Clinton: Arab Peace Initiative A ‘Heck Of A Deal’

Yesterday, Josh Rogin reported some interesting comments on the Middle East peace process from Bill Clinton in a roundtable with bloggers on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. Criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for moving the goalposts on a peace deal, Clinton also lamented Israel’s failure to respond to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as a huge missed opportunity.

“The King of Saudi Arabia started lining up all the Arab countries to say to the Israelis, ‘if you work it out with the Palestinians… we will give you immediately not only recognition but a political, economic, and security partnership,'” Clinton said. “This is huge… It’s a heck of a deal.

Clinton is right. It was a heck of a deal, so much so that earlier this year a group of prominent Israelis, including top former military and intelligence officials, put together their own initiative in response.

But the Arab Peace Initiative poses a real problem for conservatives who like to maintain the fiction that Israel has always said “yes” to peace while the Arabs keep saying “no.” The preferred method for dealing with this problem is usually just to pretend it never happened, as in this recent video featuring Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

Former Bush administration Middle East adviser Elliott Abrams, on the other hand, takes a different approach: rank misrepresentation:

That “deal” was adopted at an Arab League summit attended by only 10 of the 22 Arab leaders of the day, and among those not in attendance were the king of Jordan, the president of Egypt, and Yasser Arafat—suggesting that support for this proposal may have been quite limited.

Abrams is right that the initiative was adopted at an Arab League summit attended by only 10 of the 22 Arab leaders of the day. But for some reason Abrams doesn’t mention that it was unanimously reaffirmed at the 2007 Arab League summit, in which all 22 Arab member states but one (Libya) were present.

As for the “limited” support for the initiative, the king of Jordan limited his support to addressing a joint meeting of Congress to attempt to gain backing for it. In further evidence of Jordanian disinterest, the Jordanian embassy created an entire web page explaining the initiative in detail.

The president of Egypt’s support for the initiative, in contrast, was limited to merely publishing an op-ed in the New York Times touting it as the basis for regional peace.

Certainly there are criticisms to be made of the initiative, such as the Arab League’s insistence that Israel accept it first before offering changes. But the fact remains that the deal was entirely consistent with multiple UN Security Council resolutions, and by refusing to even officially respond to an offer of full normalization and end of conflict, the Israelis reinforced the perception that they aren’t interested in a negotiated peace, just as the Palestinians did when they walked away from Camp David in 2000.

Cross-posted from Middle East Progress.