Sometimes, at the darkest moments, what matters is that men and women of courage and imagination not only hold on to the idea of peace, but also try to imagine what that peace might look like.
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Nowhere is this truer than in the Middle East. Two peoples – Palestinians and Israelis – are seeking to realize their dream of statehood. Only a two-state solution can give flesh to that dream, and meet the national aspirations of the two peoples. Such a solution was at the heart of the vision set out by the UN General Assembly in the 1947 partition plan, but which the international community failed to implement then, and which many peace processes since have failed to bring into being.
The result is a human tragedy, for Palestinians living under the unjust burden of Israeli occupation, and also for Israelis, trapped in a situation which over time sharpens their international isolation. With the efforts of U.S. Secretary John Kerry currently paused, and with disillusion growing as a result of this latest setback to U.S. diplomacy, now, more than ever, is the time to imagine the peace all people of goodwill.
The Arab Peace Initiative, first proposed by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and adopted by the Arab League in 2002, still provides a template for peace – a formula for a just and comprehensive solution to Israel’s conflict, not only with the Palestinians but also with the Arab world, in the firm conviction that no military solution can give countries in the region the peace and security they all desire.
The API says that all the Arab countries will establish normal relations with Israel once Israel withdraws from the territories occupied in the June 1967 war, and accepts an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. Exact borders and the achievement of a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees would, of course, have to be agreed in negotiations in accordance with international principles.
In Lebanon, the lands occupied by Israel can be ceded to the United Nations until there is a viable Lebanese government to take them; and in Syria, as well, the occupied Golan Heights can be put under UN administration until a new government can take them. With goodwill, and the backing of the United States and the Arab League, nothing is impossible.
And I hope indeed that Israelis registered the line taken by an Arab League delegation to Washington in April last year, making it clear that the API was not simplistically prescriptive, but could be adjusted to take account of whatever was freely agreed to by Israelis and Palestinians in their negotiations.
Like others in the region, I remain saddened, too, as to why there has never been an Israeli government response to the API, despite the Arab world’s continuing to endorse it at every Arab League summit over the last 12 years, and at every summit organized by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and by the Gulf Cooperation Council. An Arab delegation went to Israel to deliver it directly to the Israeli people. Many times, there were those among the Arabs who said that it has not worked and should be discarded and abandoned. But we have stuck by it and continue to stick by it; and it is still very firmly on the table.
Let us dream for a moment of how this troubled land might look after an agreement between those two people... Let me dream, too ... Imagine if I could get on a plane in Riyadh, fly directly to Jerusalem, get on a bus or taxi, go to the Dome of the Rock Mosque or the Al-Aqsa Mosque, perform the Friday prayers, and then visit the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. If, the next day, I could visit the tomb of Abraham in Al-Khalil, Hebron, and the tombs of the other prophets, peace be upon them all. I could then drive to, and visit Bethlehem, the site of the Nativity. I could go on to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust center and museum as I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, when I was ambassador there.
And what a pleasure it would be to be able to invite not just the Palestinians but also the Israelis I would meet to come and visit me in Riyadh, where they can visit my ancestral home in Dir’iyyah, which suffered at the hands of Ibrahim Pasha the same fate as Jerusalem did at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the Romans.
Just imagine too how commerce, medicine, science, art, and culture between our two peoples would develop ...
The alternative, I fear, is continued conflict, with the realities on the ground – particularly the ongoing settlement enterprise in the occupied Palestinian territories – pushing us closer and closer to the day when the issue will no longer be how to achieve a two-state solution, but whether conflict and bloodshed will continue to be the norm. Is that really what Israel wants?
Land grabs by settlers and exclusive “for Israelis only” highways on Palestinian West Bank lands deny the viability of a contiguous and viable Palestinian nation. While paying lip service to the two-state solution, the government of Israel is pursuing a policy which is effectively creating a one-state outcome, not a one-state "solution," and it is hard to see it as anything other than a recipe for disaster, with the lack of equal political, economic, and human rights in that one state space.
I hope the Israel Conference for Peace will join in the effort to imagine the peace which would be possible with the API as the key foundation stone. And I look forward to the day when it would be possible for me to attend such a conference, and indeed for those Israelis who will be taking part to fly to Riyadh and take part in conferences on how we might all work together to address and resolve the many other pressing problems which challenge us in the region.
HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal was Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Chief from 1977 to 2001 and the Kingdom’s ambassador to the U.K. and Ireland from 2002 to 2005 and the U.S. from 2005 to 2006.