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M. Al-Hussaini Alsharif: Toward a New Paradigm for Peace and Human Development

Address at an International Leadership Conference
Toward a New Paradigm for Peace and Human Development
Seoul, Korea - February 9-13, 2014 

The events that happened in the Arab world beginning with and subsequent to the Arab Spring or Arab Awakening have elicited a number of positive changes in Arab-US relations on a state level, including the Arab – Israeli conflict and the US pushing for a revival of the Arab peace initiative. Another positive development is the focus on religion in the foreign policy of the US. I will elaborate on these two developments.

In the last few years, religion in general, and in particular the role of Islam, in politics in the Middle East have become a main topic for the State Department and the US Government.

The State Department has a special representative to Muslim communities or Muslim minorities abroad, and there is also a Special Envoy of the President to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Most recently, on August 7, 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry launched the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives. This newly formed office joins the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom and the US Agency for International Development Center for Faith Based and Community Initiatives. In addition, Foreign Service officers are now required to take classes on religion as a part of their overall training.

In the last few years, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have made it a tradition to invite Muslim ambassadors and leaders of Muslim communities for a breaking of the fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

I think it is important to understand other religions and to engage with religious leaders and communities locally and abroad, as religion is an integral part of the daily life for billions of people around the world. However, I am concerned about the attention directed towards Islam and Muslims in particular.

In my opinion, religion, any religion, has nothing to do with the problem of violence or even terrorism. It is not religion that motivates us to do something evil. On the contrary, it is the policies of some countries vis-à-vis others, whether these policies were in the form of injustices or atrocities committed against other people. It is these that create violence and terrorism.

Judaism, Islam and Christianity share many key values in common.

One of these beliefs or values is that evil on earth is caused by mankind and not by God. Instead of blaming religion, we should put the blame on political matters, or social and economic problems.

Within the framework of international efforts to combat violence and evil acts of terrorism and atrocities, it is all the more imperative to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This is one of the major causes of instability and insecurity in the Middle East region. By resolving this conflict and achieving a just, comprehensive and lasting peace, we will deny those who commit violence based on the premise of achieving justice for Palestinians the right to use this noble issue for their own evil objectives.

Revival of the Arab Peace Initiative

A major key change in the foreign policy of the US vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict is the revival of the Arab Peace Initiative which was first presented by Saudi Arabia. This initiative was first endorsed by the 22 member States of the Arab League during the Beirut Arab Summit on March 28, 2002.

The initiative offered a historical and unprecedented opportunity to achieve a just, comprehensive and durable peace in the Middle East based on international laws. It underscores three basic points.

A just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is a strategic choice for the Arab world. The initiative calls on Israel to declare that a just peace is also its strategic option. The military approach towards the Arab-Israeli conflict will not bring peace or security to the region.

In this initiative, the 22 Arab countries explicitly express their readiness to establish normal relations within the context of a comprehensive peace. In exchange, they expect a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Arab territories occupied in 1967. The initiative outlines the establishment of a sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital and an agreed-upon solution for the problem of millions of Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN Resolution 194.

The Arab Peace Initiative calls for the establishment of a two-state solution on the basis of the pre-1967 lines with mutually agreed to land swaps at a certain stage. As I stated, this initiative was endorsed by all the 22 Arab countries, the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Only Israel has not responded to or acknowledged the initiative since 2002.

This revival of the Arab Peace Initiative comes almost 20 years after the signing of the Oslo Accords between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. I will not discuss the shortcomings or success of the Oslo Accords, but the fact is that the settlements in the occupied territories doubled from 250 to 500 since the Oslo Accords were signed. The Oslo Accords left the Palestinian land fragmented.

Reactions of Israelis and Israeli lobbyists

Many Israelis and Israeli lobbyists are worried about the future of Israel if it continues to occupy the Palestinian Territories and pursue the policy of building settlements in the Occupied Territories.

