Although it is not the Israeli government launching the IPI, it is indeed significant, as a former army chief of staff, heads of security services, a prominent business leader and intellectuals are behind it. Furthermore, the launch of the IPI is an historic development, as it is the first Israeli response to the API which offered in 2002 Arab collective recognition of the State of Israel with recognized and secured borders as well as diplomatic and trade relations.
Arabs and Muslims could not understand - for years - how the Israelis refused out of hand this recognition, which Israeli leaders after the Six-Day War were hoping to obtain. Both the IPI and API are calling for withdrawal of Israeli troops from territories occupied in 1967, with some modification and ending all claims.
Jewish, Christian and Muslim American leaders - who comprise the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for peace in the Middle East - immediately realized the historic significance of the IPI. They welcomed it and sent an open letter to President Obama citing IPI, API and the Geneva Accord as basis for reaching comprehensive peace in the Middle East. These religious leaders -including 10 nationally recognized rabbis - called on President Obama to visit Jerusalem and the region to promote peace based on these initiatives.
Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem in 1977 opened the door for comprehensive peace in the region. Unfortunately the Arab world and the Israeli government back then rejected this notion and Sadat’s initiative subsequently led “only” to a separate peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.
Rabin and Peres delivered in 1992 the historic response for Sadat’s initiative and opened the door for comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Unfortunately, Rabin like Sadat was cut down by extremists who oppose peace – or dare I say - are afraid of peace because it challenges their view of life according to their narrow interpretation of the sacred text. However, Rabin did not risk his life in vain.
Translate hope into reality
It is clear that without Rabin’s and Peres’ peace initiative the API would not have been possible. The API represented a radical strategic shift in Arab thinking. In the 1960s the Arab World had collective defense agreement dedicating all its military capabilities to fighting Israel. In 2002, The Arab World collectively offered peace and recognized secured borders to Israel while soundly rejecting the military option and stating that the military option cannot achieve neither peace nor security. Furthermore, two Arab countries –Egypt and Jordon - have a peace treaty with Israel.
The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty ended the regional war and was not derailed by the Lebanon war of 1982. The 2006 Lebanon war did not prevent the re-launching of the API in 2007 nor did it derail the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty. Even Gaza war in 2008/9 did not derail the API.
This is the big picture of peace making in the Middle East. That is why it is refreshing to see the IPI emerging and that former heads of security services and army chiefs are behind it. They see the big picture of war and peace in the region and they acknowledge the importance of the API.
For me the question is no longer if, but rather when peace will come. The current Israeli coalition government lacks vision for peace and the IPI is offering a daring vision for comprehensive regional peace. I believe that the dawn of the new Middle East is upon us; and that the combination of the IPI and API is the way forward. The new Middle East must be built on a vision of comprehensive peace.
The IPI emerged in a time when the entire Middle East is witnessing the spring of the Arab revolution. With all the uncertainty and the concerns over the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, the peace community on both sides needs to reach out to each other more than any other time in order to translate hope into reality.
Aziz Fahmy is an Egyptian journalist and commentator residing in Washington
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