How to Achieve Israeli-Palestinian Peace
President Barack Obama”s seminal address in Cairo marked a turning point in America”s relations with the Muslim world. His message was clear and incontrovertible: It is issues of politics and policy, not a clash of values, that separate the Muslim world and America. It is the resolution of these issues that will heal the divide.
The ambitious agenda outlined by President Obama must now be followed by forward-looking steps in order to chart a new course in America”s relationship with the Arab and Muslim world. I look forward to working with the president to achieve that objective.
For decades, the Arab world has been engaged in a process of intense soul-searching as to how to cope with the forces of change in its midst, including the rising expectations of a rapidly growing younger generation, the destabilizing escalation of regional conflicts, and the swelling tide of radicalism and extremism.
Egypt has long been at the forefront of confronting these challenges, whether in being the first to extend our hand for peace with Israel, addressing the dangers posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or confronting the threat of terrorism through the moderation and tolerance at the heart of our religious heritage. Through these challenges and beyond, Egypt has engaged in a process of reform that is succeeding in providing greater opportunities for our youth, more empowerment for women, as well as greater pluralism and internal debate. We openly acknowledge that this process still has a way to go in fulfilling our aspirations.
The time has come to renew our commitment to address these many challenges. Among the host of challenges before us, it is the Palestinian issue that requires the greatest urgency, given the precarious state of the peace process after years of stalemate. President Obama has shown a willingness to lead to achieve peace in the Middle East; the Arab world must reciprocate with forthright leadership of its own.
Despite the setbacks of the last few years, it is important to remember that many of the elements of a solution have already been negotiated. After nearly two decades of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations since the initiation of the Oslo peace process, many of the details of a final settlement are well known. Furthermore, the Arab Peace Initiative, adopted at the Beirut summit of 2002, provides a regional framework for such a settlement. For the first time in the history of the conflict, the Arab states unanimously committed to full normalization and security for Israel in exchange for a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines and a negotiated resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue.
The road to a final settlement will now require leadership and concerted effort from all sides. Over the last few years, Egypt has worked exhaustively to unite the Palestinian leadership in a manner that upholds their commitment to a negotiated two-state solution. Egypt has also tried to broker a durable cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, in parallel with our mediation on a prisoner exchange. During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu”s visit to Egypt last month I renewed our commitment to resume these efforts.
These steps must now be joined with a serious process to negotiate a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The priority should be to resolve the permanent borders of a sovereign and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, based on the 1967 lines, as this would unlock most of the other permanent status issues, including settlements, security, water and Jerusalem.
Success of these negotiations will depend on firm commitments from both sides to uphold the credibility of the process. Israel”s relentless settlement expansion, which has seriously eroded the prospects for a two-state solution, must cease, together with its closure of Gaza. For their part, the Palestinians must continue to develop their institutional capacity while overcoming their division to achieve their aspirations for statehood.
While full normalization with Israel can only result from a comprehensive settlement including the Syrian, Lebanese as well as Palestinian track, the Arab side stands ready to reciprocate serious steps towards peace undertaken by Israel.
A historic settlement is within reach, one that would give the Palestinians their state and freedom from occupation while granting Israel recognition and security to live in peace. With President Obama”s reassertion of U.S. leadership in the region, a rare moment of opportunity presents itself. Egypt stands ready to seize that moment, and I am confident that the Arab world will do the same.