Haaretz, June 5, 2007
By Dr. Saeb Erekat
An offer that cannot be refused
On March 28, 2007, leaders of the Arab countries gathered in Riyadh and renewed their commitment to peace as a strategic choice: They reaffirmed their offer to Israel for a comprehensive and just peace, the "Arab Peace Initiative."
The Arab Peace Initiative offers a historic vision and a historic compromise: In exchange for an end to 40 years of Israeli occupation, full withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 borders, establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just and agreed-upon solution to the plight of the Palestinian refugees based on UN Resolution 194, Arab states would provide a comprehensive and sustainable peace based on ending the conflict, achieving regional stability and security for all, and full acceptance and normalization of relations with Israel.
Whereas the Arab Peace Initiative offers a vision, a framework for negotiations and the support of the Arab countries, it is not a substitute for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on final-status issues. However, the Arab Peace Initiative's real significance lies in the fact that refugees and Jerusalem cannot be resolved without support from the Arab countries.
The Arab Peace Initiative calls for a just solution for the Palestinian refugees, to be agreed upon with Israel. In addition to the humanitarian nature of the refugees' plight, the recent violent events in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon demonstrate its dangerous regional dimensions and its potential to set the Middle East ablaze. As for Jerusalem and the holy places, the backing and support of key Arab states, mainly Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, are essential given the city's religious and historic significance to the Arab and Muslim world. The Arab Peace Initiative provides a framework for such support.
Today, only two Arab countries - Egypt and Jordan - conduct full diplomatic relations with Israel, and no country in the world recognizes Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem. Ending the conflict according to the contours of the Arab Peace Initiative will grant Israel recognition by the rest of the 20 Arab countries and 57 Muslim countries. Ending the conflict and achieving peace will create a new regional reality which will guarantee security for the citizens of the Middle East and regional and international stability.
This year marks 59 years of al-Nakba (the Palestinian "Catastrophe") and 40 years of Israeli occupation. Generations of Palestinians have been born as refugees and with the reality of occupation. By accepting the two-state solution, with a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and East Jerusalem as Palestine's capital, we, the Palestinian people, made our historic compromise and accepted 22 percent of the land of historic Palestine to secure peace, security and prosperity for our people. The time has come for you to end the burden of occupation and to bring your children home.
Like all the nations of the world, we refuse to live under occupation or any other system that denies us our full civil and political rights. If Israel fails to accept this generous offer, we could lose the last chance for peace based on the two-state solution and might instead face a long bloody conflict that will result in many victims on both sides - something Israel can prevent if it begins to face the current realities of the new Middle East.
In the life of every nation, there comes a time to face difficult and historic choices. Based on past experience, with a critical eye to the future and our commitment to future generations, the Arab world is choosing the path of peace, compromise and negotiation by extending its hand to you, the Israeli people. In order that we might see peace in our generation and secure a peaceful future for our children, let us together shape a new reality of peace in the Middle East.
Dr. Saeb Erekat is the chief Palestinian negotiator of the Palestine Liberation Organization.