Posted on June 17, 1996 in Washington Watch

Your Excellencies,

As you prepare to meet in Cairo, both tremendous challenges and opportunities await you.

A continent and an ocean away, the Arab American community salutes your initiative. We recognize that this summit can make an invaluable contribution to the search for peace in the Middle East. It can restore balance to what has become a distorted process and save the entire region from the devastation that would accompany the collapse or even deceleration of the current peace effort.

We, like you, are committed to a peaceful and prosperous future for our people – a future full of promise in which rights are regained, security is ensured and economies developed, bringing new hope and opportunities to our long-suffering region.

As you prepare to meet I ask you to consider a few observations and suggestions. The summit’s final declaration will have a political impact on many target audiences: the Arab world, the U.S. and Europe, and the Israeli government and people. In drafting your declaration, therefore, I would suggest that you craft a document that speaks to all who need to hear you.

Just as the world celebrated the hope for peace that followed the September 13, 1993 signing in Washington, a properly framed declaration in Cairo can reignite that hope and present a new challenge to the peacemakers. You can do this by issuing a statement that focuses on vision, emphasizes positive principles and establishes a unified Arab response to the current crisis.

What I hope to see emerging from your deliberations is a clear and unambiguous affirmation of the need for a comprehensive and just peace and a commitment to work for it.

While such a declaration in and of itself would be of historic proportion, it will have an even greater impact if given within a visionary framework. It is not only what you say, but how you say it. Peace, after all, is not an abstraction. The realization of a just and comprehensive peace will create a dramatic new reality for the entire region. What needs to be communicated is a compelling Arab vision of the future and the possibilities it holds for all the peoples of the Middle East – a vision so attractive that people will be drawn to it. It is imperative that the promise of this future be understood so that it can be accepted and the status quo rejected.

To realize such a peace will, of course, require compromise. To this you have already committed yourselves. But it is important for you to state clearly that compromise is not surrender; compromise in its truest form occurs when two parties, instead of “giving up” their assets, invest them in each other in order to create mutually beneficial dividends – so that the rewards achieved by each side are greater than the initial value of the investment. As envisioned by the architects of Madrid, Israel returns land, Arabs give recognition and cooperation, and both sides benefit from a future of expanded opportunities for all.

You should remind the world that the investment must be mutual, the compromise must be reciprocal: this must be stated clearly and emphatically. Precisely what the new government of Israel must come to understand is that the Arab world is committed to a peace that is based on mutuality and reciprocity.

In affirming this principle as part of your commitment to a visionary peace, you will not be seen as rejecting or prejudging. You are doing no more than reaffirming the fundamental ground rules that govern this peace process and establish its firm foundation.

In affirming mutuality and reciprocity, you make clear that ground rules already established should be honored, and that agreements signed and the timetables for their implementation must be honored. Mutuality and reciprocity, for example, require that Israel: act in compliance with all of its commitments in the Paris Economic Protocol and Oslo I and II in specific and in detail; promptly resume final status talks on all issues (including borders, refugees, water and land rights, settlements, and Jerusalem) in good faith and without preconditions; recommence negotiations on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks on the basis of the previously agreed-upon Madrid ground rules; and stop all attempts to change facts on the ground (by such methods as expanding settlements or altering the situation in and around Jerusalem).

It was, after all, in response to these agreements and based on a mutual commitment to those ground rules that several important confidence-building measures were initiated by you. For such gestures to continue, you should insist that Israel’s commitments to mutuality and reciprocity must be reaffirmed.

For example, it was an Arab initiative to ease the secondary boycott on Israel in response to an Israeli commitment to freeze settlements. Since then, some Arab states have even begun to develop direct trade links with Israel. Meanwhile, under the Labor government the settlement population increased by 30% in the past three years! What if the Palestinians were so flagrant in their failure to comply with their commitments? Your declaration needs to emphasize that without mutuality and reciprocity, or confidence-building steps toward Israel become surrender – which is intolerable.

To insist that such commitments be made by Israel is not “prejudging.” By making such a statement you would only be doing what the U.S., the co-sponsors of the peace process, have been urging you to do: i.e., “waiting and seeing” and “not prejudging.” You are, in effect, accepting a “wait and see” attitude, in that you will “wait and see” if the new Israeli government honors its commitments and behaves in a manner consistent with the principles of mutuality and reciprocity. And until it does, you will “wait and see” regarding future confidence-building measures and normalization.

The Israeli people, it is said, made a choice. Some say they chose fear over hope. Some say that they chose security and peace on their terms and rejected mutuality and reciprocity, choosing to return to the old paradigm by seeking to maintain all of the gains of the past 2-1/2 years (increased recognition, acceptance and trade and the end of the intifada), while giving little beyond hollow words in return.

Now that Israelis have chosen a new leadership, you must give that new leadership a choice: peace and security that are mutual and reciprocal, or a reversal in the peace process from which they have benefited so greatly.

As you present these two alternative paths to the government of Israel, be assured that you have significant allies in your camp – the overwhelming majority of the Arab people who want peace based on justice and rights, the world community that has affirmed the principles of a just and lasting peace, and a substantial body of opinion in Israel (and in the U.S.) that will insist that the new Israeli government make the right choice. You are operating from a position of strength and moral authority. Peace can continue if you affirm its vision and its principles and define, in unambiguous language, the terms of its engagement. By being firm in your commitment and visionary in your approach to peace, you will give strength to your allies and those who are committed to a lasting peace.

This is not the time for extraneous debates, counterproductive threats, or the airing of divisive internal petty grievances. This is the moment to accept the challenges of history, to be strong, and to do a great deed.

Presenting a visionary commitment to a comprehensive peace, insisting that Israel honor its commitments, and agree to mutuality and reciprocity, and tying Arab relations with Israel to full compliance to the terms of peace, will ensure that this summit will be a historic event. You will have established that it is the Arabs who occupy the high moral ground, as you invite others to join you in making an unambiguous commitment to the search for peace.

For comments or information, contact jzogby@aaiusa.org

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