In 2002, the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was then the crown prince, told a visiting journalist from the United States that he was prepared to accept a peace plan with the Israelis and would do all within his power to ensure that all other Arab states followed suit.
Abdullah, who was the de facto ruler of the country, owing to a debilitating stroke that had sidelined his brother, King Fahd, was very blunt about his willingness for full peace and normalisation of relations with Israel by all 22 Arab states, in return for Israel’s full withdrawal from all occupied lands and creation of a Palestinian state.
He followed up on his word by summoning an Arab League summit, which was convened that same year in Beirut to forward his proposal to all the other Arab countries and push for acceptance of his resolve for a final, just and lasting peace. The Council of Arab States at the Summit Level, at its 14th Ordinary Session, adopted the Saudi-inspired peace plan.
Abdullah’s proposal called for full Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territories occupied since June 1967, in implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, reaffirmed by the Madrid Conference of 1991 and the land-for-peace principle, and Israel’s acceptance of an independent Palestinian state with occupied East Jerusalem as its capital, in return for the establishment of normal relations in the context of comprehensive peace with Israel.
Abdullah had spelled out clearly that a military solution to the conflict would not achieve peace or provide security for the parties, nor would it be in the interest of the people in the region — both Israelis and Arabs. The fact that he managed to get a commitment from all Arab states on the specifics of his proposal was a remarkable step in the right direction.
The specifics of what eventually would be called the ‘Arab Peace Plan’ requested Israel to reconsider its policies and declare that a just peace was its strategic option as well. It also called for full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967, lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon and the realisation of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.
Additionally, the proposal sought the acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with occupied East Jerusalem as its capital.
The Arab countries were committed to consider that the Arab-Israeli conflict had ended and were ready to enter into a peace agreement with Israel and provide security for all the states of the region. They were also committed to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace plan. Bilateral ties would include trade, tourism and other interchanges with a country long considered an aggressor.
Calling on the international community to support the initiative, the plan concluded with a special calling to the government of Israel and all Israelis to accept the initiative “in order to safeguard the prospects for peace and stop further shedding of blood, enabling the Arab countries and Israel to live in peace and good neighbourliness and provide future generations with security, stability and prosperity”.
There were no other undisclosed conditions that could or would have forestalled any Israeli rejection or so was the reasoning. The Arab street overwhelmingly embraced the new peace initiative in that it was simple yet comprehensive. The intent was peace within the region.
Unfortunately, history is not always kind to messengers of peace. The sitting Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who was elected in 2001, had a deep-seated hatred for anything Palestinian. A year earlier, with peace talks in progress with western powers, Sharon had purposely inflamed emotions when he invaded the Muslim world’s third holiest shrine, accompanied by more than 1,000 members of the special forces, with the intent to provoke a violent response and obstruct success of the delicate peace talks.
The outraged Palestinians reacted the next day with large demonstrations, which were eventually put down by the heavily armed Israeli forces who used live ammunition to disperse the demonstrators, killing many in the process. That calculated provocation by Sharon gave rise to the Second Intifada and flushed all hopes for peace down the drain.
So when the peace plan was offered to Israel during his tenure as the Israeli prime minister, Sharon stone-walled all overtures while his government set to annex more land and build more illegal colonies, in spite of ineffectual protests from western governments and the UN.
This practice is currently flourishing under Sharon’s successor, current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose ideology matches that of Sharon and who is also committed to wipe the Palestinians off the face of the map. His agenda is not one of achieving peace, but hegemony over the region.
It is a misfortune that the peace plan envisioned by an Arab ruler, which would have provided Israel all the security it needed, has been allowed to wither away. It is a tragedy not just for the Arabs, but also for the Jews of the region.
Will the good people of Israel rise and demand that their leaders give peace a chance?
The Palestinians are simply not going to vanish nor will they just lay down and die. There can be no more holocaust and no amount of force can kill the spirit. It will eventually prevail.