The Israeli Peace Initiative is the Arab Peace Initiative-plus, with a better name?

The announcement came by email today, from Ben Or, an Israeli PR firm in Tel Aviv.

The email says: “President Abbas has invited the leadership of the Israel Peace Initiative to the Mukaata [sic] in Ramallah to present their new regional peace initiative. The invitation follows the Palestinian President’s recent statement regarding his willingness to relinquish the plan to appeal to the UN General Assembly, if the political negotiations, based on the ’67 borders, are renewed”.

A report by Israel National News today — along the same lines — said Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told Israel Radio “that Washington is attempting to convince its European allies that a unilateral declaration of statehood for the Western-backed Palestinian Authority will bring conflict and not peace”, and that “Israel is trying to renew negotiations with the PA in order to draft an agreement of two states for two nations in the Land of Israel”. The report is posted here.

So, if these two assertions are correct, both the Palestinian and the Israeli leaderships are looking for a way to create a Palestinian State by September. Could that be true?

One of the problems with the email sent out by the Israeli PR firm about tomorrow’s [Thursday’s] meeting at the Muqataa is that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seems not to have made the statement attributed.

It was Yasser Abed Rabbo who said it — he is Secretary (and member) of the PLO Executive Committee, and he is also head of Palestinian Television, and he was (and still may be) the head of the Palestinian team in the “civil society” Geneva Initiative [signed December 2003]. He reportedly said it in an interview in the London paper Al-Hayat, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz here.

There are, in fact, a number of signatories to the Israeli Peace Initiative who are associated with the Geneva Initiative. Before he was elected President, Abbas himself was involved in drafting the Geneva Initiative through the efforts of his staff member Ghaith al-Omary, now at the American Task Force on Palestine in Washington D.C. This is one of several indications of the tacit approval given was to the effort by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Israeli former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin was Yasser Abed Rabbo’s counterpart, and Beilin’s staff assistant Daniel Levy, now also in Washington at the New American Foundation, was al-Omary’s counterpart in the drafting process.

The Geneva Initiative was viewed with hostility in Israel — mainly because the Israeli government at the time said it had not been informed in advance. The Swiss government, which did give substantial diplomatic and financial support to the Geneva Initiative, was surprised and flustered by the Israeli rejection. The Swiss support since then has fluctuated. Other European states, the United Nations, and the U.S. were cool — though former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was at the signing ceremony in Geneva on 1 December 2003.

Since then, the Geneva Initiative Israeli team has been much more active than the Palestinian team — though they seem to have revived a bit, and recently held a meeting in Nablus on the Right of Return, one of the points in the Geneva Initiative most criticized by Palestinians and their supporters.

A recent Tweet from the Israeli Geneva Initiative office (@genevaaccord on Twitter) said, based on the Haaretz report, that: “Geneva Initiative’s cofounder Yasser Abed Rabbo: PA prefers negotiations to unilateral declaration of Palestinian… http://fb.me/y2FruuVl”

According to the Haaretz report, “The Palestinian Authority will defer its attempts to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state at the United Nations if “real and serious” negotiations with Israel begin, an official was quoted saying Monday. Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization Yasser Abed Rabbo told London-based Al-Hayat newspaper on Monday that the basis of any negotiated agreement must be according to ‘the 1967 borders, very limited exchange of land and no exchanges of populations’. Abed Rabbo called on the Middle East quartet, comprised of the UN, the European Union, the United States and Russia to ‘tackle these negotiations in accordance with the timetable we previously agreed on, which ends in September’, he told the London-based daily … ‘Otherwise’, the PLO official said, ‘we will go to the United Nations, then ask them to deal with the military presence and the Israeli settlements as an assault on the sovereignty of another state, which is a member of the United Nations’. He added that ‘these are the two solutions for international powers, especially Washington. We do not have a third option’. Abed Rabbo said that the PA will honor all of its internal and external obligations as a formal state, but that it would not accept Israeli military or civilian presence in its territories”…

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has never said anything publicly like this, and has continued to insist that the Palestinians would present their request for recognition of a Palestinian state to the UN in September.

Given the track record, however, that doesn’t mean he disagrees with the proposition.

Maybe there is something in the works that we all don’t know about, yet.

