The Saudi Peace Initiative - Speech by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the Arab summit in Beirut
March 27, 2002
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The peace initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, effectively the ruler of Saudi Arabia, was first presented to the world in an extraordinary fashion. It was floated as a proposal to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.. As reported to Friedman, the proposal excited great interest, because it called simply for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories in return for Arab recognition of Israel and peace. The Palestinian refugee problem was not mentioned. The speech in which Abdullah introduced the peace initiative at the Beirut Arab summit departed significantly from his description of the initiative to Friedman. It declared:
... that the only acceptable objective of the peace process is the full Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied Arab territories, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with al-Quds al-Shareef (East Jerusalem) as its capital, and the return of refugees.
The "return of the refugees" had not been mentioned apparently in the proposal as reported by Friedman. To whence would the refugees be returning? To the Palestinian state that would be created, or to their original homes (or the homes of their ancestors) in what is now Israel? If the latter was intended, the proposal is not acceptable to Israel . It was clearly not what Friedman had in mind when he proposed peace for withdrawal, and if, as Abdullah told Friedman, the speech was already in his drawer, then he was not exactly telling Friedman the truth when he told Friedman:
The reason I ask is that this is exactly the idea I had in mind — full withdrawal from all the occupied territories, in accord with U.N. resolutions, including in Jerusalem, for full normalization of relations...
The formulation of Abdullah was not strong enough for the Arab summit in Beirut, since the resolution could be interpreted to mean that refugees would be settled in the Arab state of Palestine. They added several references to solution of the refugee problem, including the following:
Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.
Resolution 194 is interpreted in the Arab world to mean that the refugees will return to Israel, thereby creating an Arab majority in Israel in a short time and abolishing Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. As such, the proposal is not acceptable to Israel of course.
Such speeches and proposals must be read very carefully, for what they do not say, as well as for what they do say. They are often difficult to understand, because they are deliberately meant to be misunderstood. Abdullah talked about the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians and said:
The peace process is based on a clear principle: land for peace.
However, when describing the settlement offered by the rest of the Arab states (not the Palestinians), he did not use the word "peace." He said:
I propose that the Arab summit put forward a clear and unanimous initiative addressed to the United Nations Security Council based on two basic issues: normal relations and security for Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories, recognition of an independent Palestinian state with al-Quds al-Shareef (East Jerusalem) as its capital, and the return of refugees.
Previously, Friedman had quoted him as referring to "full normal relations." Abdullah is a careful man. If he did not use the word peace, we can take it for granted that it is significant. "Normal relations" can imply anything short of war.
The proposal was subsequently modified to strengthen the proposals regarding refugees, and adopted by the Arab summit in Beirut, to be known as the Arab peace initiative. Unlike Abdullah's proposal, the Beirut plan does mention peace with Israel specifically. In rhetoric at least, it represents a giant step toward peace relative to the stance of the "refusal camp." In reality, it is not clear if it represents a real change in attitude or a tactical ploy.
A similar proposal had been made by the Saudis in the 1980s and adopted as the Fez initiative. The plan adopted in Beirut is a significant advance on the previous one, in that it specifically mentions peace with Israel. Depending on one's point of view, this is either an indication that the Saudis are persistent in their pursuit of peace, or an indication that they are continually raising such proposals as a tactic to win the favor of the United States and embarrass Israel, without being sincere about peace.
The Arab peace initiative was ignored by Israel. However, it was revived by Amr Moussa, Secretary of the Arab League, who called upon Hamas to declare that they accept the initiative.
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Full text of the speech, as provided in English by the Saudi
In the name of God, the most merciful and the most compassionate, praise be to God Almighty, the knower of the unseen and the unknown who revealed the following in the Holy Quran: "Dispute not one with another lest ye falter and your strength depart from you."
Peace and prayer be upon the Prophet of mercy, who urged that ranks and objectives be unified by stating that "the believers in their amicability, compassion and warmth are like the human body; if an organ feels an ailment, the rest of the body will react with pain and sleeplessness."
