiles (missiles and mortars) into Israel, carried out hundreds of other terror attacks and launched hundreds of incendiary balloons into Israel that have caused extensive financial and ecological damage.   

Article 11 of the Charter of Hamas clearly states that the territory from the “[Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea” is “Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day.”

In other words, the charter of the democratically elected leadership of the Palestinian Authority entirely negates both Israel’s right to exist and the reciprocity provision of the API.

A Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority would certainly not be a relevant partner for peace with Israel.

Complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank
While the API claims that the requirement that Israel relinquish all of the West Bank “in implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338,” neither of these resolutions require such a course of action. The implicit requirement of this demand is to recognize the 1949 armistice lines between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (referred to in the API as the “June 4, 1967 lines”) as borders. No such recognition was ever given by any competent international player. Moreover, it was the Arab countries that, in the 1949 armistice discussions, refused to recognize the lines drawn as “borders”.

No Israeli government will ever agree to entirely expel the hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens now resident in the West Bank. And indeed, as Palestinian Media Watch recently showed, Israel has every legal right to treat all of the West Bank as part of the Jewish national homeland.

Handing the Golan Heights to Syria
Since 2011, Syria has been embroiled in a lengthy civil war. During the course of the conflict, Syrian dictator, Bashar Al-Assad, used chemical weapons against his own people. Handing the strategically indispensable Golan Heights to Syria, a country that has never relinquished its hostility towards Israel, would directly endanger all of Israel.

The alleged Lebanese territory
In May 2000, Israel retreated from all of Lebanon. The full Israeli withdrawal was approved by the United Nations Security Council. Including a demand that Israel withdraw from Lebanese territory was therefore irrelevant and more reflective of the Lebanese-Syrian disagreements regarding the sovereignty over certain areas, predominantly the Shaba Farms, than the international consensus. Moreover, Lebanon is now dominated by the internationally designated terror organization Hezbollah that has stock-pilled hundreds of thousands of missiles to shoot at Israel, and is constantly undertaking to carry out terror attacks against Israel.   

Settling the so-called Palestinian refugees
According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), since 2002 to end 2019 alone, the number of so-called Palestinian refugees has grown by over 25% or 1.6 million people, from 4,025,694 to 5,629,829.
While many of these “refugees” have now lived in their host countries for over seven decades, the API specifically negates their absorption into those countries. The API “rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation” means that Israel is expected to resettle all these “refugees.”

As recently demonstrated by Palestinian Media Watch, the true meaning of this demand is that Israel must commit national suicide. The entire population of Israel is a mere 9 million people of whom two million are Israeli Arabs. Flooding Israel with an additional 5.6 million Arabs would irrevocably alter Israel’s demographic nature and would lead to the democratic dismantling of the Jewish State.     

For these and other reasons, the Arab countries that are seriously and genuinely committed to peace in the Middle East must review and fundamentally change the API. Similar to the UAE, other Arab countries should recognize the mutual benefits that could be gained through peace, while simultaneously releasing the shackles of past failed policies.  

The following is the text of the API:

“The Council of Arab States at the Summit Level at its 14th Ordinary Session,

Reaffirming the resolution taken in June 1996 at the Cairo Extra-Ordinary Arab Summit that a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of the Arab countries, to be achieved in accordance with international legality, and which would require a comparable commitment on the part of the Israeli government,

Having listened to the statement made by his royal highness Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, crown prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in which his highness presented his initiative calling for full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967, in implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, reaffirmed by the Madrid Conference of 1991 and the land-for-peace principle, and Israel‘s acceptance of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, in return for the establishment of normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel,

Emanating from the conviction of the Arab countries that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties, the council:

1. Requests Israel to reconsider its policies and declare that a just peace is its strategic option as well.

2. Further calls upon Israel to affirm:

I- Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.
II- Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194.
III- The acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

3. Consequently, the Arab countries affirm the following:

I- Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide  security for all the states of the region.
II- Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.

4. Assures the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries.

5. Calls upon the government of Israel and all Israelis to accept this initiative in order to safeguard the prospects for peace and stop the further shedding of blood, enabling the Arab countries and Israel to live in peace and good neighbourliness and provide future generations with security, stability and prosperity.

6. Invites the international community and all countries and organisations to support this initiative.

7. Requests the chairman of the summit to form a special committee composed of some of its concerned member states and the secretary general of the League of Arab States to pursue the necessary contacts to gain support for this initiative at all levels, particularly from the United Nations, the Security Council, the United States of America, the Russian Federation, the Muslim states and the European Union.”