At its March 27-28, 2002, meeting in Beirut, the Arab League unanimously adopted a Saudi-inspired regional peace initiative that, on the surface, offered Israel, “normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace.” In return, the Arab Peace Initiative (API) called for:
- “Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967…to the June 4, 1967 lines;”
- “Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194;” and
- “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.”
Many analysts have welcomed this plan as a major breakthrough in Arab-Israeli relations that Israel should welcome, if not embrace. However, there are a number of serious flaws in its formulation that render it unacceptable to Israel, no matter how encouraging the gesture.
- The demand of “full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories…” negates the territorial flexibility intentionally incorporated into UN Security Council Resolution 242, the universally accepted foundation for any peace agreement, to ensure the establishment of viable and secure final borders.
- A “just solution” and Resolution 194 are inaccurately interpreted by the Arab governments as according the Palestinian refugees a “right of return” to Israel. If implemented, the so-called “right of return” of millions of Palestinian refugees and their families would end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.
- The API fails to address Arab incitement to violence and the glorification of terrorism, neglecting Israel’s core concerns about permanence and legitimacy as a Jewish state.
- The API imposes take-it-or-leave-it demands on Israel rather than establishing a basis for true recognition and negotiation.
Were the Arab League willing to modify their initiative and express an openness to address these concerns, the API could potentially contribute to the success of future negotiations.
On April 29, 2013, top Arab league officials, led by the Prime Minister of Qatar, announced support for the principle of mutually agreed land swaps with Israel rather than the “full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories” called for in the original API. This is an encouraging development that, if coupled with additional, similar articulations – particularly regarding the refugee issue – could signal an important component for the foundation for building a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.