My brethren, the leaders of the Arab nation: my brethren, the people of our Arab and Islamic nation: God's peace and mercy be upon you.
I greet all of you with the greeting of Islam. And I thank the fraternal country of Lebanon; the Lebanon of pride and national unity; the Lebanon of all Arabs, with all its religious and sectarian affiliations, for hosting this summit at this critical and turbulent juncture in history in which events are unfolding, and whose ultimate outcome is known only to God Almighty.
In spite of all that has happened - and what still may happen - the primary issue in the heart and mind of every person in our Arab and Islamic nation is the restoration of legitimate rights in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon.
These rights, which are bound to the cherished occupied lands, can not be erased from memory, nor will the passage of time diminish their importance. No right is lost that has an advocate behind it. Those who follow the intifada of our brothers in Palestine, which has the support of all Arabs and Muslims, realise that steadfastness will not wither, that bravery will not retreat, and that justice will prevail.
Every person in Palestine - young and old - understands that the way to the liberation of his land and soil is either through steadfastness and struggle, or a just and comprehensive peace. It is therefore incumbent on the Israeli government to realise and understand this and deal with it by embarking on a new path, and that is the path of peace.
My dear brethren: the noble people of the Arab and Islamic nation: when the Arabs opted for peace as a strategic choice, they did not do so out of crippling desperation or debilitating weakness, and Israel is mistaken if it believes that it can impose an unjust peace by force.
We embarked upon the peace process with open eyes and clear minds, and we have not accepted then, nor will we accept now, that this process is transformed into a non-binding obligation imposed by one party on the other. Peace is a free and voluntary choice made by two equal parties, and it can not survive if it is based on oppression and humiliation.
The peace process is based on a clear principle: land for peace. This principle is accepted by the international community as a whole, and is embodied in U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and was adopted by the Madrid conference in 1991. It was confirmed by the resolutions of the European Community and other regional organisations, and re-emphasised once more this month, by U.N. Security Council resolution 1397.
My esteemed brethren: it is clear in our minds, and in the minds of our brethren in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, that the only acceptable objective of the peace process is the full Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied Arab territories, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with al-Quds al-Shareef (East Jerusalem) as its capital, and the return of refugees.
Without moving towards this objective, the peace process is an exercise in futility and a play on words and a squandering of time which perpetuates the cycle of violence. The return to the negotiating table is a meaningless endeavour if the negotiations do not produce tangible and positive results, as has been the case for the past 10 years.
Allow me at this point to directly address the Israeli people, to say to them that the use of violence, for more than 50 years, has only resulted in more violence and destruction, and that the Israeli people are as far as they have ever been from security and peace, notwithstanding military superiority and despite efforts to subdue and oppress.
Peace emanates from the heart and mind, and not from the barrel of a cannon, or the exploding warhead of a missile. The time has come for Israel to put its trust in peace after it has gambled on war for decades without success. Israel, and the world, must understand that peace and the retention of the occupied Arab territories are incompatible and impossible to reconcile or achieve.
I would further say to the Israeli people that if their government abandons the policy of force and oppression and embraces true peace, we will not hesitate to accept the right of the Israeli people to live in security with the people of the region.
We believe in fighting in self-defence and to deter aggression. But we also believe in peace when it is based on justice and equity, and when it brings an end to conflict. Only within the context of true peace can normal relations flourish between the people of the region and allow the region to pursue development rather than war and destruction.
Dear brethren, in light of the above, and in this place with you and amongst you, and with your backing and that of the Almighty, I propose that the Arab summit put forward a clear and unanimous initiative addressed to the United Nations Security Council based on two basic issues: normal relations and security for Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories, recognition of an independent Palestinian state with al-Quds al-Shareef (East Jerusalem) as its capital, and the return of refugees. At the same time, I appeal to all friendly countries throughout the world to support this noble humanitarian proposal which seeks to remove the danger of destructive wars and the establishment of peace for all the inhabitants of the region, without exception.
I ask God Almighty to guide us to the correct decision, and to provide us with the determination of the believer, for he is our Lord and ultimate benefactor. God's peace and blessing be upon you.
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