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March 18, 2014 1:07 pm

There’s No Better Time to Bring Back the Arab Peace Initiative

avatar by Alon Ben-Meir

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Secretary of State John Kerry with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat (left) and Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni (right) on July 30 in Washington, DC. Credit: State Department.

As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is about to unveil his proposed framework for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, there may not be a more opportune time than now to reinvigorate the Arab Peace Initiative (API) in support of Kerry’s efforts. Certainly the geopolitical conditions in the Middle East have dramatically changed since the API was first introduced at the 2002 Arab League Summit in Beirut, Lebanon. Paradoxically, at this juncture of turmoil sweeping the region, the API is more relevant than ever before, and is needed to generate badly-needed new momentum for the peace process.

The participants of the meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on March 10th urged the establishment of an independent sovereign Palestinian state in line with the API; they further reinforced the “continuing Arab commitment to the initiative as a strategic option.”

Although the Arab ministers’ reference to the API as a strategic option and their call for an end to the conflict based on a two-state solution is positive and necessary (regardless of their merit), their outright rejection of Israel as a Jewish state or their demand that Jerusalem must become the capital of two states preempts and may well undermine Kerry’s arduous efforts.

Instead of rehashing old slogans and making new demands on Israel, the Arab states should utilize the platform that the API provides to push the peace negotiations forward, rather than establish new red lines that can only harden the Israeli as well as the Palestinian positions.

The efforts Kerry has and continues to exert to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process toward a comprehensive agreement may well be the last attempt by the Obama Administration. Given the regional instability and the growing tension between Iran and the Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in particular have special interests in pushing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace and no longer need to obscure that with unhelpful public narratives. Here is why.

First: It is now an open secret that relations between Arab Sunni states and Israel have never been closer because of the perceived common threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. Israel and the Arab states are consulting each other, exchanging Iran-related intelligence, and developing a joint strategy to effectively deal with Iran’s nuclear program.

Even if the proxy Shiite-Sunni war currently being waged in Iraq and Syria (led by Iran and Saudi Arabia) subsides, the long historic rivalry between the two sides will not be mitigated by Iran’s current charm offensive. There is no love lost between them where centuries of enmity and hatred still looms high, which makes Arab-Israeli rapprochement not only desirable but also a strategic necessity.

Second: As John Kerry is preparing to disclose his framework for peace, demonstrable support by the Arab states along the lines of the API (which is consistent with Kerry’s framework) will send a powerful message to both Prime Minster Netanyahu and President Abbas that the whole Arab world stands behind Kerry’s initiative.

For the Israelis, it will be a reassuring message that the Arab states are now more than any time before committed to backing the peace efforts and providing the incentive to compromise. The Israeli and Palestinian governments know they must make significant concessions to reach an agreement. They also know that regardless of the inevitable changing regional dynamics in the years to come, the fundamental concessions required now to reach an agreement will not drastically change.

Third: Given the turmoil in Syria, Israel would not need to grapple, at least not at this juncture, with the API’s requirement to withdraw from the Golan Heights. This was one of the main impediments behind Israel’s refusal to embrace the API in the first place.

Interestingly, in their formal statement from Cairo, the Arab ministers made no reference to the Golan Heights. In an earlier meeting with Kerry in April 2013, the Arab foreign ministers agreed to a “comparable and mutual agreed minor swap of the land,” which the Israelis found to be very helpful.

In addition, an Israeli-Palestinian peace will be seen as another phase toward the establishment of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, following the examples of the Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties with Israel.

Notwithstanding semantics and public protestations to the contrary, both Israel and the Arab states face a fateful crossroad, and Kerry’s efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace stand in contrast to any similar attempt in the past.

Time is their worst enemy; if the current negotiations fail, the Palestinians should not assume that turning to the UN by joining various agencies and seeking justice through the International Criminal Court will bring an end to the Israeli occupation. At the end of the day, they must still sit face-to-face with the Israelis to find a mutually acceptable solution.

For Israel, the situation is even more acute because of the changing demographics in relation to the Palestinians, Israel’s growing isolation from the international community, and the U.S.’ weariness to pursue an elusive peace while losing much of its credibility and undermining its strategic interests.

Indeed, ahead of Netanyahu’s visit to D.C. during the first week of March, President Obama warned that the United States may not be able to protect Israel if a two-state solution with the Palestinians isn’t achieved.

For these reasons, it is not enough for the Arab states to provide Kerry with lukewarm public support; they need to become active participants, both publicly and privately, and show solidarity with the U.S.-led efforts to send a clear message to the Israeli and Palestinian publics where they really stand. Renewing the API as part and parcel of Kerry’s initiative would create a new atmosphere conducive to accommodations, knowing that the future holds no better prospect.

