Henry Siegman Misleads in the International Herald Tribune

“The Arab peace initiative has been widely misunderstood,” writes Henry Siegman in the International Herald Tribune on Tuesday, April 9. But rather than clarifying the issues, his Op-Ed, “What the Arabs propose, and what they do not,” piles on misunderstanding.

First, he falsely claims that the terms of the Arab initiative are merely a repetition of what Israel has already agreed to in the Quartet’s Middle East “road map,” while in actuality the documents differ on critical points. He writes that the initiative

does not provide a framework for peace negotiations other than what is already specified in the road map that Israel claims it fully supports: Israel’s return to the pre-1967 armistice line as the basis for negotiations for alterations, if any, to that line; the location of a capital of a Palestinian state in East Jerusalem, and a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem.

How the Arab Initiative and the “Road Map” Differ

1) Land

Contrary to Siegman’s assertions, there’s no proposal in the Arab League Initiative for negotiations regarding the final border, no mention of a possibility of a land swap, even just 2 percent. In fact, with respect to borders, Jerusalem, and refugees, the Arab initiative dictates specific terms whereas the “road map” only says that the issues must be settled through negotiations. The Arab initiative, which was adopted by the summit meeting in Beirut in March 27-28, 2002, demands (to borrow from its own language) that Israel undergo:

A full withdrawal ( al-insihab al-kamil ) from the occupied Arab lands, including the “Syrian Golan,” to the June 4, 1967 lines and from the lands still occupied by Israel in south Lebanon. (Translated by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center )

The “road map” does not require Israel to return to its pre- June 4, 1967, lines and it certainly does not mention an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights or from “lands still occupied by Israel in south Lebanon.” To the contrary, in the aftermath of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, the United Nations, one of the Quartet members which helped draw up the “road map,” certified that Israel no longer occupied any Lebanese land. On June 16, 2000, then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan reported to the Security Council that “Israeli forces have withdrawn from Lebanon in compliance with Resolution 425” and “in compliance with the line of withdrawal identified by the United Nations.” (Security Council Resolution 425 called on Israel to “withdraw forthwith its forces from all Lebanese territory.” The line identified by the United Nations “conform[ed] to the internationally recognized boundaries of Lebanon based on the best available cartographic and other documentary material.”)

The “road map” repeatedly refers to a negotiated settlement based on UN Resolution 242. The resolution calls on Israel to withdraw from territory in exchange for peace, but does not specify the extent of that withdrawal. The drafters of 242 have repeatedly explained why it is worded in that way. For example, Lord Caradon, the chief architect of the resolution, explained:

We could have said: well, you go back to the 1967 line. But I know the 1967 line, and it’s a rotten line. … Had we said that you must go back to the 1967 line, which would have resulted if we had specified a retreat from all the occupied territories, we would have been wrong.

Thus, the Arab demand of “a full withdrawal from the occupied Arab lands” is a “negati[on of] the territorial flexibility contained in UN Security Council Resolution that intentionally did not use this limiting language,” observers Dore Gold in his helpful analysis of the initiative (“The Failure of the Riyadh”). Since the “road map” embraced UN Resolution 242, the Arab initiative is likewise a negation, not a reaffirmation, of the “road map.”

2) Jerusalem
Likewise, contrary to Siegman’s claim, the “road map” says absolutely nothing about the location of a Palestinian state in eastern Jerusalem; the document does not even use the word capital. Here is what the “road map” actually says about Jerusalem:

* In the first stage, Israel “reopens Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and other closed Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem based on a commitment that these institutions operate strictly in accordance with prior agreements between the parties.”

* Phase III sets out that the question of Jerusalem be settled in negotiations, and the notion of a Palestinian state in East Jerusalem receives no mention: “Second International Conference: Convened by Quartet, in consultation with the parties, at beginning of 2004 to endorse agreement reached on an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and formally to launch a process with the active, sustained, and operational support of the Quartet, leading to a final, permanent status resolution in 2005, including on borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements. . .”

* Also in Phase III: “Parties reach final and comprehensive permanent status agreement that ends the Israel-Palestinian conflict in 2005, through a settlement negotiated between the parties based on UNSCR 242, 338, and 1397, that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and includes an agreed, just, fair, and realistic solution to the refugee issue, and a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem that takes into account the political and religious concerns of both sides, and protects the religious interests of Jews, Christians, and Muslims worldwide, and fulfills the vision of two states, Israel and sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.”

3) Refugees
The Arab initiative invokes UN Resolution 194 pertaining to refugees, while the “road map” does not. The Arab document demands that Israel find “a just solution ( hall ‘adil) for the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.” As cited above, the “road map” says the refugee question should be solved “through a settlement negotiated between the parties.”

Changing the Ground Rules

Beyond falsely asserting that the Arab initiative is the “road map” repackaged, Siegman attempts to pass the plan off as the “universally accepted ground rules for peace.” He writes:

Negotiations over these three principal permanent-status issues [which he just defined as including a Palestinian capital in eastern Jerusalem and a full Israeli withdrawal to 1967 boundaries] are not a condition dreamed up by the Saudis or the Arab League. They are the universally accepted ground rules for peace negotiations that even President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice have stated categorically Israel cannot alter on its own.

Can Siegman provide even one example in which President Bush and/or Secretary of State Rice called for a Palestinian state with pre-1967 borders and a capital in Jerusalem? If not, the International Herald Tribune should retract the claim. In actuality, the Bush administration, which under Secretary of State Rice, took the lead in drafting the “road map,” backs UN Resolution 242, which calls for a negotiated settlement of borders, and not a return to 1967 boundaries. Moreover, President Bush spoke explicitly about significant changes to the 1967 boundaries in his April 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon.

Feigned Flexibility

Siegman falsely presents the Arab position as flexible and accommodating, and the Israeli position as rejectionist and obstruction. Thus, he writes, that the Arab initiative “does [not] demand of Israel prior acceptance of certain Arab or Palestinian conditions.” But as Dore Gold wrote,

the Arab peace initiative got off to a bad start when Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal warned Israel that its rejection of the plan would leave its fate in the hands of the ‘lords of war.’ Rather than obtaining some flexibility, Israel was handed an ultimatum. This was not the style of either President Anwar Sadat or King Hussein, but rather a grossly mismanaged way of launching any modus vivendi with Israel.

Gold further notes that the Arab initiative is not as accommodating as Siegman would have us believe:

It should be stated that in the past, Israel did not have to pay the price of rhetorically accepting full withdrawal in order to gain a diplomatic dialogue with the Arab world. The basis of the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference was UN Security Council Resolution 242, which appeared in the Madrid invitation. The Madrid conference also produced a multilateral track that led to direct diplomatic contacts between Israel and the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia. If 242 was sufficient in 1991, why is it not good enough for 2007?

Siegman wrongly presents the Arab League initiative as flexible by essentially writing that what’s actually in the agreement doesn’t matter; it’s what the Saudis have supposedly said about it at various times that matters. For instances, he writes that “Saudi officials confirmed in 2002 that their peace initiative does not preclude minor territorial adjustments.” He also claims that a “Saudi clarification” about Israeli sovereignty in sensitive parts of eastern Jerusalem “was confirmed by senior U.S. Administration and Saudi officials.” But on what basis should Israelis accept the Saudi spoken word above the maximalist written document accepted by the larger Arab community? Just because the Saudis have allegedly said that they are flexible regarding land swaps and refugees does not at all mean that any of the other Arab governments are flexible, particularly Hamas (the dominant power in the Palestinian Authority), which has repeatedly and recently stated their full support for terrorism and called for Jews to be slaughtered.

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