The head of President Abbas’ press office, Mohamed Edwan, said Wednesday “No, the President has never said that he was willing to relinquish this plan” if political negotiations are renewed. However, Edwan noted, “if we reach that [a Palestinian state] by negotiation by September, that would logically change the current plan, IF…”

The website of the Israeli Peace Initiative, we are informed by today’s email, is here.

The email sent out by the Israeli PR firm also says that “The Israeli Peace Initiative is a new regional peace initiative, calling upon the Israeli government to take action that will ensure the existence of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State, its security and prosperity, and also to ensure normal relations between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world, and not be dragged along by the political events. More than 70 Israeli leaders from the fields of economy, defense, education, media, diplomacy and academy have already signed the initiative”.

This is the same Israeli PR company that is representing another group of Israelis who made their own recent peace initiative in Tel Aviv last week, the Declaration of Independence from the Occupation (as we wrote about here yesterday, see our post, A Tale of Two Translations, here.

Though both groups are represented by the same Israeli PR firm, only one is being taken to the Muqataa tomorrow to present their plan to the Palestinian President.

Is this a conflict of interest? Does one group of Israelis simply pay a better retainer to the Israeli PR firm?

Or are their other reasons for this selection? Does the Palestinian leadership prefer to deal with ex-military and ex-security officials? Does it judge that they have a greater chance of success? Does it feel that this particular group of Israelis will be in a better position to make accusations against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if there is no other development between now and September? Is it the linkage (though not explicit) with the Geneva Initiative part of the charm?

This Israeli Peace Initiative has already been welcomed by the U.S. as a “positive contribution”, according to a report by AFP posted here.

That, of course, is polite, but falls short of a full endorsement. It’s not a cold shoulder, however.

According to AFP, the U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said: “We remain committed to achieving an agreement… we also support the goal of fully normalized relations between Israel and the Arab world … We welcome all ideas to achieve those goals and we look forward to hearing more about the Israel peace initiative. We believe it could possibly make a positive contribution”.

Akiva Eldar, Israeli journalist who is big supporter of Arab Peace plan, and one of the signers of this new Israeli Peace Initiative, has said that the biggest problem, for Israelis, with the Arab Peace Initiative is its name.

This is not a joke.

A number of other Israelis I’ve questioned over the last three years all agree — Israel can never sign on to an “Arab Peace Initiative”. It has to be Israeli, they said.

So, now we have it — the Israeli Peace Initiative (proposed by private Israelis, not the government).

However, it is written as if by the government.

The full text of the proposed Israeli Peace Initiative [IPI], posted here.

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Full text follows.
It says:
The State of Israel,
• Reaffirming that Israel’s strategic objective is to reach a historic compromise and permanent status agreements that shall determine the finality of all claims and the end of the Israeli Arab conflict, in order to achieve permanent and lasting peace, lasting and guaranteed security, regional economic prosperity and normal ties with all Arab and Islamic states,
• Recognizing the suffering of the Palestinian refugees since the 1948 war as well as of the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries, and realizing the need to resolve the Palestinian refugees problem through realistic and mutually agreed-upon solutions,
• Realizing that wide-scale multilateral economic cooperation is essential in order to ensure the prosperity of the Middle East, its environmental sustainability and the future of its peoples,
• Recognizing the Arab Peace Initiative of March 2002 (API) as a historic effort made by the Arab states to reach a breakthrough and achieve progress on a regional basis, and sharing the API statement ‘that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties’,
accepts the API [Arab Peace Initiative] as a framework for regional peace negotiations and presents the IPI as an integrated response to the API, and as a vision of the regional final-status agreements to be negotiated and signed between the Arab states, the Palestinians and Israel, based on the following proposed principles”…

1) CONFLICT RESOLUTION PRINCIPLES
The key principle of all regional peace agreements shall be Israeli withdrawals, guaranteed security, normal relations and end of all conflicts, while recognizing the security needs of all parties, the water resources challenges, the demographic realities on the ground, and the interests and needs of the followers of the three monotheistic faiths; Furthermore, the Israeli Palestinian conflict shall be resolved on the principle of two states for two nations: Palestine as a nation state for the Palestinians and Israel as a nation state for the Jews (in which the Arab minority will have equal and full civil rights as articulated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence). On this basis, the following parameters are proposed:

