FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Normalization in the Name of Peace: How Israel Understands the Arab Peace Initiative

Once more, the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 is taking center stage. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas insisted during his speech before the recently-concluded Arab League Summit in Jordan, that the Initiative is the only solution on the table; asserting that it will not be changed or even tweaked.

But why is this Initiative, which was put forward by Saudi Arabia 15 years ago, now infused back into the already congested Middle East’s political discourse, despite the fact that Israel has rejected it repeatedly, and the US has shown little interest in enforcing it?

In March 2002, the Initiative, made of a few sentences, was proclaimed in an Arab League Summit in Beirut.

Less than half of Arab leaders participated in that conference. Head of the PA and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the late Yasser Arafat, was not allowed to attend. Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, had Arafat placed under house arrest in Ramallah. He told Arafat that, if Israel was to allow him to leave, he would not be allowed back. Arafat died two years later, amid allegations that he had been poisoned.

The Arab proposal was largely a reiteration of United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. It promised complete normalization between Arab States and Israel should Israel withdraw from Palestinian and Arab land it occupied in 1967.

The Initiative seemed to adopt a lackluster attitude towards the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees, as it promised a just solution based on UN resolution 194, without insisting on its full and complete implementation.

It was cautiously welcomed, then quickly overlooked by Washington at the time, since Sharon had dismissed it off-handedly as a ‘non-starter’.

Israel was hardly interested in seemingly bold initiatives to resolve the conflict, either by the Arabs, the Americans or any other. However, Israeli leaders still felt that the Initiative was significant, at least if placed within historical context.

When the Arab Initiative was re-endorsed, this time by the majority of Arab leaders in the Arab League Summit in Saudi Arabia in 2007, the then Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, had a most expressive response.

On the one hand, he hailed the Initiative as a ‘revolutionary change’ but, on the other, he stripped its content from any practical value.

The return of Palestinian refugees is “out of the question”, he told the Israeli ‘Jerusalem Post’ at the time. “I’ll never accept a solution that is based on their return to Israel, any number,” he said.

However, what Olmert – as with current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, – was keenly interested in is the idea of unconditional normalization.

He told the daily Hebrew newspaper ‘Yediot Ahronot’ that he sees “a real chance that, within five years, Israel will be able to reach an inclusive peace deal with its enemies.”

Circumventing the Palestinians and signing peace deals with Arab countries to break Israel’s regional isolation is paramount in Israeli foreign policy since its very inception in 1948.

Since then, it has signed a peace deal with Egypt and Jordan and has informal contacts and ties with various other governments.

This partly explains Abbas’ – as well as his Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki’s – insistence on referencing the Arab Peace Initiative, above, instead of, for example, the defunct Oslo Accord or any specific UN resolution.

It is his way of saying that any normalization between the Arabs and Israel should take place through the Palestinian channel, and particularity though his leadership in Ramallah.

Of course, Israel does not mind the renewed interest in the Initiative, simply because it could galvanize efforts, led by the Americans, to achieve normalization with the Arabs without peace with the Palestinians first.

The Initiative is ‘revolutionary’ from the Israeli viewpoint because of such reference. This becomes more evident when one recalls the Arab Summit in Khartoum in September 1967, following the Arab defeat by Israel, which victory was achieved and bankrolled by the United States.

Although the summit then had abandoned or diluted much of its pre-war language – insisting on the geographical unity of historic Palestine, demanding without reservation the Right of Return – it proclaimed its famous ‘Three Nos’: no to diplomatic recognition of Israel; no to a peace deal and no to negotiations without complete, full and unconditional Israeli withdrawal of land occupied by force.

Although historians often attempt to paint the Arab position there as radical, that was hardly the case if analyzed within its historical context. Their position was consistent with international law and UN Resolution 242, in particular. Moreover, they – the Arabs – tried to send a message to Israel and the US, who tried to use the astounding defeat to exact concessions and impose humiliating conditions on the Arabs as a result of the war. They also feared protracted, futile negotiations while Israel was enriching its occupation of Palestinian, Arab land.

The Arab Peace Initiative appeared to Israel as a complete departure from that position, especially as it was made when the Second Palestinian Intifada (uprising) was at its bloodiest stages. Just days after the Initiative was made, Israel besieged the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, attacking it with unprecedented ferocity. The death toll of the two-week battle (known as the Jenin Massacre) exceeded 60, with nearly 300 wounded, hundreds more arrested, most of the camp bulldozed and its residents expelled.

What Israel had then gleaned from the Initiative is that, while Arabs are proposing generous peace, Israel was free to conduct its military occupation as it saw fit.

Since the Initiative was made in 2002, much more blood has been shed, the settlements have grown to constitute an irreversible reality, Occupied East Jerusalem has been completely cut off, a so-called Separation Wall (known to Palestinians as the ‘Apartheid Wall’) further seized massive swathes of Palestinian land, Gaza fell under a perpetual siege and the ‘peace process’ became a thing of the past.

Worse still, since Donald Trump was elected to the White House, he has further contributed to the demise of any prospect of a just solution to the crisis, and has pushed America’s support of Israel to new levels.

Trump also assigned his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew and a strong supporter of Israel’s rightwing, to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

In fact, only days ago, Trump’s pick for US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, was approved by the US Senate.

Friedman is controversial, even in the eyes of some Israelis, due to his close association with extremist Jewish parties that labor to seize Palestinian Muslim and Christian properties in Occupied East Jerusalem.

Under the guise of peacemaking, Kushner and Friedman are likely to focus on advancing Israel’s position and standing in the region. For them, the issue of normalization is at the helm of their prospective policies.

This explains the Palestinian insistence on the Arab Peace Initiative. It is not because the Initiative carries a magical formula towards peace.

The anxiety lies in Palestinian fear that Trump’s Middle East policy will focus on trying to break down whatever little consensus Arab countries still have on Palestine.

Abbas, who is heading to Washington in April, knows only too well that his position is terribly weak and, without Arab backing, however symbolic, he will find himself cornered by a belligerent Trump regime.

While the US administration may rebrand its approach to the conflict, what truly interests Israel and its Americans backers is breaking Israel’s isolation through regional ‘peace’ pacts and separate deals – in other words, normalization under Occupation.

More articles by:

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
April 19, 2018
Ramzy Baroud
Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy
Vijay Prashad
Undermining Brazilian Democracy: the Curious Saga of Lula
Steve Fraser
Class Dismissed: Class Conflict in Red State America
John W. Whitehead
Crimes of a Monster: Your Tax Dollars at Work
Kenn Orphan
Whistling Past the Graveyard
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail