“Normalization Under Occupation”: The Revived Arab Peace Initiative

Courtesy of Ted Swedenburg/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 6 April 2017.

Once more, the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 is taking center stage. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas insisted during his speech before the recently concluded Arab League Summit in Jordan that the initiative is the only solution on the table; asserting that it will not be changed or even tweaked. But why is this initiative, which was put forward by Saudi Arabia 15 years ago, now infused back into the already congested Middle East political discourse, despite the fact that Israel has rejected it repeatedly and the United States has shown little interest in enforcing it?

In March 2002, the initiative, composed of a few sentences, was proclaimed at an Arab League Summit in Beirut, Lebanon. Less than half of the Arab leaders participated in that conference. Head of the PA and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the late Yasser Arafat, was not allowed to attend. Israeli prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, had Arafat placed under house arrest in Ramallah. Sharon told Arafat that if Israel was to allow him to leave he would not be allowed back. Arafat died two years later, amid allegations that he had been poisoned.

Mind the Neighbors

Joint UN/AL Special Envoy on Syria briefs press
Kofi Annan, joint UN/AL Special Envoy on Syria briefs press

PRINCETON – The conventional wisdom last week on whether Syria would comply with former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s ceasefire plan was that it was up to Russia. We were reverting to Cold War politics, in which the West was unwilling to use force and Russia was willing to keep arming and supporting its client. Thus, Russia held the trump card: the choice of how much pressure it was willing to put on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to comply with the plan.

If this view were correct, Iran would surely be holding an equally powerful hand. Annan, after all, traveled to Tehran as well. Traditional balance-of-power geopolitics, it seems, is alive and well.

But this is, at best, a partial view that obscures as much as it reveals. In particular, it misses the crucial and growing importance of regional politics and institutions.


ISN Weekly Theme: The Saudi Touch

US Army chaplain prays toward Mecca, Saudi Arabia, photo: Lance Cheung/flickr

This week the ISN takes a closer look at the enormous challenges facing Saudi Arabia on both its domestic and foreign policy fronts. The world is watching to see how the Middle East’s largest country will address its internal discord, while jockeying for regional dominance in 2010 and beyond.

The ISN Special Report contains the following content:

  • An Analysis by Dr Amnon Aran examines the challenges and opportunities of Saudi foreign policy, arguing that its promotion of the Middle East peace process could improve not only its geopolitical standing but wider regional stability.
  • A Podcast interview with Toby Jones debunks some of the stereotypes about the country’s deep-seated political and religious conservatism to paint a more nuanced picture of a complex land.
  • Security Watch stories about Saudi internet jihad, the country’s foreign relations from Iran to Yemen and much more.
  • Publications housed in our Digital Library, including a recent US Congressional Research Service analysis of Saudi-US relations.
  • Primary Resources, like the Saudi government’s “Initiatives and Actions to Combat Terrorism.”
  • Links to relevant websites, among them the Saudi Woman’s Blog that deals with life and culture in the country from a woman’s perspective.
  • Our IR Directory with relevant organizations, including the Ministry of Saudi Foreign Affairs and the Center for Contemporary Middle Eastern Countries.