Reaffirmation of the Arab peace initiative by the Riyadh summit meeting (First summary and appraisal)

Abu Mazen (foreground) and Ismail Haniya (behind him to the left)
at the opening ceremony of the Arab summit meeting
(Ahmed Jadallah for Reuters, March 28)


1. On March 28-29 an Arab summit meeting was held in Riyadh , the capital of Saudi Arabia . It was overshadowed by the escalation of the regional struggle between the radical Iranian-Syrian axis and the pragmatic, pro-Western states (chiefly Saudi Arabia , Egypt and Jordan ) and by the internal tensions in the various arenas of conflict (chiefly Iraq , the Palestinian arena and Lebanon ). The decisions reached by the participants stressed the need for Arab unity and for joint Arab action to deal with both the internal and external challenges facing the Arab world.

2. One of the topics dealt with was the reaffirmation and renewed marketing of the Arab initiative, which was ratified at the Arab summit meeting in Beirut in March 2002. The objective was to send a message of renewed Arab unity, to ease the struggle against the Iranian threat (although the decisions reached avoided directly mentioning Iran as a source of threat) 1 and to establish Saudi Arabia ‘s status as the leader of the Arab world.

3. The objective of this Bulletin is to examine the Arab peace initiative and other topics dealt with by the Riyadh summit meeting relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (other decisions reached by the meeting are not included here). 

Background for the Arab peace initiative

4. The Arab peace initiative adopted by the Beirut summit meeting was based on the Saudi Arabian initiative proposed by the current king of Saudi Arabia , Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz, who was then crown prince. It came into being at the end of 2001 after a full year of the Palestinian terrorist campaign (the �second intifada�). Saudi Arabia hoped to use it to brake the escalating Palestinian-Israeli conflict and at the same time to improve its relations with the United States and the West in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 . The Saudi Arabian initiative was revealed in an interview given by crown prince Abdullah to New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman in February 2002. The initiative was later changed (stiffening its position regarding Israel ) until it was accepted by all the Arab states in Beirut , when it became �the Arab initiative.�

5. The Riyadh summit meeting reaffirmed, among other things, the complete text of the Arab initiative, including the paragraph dealing with the Palestinian refugees, which is unacceptable to Israel and which does not appear in the original Saudi Arabian initiative. 2 The initiative, according to the final statement made by the leaders of the Arab states in Riyadh , is intended to prepare the way for a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict relying on legitimate international decisions, and on the principle of land in return for peace.

Abu Mazen (left) and Ismail Haniya with Saudi Arabian king Abdallah. The summit meeting enabled Hamas to place itself at the center of the pan-Arab stage as Abu Mazen�s equal (Hamas Website, March 27).

The main points of the Arab initiative
(the Arabic version appears in the Appendix)

6. The following are the main points adopted by the summit meeting in Beirut in March 27-28, 2002 :

A. The Arab League Council asks Israel to reexamine its policies and to turn to peace, announcing that a just peace ( al-salam al-�adil ) is its strategic option.

B. The Arab League Council demands that Israel take the following steps:

1) A full withdrawal ( al-insihab al-kamil ) from the occupied Arab lands, including the � Syrian Golan ,� to the June 4, 1967 lines and from the lands still occupied by Israel in south Lebanon . 4

2) Finding a just solution ( hall �adil ) for the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194. 5

3) Acceptance of the existence of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

C. [In return,] the Arab states will do the following:

1) [The Arab states will] consider thereby that the Arab-Israeli conflict has ended and enter into a peace agreement between them and Israel while assuring security for all the countries in the region.

2) [The Arab states] will establish natural relations (�alaqat tabi’iyya 6) with Israel as part of an overall peace.

3) [The Arab states] will guarantee the rejection of all forms of permanent settlement of the Palestinians [i.e., refugees] [in the Arab countries] ( al-tawtin ) which conflicts with the special circumstances [current] in the Arab host states.

