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Arab Leaders: Peace Making Could Not Be Unilateral, Divisible

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Flanked by international and regional non-Arab dignitaries representing the UN, EU, OIC, NAM and the leaders of Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan as well as the foreign minister of Iran, the leaders of the 22-member League of Arab States on Wednesday re-launched in Riyadh their five-year old Arab Peace Initiative, determined to reactivate it with mechanisms and a follow-up diplomatic campaign that will again take it to the United Nations Security Council despite a U.S. veto, which aborted a similar move in the bud last year. Confidently, seriously, unwaveringly and collectively Arab leaders are again binding themselves and their countries to their “strategic option” of peace with Israel, offering their Initiative as a realistic, pragmatic, affordable and workable platform that could make a comprehensive regional peace within the reach of the living generations, but unfortunately they are reciprocated by a non-committal Israel and United States who instead are dealing tactically and evasively with an historic opportunity that if missed would plunge the Middle East into an open-ended conflict, to the detriment of all parties involved. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz on March 18, The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the U.S. State Department consider the Arab initiative a forthcoming but non-binding (to them of course) Arab position that accordingly could only be encouraged and not dismissed out of hand to negotiate further Arab concessions. The 24-member board of trustees of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), co-chaired by former European Commissioner for External Relations, Lord Chris Patten, and former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Thomas Pickering, warned in a statement ahead of the Riyadh summit that the opportunity is not “open-ended” and the status quo cannot be maintained indefinitely. “If the current chance for a breakthrough is not grasped over the next few months -- with the government of Israel and the U.S. having the most critical role in this respect -- there is a real possibility that support for a two-state solution among Palestinians and in the wider Arab world would disappear, with all the renewed tensions this is bound to generate,” their statement warned.

Nine facts should be brought to the attention of the peace-loving world community to understand the counterproductive tactical passive Israeli and U.S. engagement and the credibility of the old-new Arab endeavour:

First, shockingly both allies are rejecting or demanding amendments to the Arab plan, but have no concrete alternative plans of their own to offer except Bush’s “vision” and Israel’s unilateral long-term and transitional plans for the Palestinian – Israeli track of the sixty-year old conflict, but nothing for settling the collective Arab – Israeli conflict. “We expect an offer by Israel,” Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, said. Ironically when Israel occupied Palestinian and Arab lands in June 1967, late Israeli minister of defence, Moshe Dayan, announced the Israelis were waiting for a phone call from any Arab leader. Forty years later, in defiance of U.N. resolutions, the Israeli army is still occupying and colonizing the lands and oppressing the people, but nonetheless the call is coming collectively by twenty-two Arab leaders.

Second, Israel rejected publicly then undermined the Arab initiative of 2002 in the same year by reoccupying the Palestinian self-ruled areas and Washington the next year steered the Quartet of the U.S., UN, EU and Russia to come up with their own initiative, the “Road Map,” which was nonetheless accepted by the Arab states and the PLO, but Israel attached 14 undeclared conditions to her acceptance thereof, which were backed by Bush’s letter of guarantees to Ariel Sharon on April 14, 2004, a backing that bought the plan to its demise and the peace process to its current dead end and made it possible for the Arab leaders to consider reactivating the initiative their summit meeting in Beirut approved in 2002. However the U.S. as recently as last year vetoed a similar Arab move to have the UN Security Council adopt their initiative.

Third, revitalizing the Arab initiative comes only after the failure of the Quartet, Israel and the U.S. to deliver on their four year old “Road Map” and the 15-year old Madrid Conference process of 1991, which has proved futile and declared “dead” by the Arab League chief, six years after declaring its death by the comatose former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon.

Fourth, the comprehensive and collective Arab approach to solving the conflict with Israel is building on the dead end the bilateral and step-by-step approaches reached. It is worth noting that the most enthusiastic advocates of the comprehensive approach are Jordan and Egypt, who only with Mauritania were the three members of the Arab League to sign bilateral peace treaties with Israel, because they are the most threatened by the absence of a comprehensive peace and by persistence of the status quo.

Fifth, reactivating the Arab initiative is in itself an indirect declaration of disillusionment with the U.S. sponsorship of the unproductive peace processes that have ruled out involvement by the world community, prevented the implementation of international legitimacy resolutions and for sixty years proved a failed alternative to UN engagement.

Sixth, the Arab Peace Initiative is also building on the international legitimacy of more than 70 resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council during the past 59 years, which were rendered inapplicable by the opposition thereto of Israel and the U.S. who managed to veto thirty more.

