The Arab Peace Initiative, unanimously approved at the 2002 Beirut Arab League summit, is divided into two operative parts. The first, paragraph 2, which represents minimum Arab demands, calls for full Israeli withdrawal and a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem its capital. The second, paragraph 3, which represents the maximum Arab offer to Israel, affirms a commitment to consider the „conflict ended and enter into a peace agreement with Israel“…
For some Israelis, the precise meaning of these two phrases, „conflict ended“ and „peace agreement“, raises questions. Delving into their meaning to answer questions raised by Israelis prior to accepting the API is putting the cart before the horse. If Israel were to accept the API this would be, by implication, a conditional acceptance. The API does not provide the modalities for implementation; they will be developed through negotiations, at which time the questions raised by Israel regarding the meaning of the two phrases would be answered. Accepting the API does not mean an irrevocable commitment to it unless the final stage provides each side its minimum demands, including satisfactory answers to the questions raised.
This of course does not prevent us here and now from looking into what is meant by „peace agreement“ and „conflict ended“. „Peace agreement“ concerns the Palestinians and the two remaining contiguous Arab states, Syria and Lebanon, with which Israel is still in a state of war. Once Israel accepts the API, the three Arab parties will resume negotiations with Israel on separate tracks. It is understood that the three peace tracks will be negotiated and settled separately. However, one question remains unanswered: will the signing of the peace agreements be done simultaneously as a package deal, or separately at different periods as in the case of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty? Only the Arab leaders who would sign the peace agreements can answer that question.
As for „conflict ended“, the reference is to the Arab states both collectively, i.e., the Arab League, and individually. For the League, ending the conflict means revoking all anti-Israel policies adopted by it. A case in point is the Office of Economic Boycott of Israel. For the individual Arab states, „conflict ended“ means recognition and normalization of relations with Israel; in fact, some of these states are anxious to see the „conflict ended“ so that they can conduct business with Israel openly instead of doing it secretly. Upon the successful conclusion of negotiations between Israel and the three Arab partners and the signing of peace agreements, the Arab League and the Arab states will recognize and normalize relations with Israel.
In view of this, it remains a mystery why Israel does not accept the API. Even if, as some contend, the API is a bluff, Israel has everything to win and nothing to lose. If Israel were to accept the API, it would score a public relations victory and either call the Arab bluff–if that is what it is–or develop with Arab negotiators the modalities for implementing it. It is understood that neither side will impose its views on the other. Thus, Israeli fears about subscribing to the API due to uncertainty as to what the final stage will look like are unfounded.
To the present Israeli government, are the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan more important than peace? Perhaps so, in view of the fact that the Israeli leadership probably feels that returning something tangible to the Arabs–land–in return for agreements, i.e., ink on paper, that are signed by Arab leaders whose legitimacy is questionable and whose reign is clouded and uncertain, is a losing bargain. If this is the case, then it is another instance of the legendary Israeli shortsightedness.
There is Palestinian desire, Arab consensus, Islamic acquiescence and international support for a comprehensive Arab-Israel peace, for which the API provides a framework. The question to Israel is, if not the Arab Peace Initiative, then what? If not now, then when?-Published 3/3/2011 Â© bitterlemons-api.org
Elias Samo is professor of international relations at American and Syrian universities.