A double standard

The Arab Peace Initiative offers to Israel peace, normalization and security guarantees from the entire Arab world after the conclusion of agreements on the three bilateral tracks–Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese. But it also presents the framework of agreements acceptable to the Arab world.

The clause that pertains to the territorial aspect of these peace settlements determines that the agreements should include, "Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon."

There is a clear difference in the way the API treats the Palestinian and Syrian cases and the way it treats the Lebanese case. In the two first instances, the demand is to return to the lines of June 4, 1967. In the Lebanese case, Israel is asked to withdraw from the occupied Lebanese territories in South Lebanon without specifying when they were occupied.

This implies that the API is applying a double standard. In the Lebanese case, one can understand based on past Lebanese demands that the API is demanding that Israel withdraw to the line of the Israel-Lebanon Armistice Agreement of March 1949. That means that all the changes that took place since 1949 are null and void, including changes that took place between 1949 and 1967. The present dividing line between Lebanon and Israel, the so called blue line, is not an agreed border between the two states.

The disputes between Lebanon and Israel are of two categories: disputes that resulted from the 1967 war, and disputes about more minor changes that occurred mostly between 1949 and 1967. The Shebaa farms and Ghajar are examples of the first category, while the second category includes some points along the armistice line in which there was no agreement on the accurate delineation of the border because the two parties did not complete a process of joint border delineation that began at the beginning of the 1950s and was stopped.

In the Syrian case, the API demands a withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 line because Syria does not want to give up territory that it acquired between 1949 and 1967 through acts that violated the armistice agreement with Israel. The June 4, 1967 line is not identical to the lines of the Israel-Syria Armistice Agreement of July 1949 because Syria took control by force of important parts of the demilitarized zones that were determined by the agreement, including the al-Hama area.

It will of course be difficult for Israel to accept the double standard that acquisition of territory by force is legitimate when it is done by an Arab party and illegitimate when it is done by Israel.

In the Palestinian case there is no such problem because the armistice line is identical with the 1967 line, the so-called green line. Nevertheless, the language of the API may become an obstacle to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on a common border. If one takes the API literarily, Israel should withdraw precisely to the green line. Yet in fact, the two sides have already made much progress in their border negotiations and both accept that as long as the Palestinians get the same size territory as that constituted by the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on June 4, 1967, some equal swaps of territory are acceptable. There is still a debate over the size of the swapped territories, which the Palestinian side wishes to minimize, and their location, but there is agreement on the principle. It would be a pity if the API were to preclude this progress and interfere with the capacity of Israel and the PLO to reach a reasonable agreement.

This raises the question, how significant is this clause in the API? It is only natural that when discussing the wording of the API in March 2002, the Arab parties in the three bilateral tracks, Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese, did not want to compromise their negotiating positions and therefore chose this wording. One can also assume that the authors of this clause wanted to adopt a simple principle that is acceptable to the entire Arab world of return to the June 4, 1967 lines without complicating it with the peculiarities of each case.

The result is a compromise between these two requirements. It is a fair assumption that the Arab world will accept any reasonable peace agreement that is concluded by the parties. In this sense, the API is only significant because it reflects the positions of the direct parties. But after so many years of peace process, these positions are in any case already known and with greater detail.

The clear conclusion is that the API clause that deals with borders should not prevent Israel from stating that it can accept the API as a basis for peace negotiations and cooperation with Arab parties even if it has some reservations regarding the details of future agreements.