May 24, 2013
What happened to the recent Arab Peace Initiative (API) unanimously endorsed by the 22-member Arab League in 2002 at the Beirut Summit of the Arab League? It is time for Israel to accept the API as a basis for peace negotiations.
The Arab League latest proposed API to Israel states in brief that if Israel ends the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and allows the Palestinians to build their own state, the Arab world will recognize Israel’s existence and establish normal relations with it. Israel would then be able to exchange ambassadors and trade with all its Arab neighbors. The Arab-Israeli conflict would then be over.
A similar API was rejected by Israel in 2002 because the Arab League had demanded Israel withdraw from all the territories it captured in 1967. This time, the Arabs sweetened the deal, stating that a peace settlement could include modifications to the 1967 borders. This means that Israel could keep many of its West Bank settlements. The Palestinians would be compensated with land from the Israeli side of the border.
In 2007, U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon urged Israel to restart the peace process based on the API.
In 2009, in a speech at the Brookings Saban Center on Middle East Peace, then Senator John Kerry, (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, re-awakened interest in the API when he remarked, “[the] Arab Peace Initiative has emerged as the basis on which to build a Regional Road Map that enlists moderate Arab nations to play a more active role in peacemaking and to paint a clearer picture than ever before of the rewards peace would bring to all parties.”
Hamas has rejected the API stating, “To those who speak of land swaps we say: Palestine is not a property, it is not for sale, not for a swap and cannot be traded.”
On May 23, 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Jerusalem in an effort to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation by reintroducing the API as a starting point for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Clearly, the ball is now in Israel’s court. Yet, the Israeli government has not officially responded to the latest API. If Israel rejects the latest API, the Arab League will probably continue to ratify the API, even if Israel continues to reject it, because it helps to expose the fact that Israel has no intention of ending the occupation unless it is forced to do so. And unfortunately, the U.S. is unlikely to impose sanctions on Israel or even reduce its foreign aid to Israel in the face of Israel’s intransigence.