1a) Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Resolution Parameters
1. Statehood and Security – A sovereign independent Palestinian state shall be formed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on territories from which Israel withdrew. The state shall be demilitarized, exercising full authority over its internal security forces. The International community shall play an active role in providing border security and curbing terrorist threats.
2. Borders – The borders shall be based on the June 4, 1967, lines, with agreed modifications subject to the following principles: the creation of territorial contiguity between the Palestinian territories; land swaps (not to exceed 7% of the West Bank) based on a 1:1 ratio, including the provision of a safe corridor between the West Bank and Gaza, under de facto Palestinian control.
3. Jerusalem – The greater Jerusalem area shall include the two capitals of the two states. The line shall be drawn so that: Jewish neighborhoods shall be under Israeli sovereignty; the Arab neighborhoods shall be under Palestinian sovereignty; special arrangements shall be implemented in the Old City, ensuring that the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall shall be under Israeli sovereignty; the Temple Mount shall remain under a special no-sovereignty regime (“God Sovereignty”), with special agreed-upon arrangements, ensuring that Islamic holy places shall be administered by the Moslem Waqf, and Jewish holy sites and interests shall be administered by Israel. The implementation of these arrangements will be supervised by an Israeli-International committee .
4. Refugees – The solutions for the Palestinian refugees shall be agreed upon between Israel, the Palestinians and all regional parties in accordance with the following principles: Financial compensation shall be offered to the refugees and the host countries by the international community and Israel; the Palestinian refugees wishing to return (as mentioned in UNGAR 194) may do so only to the Palestinian state, with mutually agreed-upon symbolic exceptions.
1b) Israeli-Syrian Conflict Resolution Parameters
1. Borders – Israel shall withdraw from the Golan to a border-line to be designed based on the June 4, 1967 status, with agreed minor modifications and land swaps based on a 1:1 ratio, reflecting the 1923 international border. The agreement shall be mutually implemented in stages, based on the Sinai model, over a period not to exceed 5 years.
2. Security Arrangements –A comprehensive security package shall be mutually agreed, defining, inter alia, the scope of demilitarized zones on both sides of the border and the deployment of peace keeping international forces.
1c) Israeli-Lebanese Conflict Resolution Parameters
1. Borders – Israel and Lebanon shall establish permanent peace based on UNSCR 1701, subject to which Israel concluded its withdrawal to the international border.
2. Lebanese Sovereignty – In addition to the full implementation of UNSCR 1701, Lebanon shall exercise full sovereignty over its territory through the Lebanese army.
1d) State of Peace
In each of the Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian and the Israeli-Lebanese peace agreements the respective parties agree to apply between them the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law governing relations among states in time of peace; to settle all disputes between them by peaceful means; to develop good neighborly relations of co-operation between them to ensure lasting security; to refrain from the threat or use of force against each other and from forming any coalition, organization or alliance with a third party, the objectives or activities of which include launching aggression or hostility against the other party.

2) REGIONAL SECURITY PRINCIPLES
1. The parties will create regional security mechanisms, addressing shared threats and risks arising from states, terrorist organizations, marine pirate groups, and guerrilla organizations. to ensure the safety and security of the peoples of the region.
2. The parties shall build regional frameworks to jointly fight against crime and environmental threats.

3) ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PRINCIPLES
Based on significant economic support by the international community, the parties shall implement wide-scale regional cooperation projects in order to ensure the stabilization, viability and prosperity of the region, and to achieve optimal utilization of energy and water resources for the benefit of all parties. Such projects will improve transportation infrastructure, agriculture, industry and regional tourism, thus addressing the rising danger of unemployment in the region. In the future, the parties shall create the “Middle East Economic Development Bloc” (inviting all Middle Eastern countries to join), aiming at reaching a special status in the EU, the US and the International Community.

4) STEPS TOWARDS NORMAL RELATIONS PRINCIPLES
Israel, the Arab States and the Islamic States commit to implement gradual steps towards establishing normal relations between them, in the spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative, which shall commence upon the launching of peace negotiations and shall be gradually upgraded to full normal relations (including diplomatic relations, open borders and economic ties) upon the signing of the permanent status agreements and throughout their implementation.

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The text of the proposed Israeli Peace Initiative [IPI], published here.

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