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The Arab Peace Initiative
March 28, 2002

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Saudi Crown prince Abdullah floated an Arab peace plan that was discussed and modified at am Arab League summit conference in Beirut in March of 2002. The original plan called for peace with Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from all territories.  It was announced as such in a very idiosyncratic way, through a New York Times column by Thomas Friedman.  In presenting the plan at the Beirut conference,   Abdullah added a significant but ambiguous condition: return of the Palestinian refugees. However, he did not specify whether refugees were to be "returned" to Israel or to the Palestinian state that would be created.

The plan as adopted calls for Israeli withdrawal from all territories occupied since 1967 and return of the Palestine refugees to Israel in return for recognition of Israel and normal relations. The difference is that much more emphasis was placed on the refugee issue. A similar plan was offered by Arab states at the armistice negotiations in 1949. The number of refugees to be returned is not specified. A section included at the insistence of Lebanon reads,

 " Assures the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries"

assuaging Lebanese fears of permanent settlement of Palestinians in Lebanon. Inclusion of this clause may indicate that something less than full return of the refugees is contemplated. UN General Assembly Resolution 194, mentioned in the plan, asserts the right of Palestinian refugees who are willing to live in peace with their neighbors to return to Israel. As there are currently over three million such refugees with an exceedingly high birthrate, literal implementation of return would eventually mean the end of the Jewish state of Israel. UN Security Council Resolution  242, passed in 1967, calls for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the war of June 1967, but does not specify "all territories."

On the other hand, unlike either Friedman's account of the plan or the presentation of the plan proposed Abdullah's speech, the Arab Peace Plan adopted on Beirut and presented here specifically mentions "peace" with Israel as well as "normal relations." It states that Arab countries will:

I- Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region

II- Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.

Of course, the Arab peace initiative would require Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights and their return to Syria. Since the United States is not interested in supporting any peace process with Syria as long as the Assad regime remains in place, and has discouraged Israel from pursuing peace with Syria, it is not surprising that the United States, as well as Israel, were not enthusiastic about this initiative.

The King of Jordan and President of Egypt did not attend the summit. Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat was prevented from attending by the Israeli government, but Farouq Kaddoumi represented the PLO.  Israeli reaction to the plan was lukewarm, in part because the initiative came at the height of the violence in 2002. Terrorist attacks had killed about 100 Israelis in that month and Israel was concerned with addressing that problem urgently. The Arab states all supported or acquiesced in this "resistance" in the form of suicide attacks and would soon join in the false accusation that Israel had committed a massacre in Jenin, during operation Defensive Wall. Peace was not politically feasible from the Israeli point of view and wasn't on the agenda.

Notably, there was apparently no other written communique published by the conference.

A similar proposal had been made by the Saudis in the 1980s and adopted as the Fez initiative. This plan is a significant advance on the previous one, in that it specifically mentions peace with Israel. Depending on one's point of view, this is either an indication that the Saudis are persistent in their pursuit of peace, or an indication that they are continually raising such proposals as a tactic to win the favor of the United States and embarrass Israel, without being sincere about peace.

Beginning in 2006, the Arab peace initiative assumed new importance, as Arab states tried to get the Hamas government to agree to the initiative, which would grant legitimacy to Israel if it met Arab terms. The peace initiative became a "marker" for moderate Arab opinion.

Ami Isseroff

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The Arab Peace Initiative

 (translation by Reuters).

The Council of Arab States at the Summit Level at its 14th Ordinary Session, reaffirming the resolution taken in June 1996 at the Cairo Extra-Ordinary Arab Summit that a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of the Arab countries, to be achieved in accordance with international legality, and which would require a comparable commitment on the part of the Israeli government.

Having listened to the statement made by his royal highness Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, crown prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in which his highness presented his initiative calling for full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967, in implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, reaffirmed by the Madrid Conference of 1991 and the land-for-peace principle, and Israel's acceptance of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, in return for the establishment of normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with  Israel.

 Emanating from the conviction of the Arab countries that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties, the council:

 1. Requests Israel to reconsider its policies and declare that a just peace is its strategic option as well.

2. Further calls upon Israel to affirm:

I- Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.

II- Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.

III- The acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the  Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

 3. Consequently, the Arab countries affirm the following:

I- Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region

II- Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.

 4. Assures the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries

 5. Calls upon the government of Israel and all Israelis to accept this initiative in order to safeguard the prospects for peace and stop the further shedding of blood, enabling the Arab countries and Israel to live in peace and good neighbourliness and provide future generations with security, stability and prosperity

 6. Invites the international community and all countries and organisations to support this initiative.

 7. Requests the chairman of the summit to form a special committee composed of some of its concerned member states and the secretary general of the League of Arab States to pursue the necessary contacts to gain support for this initiative at all levels, particularly from the United Nations, the Security Council, the United States of America, the Russian Federation, the Muslim states and the European Union.

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