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Abusing the Arab Peace Initiative

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The failed Qatari mediation in the still unresolved inter-Palestinian divide was in practice an American success in turning the Arab Peace Initiative (API) into a pressure tool that further exacerbates fractures both in Arab and Palestinian ranks, less than two weeks after the U.S. aborted a move by the Arab League to revive an overdue comprehensive approach to the Arab and Palestinian -Israeli conflict on its basis through the United Nations.

The Unites States is now trying to find a common ground with regional powers to abuse this initiative as a regional framework for a coordinated effort vis-a-vis Iran, Syria and their Palestinian, Lebanese and Iraqi spheres of influence.

The API was for four years archived into oblivion on the shelves of the Arab League, rejected by Israel, ignored by the US and viewed even by its authors as an unrealistic non-starter, until it was dusted off to contain the negative unexpected outcome of the Israeli 33-day destructive war on Lebanon.

Adopted by the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002, it is based on the concept of land for peace and offers Israel an unprecedented historic opportunity to enjoy normal relations with all 22 members of the Arab League in return for returning Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese territories it annexed during the 1967 War and agreeing to a negotiated settlement for millions of Palestinian refugees.

The fallout of the Lebanon war unmasked the impotence of Israel's overwhelming military superiority, discredited negotiations as an Arab strategy to coerce Israel into accepting just peace, confirmed the United States as a biased broker in the conflict, gave impetus and credibility to Syrian and Iranian arguments, doomed the already moribund Palestinian-Israeli peace process, which was pronounced "dead" by none other than the spokesman of the Arab League leaders Amr Moussa, created a rift in the ranks of the Arab leaders, which rendered convening an Arab summit impossible after a few years of regular meetings, revived war as a possible alternative to resolve the conflict and widened the gap between Arab rulers and their people.

Feeling threatened, the Arab League leaders decided to dust off the API and revive peace making on its basis by entrusting the mission to the United Nations Security Council. Israel's Palestinian peace partner, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), subscribed to the effort.


The U.S. and Israel swiftly snubbed the Arab move in the bud, but nonetheless perceived in it and its motives a common ground with some Arabs vis-a-vis Syria and Iran, "to recast the (regional) political landscape from the traditional one of Arabs versus Israelis ... into a Sunni vs. Shiia alignment." (1) Immediately the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, seized on the opportunity and embarked on a Middle East mission early this month to profit on the inter-Arab and inter-Palestinian divides. She gathered eight of her counterparts from eight Arab countries in Cairo.

Rice was on record that Washington's aim was to seek an Arab alliance of "moderates" to shore up the "moderate" Palestinian camp against the "militant" Hamas-led government and its "militant" Syrian and Iranian backers, thus fuelling polarization both among Arab states and Palestinian factions by playing on what she supposed was Islamophobia and Iranophobia among them. But she was misreading the signals. Both phobias have better audience in the west.

Heralding the potential of a moderate Arab camp whose moderation credentials are only judged vis-a-vis Israel to act immoderately vis-a-vis Syria and Iran was the latest US effort to divert regional attention away from the major Israeli obstacle to regional peace and stability, contrary to what the Arab partners are hoping for.

For the U.S. to take sides would inevitably deepen Arab and Palestinian divides, which is an unwelcome policy to moderate Arabs and Palestinians alike, who do not want and could not be perceived by their people as advocating dialogue and negotiations with the Israeli occupying power but willing to go into confrontation with their compatriot political protagonists.

However the six-member GCC states, Egypt and Jordan got along with Rice, calculating that the converging common ground with the U.S. could be enough incentive for its administration to revive the Palestinian - Israeli peace process to defuse a drift toward further regional turbulence.

It was a miscalculation; how could the U.S. credibly deal with the API that it aborted at the UN Security Council less than two weeks ago? How the ruling out of Palestinians from the Rice-led nine- foreign minister Cairo meeting could credibly be perceived to be in support of Palestinian "moderates" while ruling out any Palestinian "moderate" or "militant" representation?

How could a Cairo meeting bail out the Palestinians from their internal divide on the basis of an initiative that was also adopted in the absence of Palestinian representation by an Arab summit that could not afford neither to bail late leader Yasser Arafat out of his Israeli captivity to join them nor even to allow in his voice live via satellite link from his besieged headquarters in the West Bank?

The ostensibly Palestinian-geared Cairo meeting could not camouflage its regional agenda. The API, was put now on the table not to revive the peace process but to be thrown in the face of Syria and Iran as a direct response to Iran's rejection of Israel's existence, although it was originally a genuine Arab peace endeavor dictated by Arab impotence to stand up to Israeli military superiority.

On this backdrop the Qatari mediation in the inter-Palestinian divide floundered, because it redirected the API from a peace offensive against Israel into a pressure tool to help enforce the Israeli preconditions.

In less than a month the Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani failed on two Arab missions, the first foiled by the U.S. at the U.N. Security Council and the second aborted because of the U.S. in Gaza.

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*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

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