4) The Arab League calls upon the government of Israel and all Israelis to accept this initiative to preserve the chance for the establishment of peace and to prevent bloodshed, 7 in a way that will enable the Arab states and Israel to live in peace side by side and provide a secure future of prosperity and stability for future generations.

The main decisions reached by the Riyadh summit meeting relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Arab initiative

7. The following are the main decisions reached by the Riyadh summit meeting relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Arab initiative: 8

A. The meeting stressed the adherence of all the Arab states to decision 221 adopted by the Beirut summit meeting on March 28, 2002 , known as the � Arab peace initiative .� The meeting called upon the Israeli government and all Israelis to accept the Arab peace initiative and to exploit the opportunity to renew the process of direct, serious negotiations regarding all avenues.

B. The meeting charged the ministers’ committee for the Arab peace initiative to continue its efforts to set up working teams for making the necessary contacts with the UN General Secretary, the members of the Security Council, the international Quartet and all the other sides involved in the peace process (by implication Israel as well, although Israel is not referred to by name.)

C. The meeting expressed the support of the Arab states for the Palestinian national unity government and called upon the international community to immediately lift the political, economic and military boycott Israeli imposed on the Palestinians and to hold Israel responsible for it, to compensate the Palestinians for casualties and damage to property, and to exert pressure on Israel to release the tax funds due to the Palestinian Authority.


King Abdallah speaking at the summit meeting, calling for the lifting of the �boycott� of the Palestinians (Saudi Arabian TV, March 28).

D. The meeting severely denounced Israel for the �excavations under and around Al-Aqsa mosque [embracing the utterly false claim that Israel is excavating under Al-Aqsa] and called upon international organizations and institutions, especially UNESCO, to bear responsibility for protecting the Islamic and Christian holy sites. The meeting stressed the �Arab nature of Jerusalem � and rejected �all the illegal steps taken by Israel to make Jerusalem Jewish and annex it.�

E. The meeting also stressed the �illegitimacy of the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.� It called for pressure to be exerted on Israel to release the 10,000 Palestinians detained in Israeli jails. It also called upon the Arab states to aid and support the rehabilitation of structures and infrastructures destroyed by Israel during its military actions in the Gaza Strip and West Bank .

The issue of terrorism as it appeared in the meeting’s decisions

8. As noted above, the Arab peace initiative does not mention the issue of terrorism. Regarding the decisions taken at the Riyadh summit meeting, in the paragraph dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (which included the reaffirmation of the Arab initiative) no mention was made of either Palestinian or global terrorism . However, the issue does appear in paragraph 14 in the context of decisions relating to Lebanon , where, in addition to everything else, Israel is held responsible for the second Lebanon war:

9: Paragraph 14 and its English translation follow: 9

�We emphasize our condemnation of international terrorism (al-irhab al-dawli), against which the Arab states effectively fight, and the need to distinguish between terrorism and legitimate resistance (al-muqawamah al-mashrua�) against the Israeli occupation. That is, we do not consider acts of resistance as terrorism activity, and as a result therefore we do not put men of the resistance on the list of terrorists.�

10. It should be noted that among the decisions taken by the Arab summit meeting in Beirut in 2002 also appeared paragraphs in support of the Lebanese �resistance� (i.e., Hezbollah) 10 and which distinguished between global terrorism and �the legitimate right of peoples to resist foreign occupation.� The paragraph in the Riyadh summit meeting’s decisions relates to �resistance� in general, and not just �Lebanese resistance,� despite the fact that it appears in a Lebanese context. The Riyadh version also distinguishes between the terrorism employed by the global jihad (which is to be denounced) and �legitimate resistance� against the �Israeli occupation� ( muqawamah ). That wording gives pan-Arab legitimization to the terrorism waged by Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist organizations as well . 11

11. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile mentioning that Abu Mazen, for his part, in a speech given at the summit meeting’s final session, called upon Israel and the Palestinians to give up violence, saying �while we demand a comprehensive, just solution for our cause, we renounce violence and violence-in-return in all its forms, because we were and still are the first victims of that violence (Palestinian National Authority, March 29). However, taking into consideration the decisions taken by the summit meeting and the provocative statements made by Hamas and the other Palestinian terrorist organizations regarding their right and determination to continue their terrorist campaign (see below), Abu Mazen’s appeal was exceptional. 

