The April 29 meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and an Arab League ministerial delegation of the Arab Peace Initiative (API) follow-up committee carried a double message.
The first was the United States' willingness to seriously explore the possibility of resuming negotiations with the aim of ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict after visits to the region by President Barack Obama and the secretary of state.
Skeptics worry that a division of labor decided by the US president, whereby he focuses on Asia while leaving the Arab-Israeli conflict to his secretary of state, is not very promising, despite the commitment and personality of the latter.
The second message is that Arabs have been waiting for a willingness to dust off the API, as I have previously argued here, and put it on their agenda with the United States. They are showing a readiness to invest in the Palestinian issue at this critical moment in Syria. The meeting should be the beginning of a process that would also involve intensive US-Israeli contacts and other concerned parties in serious negotiations. Such negotiations should be conducted on a basis different from those that have failed to produce results for two decades.
Yet the Arab willingness to accept the principle of territorial swaps — limited as well as symmetrical in terms of area and quality — was seen by others in the United States and Israel conversely: something to precede the negotiations, or to be addressed separately from the basic issue, which is Israel’s acceptance of the June 1967 borders in conformity with UN Security Council Resolution 242.
Indeed, this resolution should be the basis for a settlement of the conflict and of a resolution of the occupation. The Palestinians have indicated many times their acceptance of minor adjustments to the borders of 1967 — adjustments that will be considered only in the context of negotiations for the two-state solution, not before.
Israel must formally accept the 1967 borders instead of engaging continuously in diplomatic acrobatics over the version of the Resolution 242 in which there is an omission of the word "the" before "territories." Israel's aim is to suggest that it does not have to withdraw from all the occupied territories and to legitimize its occupation of the territories it wants to annex. Yet the preamble of the resolution clearly states the inadmissibility of territorial acquisition by means of war, thus invalidating the Israeli argument. Minor, symmetrical adjustments are an integrated part and facilitator of that deal, well defined according to Resolution 242. This does not allow for an unknown offer to be made by Israel.
It is equally important that Israel cease all settlement activity, which Obama mildly criticized during his visit as detrimental to the process. Indeed, they represent a real danger to a peaceful resolution because they systematically destroy any possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.
Also, suggesting Arab normalization with Israel as an encouraging gesture toward Israel, a free gift, further complicates matters. The focus must be on the United States and other third parties committed to peace in the Middle East and aware of the dangers of inaction to spell out the guidelines for reaching peace.
These guidelines are found in relevant UN resolutions and earlier agreements. These third parties should stand firmly by these guidelines. This is how the United States, a third party, could make the serious resumption of negotiations on the basis of a clear timetable and not mere discussion. The aim is to reach a comprehensive peace that includes normalization, as is clearly stated in the API, without amendment, despite what some have insinuated.
It is worth noting that amending the API necessitates a resolution by an Arab Summit, a matter that is neither on the collective Arab agenda nor on the agenda of the delegation. It is needless to revive once more, under different names, interim solutions that will take us nowhere but to further crisis and result in more conflicts.
Ambassador Nassif Hitti is a senior Arab League official and the former head of the Arab League Mission in Paris. He is a former representative to UNESCO and a member of the Al-Monitor board of directors. The views he presents here are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.
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