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Hichem Karoui: Israel rejects the Arab offer
May 05, 2013
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The April 29 Arab League land swap proposal in the context of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, which stirred a concatenation of reactions and criticising comment, was not a Qatari initiative; and we can hardly hold Doha as uniquely responsible for its initiation.

The day before the meeting with US officials, the Arab Peace Initiative Follow Up Committee organised a co-ordination reunion at the Egyptian embassy in Washington, DC, headed by Prime Minister /Foreign Affairs Minister, and Chairman of the Committee, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim, along with the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Dr Nabil Al Araby. The reunion aimed at co-ordinating the Arab positions regarding the Arab Peace Initiative, in connection with the efforts made by US Secretary of State John Kerry for the resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Those who attended the meeting were the Foreign Affairs Ministers of Egypt (Mohamed Kamel Omar,) Palestine (Riyad Al Malki), Jordan (Nasser Judah), Bahrain (Sheikh Khalid Khalifa), along with the Qatari Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Khalid Al Attiyah, and the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia and Lebanon to the United States, as representatives of their respective countries. It is thus clear that this meeting took place specifically for the unification of the vision, which the Committee for the Arab Peace Initiative would present to Kerry and Biden the next day.

However, the rumour that spread out made Qatar the initiator of the initiative.

The Arab League expressed publicly on April 29, 2013, its willingness to adopt the principle of exchange of land within the framework of a peace agreement between Israel and the State of Palestine. This happened in the wake of the Washington meeting between the Arab delegation and US Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry. Following the meeting, Kerry stressed the vital role of the Arab League in achieving peace in the Middle East, especially through renewed emphasis on the Arab Peace Initiative, launched by Riyadh during the 2002 Arab summit of Beirut. For his part, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs—speaking on behalf of the Arab delegation—emphasised that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a strategic choice for the Arab States. He added that agreement should be based on the two-state solution on the basis of the 4th of June 1967 line, with the possible comparable and mutually agreed minor swap of the land.

This last sentence is the one that provoked a storm. Yet, it unveiled publicly an important part of the talks between Arab envoys and US officials. But for many Palestinian parties, it means opening the door officially to accept the continuation of Israeli control over settlements in the West Bank, while compensating the Palestinians with other territories.

Some said the Arabs have abandoned the 1967 borders. The head of the political bureau of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), Khalid Meshaal, stated that his movement rejects any land swap deal with Israel, and stands against any compromise that would waste the Palestinian cause. This position was not surprising. Hamas has in any case rejected the Arab peace initiative since the beginning, and has strongly opposed the Oslo agreement between the PLO and Israel.

In spite of this, rumours that Hamas is secretly negotiating with Israel forced a member of the political bureau of Hamas, Moussa Abu Marzouk, to refute them. Abu Marzouk said, in a statement on Friday, May 3, that several websites spread rumours about secret talks between Khalid Meshaal, head of Hamas political bureau and Tzipi Livni, Minister of Justice of Israel, mediated by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al Thani. It is a shame that slander reaches such a level. Even if there is a political dispute, there remains ethics and limits for political divergences.

As several Palestinian factions considered that the principle of land swaps grants legitimacy to the Israeli settlements, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jabr Al Thani felt the need to clarify his position and that of his country. He declared to Al Jazeera on May 2, 2013, that he respected the Palestinian point of view expressed by Mr Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister of the dismissed government in the Gaza Strip, and he denied that the initiative was initiated by his country. He stressed that this proposal was in the Arab League since several years, and it comes up for discussion in Arab summits, most recently during the Doha summit. Consequently, this is not a new initiative, but is rather based on previous understandings and resolutions. What happened in Washington was the explanation of the Arab position seeking progress for the peace process, and everything happened with the participation of the Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Two days after the Washington statement, Mahmoud Abbas confirmed. We call for the implementation of the vision of a two-state solution within the 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Palestine, the Palestinian president said, and if minor modifications to the borders are needed for the implementation of a two-state solution, we will study this issue during negotiations.

However, the surprise came from the Israeli side. Some questioned the US adoption of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, even modified, on the grounds that Israel did not participate in its making and has never said that it has accepted it. Commenting on the new Arab proposal, Benjamin Netanyahu said, the origin of the conflict with the Palestinians is not about land but about the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. The Israeli Prime Minister added, The unwillingness of the Palestinians to recognise Israel as the nation of the Jewish people is the origin of the conflict.

Such position means that Netanyahu is not in the mood for peace talks with the Palestinians. For the Arabs, it means that he blatantly rejected their peace offer.

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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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