Responses to the Riyadh Summit Meeting’s Reaffirmation of the Arab Initiative
(updated to April 4)


12. A Foreign Ministry spokesman, in a preliminary response noted, among other things, the following on March 29:

� Israel is sincerely interested in pursuing a dialogue with those Arab states desiring peace with Israel to promote a process of normalization and cooperation. Israel hopes that the Riyadh Summit will contribute to that effort.

Israel’s position with regard to the peace process with the Palestinians is founded on fundamental principles, the most central of which is the existence of two nation-states, each addressing the national aspirations of its own people � Israel for the Jewish people and Palestine for the Palestinian people � and with both states coexisting in peace, free of the threat of terrorism and violence.

To that end a direct dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians is necessary.�

13. On March 28 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Israeli daily Hebrew newspaper Haaretz he had faith that during the next five years it would be possible to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with the Arab states and the Palestinians. He related positively to the Saudi Arabian initiative but had reservations about the Arab initiative which mentioned UN Resolution 194. Olmert stated that the Saudi Arabian initiative contained interesting ideas �and we are willing to discuss them and hear from the Saudi Arabians about their position and to tell them what our position is.� He added that he would be happy to participate in a regional conference which would support negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians (Haaretz, March 30, 2007 ).

14. In an interview with Time Magazine the prime minister said that if he could meet with King Abdullah he would surprise him with what he had to say. He added that the Saudi Arabian peace initiative’s approach was very interesting (Haaretz, April 1).

The Palestinians

Palestinian hopes that the Arab summit meeting will help relieve some of the international pressure on them (the �blockade�). The cartoon was drawn by Omaya Joha, known for her Hamas affiliation. It makes no reference to the hope that the summit meeting will help advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians (Hamas Website, March 30)

Palestinian Authority chairman, Abu Mazen

15. Palestinian Authority chairman Abu Mazen and national unity government prime minister Ismail Haniya headed the Palestinian delegation to the Riyadh summit conference. As opposed to Hamas officials and spokesmen, who tried to keep from revealing their real attitude to the Arab initiative (See below), Abu Mazen warmly praised the initiative and called upon the Arab states to make a serious effort to market it to the international community.

16. The points of Abu Mazen’s statement regarding the Arab initiative were the following (taken from Palestinian TV and the Palestinian News Agency, March 27):

A. The Arab peace initiative is the greatest opportunity to find a solution for the crisis in the Middle East . Any failure would mean the destruction of hope for peace in the future.

B. No changes should be made in the initiative because it is �completely balanced� and ensures the �rights� of both sides. The Palestinians will receive a country of their own and a �solution for the refugee problem,� and the Arab and Muslim countries will normalize their relations with Israel .

C. The initiative should be marketed to the nations of the world because, according to Abu Mazen, it has not been properly understood or explained, and has even been �corrupted by a number of factors� (Abu Mazen was careful not to clarify who or what the factors were or how they had �corrupted� the initiative).

D. In principle, there is no way of escaping from having contacts with Israel . He said he had recently set up a schedule of bi-weekly meetings with prime minister [Olmert], at which mutual problems would be raised, as would fundamental problems related to the final status agreement.

E. As to the issue of the refugees , Abu Mazen said (according to the Palestinian News Agency) that �We adhere to the literal text of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1949 [sic, i.e., 1948].� He said that the resolution was also represented in the Arab initiative, which called for �a just and agreed solution for the refugees according to Resolution 194.�

17. In a speech given at the final session of the summit meeting Abu Mazen praised the reaffirmation of the Arab initiative and called for the establishment of a mechanism for implementing it and finding suitable ways to turn the initiative from a statement of principles to a practical program which should be implemented (Palestinian News Agency, March 29).