Time and circumstances have changed; the balance of power in the region is being transformed, regional stability is elusive at best, Islamic militancy is on the rise ,and the U.S. and Russia seem engaged in another “cold war,” all of which add to the region’s travails.

Given this state of affairs, the failure to achieve an agreement now could unwittingly plunge the Israelis and Palestinians into a new violent confrontation and drag the U.S. and the Arab states into a new conflict that they desperately want to avoid.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. Contact: alon@alonben-meir.com

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  • JOHN TRAIN

    Thank you Dr. Alon Ben-Meir.You have put in one place all of the left-wing talking points. Also, you mis-state the Arab peace initiative.
    The “Saudi Arabian Peace Initiative.” The “Saudi Proposal” was first carried to Israel, to the United States and to the West by Tom Friedman. It was not officially signed by Saudi ~~ Arabia. Friedman was selected as the plan’s bearer after careful consideration by the Saudi foreign policy advisor because of his high level government and extensive media contacts both within Israel and the United States and the Saudi’s belief that Friedman’s ego would make Friedman relish what he would perceive as his playing a critical role in changing the entire history of the Middle East. They claimed that if the Saudis and the other Arab states were really interested in proposing this “solution”, they would have invited Prime — Minister Sharon to speak in front of the then pending Arab Summit.

    The Saudi plan was described as follows: “Israel must first satisfy all of the current (and future) demands (e.g. territorial, water rights, etc.) of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon (Hezbollah). Israel must also agree to the unlimited right of return to Israel of all the Palestinian refugees and all of their descendants (as they self-identify). Israel must pay compensation to all refugees and all of their descendants who choose not to exercise their right of return. Only after Israel complies with each and every one of these demands (to the satisfaction of all of the Arab countries involved) will Saudi Arabia and the other Arab nations then consider recognition of Israel and normalizing relations with Israel.”

  • zadimel

    As long as the Pals and their Arab supporters will not permit the Jewish State and its population to live in peace, there can be no peace. Lessons learned by the expulsion of nearly a million Jews from many Arab nations prior to and after the establishment of Israel,as well as the murder of thousands of their co-religionists, and 66 years of continuing efforts by these nations to destroy the Jewish State,translate into wasted efforts to convince them to live in peace with Israel.

    • ZADIMEL corrections:
      IT WAS SOME COUNTED ONE MILLION AND HALF..
      NOT ALL EXPELLED…WE RAN AS SOON AS POSSIBLE .

      “establishment of Israel”.YOU MEAN *RE*ESTABLISHMENT..and joining their families that never left ISRAEL.

      “PERMIT” ISRAEL TO LIVE IN PEACE = arabs never “PERMIT”
      the arabs were just preoccupied FOR BRIEF SPELLS.

      pals and arabs = no such thing as palistinians. JEWS ARE PALISTINIANS.ask any roman warrior or ask the british in 1920 and 1947.

      before you respond, which of course you will want to assert your superiority of intellect…. there is NO such thing as west bank. It is judea and samerea.

      LETS GO FURTHER.there is no such thing as ashkanaz and sephardic…
      we are ONE NATION ISRAEL WITH ONE SET OF LAWS THAT MOSHE RABBEINU BROUGHT DOWN TO *ALL THE ISRAEL.
      WE FORGOT THAT POINT.
      you can ask Mashiach for verification on that.

      lABELS have serious long lasting effects and meanings
      same as a false kindness to show your love for your enemies.
      THE XTIANS PREACH LOVE THINE ENEMIES AND TURN THE OTHER CHEEK…WE NEED TO LOVE THE SAME EXACT WAY XTIANS DO..WITH THE SWORD…today is through lies and spiritually killing Jews.
      THE MISSIONARIES…THATS A DEATH TO JEWS…

      let me help you….USUALLY I CHARGE FOR THIS…IF YOU PASS MY TEST YOU GET A SPEEDY TRIP TO GAN EDEN.

      TORAH SAYS THE ARABS ARE WILD OF THE EARTH
      Never will be peace with arabs or xtians.
      You cant show me one passage in Talmud that says it will be WORLD PEACE before mashiach.
      and you xtians..ever since jeusx the world went into chaos. he brought hell up to earth
      Everything in talmud came to be
      or is in the process of being….

      FOR NOW WE ARE IN A PROCESS OF TURNING RAPIDLY
      Preparing for mashiach.
      WE HAVE TO NAVIGATE THROUGH THIS MIRE AND REMEMBER G-D ONCE AGAIN.
      SMILE LIKE YAACOV AVEINU
      GIVE GIFTS..NO LAND..
      gifts maybe like feed for their donkeys
      AND PREPARE FOR WAR

  • wow..such an intellectual thought out rediculous ignorant reason to give away Israel and the Jews throughout the world.

    The reason Israel is in chaos is because of your mind set.
    First bring back the dead from the gush katif,
    the current war lasting for 8 years so far.

