Mar 13th 2014

No Better Time To Reinstate The Arab Peace Initiative

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

As US Secretary of State John Kerry is about to unveil his proposed framework for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, there may not be a more opportune time than now to reinvigorate the Arab Peace Initiative (API) in support of Kerry’s efforts. Certainly the geopolitical conditions in the Middle East have dramatically changed since the API was first introduced at the 2002 Arab League Summit in Beirut, Lebanon. Paradoxically, at this juncture of turmoil sweeping the region, the API is more relevant than ever before to generate badly-needed new momentum for the peace process.

The meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on March 10th urged for the establishment of an independent sovereign Palestinian state in line with the API; they further reinforced the “continuing Arab commitment to the initiative as a strategic option.”

Although the Arab ministers’ reference to the API as a strategic option and their call for an end to the conflict based on a two-state solution is positive and necessary (regardless of their merit), their outright rejection of Israel as a Jewish state or their demand that Jerusalem must become the capital of two states preempts and may well undermine Kerry’s arduous efforts.

Instead of rehashing old slogans and making new demands on Israel, the Arab states should utilize the platform the API provides to push the peace negotiations forward rather than establish new red lines that can only harden the Israeli as well as the Palestinian positions.

The efforts Kerry has and continues to exert to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process toward a comprehensive peace agreement may well be the last attempt by the Obama administration. Given the regional instability and the growing tension between Iran and the Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in particular have special interests in pushing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace and no longer need to obscure that with unhelpful public narratives. Here is why.

First: It is now an open secret that relations between Arab Sunni states and Israel have never been closer because of the perceived common threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. Israel and the Arab states are consulting each other, exchanging Iran-related intelligence, and developing a joint strategy to effectively deal with Iran’s nuclear program.

Even if the proxy Shiite-Sunni war currently being waged in Iraq and Syria (led by Iran and Saudi Arabia) subsides, the long historic rivalry between the two sides will not be mitigated by Iran’s current charm offensive. There is no love lost between them where centuries of enmity and hatred still looms high, which makes Arab-Israeli rapprochement not only desirable but also a strategic necessity.

Second: As John Kerry is preparing to disclose his framework for peace, demonstrable support by the Arab states along the lines of the API (which is consistent with Kerry’s framework) will send a powerful message to both Prime Minster Netanyahu and President Abbas that the whole Arab world stands behind Kerry’s initiative.

For the Israelis, it will be a reassuring message that the Arab states are now more than any time before committed to backing the peace efforts and providing the incentive to compromise. The Israeli and Palestinian governments know they must make significant concessions to reach an agreement. They also know that regardless of the inevitable changing regional dynamics in the years to come, the fundamental concessions required now to reach an agreement will not drastically change.

Third: Given the turmoil in Syria, Israel would not need to grapple, at least not at this juncture, with the API’s requirement to withdraw from the Golan Heights. This was one of the main impediments behind Israel’s refusal to embrace the API in the first place.

Interestingly, in their formal statement from Cairo, the Arab ministers made no reference to the Golan Heights. In an earlier meeting with Kerry in April 2013, the Arab foreign ministers agreed to a “comparable and mutual agreed minor swap of the land,” which the Israelis found to be very helpful.

In addition, an Israeli-Palestinian peace will be seen as another phase toward the establishment of a comprehensive Arab–Israeli peace, following the examples of the Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties with Israel.

Notwithstanding semantics and public protestations to the contrary, both Israel and the Arab states face a fateful crossroad, and Kerry’s efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace stand in contrast to any similar attempt in the past.

Time is their worst enemy; if the current negotiations fail, the Palestinians should not assume that turning to the UN by joining various agencies and seeking justice through the International Criminal Court will bring an end to the Israeli occupation. At the end of the day, they must still sit face-to-face with the Israelis to find a mutually acceptable solution.

For Israel, the situation is even more acute because of the changing demographics in relation to the Palestinians, Israel’s growing isolation from the international community, and the US’ weariness to pursue an elusive peace while losing much of its credibility and undermining its strategic interests.

Indeed, ahead of Netanyahu’s visit to DC during the first week of March, President Obama warned that the United States may not be able to protect Israel if a two-state solution with the Palestinians fails.

For these reasons, it is not enough for the Arab states to provide Kerry with lukewarm public support; they need to become active participants both publicly and privately and show solidarity with the US-led efforts to send a clear message to the Israeli and Palestinian publics where they really stand. Renewing the API as part and parcel of Kerry’s initiative would create a new atmosphere conducive to accommodations, knowing that the future holds no better prospect.

Time and circumstances have changed; the balance of power in the region is being transformed, regional stability is elusive at best, Islamic militancy is on the rise and the US and Russia seem engaged in another “cold war,” all of which add to the region’s travails.

Given this state of affairs, the failure to achieve an agreement now could unwittingly plunge the Israelis and Palestinians into a new violent confrontation and drag the US and the Arab states into a new conflict that they desperately want to avoid.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."