By Ira Glunts
Various news sources report that the Obama administration has notified the Palestinian Authority that the new U.S. approach to peace negotiations will be based on the Arab Peace Initiative (API) of 2002. The plan, which was unanimously adopted by the Arab League, is sometimes referred to as the Saudi Peace Initiative since it was presented at the Beirut Arab summit by then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Sheera Frenkel, at McClatchy Newspapers, quotes an unnamed source who stated,
‘It [the Arab Peace Initiative] was raised directly by Obama during his visit and during his closed-door discussion with the Palestinian leadership,’ said a senior Palestinian official directly involved in the talks. ‘It was made clear to the Palestinian leadership that this would be the new direction of U.S. diplomacy in the region.’
The Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel a comprehensive peace and normal relations from all nations in the region, in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories and the return to Syria of the Golan Heights. The relevant paragraphs of the initiative are:
2. I. – Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.
2. III. – 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.
When the API was proposed, it was summarily rejected by then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and following Israel’s lead was mostly ignored by the Bush administration. Although Benjamin Netanyahu has” blasted” the Saudi proposal in 2002 and 2007, now “Israel’s government is suddenly claiming it has always ‘publicly praised’ the API and looks forward to the talks,” according to Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com The Israeli Prime Minister’s sudden warming to the Arab Peace Initiative is not surprising if reports of the U.S. desire to revive the plan are true. This is because the United States always makes its proposals known to the Israelis and U.S. strategies are coordinated with Israel before they are presented to the Palestinians.
What makes little sense is that the Israelis would agree to base negotiations on a document that demands full withdrawal from all occupied territories when Netanyahu publicly reprimanded Obama in May of 2011 for stating that the pre-1967 armistice lines should be used as a basis or starting point in any Palestinian-Israeli negotiation. In addition, why would Obama now support the API, with its demand for complete Israeli withdrawal, when he has backed away from his call for just basing negotiations on the pre-1967 borders?
The answer may be found in the Fox News account of the April 7th meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and a Palestinian delegation which included President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
[Palestinian officials say Kerry has proposed two small changes to make it more palatable to Israel, saying*the 1967 lines could be modified through mutual agreement*and pressing for stronger security guarantees.
Calling these small changes is ridiculous since allowing negotiation on borders negates one of the defining proposals of the API; that there be a full Israeli withdrawal from all territories Israel conquered in 1967. Secondly, requiring stronger security guarantees is a euphemism for less Palestinian sovereignty. Its application usually is understood to include Israeli control of Palestinian air space, borders, water resources, as well as long-term permission to station Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley.
It is not clear if the characterization of Kerry’s words as “small changes” is his or that of Fox News. Either way, they were not well-received in Ramallah.
Speaking to the Voice of Palestine radio station,[Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat said the plan could not be changed. ‘Kerry asked us to change [a] few words in the Arab Peace Initiative but we refused,’ he said.
The Palestinian Authority has always supported the Arab Peace Initiative.
Despite the apparent initial rejection of the proposed American changes, the API will be on the agenda at the upcoming Arab League meeting in Qatar. Abbas, who will attend, has been rumored to be interested in finding a way to restart the talks with Netanyahu if only to please his American patron and give the impression to his constituents that his administration is working to achieve Palestinian statehood.
The U.S. involvement in the “peace process” has been more about supporting Israeli occupation and less about achieving any tangible results. The Israelis love to appear to be conciliatory and are willing to negotiate with the Palestinians for the foreseeable future as long as they are not forced to make realistic territorial concessions or significantly interrupt expanding Jewish-only West Bank settlements. Proposing negotiations based on the 2002 Saudi initiative may make the U.S. appear engaged diplomatically, but by trying to force the Palestinians to accept a gutted Arab Peace Initiative, the Obama administration will continue to show that only the Israelis benefit from American intervention.
– Ira Glunts is a secular American Jew who opposes the Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people. He lives in Madison, NY; and with his wife owns and operates a used and rare book business. Mr. Glunts first lived in Israel in 1972-3, where he taught English and physical education in a small rural school in the Negev. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.