Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced the Arab Peace Initiative (API) at the Beirut Arab League Summit in March 2002 as a proposal for the Arab world to fully recognize the State of Israel. In exchange of the Arab states guaranteeing Israel normal diplomatic relations and security, the API called for Israel to withdraw its territorial control to the June 4, 1967 lines allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and to come to a just and agreed solution over the issue of Palestinian refugees. Considering the existential crises Israel had faced during its wars against the Arab states throughout the twentieth century, the API was a novel step towards peace and security.
The API was initially endorsed by the 22 member states of the Arab League where it was presented. More countries adopted the API when it was endorsed by the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
At a meeting in April 2013 hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, a delegation representing the Arab League further displayed Arab states’ interest in peace when they scaled back the API’s demands upon Israel by accepting a two-state solution with mutually agreed upon land swaps. The delegation was comprised of Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil Elaraby, and a mix of foreign ministers and ambassadors from the organizations’ member states. Speaking on behalf of the Arab League, Prime Minister Hamad reaffirmed Arab commitment to the API acknowledging peace should be based on a two-state solution with “comparable and mutual agreed minor swap of the land.” Endorsing land swaps was a meaningful step taken by the Arab League as it is a concept that allows a two-state outcome to remain realistic.
While the API has been unable to embody the sweeping change so many believed it had the potential to be, most proposals on how to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process look towards the API as a framework or key reference in negotiating a solution.
As regional actors have made previous attempts at encouraging peace before 2002, the API was a historic attempt at concluding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it was the first collective Arab effort that was unanimously agreed to by all Arab states. Further adding to the API’s monumental character was that it was a proposal launched by one of the key leading Arab states in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia, who began the summit with an unprecedented address to the Israeli public calling for peace and security.
Acknowledging the magnitude of such a proposal, former President Shimon Peres summarized it best in late 2008 when he described the API as the reversal of the “3 No’s” at the Arab League’s Khartoum summit in 1967.
API Obligations Towards Israel:
- Withdraw from all disputed territories to return Israel’s borders to the June 4, 1967 lines including the Golan Heights and addition of southern Lebanon.
- Reach a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem as prescribed by UN Resolution 194.
- Accept the establishment of a Palestinian state composed of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
API Obligations Towards Arab States:
- Deem the Arab-Israeli conflict over and commit to peaceful relations with Israel guaranteeing security to all regional states.
- Establish normal diplomatic relations with Israel.
Israel’s Dilemma with the API:
- The API was launched during the height of the Second Intifada, arguably the worst timing imaginable, when Israel was experiencing the most gruesome suicide bombing attacks yet and was mainly preoccupied with quelling Palestinian violence on Israeli society. Withdrawing territory was a notion far removed from the Israeli government and security establishment at this point in time.
- Initially regarding the API as a “take-it or leave-it” demand on Israel, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejected the Arab League’s proposal.
- Direct calls for endorsing UNSC Resolution 194 that stipulates the Palestinian refugees’ right to return to Israel was unacceptable to many Israelis as they view this concept unrealistic in today’s world.
- Accepting East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state has been hotly contested by many within the Israeli government and is one of the core issues meant to be discussed during bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians, not outside parties.
- Withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines is a concession most Israelis feel is also unfeasible. Moreover, considering the Syrian civil war that has collapsed the state and allowed religious fundamentalists and terrorist groups to control large swaths of territory, abandoning the Golan Heights is not an option for Israel.
- August 1981, Saudi King Fahd composes an 8-point Arab peace plan similar to the API—Arab states recognize Israel in return for its withdrawal to the 1967 lines—that comes to be known as the Fahd Plan and releases it through the Saudi Press Agency. While initially rejected by various Arab countries at the Arab summit that November, it was later modified and accepted at the Arab summit in Fez, Morocco on September 9, 1982. However, the lack of political enthusiasm and regional preoccupation with the Iran-Iraq war stifled this endeavor.
- February 17, 2002, Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Abdullah reveals the outline of the API during an interview with New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman leading many to refer to the API as the Saudi Initiative.
- March 27, 2002, Netanya, Israel, Hamas carries out one of the deadliest attacks of the Second Intifada killing 29 civilians and wounding about 150 more with a suicide bombing at a hotel in Netanya. A similar bombing was carried out on March 31 killing 15 at a restaurant in Haifa, Israel.
- March 28, 2002, Beirut, Lebanon, Presented by Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Abdullah at the Arab League Summit, the 22 member-states unanimously endorse the API.
- April 2003, The Middle East Quartet (composed of the United States, Russia, European Union, and United Nations) publishes the Road Map to encourage a two-state outcome and acknowledges the API as a basis for regional peace.
