Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Normalization in the Name of Peace:
How Israel Understands the Arab Peace
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, April 10, 2017
Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, attending the Amman Arab
Summit, April 2017
Once more, the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 is taking center
stage. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas
insisted during his speech before the recently-concluded Arab
League Summit in Jordan, that the Initiative is the only solution on
the table; asserting that it will not be changed or even tweaked.
But why is this Initiative, which was put forward by Saudi Arabia 15
years ago, now infused back into the already congested Middle East’s
political discourse, despite the fact that Israel has rejected it
repeatedly, and the US has shown little interest in enforcing it?
In March 2002, the Initiative, made
of a few sentences, was proclaimed in an Arab League Summit in
Less than half of Arab leaders participated in that
conference. Head of the PA and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation
Organization (PLO), the late Yasser Arafat, was not allowed to attend.
Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, had Arafat placed
under house arrest in Ramallah. He told Arafat that, if Israel was to
allow him to leave, he would not be allowed back. Arafat died two years
later, amid allegations that he had been poisoned.
proposal was largely a reiteration of United Nations Resolutions 242 and
338. It promised complete normalization between Arab States and Israel
should Israel withdraw from Palestinian and Arab land it occupied in
The Initiative seemed to adopt a lackluster attitude
towards the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees, as it promised a
just solution based on UN resolution 194, without insisting on its full
and complete implementation.
It was cautiously welcomed, then
quickly overlooked by Washington at the time, since Sharon had dismissed
it off-handedly as a 'non-starter'.
Israel was hardly interested
in seemingly bold initiatives to resolve the conflict, either by the
Arabs, the Americans or any other. However, Israeli leaders still felt
that the Initiative was significant, at least if placed within
When the Arab Initiative was re-endorsed,
this time by the majority of Arab leaders in the Arab League Summit in
Saudi Arabia in 2007, the then Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, had
a most expressive response.
On the one hand, he hailed the
Initiative as a 'revolutionary
change' but, on the other, he stripped its content from any
The return of Palestinian refugees is "out of
the question", he told the Israeli ‘Jerusalem Post’ at the time. "I'll
never accept a solution that is based on their return to Israel, any
number," he said.
However, what Olmert - as with current Prime
Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, - was keenly interested in is the idea of
He told the daily Hebrew newspaper
‘Yediot Ahronot’ that he sees "a real chance that, within five years,
Israel will be able to reach an inclusive peace deal with its enemies."
Circumventing the Palestinians and signing peace deals with Arab
countries to break Israel's regional isolation is paramount in Israeli
foreign policy since its very inception in 1948.
Since then, it
has signed a peace deal with Egypt and Jordan and has informal contacts
and ties with various other governments.
This partly explains
Abbas' – as well as his Foreign Minister, Riyad
al-Maliki's - insistence on referencing the Arab Peace Initiative,
above, instead of, for example, the defunct Oslo Accord or any specific
It is his way of saying that any normalization
between the Arabs and Israel should take place through the Palestinian
channel, and particularity though his leadership in Ramallah.
course, Israel does not mind the renewed interest in the Initiative,
simply because it could galvanize efforts, led by the Americans, to
achieve normalization with the Arabs without peace with the Palestinians
The Initiative is 'revolutionary' from the Israeli
viewpoint because of such reference. This becomes more evident when one
recalls the Arab Summit in Khartoum in September 1967, following the
Arab defeat by Israel, which victory was achieved and bankrolled by the
Although the summit then had abandoned or diluted
much of its pre-war language – insisting on the geographical unity of
historic Palestine, demanding without reservation the Right of Return -
it proclaimed its famous ‘Three
Nos’: no to diplomatic recognition of Israel; no to a peace deal and
no to negotiations without complete, full and unconditional Israeli
withdrawal of land occupied by force.
Although historians often
attempt to paint the Arab position there as radical, that was hardly the
case if analyzed within its historical context. Their position was
consistent with international law and UN Resolution 242, in particular.
Moreover, they – the Arabs - tried to send a message to Israel and the
US, who tried to use the astounding defeat to exact concessions and
impose humiliating conditions on the Arabs as a result of the war. They
also feared protracted, futile negotiations while Israel was enriching
its occupation of Palestinian, Arab land.
The Arab Peace
Initiative appeared to Israel as a complete departure from that
position, especially as it was made when the Second Palestinian Intifada
(uprising) was at its bloodiest stages. Just days after the Initiative
was made, Israel besieged the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West
Bank, attacking it with unprecedented ferocity. The death toll of the
two-week battle (known as the Jenin
Massacre) exceeded 60, with nearly 300 wounded, hundreds more
arrested, most of the camp bulldozed and its residents expelled.
What Israel had then gleaned from the Initiative is that, while Arabs
are proposing generous peace, Israel was free to conduct its military
occupation as it saw fit.
Since the Initiative was made in 2002,
much more blood has been shed, the settlements have grown to constitute
an irreversible reality, Occupied East Jerusalem has been completely cut
off, a so-called Separation Wall (known to Palestinians as the
‘Apartheid Wall’) further seized massive swathes of Palestinian land,
Gaza fell under a perpetual siege and the 'peace process' became a thing
of the past.
Worse still, since Donald Trump was elected to the
White House, he has further contributed to the demise of any prospect of
a just solution to the crisis, and has pushed America's support of
Israel to new levels.
Trump also assigned his son-in-law, Jared
Kushner, an Orthodox Jew and a strong supporter of Israel's
rightwing, to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
In fact, only days ago, Trump’s pick for US ambassador to Israel, David
Friedman, was approved by the US Senate.
Friedman is controversial, even in the eyes of some Israelis, due to
his close association with extremist Jewish parties that labor to seize
Palestinian Muslim and Christian properties in Occupied East Jerusalem.
Under the guise of peacemaking, Kushner and Friedman are likely to
focus on advancing Israel's position and standing in the region. For
them, the issue of normalization is at the helm of their prospective
This explains the Palestinian insistence on the Arab
Peace Initiative. It is not because the Initiative carries a magical
formula towards peace.
The anxiety lies in Palestinian fear that
Trump's Middle East policy will focus on trying to break down whatever
little consensus Arab countries still have on Palestine.
who is heading to Washington in April, knows only too well that his
position is terribly weak and, without Arab backing, however symbolic,
he will find himself cornered by a belligerent Trump regime.
While the US administration may rebrand its approach to the conflict,
what truly interests Israel and its Americans backers is breaking
Israel’s isolation through regional ‘peace’ pacts and separate deals –
in other words, normalization under Occupation.
- Dr. Ramzy
Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is
an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author
of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books
include “Searching Jenin”, “The Second Palestinian Intifada” and his
latest “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story”. His
website is www.ramzybaroud.net.
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