"I have a selfish reason for wanting the Arab Peace Initiative to succeed. I want to be able to get on a plane, in Riyadh, fly directly to Jerusalem and pray in the Al-Aqsa Mosque..." Prince Turki AlFaisal of Saudi Arabia explains how the Arab Peace Initiative could be a basis for establishing peace and normal diplomatic relations between Israel and the entire Arab and Muslim world.
Before he died, my late father expressed the wish to be able to pray once more in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. For me, not having done so, the reason is doubled. I want to pray there, too. Unless there is peace between Israel and the Arab world, this dream of mine will remain unfulfilled. Yet in the Arab Peace Initiative, I believe there is a real chance to achieve peaceful relations with the Israeli state.
A concrete proposal for Arab-Israeli peace
The Arab Peace Initiative (API) is a comprehensive proposal to establish peace between the Arab states and Israel. It offers a quid pro quo based on the parameters of the United Nations Resolutions that deal with the Israeli-Arab conflict. It is also based on the Madrid Conference principle of ‘land for peace’ and the Oslo Accord principle of a negotiated agreement between the conflicting parties.
The Arab Peace Initiative
"57 nations are standing and waiting for the possibility of making peace with Israel" – US Secretary of State John Kerry
Find out more about the Arab Peace Initiative – visit our Q&A.
Practically, the API calls on the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Syrians to seek the return of all of their Israeli occupied territories from Israel, and the return of Palestinian refugees. In return, Israel will get an end of hostilities, normal diplomatic relations, and a full peace with all of the members of the Arab League and all of the members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. There are no under-the-table, secret understandings. Everything is transparent and straightforward.
Procedurally, the negotiations can take a parallel course; while the principal parties talk, the Arab League can also talk with Israel on the collective issues. But, there will be no progress on the collective side without verifiable and a priori progress on the Palestinian, Lebanese, and Syrian sides. Timetables, land swaps, refugees, and security guarantees are the province of the principal parties. The Arab League will endorse whatever the principals accept.
Some may query the viability of the Lebanese and Syrian tracks because of the current situation there. As a sign of goodwill, Israel can cede the Lebanese territory it occupies to the United Nations, and the Lebanese government is a viable signatory to any peace accord agreed to. The Golan Heights can be equally ceded to the United Nations until a Syrian Government can sign an accord. If there is goodwill, there will be no obstacles.
Tasting the oranges of Jaffa
I have a selfish reason for wanting the Arab Peace Initiative to succeed. I want to be able to get on a plane, in Riyadh, fly directly to Jerusalem and pray in the Al-Aqsa Mosque; to visit the Dome of the Rock Mosque, the tomb of Abraham, and the tombs of the other Prophets. To visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in which the Caliph Omar refused its Bishop’s invitation to pray, fearing that if he did so, Muslims would take it over and turn it into a mosque. Instead, he prayed on the doorstep of the Church and ordered the construction of what became the Mosque of Omar.
Schoolgirls outside the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem. Photo: Jennifer Panting.
The next day I would visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and reflect on the fact that the names of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, peace be upon them, were more frequently mentioned in the Quran than the name of Muhammad, peace be upon him.
From there, I would drive to Jaffa, to taste the Jaffa oranges that figure in Arab folklore and go from there to Hitteen, where Saladin defeated the Crusader armies in his quest to reclaim Arab lands. Then, I would visit Akka, Acre, where Napoleon suffered one of his rare defeats at the hands of the valiant citizens of that city. I would enjoy a meal or two with Israelis whom I got to know at the various conferences that I attended. I would invite them to Riyadh to offer them Saudi cuisine.
This land has suffered conquest and death and destruction in so many variations, and at the hands of so many different invaders. I pray to the one Allah, one Yahweh, and one God that the Arab Peace Initiative bears fruit and peace will reign.
Prince Turki AlFaisal, a member of the Saudi Arabia royal family, is chairman of the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies and a former ambassador to the United States.