18. Senior PLO figures described the Arab initiative as an achievement. Jibril Rajoub called for the establishment of a mechanism for its implementation, for ensuring financial aid for the Palestinian national unity government and for lifting the diplomatic �boycott.� He said that unless that happened, the results of the summit would amount to nothing more than polite phrases. He also called for an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue which would become a multilateral regional dialogue (Palestinian TV, March 29). Muhammad Dahlan, Saeb Ariqat and Abu Alaa’ also praised the Arab initiative.

The Hamas movement

A political achievement for Hamas: King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia receiving Abu Mazen
and Ismail Haniya in Riyadh (Hamas Website, March 27)

19. Hamas’ position to the Riyadh summit meeting and the Arab initiative is ambivalent:

A. On the one hand, Hamas and national unity government prime minister Ismail Haniya won pan-Arab legitimacy, more than at Abu Mazen’s expense. The summit meeting also called upon the international community to support the national unity government and to end the financial and diplomatic �boycott� of it. Those are all political achievements unprecedented for Hamas since the Palestinian Legislative Council elections.

B. On the other hand, Hamas is opposed to the Arab initiative on principle because it includes recognition of Israel and the end of the Palestinian- and Arab-Israeli conflicts.

C. Other considerations which influenced Hamas’s position were its lack of desire for a confrontation with Saudi Arabia , Egypt and other countries which support both the initiative and the Palestinian national unity government, and its interest in preserving internal Palestinian unity following the Mecca Accord and the establishment of the national unity government.

20. Thus Hamas spokesmen in general preferred not to express blatant opposition to the initiative, to maintain a certain degree of vagueness regarding its true position toward it, to minimize its importance and to stress what it views as the initiative’s positive aspects, especially adherence to the return of the Palestinian refugees.

21. Some statements made by senior Hamas figures and the organization’s spokesmen regarding the decisions taken by the Riyadh summit were:

A. Ismail Haniya , national unity government prime minister, who participated in Riyadh summit meeting, told Reuters journalists that his organization did not object to the Arab initiative but that it would never give up its demand for the Palestinian refugees’ �right to return.� He called upon the leaders of the Arab states not to compromise regarding the basic rights of the Palestinians, especially the refugees’ �right to return� (Reuters, Riyadh , March 28). In an interview with Al-Arabiya TV he repeatedly stressed that the return of the Palestinian refuges to �their� land was �a holy right� that no one had the right to cede (Al-Arabiya TV, March 29).

B. Mahmoud al-Zahar , one of the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, said that the Arab summit meeting had not produced anything new. He said that in 2002 it had been �halted� at a certain stage and had never taken off again. He repeated Hamas’ basic ideology: �Our plan is to liberate all Palestine all at once �all Palestine is [one] stage for us. As for our strategic plan, [it is] bringing Islam to every house.� He added that � We have never recognized and will never recognize the right of Israel to exist in any part of Palestine �if we give up our program of resistance we give up our name! We are the Islamic Resistance Movement � Hamas� ( Ma’an News Agency , March 30).

C. Khalil Abu Leila , responsible for Hamas’ foreign relations, said that he did not believe that the �Zionist entity� would agree to the Arab initiative. Therefore, he said, the PLO should be given another chance to deal with the �Zionist entity,� but that it would have to be done without the Arabs’ making concessions in return for Israel ‘s agreement to the initiative (Al-Aqsa satellite TV, March 27).

D. Salah Bardawil , Hamas spokesman in the Legislative Council, said that the Arab summit meeting added nothing to the Palestinian issue beyond demonstrating pan-Arab unity. He said there were nothing new in the Arab initiative because �it is merely more of what was proposed in Beirut in 2002� (Quds Press Website, March 30). Muhammad Barghouti as well, Hamas local government minister, said there was nothing new about the decisions made at the summit meeting (Palestinian TV, March 29).