- May 2006, Khartoum, Sudan, Arab League members unanimously reapprove their commitment to the API.
- Summer 2006, Southern Lebanon, Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon, not specifically for the purposes of fulfilling the API, but inadvertently adhered to one of the requirements of the API.
- March 28-29, 2007, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Arab League members reaffirm their commitment to the API for a second time. The aftermath of the Second Lebanon War with Hezbollah and the take-over of Hamas in Gaza reignited Israeli and Sunni-Arab interest in the API, yet despite regional and international actors’ recommendations to amend the API and push through the complacency, no breakthrough materialized. This was largely viewed as a missed opportunity.
- March 2008, Madrid, Spain, Saudi Arabia King Abdullah convenes a global interfaith dialogue with an impressive ensemble of Arab monarchs and emirs; U.S. and Israeli presidents; Middle East prime ministers; and various other heads of state. A follow-up conference was held at the United Nations in November where King Abdullah called upon the UN to revive the API and asked for people around the world to endorse peace, harmony, and tolerance.
- November 20, 2008, Israel, Following the Saudi-led UN Conference in New York, the Palestinian Authority publishes an ad promoting the API in three separate Israeli Hebrew newspapers.
- November 20, 2008, Israel, Also inspired by the Saudi-led UN conference in New York, a group of over 500 former Israeli security elites and diplomats led by Major General (ret.) Danny Rothschild launch a campaign to promote the API and sign an ad placed in the Israeli media endorsing the API advocating the Israeli government to take advantage of the proposal and not miss another opportunity for peace and security.
- January 19, 2009, Kuwait City, Kuwait, In the aftermath of the 2008-2009 Gaza War resulting in an incredibly disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties compared to Israeli casualties, an Arab summit was convened to mend the emerging rifts the Israel-Palestinian conflict was creating amongst Arab states. Claiming Israel needs to reconcile its limited opportunity for peace, Saudi Arabia King Abdullah stated the API “will not remain on the table forever.”
- April 2011, Israel, Leaders from Israel’s business sector, civil society, academia, and security establishment–including former Shin Bet heads Yaakov Peri and Ami Ayalon; former Mossad chief Danny Yatom; retired IDF General Amram Mitzna; and former Minister of Public Security Moshe Shahal—launched a proposed response to the API known as the Israeli Peace Initiative (IPI). Though unaffiliated with the Israeli government, this was the first major effort by a group of Israelis to seriously engage the API. Unfortunately, it did not garner the support and traction it needed amongst Israeli politicians to be implemented.
- April 29, 2013, Washington, DC, John Kerry hosts Arab League officials for a discussion on encouraging peace where they reaffirmed Arab commitment to the API as basis for reaching a two-state solution with mutually agreed upon land swaps.
- June 2015, Lausanne, Switzerland, The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed between the P5+1 and Iran revamps the desire for Sunni-Arab states and Israel to normalize ties and look back upon the API as a starting point.
- June 3, 2016, Paris, France, At the international peace conference organized by the French Foreign Ministry, Saudi Arabia calls on Israel to adopt the API depicting it as the best chance to reach a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and normalize ties with the Arab states.
- July 2016, Israel, An informal delegation of researchers led by retired Saudi General Anwar Eshki visit Jerusalem, Israel in a rare and unprecedented visit. Partaking in various stops along their visit throughout Israel where the delegation encouraged the API, including meetings with Knesset members and former Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold, the retired Saudi general claimed they were invited by a senior Fatah member of the Palestinian Authority, Jibril Rajoub.
Arab / Muslim Endorsees
- Afghanistan 30. Malaysia
- Albania 31. Maldives
- Algeria 32. Mali
- Azerbaijan 33. Mauritania
- Bahrain 34. Morocco
- Bangladesh 35. Mozambique
- Benin 36. Niger
- Brunei 37. Nigeria
- Burkina Faso 38. Oman
- Cameroon 39. Pakistan
- Chad 40. Palestinian Authority
- Comoros 41. Qatar
- Cote D’Ivoire 42. Saudi Arabia
- Djibouti 43. Senegal
- Egypt 44. Sierra Leone
- Gabon 45. Somalia
- Gambia 46. Sudan
- Guinea-Bissau 47. Suriname
- Guinea 48. Syria
- Guyana 49. Tajikistan
- Indonesia 50. Togo
- Iraq 51. Tunisia
- Iran 52. Turkey
- Jordan 53. Turkmenistan
- Kazakhstan 54. Uganda
- Kuwait 55. United Arab Emirates
- Kyrgyzstan 56. Uzbekistan
- Lebanon 57. Yemen