Seventh, the new found confidence of the Arab leaders stems from the forgoing facts, the Arab and Palestinian consensus on the initiative, which is backed by the Turkish-led Organization of Islamic Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement as well as by the world community, all which also neutralized the Iranian and other opposition to the initiative. “We deal with world powers with understanding but on equal footing,” the Saudi Arabian monarch, King Abdullah, said on Monday, confirming the new confidence.

Eighth, the seriousness of Arab leaders stems from the fact that they are the most to loose from the deadlocked no-war-no-peace status quo and that is why a veteran moderate Arab state like Saudi Arabia is staking her leading Arab and regional role and risking a political rift with her historic U.S. ally.

Ninth, although the two sides are not on a collision course, obviously the Arab Peace Initiative is drifting apart the U.S. and its most trusted Arab friends; however hanging on to her strategic alliance with Israel is alienating more normally friendly moderate and liberal Arabs at a time Washington is decisively in need for their support on other regional involvements. Under the pressures of the latest Israeli war on Lebanon, the U.S-led war on Iraq, the brewing U.S. crisis with Iran and the 59-year old U.S.-backed Israeli war on the Palestinian people, the Arab League governments found a diplomatic opening to re-launch their initiative to try on their own this time containing the ensuing possible internal threats and regional turbulence.

Possible Diplomatic Leverage In view of the absence of an Arab military option due to Israel’s overwhelming superiority, a diplomatic option due to the U.S. identification with the Israeli policies, ruling out the people’s war though it proved effective wherever the Arab regular forces where absent in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Iraq and the Jordan Valley in 1969, Arab leaders found an opening to balance the U.S.-Israeli alliance by the diplomatic counterweight of a long forthcoming world community as their only remaining option, availing themselves of the U.S. critical need for their support in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and vis-à-vis Iran. Were the U.S. –Israeli allies to continue passively and tactically evading commitment to the Arab initiative as the only concrete peace offer in the town, the Arab leaders still could prod the alliance to be more forthcoming by highlighting the fact that the cool bilateral peace treaties with Jordan, Egypt and Mauritania are increasingly besieged by popular opposition, proved un-conducive to regional security and stability, let alone being a collateral for the security and peaceful development of their signatory states, and threatened by escalating violence and extremism emanating from their inability to develop into vehicles for a just and lasting regional reconciliation and co-existence as envisioned by their signatories and sponsors. Increasingly also those treaties are threatened by the absence of a comprehensive deal, now made possible by the Arab initiative.

To counterbalance the U.S.-Israeli evasive engagement, Arab leaders could give muscle to their peace offensive, which so far has proved effective enough for the U.S. and Israel not to dismiss it out of hand and not to play down the world consensus on its seriousness and credibility; they could suggest trading those bilateral treaties for their collective initiative as a possible diplomatic leverage to prod both allies to ponder choosing between an all-comprising peace and a comprehensive no peace. All mainstream Israeli leaders have on record judged those treaties as “strategic assets;” U.S. military, political and financial guarantees for sustaining them is proof enough they are “strategic assets” to the United States too. To secure these assets both allies should be made aware the treaties have to be of similar strategic value for the Arab signatories as well, otherwise why sustaining them! The precarious regional situation, the snowballing threat of violence and extremism, Arabs standing to loose most of the deadlocked status quo, disillusionment with sixty years of U.S.-sponsored conflict management, absence of other alternatives, all are reason enough for Arab peace advocates to ponder such an option to bolster their initiative and prod their peace protagonists to be more forthcoming. Peace making in the end could not be but a two way effort.

Tactical U.S. - Israeli Approach The Arab initiative was endorsed unchanged by the Arab League summit meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh on March 28-29 amid mainly Israeli demands for amendments thereto and a flurry of diplomatic activity unprecedented in recent years aimed at amending it, despite a denial by the visiting US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. A parade of dignitaries flooded the region.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was preceded by the EU's special envoy Marc Otte, UN envoy, Alvaro de Soto, Belgian Foreign Minister, Karel De Gught, and Norwegian state secretary, Raymond Johansen. Rice followed. German Chancellor and current EU President, Andrea Merkel, and US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, as is Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, were all expected to join.

“I believe this is a moment of gathering dynamism,” Ki-moon said in Israel days ahead of the Arab summit. However, Ki-moon’s optimism has yet to be vindicated. Only partially the diplomatic boycott of the Palestinian government was breached, but the economic siege and the financial strangling of the Palestinian Authority remained intact.

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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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