Exclusive Op-Ed: Stop the Gaza war and implement the Arab Peace Initiative

Veteran Arab statesmen call for an end to spiral of bloodshed and a return to meaningful diplomacy

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The atrocities witnessed today in Palestine are the consequence of decades of violent events, tragedies, unfulfilled promises, mushrooming illegal settlements and victimhood. Some acts that were committed contradict our Arab culture, as well as Islamic beliefs and values, and resulted in an escalation of violence and misery that brings no gain to anyone – only losses.

The conflict did not start on October 7, nor will it end with a ceasefire. The international community is sadly witnessing the heavy cost of missed opportunities, having turned a blind eye to unimplemented UN and Security Council resolutions, violations of international law and peace initiatives.

Our region deserves peace, and its people, when given the right tools, can together create an environment that dignifies their heritage and ancient civilisations, as well as bringing prosperity. The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 will remain the most plausible and equitable solution to this injustice.

What was confirmed in the past three weeks, and over the last century, is that violence can bring out the worst in people, and that passions can reach far and wide. It is the duty of responsible leaders to extinguish this fire before it spreads out of control.

Nothing can be achieved by an Israeli invasion of Gaza. It can exacerbate the situation and it should be neither sanctioned nor justified. Israel knows, and must be reminded, that the human cost of such an attack will create global repercussions with unpredictable consequences for decades to come.

The recent events were neither unexpected nor surprising. We have seen that violence only breeds more violence and extremism. This pattern is clear, and sadly has repeated itself. Leaders in and outside the region failed to act by ignoring the fundamental message that the question of Palestine remains central, and that no durable solution can be achieved without an equitable justice for the Palestinian people, and peace for all.

Precedents to the current violence are many, and leaders should have acted much earlier. As recently as April this year, Israeli forces attacked worshipers in the Al Aqsa mosque and others celebrating the holy month of Ramadan in Jerusalem. Rockets were fired from Gaza in retaliation for violence by Israeli settlers and security forces.

Israel knows, and must be reminded, that the human cost of such an attack will create global repercussions

This has been happening at regular intervals, with no shortage of provocations and reactions. The 2006 Gaza war was triggered on June 25, the night that Fatah and Hamas were about to sign an understanding based on a document proposed by prisoners from both sides in Israeli jails. Since then, violence has been virtually uninterrupted.

In each flare up, thousands of Palestinians were killed, and countless homes destroyed. The tightening of the blockade and siege of Gaza has transformed it into the largest open-air prison in the world. The violence has also spread to the West Bank, as we have seen in 2002 when the refugee camp of Jenin was destroyed, and earlier this year. The long list of human rights abuses in the West Bank includes separation walls, restricting mobility of civilians to make life impossible and the expansion of illegal settlements.

The situation should never have been allowed to progress as far as the recent attack by Hamas on October 7, which brought the largest number of civilian and military Israeli casualties and hostages to date. The Israeli response in the form of collective punishment – with massacres and atrocities in Gaza against civilians, hospitals, churches and mosques – is an affront to international law and human rights. The two million civilians in Gaza are victims of a continued failure to implement a comprehensive, just and lasting solution.

The plight of the Palestinians can no longer be ignored. Peace in the region cannot happen without justice, and half-measure solutions are no solutions.

The parameters of peace are included in the Arab Peace Initiative that was proposed by the then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and unanimously adopted during the Beirut Summit of the League of Arab States in April 2002. It was also endorsed by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. The main premise is that a military solution will not achieve peace, or provide security, and that only a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East constitutes the strategic option for the Arab countries. The conditions are the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem and the right of refugees to return to Palestine according to UN resolutions, in exchange for a permanent peace between Israel and the Arab countries.

Peace should be a sufficient goal in itself, but nothing can make it more urgent than the abyss we see before us in the present crisis. There are many challenges, but they should be turned into opportunities by wise people, when the right ingredients are there, with good intentions and courageous leaders.

The Arab Peace Initiative was overshadowed by the Passover Massacre, in which a Hamas suicide bomber killed 30 people during a Passover celebration on the same day the initiative was launched. Another example of violence and extremism defeating moderation and creating chaos.

Twenty-one years later, circumstances have changed but the objectives remain the same: peace, justice and moderation should prevail.

Every crisis brings with it opportunity, and the bigger the crisis the more urgency to seize the ensuing opportunity to implement peace and justice. We live in dangerous times, with escalating violence and war in Ukraine threatening world peace.

Paradoxically, the West has intervened to support extremist reactions in Israel under the pretext of self-defence. This is not a wise policy; moderation needs to prevail on all sides.

There is an old Arab proverb that says: “Persistent injustice and oppression will lead to destruction, whereas durable justice builds up to prosperity.” This is a call to change course, to stop the war on Gaza and bring justice to the people of Palestine and end this conflict that will continue to threaten global security and regional peace.

What is needed is vision, courage, goodwill, and the determination of the international community to bring peace and prosperity to all.

Our common belief in human dignity deserves nothing less.

Updated: October 27, 2023, 5:55 PM