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Arab Peace Initiative


[Note: Noam Chomsky was asked, in the ZSustainer Forums, to share his response to the Arab Peace Initiative. Below is his reply…]

The Arab League Peace Plan of 2002 is what was called here the “Saudi Plan.” It has just been renewed. In 2002, the US and Israel simply dismissed it, and I don’t recall media commentary. It is pretty much a version of the international consensus that was articulated clearly for the first time in January 1976 at the Security Council, in a resolution brought by the major Arab states, vetoed by the US (again in 1980). With the Security Council eliminated by the veto, the same principles came up almost annually in the General Assembly, under pressure from the third world and the non-aligned movement, but with Europe also going along. The votes were usually something like 150-3 (US, Israel, sometimes a client state like El Salvador). Standard for General Assembly votes on a wide range of issues. The basic principle is a two-state settlement on the international (pre-June 1967) borders, with minor and mutual border adjustments, incorporating the wording of UN 242 (all states in the region have the right to exist in peace and security within recognized borders, etc.). In 1988 the Palestinian National Council formally accepted this proposal, having tacitly backed it since the mid-1970s. The reaction of the Israeli coalition government (Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Shamir) was to declare that there can be no “additional” Palestinian state between Jordan and Israel (Jordan, by implication, being a Palestinian state), and that the fate of the territories would be settled in accord with the guidelines of the Israeli government. That proposal was adopted without qualification by the Bush I administration (the Baker plan of December 1989). That is the most extreme rejectionist stand taken by any US administration. All of this is doctrinally unacceptable in the US, in fact the West generally, so suppressed. But the facts are uncontroversial.

The Arab League plan goes beyond earlier versions of the international consensus by calling for full normalization of relations with Israel.

By now, the US and Israel can’t simply ignore it, because US relations with Saudi Arabia are too tenuous, and because of the catastrophic effects of the Iraq invasion (and the great regional concern that the US will go on to attack Iran, very strongly opposed in the region, apart from Israel). So therefore the US and Israel are departing slightly from their extreme unilateral rejectionism, at least in rhetoric, though not in substance.

The plan has overwhelming international support, of course from the Third World (the “South”), which, as mentioned, has been in the lead in pressing the basic proposal for 30 years, but also again Europe. It’s supported by the Arab states and by Iran. Hezbollah has been quite clear that though it does not like it, it will not disrupt any agreement that the Palestinians reach. Hamas has indicated that it will support it. That includes its most militant faction, headed by Khaled Maashal in Damascus, who said that Hamas would accept an Arab consensus — namely, the Arab League plan, now renewed. A large majority of Americans supported the Saudi plan when it was announced, and presumably still do, though I don’t know of current polls. That leaves the US-Israel in their usual stance of splendid isolation, opposing a diplomatic settlement — not just in words, but in deeds: the massive settlement/infrastructure projects in the West Bank, and all the rest.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that there was one week in which the US-Israel departed from their unilateral rejectionism: in January 2001, in Taba Egypt. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators came close to a settlement on all outstanding issues, and in their last press conference, stated jointly that with a little more time, they could finalize an agreement. Israeli Prime Minister Barak called off the negotiations early, presumably to prevent that outcome. The Clinton administration didn’t object. We don’t know more about the internal discussions. Shortly after came Bush-Sharon, and formal negotiations stopped, but informal (Track II) negotiations continued, leading to the Geneva accord between high-level Israeli and Palestinian figures, but unofficial. It received strong world support as usual. Israel rejected it. The US ignored it. It was dismissed with little-disguised ridicule in the mainstream US press, where it was noticed at all. It was quite detailed, more or less in line with the Taba negotiations and the international consensus. There certainly is a basis for settlement, and it’s been well-known for a long time what the basic contours are, but it cannot progress as long as it is blocked by the US.

The pretense here is that the US has been an honest broker, but didn’t pay enough attention to diplomacy under Bush, matters now being remedied by Rice. The posture cannot survive inspection of the extensive public record, which is therefore suppressed, in the familiar fashion.

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