Political Dialogue and Trust: Can the Arab Peace Initiative be decisive in this respect?
The Arab Peace Initiative, approved by the Arab League at the Riyadh Summit in March 2002, calls for a comprehensive peace and the full normalization of relations, both economically and politically, between Israel and all Arab states. The Initiative requires the full withdrawal of Israel to the June 4, 1967 borders, the establishment of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem and the resolution of the Palestinian refugee question. The MEDays Forum held a panel discussion exclusively devoted to the Arab Peace Initiative as a possible step forward in the peace process.
During the MEDays conference, three distinct positions were brought to light:
1)Arab speakers highlighted the seriousness of the Arab Peace Initiative and how lucky Israel is to be offered regional peace in exchange for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Saeb Erakat, Chief Palestinian Negotiator, stated that â€śThe Arab Peace Initiative is the most strategic initiative that came for the Arabs since 1948.â€ť Said Hindam, Head of Policy Planning and Crisis Management at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, called it the â€śendgameâ€ť which will solve all problems at once. Hasni Abidi, Director of CERMAM, explained that Arab states have made great concessions in creating the initiative. These speakers at the forum asked that Israel seriously consider the document if Israel would like to establish peace with its neighbors. Andre Azoulay, Advisor to His Majesty the King of Morocco, called on the international community, and specifically the United States and the European Union, to take up the Initiative and help promote it as a solution to the conflict.
2)The state of Israel will not accept the document as it stands due to the issue of refugees and a belief that Arab countries may not make good on their promise of normalized relations. Dr. Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, Marcia Israel Senior Research Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, pointed out that the Arab Peace Initiative makes explicit reference to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, which deals with the Palestinian right of return. From an Israeli perspective, the right of return is problematic. Additionally, the Israeli government has a hard time believing that the 57 Arab or Muslim countries which have endorsed the initiative, including Iran, will establish normal relations with Israel if peace is signed with the Palestinians. For Israel to consider the Arab Peace Initiative, its contents must be negotiable. It is up to the Arab states to market the initiative.
3)The international community cannot actively promote the Arab Peace Initiative. International actors must receive direction from Arab countries on what is expected from them vis-a-vis the Arab Peace Initiative. According to Robert Danin, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, for such direction to be given, there must be a driver or leader within the Arab world who strives to actively market and implement the initiative. It must be clear as to whether or not the contents of the document are negotiable. Perhaps once this is clear, the United States and the European Union could more easily help promote the initiative. Until then, Janos Hovari, Deputy Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, recommended the pursuit of economic and cultural programs between all countries surrounding the Mediterranean.
As is clear from these three positions, discussion around the Arab Peace Initiative remains at a stand still. In order to act on this document in a timely manner, the initiative must find a driving force and move towards implementation of its vision. It must be clear as to whether or not conditions surrounding the details of the document are negotiable. If so, with the help of the international community, active dialogue and negotiation can take place.
â€śI never imagined that there would be an Arab Peace Initiative and that Israel would ignore it as it did. The Arab Peace Initiative was hardly discussed in Israel. It was marginalized from the beginning. It was totally ignored.â€ť Gideon Levy, journalist at Haaretz