    Then bring back the dead from 1948 *after the world agreed ISRAEL SHOULD RECONSTITUTE ITSELF.
    THEN BRING BACK THE DEAD FROM 1967 war while in the ‘peaceful mode’

    DO YOU alon mr professor really believe that IDF won the war in ’67 without the very G-D YOU KNOW NOT?
    WAS IT BATMAN OR SPIDERMAN that won that war?
    surely not the IDF doing miracles….

    All your education is meaningless.
    The failure to make an agreement is
    YOUR failure to separate from the ‘others’ and
    BE A PROUD *JEWISH STATE FROM DAY ONE
    and NOT a democratic state what you are doing now. losing the character of judaism,instant converts to pollute the very integretity of
    TORAH AND JACOB OUR FATHER.

    WE ARE JEWISH….ARE WE?

    YOU MAKE MONSTERS OF THE ENEMY IN YOUR NEED TO BE LOVED.

    • Jack Tucker

      Dear Dacon 9,
      If you take a biology course at YU and you explain evolution in terms of G-D’s will, you fail, even at YU.

      Similarly, if you explain international relations in terms of G-d’s will, you might pass a course in Judaism, but you will certainly fail a course in International Relations.

      • JACKIE BABY
        ITS YOUR PROBLEM NOT MINE
        You dont believe fine
        frankly scarlet i dont give a damned.

        FIRST LET ME QUALIFY WITH:
        NO, I AM *NOT HASID.
        I AM A SEPHARDIC WEARING CLOTHES OFF THE RACK IN ALL COLORS AND A DIFFERENT COLOR KIPA EVERY WEEK TO MATCH MY SUIT… WHAT EVER KIPA I GET FOR FREE
        I WEAR.

        G-D AND JUDAISM
        is above time,space, archeology, scientists and BLOG writers.

        History is MY PROOF.
        Your proof changes with each new professor each new graduate each new archeological dig.

        AS I SAID.
        ISRAEL MADE THE BIGGEST MISTAKE WANTING TO BE LOVED AND ACCEPTED BY THE ARABS IN 47/48 AND GEN DAYAN IN 67 AND AGAIN IN GUSH KATIF BY
        SHARON/OLMERT
        NOT TO MENTION THE XTIAN/ROMANS/GREEKS.
        BERLIN IS OUR JERUSALEM

        YOU MAKE MONSTERS OF INSECTS
        HISTORY IS MY PROOF
        YOUR PROOF IS RHETORIC WITH EMPTY DIPLOMAS HANGING ON THE WALL OF BENGAZI/FOGEL AND COUNTLESS OTHER ‘WARS’ WHERE ISRAEL SETS ITSELF UP TO LOSE.
        How many more times will Israel apologize for being a winner?

        evolution? you are absurd.
        how long was the first 3 days?

        how old was Adam Rishon when he was created?

        where are the great empires vowing to wipe out Israel starting with pharoah pass greece germany spaiin rome and hitler?

        WHERES THE ETERNAL holy poops in vatican never recognizing ISRAEL FOR JEWS,who said that Jews will never have a Israel
        and THIS ‘kind friendly POOP frankie never calls THE LAND ISRAEL. he only will refer to OUR LAND as a holy land, not once did he call it ‘Israel’

        how long was the length of days of Abraham Aveinu. go down the hall of YU evolution class and visit the biblical history class.
        Let your evolution class explain that.

        ISRAEL IS HERE

        ISRAEL IS ABOVE TIME AND SPACE
        EXPLAIN THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL TO SPACEMEN
        AND THEY WOULD NOT WOULD BELIEVE YOU

        ISRAEL IS ABOVE TIME AND SPACE

        International relations?
        as I stated above
        *YOU *FAIL* WHEN YOU LOOK FOR LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE FROM THE WORLD and even from within from the heretics the deniers and ‘enlightened ones the berliners…the deformed the reformed the modern orthodox the ‘woman of the kitchen’ wearing tephillin..
        AND NOT FROM THE ‘ONE G-D OF ALL’.

        ISRAEL IS ABOVE TIME AND SPACE

        WE ARE HERE…B’H’

        INSPITE OF THE INTELLIGENT ANALYSIS
        WE ARE HERE

        and a side note to you xtians.
        inspite of your deadmangods who was the force FOR killing millions of JEWS IN THE NAME OF YOUR DEAD G0DS AND IDOLS

        JACKIE BABY
        YOUR WISDOM….A PUFF OF SMOKE
        ISRAEL IS HERE
        FOREVER AND EVER
        BECAUSE OF HASHEM NOT OBAMA NOT LIVNI NOT ROME
        BARUCH HASHEM
        STAND UP AND BE A WARRIOR FOR TORAH AS IT IS…

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