Looking at the Israeli Peace Initiative

Israeli academics, analysts, journalists, military and intelligence officers drafted an official response to the Arab Peace Initiative known as the Israeli Peace Initiative which advocates accepting the API as a blueprint for a comprehensive peace.

israeli-peace-initiativeOn April 6, 2011, a group of 150 prominent Israelis presented a bold vision for an Israeli proposal for a regional peace initiative – the “Israeli Peace Initiative” (IPI) – which was a comprehensive response to the Saudi-Arab Peace Initiative (API). The IPI was authored and proposed by Yuval Rabin and the undersigned.

Our rationale was simple. Since 2000, the peace process has been oscillating between stops and starts. Whether Israelis and Palestinians resume talks yet another time, and definitely if talks fail, it’s time to face the inevitable conclusion: permanent status agreements are unlikely to be achieved through bilateral negotiations only; a regional context is needed, either as a cementing element or as fallback.

In March 2002, the Arab states presented the API as their “end game” vision, introducing a transformational shift toward a comprehensive, regional and “future-based” process rather than a fragmented, bilateral and incremental one.

Like many Israelis, we perceived this as a historic event. We do not intend to explain the difficulties Israeli governments have had with the API and why no response was offered. Instead, we thought that Israel must respond with a pragmatic “yes” and present its own parallel “end game” vision rather than an attempt to “fix” the API.

We produced our first version of the Israeli Peace Initiative in March 2009

A new Israeli Government was formed and we were hoping that our idea of “regionalizing” the negotiations will offer an innovative approach, as the previous Annapolis process had just evaporated. We thought if Israel publishes such a vision, it will be major breakthrough.

An official IPI would demonstrate a transformational shift in Israel’s strategy, realizing that only by ending the regional Arab-Israel conflict will Israel achieve its fundamental interests, attain its security goals and eliminate existential threats. The vision should also show Israeli that these long-term fundamental interests (such as security, identity and acceptance in the region) are achievable in accordance with the API core concepts, with bridgeable gaps.

Three principles guided us: our interpretation of Israel’s genuine strategic interests; our assumption that Israel will be ready to make “all possible concessions” only when leaders can show Israelis that this is ”in return for the end of all conflicts”; and our determination to adopt existing proposals and solutions already negotiated or raised in the past eighteen to twenty years since the 1991 Madrid Conference, without reinventing wheels.

Instead of publishing the IPI in 2009, we embarked on a long and fascinating journey, meeting more than 200 people in the Arab world and in Israel, and asking for their feedback. We received interesting reactions and observations:

  • “We do not really care what you write inside your IPI, but what’s important is the mere fact that you respond to the API!” Clearly, not responding to an offer is more problematic than responding with controversial ideas.
  • We were able to conduct very sincere and tough dialogue – simply because we agreed on a regional approach and the API as a framework.
  • We noticed a high degree of diversity of opinions among our Arab colleagues. The highest degree of variations emerged on the topic of Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem and particularly – who “owns” the Arab legitimate negotiation positions on Temple Mount.
  • The most important observation, though, is that despite all controversies and disagreements, we were completely convinced that the hundreds of people from more than fifteen Arab states – and dozens of Israelis we spoke with – all want more or less the same and are genuinely committed to achieve a comprehensive peace settlement on a regional basis.
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Since its first draft the Israeli Peace Initiative has evolved significantly thanks to our interactions

The basic ideas, however, did not change much. The official version was published in English, Hebrew and Arabic, in April 2011. It contains four vision chapters, starting with regional end-of-conflict scenarios.

The Israeli-Palestinian scenario is a viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and 1:1 minimal land swaps, Jerusalem as the home of two capitals and special arrangements in the Temple Mount, an agreed solution for the refugees inside the Palestinian state (with symbolic exceptions), mutual recognition of the genuine national identities of the two states as the outcome of negotiations and not as a prerequisite, reiteration of the principles underlying Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence regarding civic equality for its Arab citizens, and long-term security arrangements with international components.

The Israeli-Syrian end-of-conflict scenario is based on phased withdrawals from the Golan Heights to finally reach the 1967 borders with 1:1 land swaps, coupled with tight security arrangements to curb terrorists and paramilitary organizations. Regarding Lebanon, the scenario articulates mainly security arrangements, as international borders have already been established.

The other three IPI chapters present regional security mechanisms addressing common regional threats, a vision for regional economic development, and parallel evolution process towards regional recognition and normal ties.

The authors are not professional diplomats, but pragmatic businessmen… intentionally, we left many issues for the experts and diplomats, e.g., water, trade arrangements and the impact of long-term permanent security arrangements on nuclear weapons in the region.

The IPI is not what we Israelis have dreamed and hoped for, and it represents a major shift from our collective ideology. Accordingly, Israeli society may find them difficult to digest – but not surprisingly, our focus groups and surveys show that Israelis – if presented with an IPI as a de facto agreement, “can live with it.”

We hope the IPI creates an intensified dialogue and some rethinking both in Israeli, Arab, Palestinian and international circles. More importantly, we hope to see brave regional and international leaders translate the API and IPI visions into practical diplomatic process – hopefully, building it upon our most recently published proposal for a multi-track regional conference.

As these lines are being written, the IPI has been presented by our members to Israeli leaders, and Arab leaders in Amman, Ramallah, Cairo, Doha and indirectly – in every Arab country. Similarly, it was presented to officials in the US, Russia, the Quartet, the European Parliament, France, Germany and UK Parliament – as well as many conferences and think tanks. We are encouraged when we hear from more and more – “the regional solution will be achieved as a synthesis of the API and the IPI – these are the pillars.”

Koby Huberman is a businessman, a veteran high-tech executive, and a civil society leader. He has more than twenty-eight years in global high-tech technology corporations, and fifteen years in civil society organizations. He is the CEO of Strategic Landscapes Ltd., the author and co-founder of the Israeli Peace Initiative Group, and the co-chairman of The Empathy Group. Follow him on Twitter @KobyHuberman