The Initiative Still Stands

Only a comprehensive agreement with the whole Arab world can give both sides what they need.

Six years ago, the Arab League took a bold step in the pursuit of a comprehensive and lasting peace in our region. At the Beirut Arab League Summit in 2002, 22 states unanimously adopted the Arab Peace Initiative - a historic document that offered a formula for ending not only the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but also the wider, lingering Arab-Israeli conflict, and to achieve a collective peace, security for all and normal relations with Israel. The initiative was the embodiment of the moderate camp in the Arab world and of its leap of faith in addressing both Arab and Israeli needs.

Unfortunately, the Arab Peace Initiative was not related to seriously by the two players whose support and endorsement were crucial for its implementation: Neither Israel nor the United States responded with more than lip service. Arab states are also to be blamed for failing to explain the initiative to the Israeli public, our principal audience.

As Jordan's first ambassador to Israel, I had the rare opportunity to communicate, engage with and understand Israeli society - at all levels. And, as someone who was intimately involved in developing and formulating the peace initiative, and in successfully arguing the moderate Arab case in Beirut, I believe it is crucial to explain the initiative's four pillars and why it remains a historic document that Israelis should embrace. Now is the most opportune time to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, based on the terms binding the signatories to this initiative.

According to the proposal, the Arabs will offer Israel the following, in return for its full withdrawal from the Arab territories it has occupied since June 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital:

A collective offer to end the conflict. During my tenure in Israel, I witnessed firsthand the importance of this clause to the average Israeli, who remains concerned that Palestinians or Arab states may make further claims on Israel or its territory even after an Israeli withdrawal and an agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem.

Security guarantees for all states in the region, including Israel. This is significant because, for the first time, Israel is assured that its security will be guaranteed not only by its neighbors, but by all Arab states.

A collective peace treaty and normal relations with Israel. This signals full recognition of Israel and normal relations with it.

An agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem. For the first time, the Arab world committed itself to an agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem, addressing Israel's concern that Arabs will demand that four million refugees be sent to Israel.

Today, six years after its adoption, and despite continued violence and the stagnation of the peace process, the Arab Peace Initiative still holds. Not a single Arab state has withdrawn its support, and indeed all 22 signatories reiterated their commitment to it in Riyadh in 2007 and in Damascus earlier this year - a testament to the plan's resilience.

By now, the gradual approach to peacemaking has been exhausted. As we have witnessed, this approach allowed the opponents of peace ample time not only to derail the process, but to threaten its proponents, which they have done repeatedly and effectively. The time has come to jettison the incremental approach, and take the leap toward a comprehensive settlement whose outlines have been largely defined via a number of frameworks, starting with the Clinton parameters. Separate peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians or the Syrians might not adequately address the conflict's key dimensions, such as the positions of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran regarding those agreements.

A comprehensive agreement with the Arab world, in which the Arab Peace Initiative serves as a key term of reference, would address all Arab aspirations, including an end to the occupation and the establishment of a two-state solution, as well as Israel's security and other needs. In the context of such a comprehensive agreement with the whole Arab world, the role of non-state players such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and even of their backer Iran, becomes marginal.

Today, Israelis are realizing that a two-state solution is no longer in the interests of Palestinians and Arabs only, but also in the best interest of Israel, which will soon have more Arabs in areas under its control than Jews. Only a comprehensive agreement with the whole Arab world can give both sides what they need. To wait any longer is a recipe for the end of the two-state solution, and means continued violence for an indefinite period. The ingredients are all there: rising radicalization among Arabs in the region, continued settlement building, erection of the separation fence in Israel, and the strengthening of the rejectionist camp.

The onus is on the moderate camp, in both the Arab world and in Israel, to finally agree on a historic settlement that addresses the interests of both sides, ends the conflict and allows them to live in peace. The moderate Arab Peace Initiative still stands and goes a long way toward achieving that objective.

Marwan Muasher is Jordan's former foreign minister and was its first ambassador to Israel. His book "The Arab Center: The Promise of Moderation" was published earlier this year by Yale University Press.