In March 2002, then-Crown Prince, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia proposed the “Arab Peace Initiative” in the Arab League Beirut Summit. According to Arab leaders this initiative consisted of a comprehensive proposal to end the entire Arab-Israeli conflict. The Arab League members unanimously endorsed the peace initiative on March 27.
According to the Arab Peace Initiative Israel will:
(a) Complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the 4 June 1967 line and the territories still occupied in southern Lebanon;
(b) Attain a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No 194.
(c) Accept the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since 4 June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
In return the Arab states will do the following:
(a) Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over, sign a peace agreement with Israel, and achieve peace for all states in the region;
(b) Establish normal relations with Israel within the framework of this comprehensive peace
To most unsuspecting Westerners, the Arab Peace Initiative may seem like a clear sign that Arab states are truly dedicated to peace. With such an attractive and generous offer – an end to the entire Arab-Israeli conflict, and peace with all Arab states – what does Israel have to lose?
Surely, withdrawing from all occupied territories is not such a big problem for Israel if it gets peace with all Arab countries in return; Israel has already withdrawn from the Sinai Peninsula – an area 3 times the size of Israel – in return for peace with Egypt.
Accepting an independent Palestinian state is also not a big issue of concern; Israeli PMs over the past two decades have agreed that a Palestinian state will be a reality, and negotiated with Palestinian leaders to that end.
But what about the Palestinian refugee issue? How can Israel possibly reject a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees?
Well, there’s only one little problem here – what is hidden behind the innocent sounding words of the Arab proposal is actually something quite ominous to Israel. While part (b) of the released proposal states:
Attain a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No 194.
When we look at the full wording of the Arab Peace Initiative, we find the following:
“To accept to find an agreed, just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees in conformity with Resolution 194,” and “the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries.”
What exactly does “the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation” mean?
The Arab states used more explicit language on this point in a Final Statement that accompanied their initiative. They rejected any solution that involves “resettling of the Palestinians outside of their homes.”
This does not just mean that Arab states reject the settlement of Palestinian refugees in Arab countries. It also means that Arab states reject the settlement of Palestinian refugees in the future Palestinian state (in the West Bank and Gaza).
The only solution Arab states would be willing to accept – and the only solution they view as “just” – to the Palestinian refugee problem is the resettlement of millions of Palestinian refugees in Israel.
So while the Arab Initiative itself says that the solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees should be “agreed upon” – presumably in negotiations between Israel and Arab states, the Arab Final Statement leaves no room for negotiations. What this really means is that Israel should agree to the Arab proposal to resettle Palestinian refugees in Israel.
Can Israel agree to such proposal?
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimates there are 6.5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Resettling millions of refugees in Israel – a country of 7.7 million inhabitants (including 1.25 million Israeli Arabs) – would inevitably bring the destruction of the Jewish State.
In other words, through the Arab “Peace” Initiative, Arab states declare that they are willing to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, and sign a peace agreement with Israel… once Israel ceases to exist.
Thus, according to the Arab perspective the only way to “peacefully” resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict is through the destruction of the Jewish State.
“Right of Return” for Palestinian Refugees
Certainly, Israel would never agree to absorb millions of Palestinian refugees. But is the Arab demand for the “Right of Return” for Palestinian refugees into Israel legitimate? Let us consider the question of Palestinian refugees from a historic perspective:
During the 1948 War – a war which began with Palestinian rejection of the UN Partition Plan, and the subsequent invasion of Arab armies into Israel – between 650,000 and 730,000 Palestinian Arabs were expelled or fled from the area that became Israel, and became refugees. At the same time, around 10,000 Jews were forced to leave their homes in Palestine. In 1949, Israel signed separate armistices with Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. By the end of the war territory under Israeli control encompassed approximately three-quarters of Mandate Palestine. Today, over 1.25 million Arabs are citizens of Israel.
From 1948 to 1970 between 750,000 and 1,000,000 Jews were expelled or fled from Arab countries. Today, fewer than 7,000 Jews remain in Arab countries. It is estimated that Jewish-owned real-estate left behind or confiscated in Arab countries covers a total of about 100,000 square kilometers – more than four times the size of the state of Israel. Additional 200,000 Jews from [non-Arab] Muslim countries left their homes due to increasing insecurity and growing hostility since 1948. Today over 60% of Israeli Jews are the descendants of displaced Jews from Arab countries.
Jewish refugees from Arab countries were absorbed by Israel and became equal citizens. Israel does not demand a “right of return” for Jews into Arab countries, nor does it demand compensation for confiscated Jewish land and property from Arab countries.
On the other hand, Palestinian refugees were not absorbed by Arab countries. Instead, for over 60 years Palestinian refugees have been confined to impoverished refugee camps by Arab states; denied the opportunity for a meaningful life, and cynically exploited by Arab states as a political weapon against Israel. For over 60 years Palestinian refugees have been told that only Israel is responsible for their suffering, and that one day they will return to their villages and homes.
The demand for “Right of Return” for Palestinian refugees into Israel is an Arab attempt to distort history, and shift the entire responsibility for the Arab-Israeli conflict to Israel. There is nothing just or equitable about this demand.
Thus, the “Right of Return” is synonymous with the destruction of the Jewish State.
Instead of trying to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, and address the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people, Arab leaders have been focused on one goal: the destruction of the Jewish State.
For Arab leaders “peace” negotiations with Israel are merely the continuation of war by other means.
Certainly, Arab leaders in distant capitals – untroubled by the daily hardships of Palestinians under occupation – may adopt extreme views for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (ie. the destruction of Israel). But what about Palestinian leaders?
Palestinian leaders are more attuned with the reality on the ground. Shouldn’t they be more willing to reconcile their differences with Israel for the sake of national independence and peace? Can there still be hope for an Israeli-Palestinian peace? That will be the topic of the next post in the series The Arab-Israeli Conflict.
Reading Continued Below:
The Arab-Israeli Conflict, Part II: Why the Middle East is on a Path to War
The Arab-Israeli Conflict, Part III: The Core of the Conflict