Probably the most important clause in the Arab Peace Initiative, first adopted by the Arab League at the Beirut summit in 2002 and reaffirmed on several occasions including in 2007, is its commitment to “establish normal relations with Israel in the context of [a] comprehensive peace.”
This clause represented the culmination of decades of evolution of Arab thinking regarding relations with Israel, and the final repudiation of the Khartoum resolution of 1967, which insisted the Arabs would allow “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”
In other words, rather than being surrounded by an Arab world that generally, if not unanimously, rejected the idea of accepting Israel as a permanent and legitimate presence in the Middle East, for almost a decade now Israel has been facing a united Arab world that has repeatedly made clear its willingness to make a permanent and normalized peace with the Jewish state.
The importance of this clause is that it affirms that at the end of negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel can expect recognition and acceptance in the region, not just from the Palestinians but from the other Arab states as well.
Its endorsement by the Organization of the Islamic Conference suggests an even broader reconciliation with the larger Muslim world as well. In effect, this clause in the initiative presents Israel with a simple choice: It can continue the occupation and the illegal colonization of territories occupied in 1967, or it can agree to end the occupation and permit the establishment of a Palestinian state, and acquire the peace and regional acceptance that have supposedly been its primary foreign policy goals since 1948.
For the Palestinians, this clause is an extremely important diplomatic tool in pushing for an end to the occupation, since they can point out to Israelis that the result of successful negotiations will be peace and reconciliation not only with them, but with the Arab world in general.
There have been some halfhearted efforts by the Palestinian leadership to promote the initiative, but limited resources and a marked disinterest on the part of Israelis have attenuated these efforts.
Israeli disinterest in the initiative has been truly extraordinary. It would seem to offer them everything they have said they wanted since the establishment of their state, yet very few leaders or opinion makers have recognized its importance, and no Israeli government has ever attempted to test the seriousness of its proposal.
Some Israelis are so committed to maintaining the occupation that they are uninterested in any such compromise. Others suspect it is a diplomatic ruse, but by not testing it in any serious manner this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, the Arab League could and should do more to promote the Arab Peace Initiative, especially with the Israeli public.
Other Israelis are unenthusiastic because they regard peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan as strategically essential but fundamentally unsatisfactory. Israeli bitterness about the “cold peace” with those two countries shows a failure to comprehend that the enduring coldness is the consequence of the continuation of the occupation in Palestine.
Obviously, Arabs and Israelis, given their bitter history, are unlikely to become close allies even if the conflict is permanently and irrevocably ended. However, Israelis need to understand that the “cold” nature of the treaties with Egypt and Jordan stems from popular outrage about the continued occupation in Palestine.
If that were resolved, as the Arab initiative anticipates, the potential for Arab-Israel reconciliation at the cultural and emotional level, which is otherwise impossible, will likely develop over time. Warmth is too much to ask at first, but without occupation, both peace and reconciliation become achievable.
The Palestinian citizens of Israel are likely to play a crucial role in such a reconciliation. The end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would do more than anything imaginable to normalize their status as Israeli citizens, and they are perfectly positioned to become Israel’s economic and cultural ambassadors to the Arab world.
It could transform them from a beleaguered, discriminated-against minority to a crucially positioned and empowered group that can broker economic and cultural exchanges that are mutually beneficial and form the basis for a broader reconciliation.
It’s become quite obvious that while almost all Arabs are still passionate about the plight of the Palestinians and committed to ending the occupation that began in 1967, most Arab states yearn to move past the pointless and exhausting conflict with Israel that began in 1948.
All parties stand to gain from the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, but, as the Arab initiative makes very clear, that can only happen if the occupation is ended and a Palestinian state is established to live alongside Israel in peace and security.