The Arab Peace Initiative is a Sow's Ear

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Ted Belman,

Ted Belman
Ted Belman

Secretary Kerry hopes to reenergize the peace process by making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

He met with representatives of the Arab League this week and got them to allow for swaps in their demand for Israel to withdraw to the ’67 lines. This is in line with President Obama’s proposal. Although not in the formal wording of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API), the idea of swaps was mooted when the plan was first introduced and the Arabs were open to the idea so long as the swaps were of equal value and size.

Nothing has changed. The idea of swaps has been discussed in all negotiations. But Israel’s objection to the API goes way beyond the issue of swaps; it goes to the core idea that Israel must retreat from 100% of the territories, though UNSC Resolution 242 does not require it and Res 242 is the law.

Nevertheless, Kerry and other administration officials are spinning this as a big deal. At least Kerry reiterated, after the meeting, Obama’s vision of “two states living side-by-side in peace and security, brought about through direct negotiations between the parties.” That being the case, it only muddies the waters by giving the Arab League a role or defining the goal as ’67 lines plus swaps. That is for the parties themselves to decide.

The peace process started with UNSC Res 242 which called for, in effect, a negotiated settlement and did not require Israel to withdraw from all the territories. It made no attempt to limit how much of the territories Israel could rightly insist on retaining. It did though ask for a “just settlement of the refugee problem”. This presumably included Jewish refugees from Arab land.

The Arabs totally rejected this resolution and shortly thereafter formalized their rejection in the Khartoum Conference by declaring the three “no’s”: "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”

As a result, the U.S. backed away from the resolution and tabled the Rogers Plan which required full withdrawal. This Plan went nowhere but remained on the table.

In the lead up to the invasion of Iraq and the drafting of the Roadmap, the Saudis, with the complicity of the State Department, launched the Saudi Plan which required full withdrawal and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. This plan was amended by the Arab League to require “a just solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees” The amended plan became known as the Arab Peace Initiative (API).

It was intended all along that this Plan be inserted in the Roadmap to offset Res 242. The Roadmap provided:

The settlement will resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and end the occupation that began in 1967, based on the foundations of the Madrid Conference, the principle of land for peace, UNSCRs 242, 338 and 1397, agreements previously reached by the parties, and the initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah - endorsed by the Beirut Arab League Summit - calling for acceptance of Israel as a neighbour living in peace and security, in the context of a comprehensive settlement.

Thus the API was put on par with UNSC Resolution 242 as a basis for peace. But the two are inconsistent and in conflict. The API requires full withdrawal and has no legal effect whereas R242 allows for the retention of land and is legally binding.

Thereafter the Diplomatic community, with one exception, namely Pres Bush, ignored Res. 242 and favoured full withdrawal. In 2004 in the lead up to the Israeli Disengagement from Gaza, President Bush issued a letter to PM Sharon in which he made no mention of the API but did support the retention of settlement blocs by Israel and denied the right of return to Israel

Dore Gold of the JCPA commented on the significance of this letter:

President Bush's April 14, 2004, letter to Prime Minister Sharon represents a significant shift in U.S. policy, as compared to the Clinton Parameters advanced by the former president after the failed Camp David Summit of July 2000 and in subsequent months.

In his plan, Clinton provided conditional approval of settlement blocs, but insisted that there needed to be "territorial swaps" of land from pre-1967 Israel in exchange for any West Bank land Israel would retain. Bush does not insist on any land swaps involving Israeli territory.

Clinton spoke of Palestinian refugees finding homes in other states including Israel, while Bush states that Palestinian refugees should be settled in a future Palestinian state "rather than Israel."

The Clinton Parameters dropped the idea of defensible borders and replaced them with "security guarantees" including a proposed "international presence" in the Jordan Valley. In contrast, Bush refers to "defensible borders" in the context of preserving and strengthening "Israel's capability to deter and defend itself, by itself."

According to the Clinton Parameters, Israel's security needs "need not and should not come at the expense of Palestinian sovereignty or interfere with Palestinian territorial integrity." In contrast, Bush allows for Israel to continue to control airspace, territorial waters, and land passages in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank "pending agreements or other arrangements."

During the Clinton era, the signing of a peace treaty was supposed to produce security for Israelis. Under Bush, security must be achieved first, as a prerequisite for peace. Given the threats Israel still faces from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Yasser Arafat's own Fatah Tanzim, the approach taken in the Bush letter represents a significant improvement for Israel and for the prospects of a lasting peace.

The Clinton Parameters explicitly envisioned the re-division of sovereignty in Jerusalem according to a formula whereby "what is Arab should be Palestinian" and "what is Jewish should be Israeli." Bush's letter is silent on the issue of Jerusalem. While support for a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty is missing, at least there is no attempt to return to the Clinton formulations.

Thus, the Clinton Parameters were much in line with the Saudi Plan, and the Bush letter flew in the face of both of these and resorted to Resolution 242 only, which provided the original parameters of Oslo.