They all share the following quotation: “Unless there is a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there will not be a Jewish state for a very long, and if Israel does not withdraw from the Palestinian territories, Israel will either become an un-democratic Jewish state or a non-Jewish democratic state.”

Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center, former Director of the Shin Bet Ami Ayalon said that “The greatest threat to Israel is not the Iranian nuclear program, but the vanishing of Zionism.”

Peace talks and US Secretary of State Kerry

Since the start of the peace negotiations on July 30, 2013, Secretary Kerry has made 11 visits to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Also, there were more than 20 rounds of peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israeli delegations. But peace talks stalled on occasions due in large part to Israel’s continued construction of settlements on the West Bank while negotiations are taking place. At present only 18 percent of the Palestinian territories remain, due to the policy of Israel in extending and building more settlements.

However, the 1949 Geneva Convention forbids an occupying power from flooding its citizens into militarily occupied territory or from altering the ways of life of its people. Most members of the international community regard the Israeli settlements as illegal under international law; the US considers Israel settlement illegitimate.

At his Senate confirmation hearing on January 25, 2013, then Senator Kerry stressed the importance of achieving peace in the Middle East and the linkage of US Foreign policy in some geographical areas to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He said: “So much of what we aspire to achieve and what we need to do globally as well as what we need to do in the Maghreb and South Asia, in South Central Asia and throughout the Gulf, all of this is tied to what can or doesn’t happen with respect to Israel and Palestine.”

While peace negotiations are taking place, the prime minister of Israel stated his position on resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict as follows:

That Israel will not accept the return of the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren of the Palestinians expelled in 1948, because this will wipe out the future of Israel as a Jewish state. The problem of Palestinian refugees must be resolved within the context of a Palestinian state.

That the Palestinian Authority should recognize Israel as a Jewish state. (Imagine how our world will look like if we have a Catholic state, a Protestant state, a Sunni state, or a Shiite state, etc.)

It is not possible to return to the 1967 borders, which are indefensible, Israel needs to maintain its military presence along its border with Jordan.

Israel is more secure

At present the issue of security that Israel over-used throughout the years is not valid anymore, Former Prime Minister of Israel Olmert said during his visit to Washington DC in June 2013 that this is the first time in 60 years that Israel feels more secure.

On October 9, Senior Defense Official Amos Gilad delivered a lecture to the Washington’s Institute He said that, “Despite the threat of Iran and the continuing turmoil in the Middle East, Israel is more secure than ever. From a security point of view, now is the best time Israel has seen despite the many challenges it faces.”

Even with the presence of Hamas in Gaza Israel feels more comfortable.

In a recent interview, Major General Sami Turgeman, head of the Israeli Defense Forces Southern Command, said that it is in Israel’s best interest for Hamas to maintain control in Gaza because, “We need quiet and security in the area of Gaza.”


Consider all the security guarantees available to Israel by the US, including the Iron Dome missile defense as well as the commitment of the US to help maintain Israeli’s military superiority over all the 22 Arab countries combined at any time and at any cost. With all of these security advantages that Israel enjoys over all the Arab countries, Israel can win one battle after another, but it can’t win the final war. Israel can’t win peace in the region nor can it win acceptance by the international community as long as Israel continues to occupy Arab land and defy all of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions pertinent to Palestine.

Any unjust, imperfect or incomplete peace will not guarantee permanent security or permanent peace for either the Israelis or the Palestinians. I expect future Palestinian generations to rise up against these injustices once again, and as a consequence conflict will resume at some point in the future.

I sincerely hope that the ongoing direct peace negotiations will lay a strong foundation for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. This will contribute to finally establishing regional security and stability.

Allow me in this regard to quote some words from the address of the UPF founder at the beginning of this conference: “The foundation of relationships is extremely important. If we build on a weak or insecure foundation, serious problems will inevitably follow. This principle applies in everything we do.”

Finally, one does not have to be a Jew, Christian or a Muslim to support the Palestinian cause or other just causes; you just have to be a fair human being.