Disagreement between Egypt, Palestine over proposed amendment to Arab Peace Initiative

Disagreement seems to be brewing within the Arab League this week between the delegates of Egypt and Palestine in light of a proposed amendment to the wording of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (also known as the Saudi Initiative) pertaining to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and other territories.

While there have been denials regarding any official disagreement on the Arab League’s 15 year-old resolution, sources have confirmed that Egypt’s proposed amendments this week were rejected by the Palestinian delegation. These sources claimed that the Egyptian delegation aimed to open a debate to further develop the Arab Peace Initiative, a proposal which was supported by the Secretary-General of the League and Egypt’s former foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

In his comments to reporters at the conclusion of the Arab foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo on Tuesday, Aboul Gheit spoke of the need to consider “new ideas with which to resolve the crises in the region.” However, the meeting’s closing statement mentioned the adherence of state-parties to the Arab Peace Initiative without amendments to it.

Included in Egypt’s proposed amendment to the Arab Peace Initiative was the phrase “taking note of the Arab Peace Initiative” rather than “reaffirming the Arab Peace Initiative.” The Palestinian delegation described this minor amendment as being a “sudden” change, which had “not been previously coordinated,” according to sources who attended the Arab League meeting.

During the course of the ministerial meeting on Sunday, the Palestinian delegation raised questions about the reasons behind Egypt’s introduction of the amendment, to which the Egyptian delegation responded that “many events that have taken place since the introduction of the Arab Peace Initiative, including regional and international changes that can lead to its development in some capacity,” in another sign of recent tension between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The Arab Peace Initiative was formulated by the Saudi delegation to the Arab League (largely under the behest of the then-Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdel Aziz al-Saud) 15 years ago, and represented a significant shift in the conservative kingdom’s position on the Palestinian issue, particularly as it calls for Arab states’ collective normalization of relations with Israel in exchange for a political settlement involving Israel’s withdrawal from all territories it occupied after the 1967 War.

The timing of the peace initiative is also noteworthy, as it was proposed at the same time former Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat was besieged by Israeli forces within his residential quarters in Ramallah.

Jamal al-Shobaki, the Palestinian Ambassador to Cairo, told Mada Masr that there was no disagreement about the Arab Peace Initiative, stating that “all the Arab states are committed to this initiative, which is one of the few issues that Arabs have agreed to by consensus.”

“In fact, the Palestinian side is coordinating with Arab states, particularly the front line states, including Egypt” regarding joint stances or common policies, Shobaki added.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, held a meeting with his Palestinian counterpart, Riyad al-Malki, on the sidelines of the Arab League’s ministers meeting on Tuesday, which, according to the spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, included talks with Malki regarding the latest political developments in the Palestinian territories, especially with regard to Israeli land-grabs in association with the ongoing construction of its illegal settlements.

The Egyptian spokesperson added that Malki and Shoukry had also discussed Egyptian-Jordanian coordination to promote regional and international support for the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, and the establishment of a viable independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Despite Malki’s claims that there was no disagreement between the Egyptian and Palestinian delegations to the Arab League regarding the Arab Peace Initiative, sources as the League of Arab States pointed to a different reality.

An unnamed source who attended this week’s sessions at the Arab League commented that the meeting between the Egyptian and Palestinian delegates “cannot be described as being positive.”

According to the source, the Arab League’s Secretary-General, who presided over a part of the meetings, expressed his sense of surprise to his aides and commented about the “extremely unyielding” stance adopted by the Palestinian delegation regarding the Egyptian delegation’s proposed amendment to the Arab Peace Initiative, which Aboul Gheit described as being an “intelligent” proposal.

In his address to the foreign ministers’ meeting, Shoukry argued that “the Middle East peace process is stuck, and the goal of reaching a just and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of a two-state solution is distant.” Shoukry went on to speak about the “tireless efforts” of the Egyptian state over the past few months “to revive the peace process” through the United Nations’ Security Council.

Egypt’s foreign minister concluded by claiming that Egyptian authorities stand firmly opposed to Israel’s seizure of Palestinian lands and other occupied Arab territories through its illegal construction of settlements.

Asmahan Soliman 

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