E. Ismail Radwan , Hamas spokesman, praised the decisions made at the summit meeting to confront the Zionist-American pressures which call for the negation of the Palestinian refugees’ �right to return.� He expressed his hope that the decision would enable the �siege� to be lifted and that the Palestinian government would be given financial aid (Hamas Website, March 31).

22. While the above statements relating directly to the summit meeting and the Arab initiative were being made, Hamas spokesmen repeatedly said that Hamas had not abandoned its principles regarding the conflict, at the heart of which were its refusal to recognize the right of Israel to exist and its adherence to the strategy of �resistance� (i.e., violence and terrorism) . For example:

A. Khaled Mashaal , head of Hamas’ political bureau, while on a visit to Algiers where he participated in the Conference of the Jerusalem International Foundation, denied that Hamas had abandoned its military jihad when it took over the government and said that it was determined to continue with the �resistance� (i.e., violence and terrorism) (El-Khabar, Algeria, March 27).

B. On March 31 at a rally in Khan Yunis, Ismail Radwan , Hamas spokesman, said that Hamas would not abandon the �resistance� and would continue with the jihad as its strategic choice �to liberate all of historical Palestine [i.e., � Palestine � from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River ].� Hinting at the Riyadh summit meeting he said, � Jerusalem will not be liberated by meetings, decisions and negotiations, but with the rifle, the Qassam and rockets .� He told his listeners to � prepare yourselves for jihad, the battle is at hand and our enemies know only the language of force� � (Pal-media Website, affiliated with Hamas, March 31).

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad

23. Unlike a certain vagueness employed by Hamas spokesmen relating to the Arab initiative, the result of the movement’s unity governmental commitments, the PIJ expressed determined opposition to the Arab peace initiative because of the decisions and attacked it with strong language:

A. In an Internet posting, the PIJ claimed that the Riyadh summit meeting gave the �Zionist entity� and excuse to continue its �aggressive policies against the Palestinians.� Khaled al-Batash , a senior PIJ figure, said that the Arabs had �unanimously agreed to abandon the Palestinian problem and that they no longer related [positively] to the Palestinians� (Hamas Website, March 29).

B. Ziyad Nakhleh , deputy secretary of the organization (who lives in Damascus), told the Iranian TV channel Al-�Alam that the Arab leaders meeting in Riyadh were not authorized to make concessions to the �Zionists� regarding �historical Palestine.� He added that the PIJ’s position was that the idea of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders side by side with Israel should not be discussed(Al-�Alam, March 28). He also said that the summit meeting’s decisions �conceded the legitimate right of the Palestinian people� and added that �all Arab leaders were forbidden under any circumstances�to cede historical Palestine to the Zionist enemies� (Paltoday Webside, March 29).


Palestinian Islamic Jihad parade in Gaza to protest the Riyadh summit meeting
(Al-Jazeera TV, March 28)

24. On March 28 the PIJ and the Popular Resistance Committees held a well-attended parade in the center of Gaza City to protest the �dictations [given to] and the pressures� exerted on the Palestinian people by Israel and the United States, and to demand that the leaders of the Arab summit meeting � support the resistance in Palestine and in other countries .� Senior PIJ figure Khadr Habib gave a speech in which he said that the rockets launched by the organization on March 28 into Israeli territory �were a message to the Arab summit meeting that our only option is the option of resistance�� 12 (PIJ Website, March 28; Voice of Truth Website of the PRC, March 28).

First international responses

25. A State Department spokesman congratulated the Riyadh summit meeting for having ratified the 2002 Arab initiative for a settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. �That is something we view as very positive�The United States has no interest in seeking revision to the initiative�� The foreign ministers of the European Union and the UN Secretary General also expressed support for the Arab initiative.

Appendix I 

The Arabic version of the Arab peace initiative taken from the Arab summit
meeting in Beirut , March 27-28, 2002