President Obama disavowed this letter and insisted that the settlement be based on the “67 lines” with swaps. And now the Arab League has given him their support.

It may well be that such endorsement will give Mahmud Abbas cover to enter negotiations, but that’s all. Israel will never accept the proposal and will insist on no pre-conditions to the talks.

The chances of reaching an agreement in the talks, are remote to say the least, and non-existent, more likely. Why?

Partial withdrawal v full withdrawal

Israel has already withdrawn from Sinai and Gaza which amount to 90% of the territories. It is not unreasonable for Israel to expect to keep 10% of Judea and Samaria (West Bank) which is only 1% of the originally conquered territories. This would allow Israel to keep all of its settlement blocs including Maaleh Adumin, a city of 40,000 citizens, (including E1) and Ariel, a city of 20,000 residents and 15,000 students. It would allow Israel to also double its mid-drift from 9 km to 18 km. Yet the Arabs are offering 0% plus swaps.


The Arabs, supported by the US, are demanding that the eastern part of Jerusalem, be the capital of their state to be. To justify their demand, they claim, “the historical ties and attachments of Palestinians” to Jerusalem “precede any Jewish claim to it.”. This is nonsense.

Morton Klein, President of ZOA writes in The Historic Jewish east Jerusalem:

There has been a Jewish majority throughout Jerusalem since the 1800s. The Jewish majority in “eastern Jerusalem” was interrupted only by the 1948 Arab war against newborn Israel, when the Jewish residents of that part of the city were forced to flee for their lives. [..]

Other notable Jewish sites in eastern Jerusalem, dating back to the 1930s, include the Jewish National Library, Hadassah Hospital, and Hebrew University.

During the Jordanian occupation of eastern Jerusalem (1948–1967), the Jordanian authorities destroyed 58 synagogues, tore up the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, and used the tombstones (including the tombstone of Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold) to pave roads and to build latrines in Jordanian army barracks.”

Klein makes reference to a “powerful but little-known book, Jerusalem in the Nineteenth Century, by the distinguished Israeli historian, Yehoshua Ben-Arieh:

“Dr. Ben-Arieh’s research reveals the historical irrelevance of many of the phrases and clichés that are in vogue today. The label “Quarters,” for instance—referring to the Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter, and Armenian Quarter in the Old City—was imported to the Holy Land by European visitors during the 1800s. The boundaries of these quarters were often blurred. As Ben-Arieh shows, there were many Jews living in the Christian, Muslim, and Armenian “Quarters” throughout the 1800s, right up until they were driven out by Arab pogromists in the 1930s. “In the period of the First World War,” Ben-Arieh recalls, “there were more Jews living in Hebron Street, which was in the Muslim Quarter, than in the Street of the Jews, in the Jewish Quarter.” Ben-Arieh also mentions that some contemporary Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, such as Silwan, were originally Jewish neighborhoods whose residents were murdered or expelled by Arab pogromists, who then occupied their homes and made these neighborhoods de facto Arab villages.

Ben-Arieh emphasizes that the transformation, in the early 1800s, of Jerusalem from a small town in a country district into a thriving metropolis, which became the most important city in the country by the mid-1800s, took place for one reason: “the intense Jewish yearning for the eternal city and the flow of [Jewish] immigrants into it.”

This Jewish yearning focused on the eastern part of Jerusalem because that part of the city includes the Western Wall and the Temple Mount (Judaism’s holiest site). It was the capital of the Biblical Jewish kingdoms during the eras of David and Solomon and has been the site of three thousand years of Jewish inhabitation—hence the “Jerusalem 3000” celebrations initiated by the government of Yitzhak Rabin.

This history cannot be ignored and thus Israel will demand that Jerusalem remain the undivided capital of Israel.

Right of Return

There is no such right. UNGA resolution 196 calling for a just settlement of the refugee issue is only a recommendation. Israel has never agreed to this recommendation.


Res 242 granted Israel the right to hold out for secure boundaries. The Clinton parameters substituted “security guarantees” for secure boundaries but such guarantees have never been upheld when the going gets tough.

Contrary to security guarantees given to Israel over the years, 1) the UN permitted Hizbullah to re-arm, 2) the Rafi Crossing into Gaza was to be managed by the E.U to prevent weapons entering Gaza after the Israeli disengagement. It was soon thereafter abandoned by the E.U. and the weapons flowed into Gaza, and 3) the four great powers guaranteed to Israel after the ’56 War, that the Straits of Tiran would be open to her but when Nasser closed them prior to the ’67 War, they did nothing.

Many more examples can be cited. Israel has learned the lesson that she can only rely on herself.

Unfortunately for Israel, the US is throwing her weight behind the Arab demands and ignoring ‎history, law and morality in so doing.‎ That makes the Arabs less likely to compromise and a peace agreement less likely to be obtained.