Magazine article Cross Currents

The Arab Peace Initiative: Lost in the Translation

Magazine article Cross Currents

The Arab Peace Initiative: Lost in the Translation

Article excerpt

The Arab Peace Initiative, launched by the Arab Summit Conference held in Beirut on March 28, 2002, called for a comprehensive peace with Israel, recognition of Israel, and normal relations with all twenty-two Arab countries, in return for Israeli withdrawal from Arab territories occupied since June 1967. Beginning in 2006, the Arab Peace Initiative assumed new importance, as Arab states tried again to revive their endeavor. It was endorsed by the Arab League summit that took place in Riyadh in March 2007: "The summit reiterated the adherence of all Arab countries to the Arab peace initiative as it was approved by Beirut summit 2002 with all its components based on the international legitimacy resolutions and its principles to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and bring about fair and comprehensive peace that achieve security for all countries of the region and enable the Palestinian people to set up an independent state with eastern al-Quds as capital." Furthermore, it was also endorsed by the fifty-seven member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Unfortunately, the major players failed to grasp the potential of the initiative. It was "greeted with a yawn by the Israeli government,"(1) and received a lukewarm welcome by the United States and the European Union. When the policymakers in these nations initially read the translated version of the initiative as circulated by Reuters, they treated it as another official Arab summit communique. Israeli response was that "there was nothing new in the resolutions" at the summit. Lost in the translation in both the Hebrew version and the English version were the hidden messages and gestures imbedded within the original Arabic text as well as the soft language and willingness to accommodate that constituted a marked departure from earlier Arab summit communiques.

The objective of this article is to shed light on the neglected linguistic, cultural, psychic, and religious dimensions of this initiative. It will attempt to decipher the messages the Arab leaders wanted to send to the Israeli government and people, to the Arab masses, and to world public opinion. It will compare the terminology used in this proposal with words and phrases used in previous Arab summit communiques to evaluate the seriousness of this new policy.

In seeking the motivation behind the initiative, one can detect the Arab leaders' deep concern with the spreading political and religious radicalism around the globe in general and in the Arab and Moslem world in particular. The questions facing the drafters of the Arab Peace Initiative were: How to draft an initiative that would be acceptable to the Israeli public as well as the Arab masses and the Palestinian people? Which issues should the initiative include and which ones it should ignore? How detailed should it be?

Here the Arab leaders decided to hold the rod at the middle, not to send too soft a message nor too hard; the first would antagonize the Arab masses while the second would antagonize the Israeli public. In opting for this course, they reflected an important tenant in Islam, namely wasatia as reflected by the Holy Quran as it says: "And We have created you a mid-ground nation (Ummattan Wassatan)" (Al-Baqrah Surah, verse 143). A similar vision is reflected in Judaism and Christianity: "The Torah may be likened to two paths, one of fire, the other of snow. Turn in one direction, and you will die of heat: turn to the other and you die of the cold. What should you do? Walk in the middle" [Talmud: Hagigah, 2:1]. "Let your moderation be known unto all" [Philippians 4:5].

Linguistically, the Arab Peace Initiative represents a big leap from previous Arab Summits. The First Arab Summit of 1964 convened in Cairo, used harsh language, calling for the "liberation of Palestine from Zionist colonialism by military force and the return of all Palestinian refugees to their homeland." The Second Arab Summit held in Alexandria, early September 1964, set Israel's destruction high on Arab national agenda affirming: "The Council was unanimous in defining national objectives for the liberation of Palestine from Zionist colonialism . …

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