The Palestinians and the Arab Spring

Op-Ed by His Majesty King Abdullah II
The Wall Street Journal
19 January 2012

The Palestinian right to statehood remains the Arab people's foremost cause

A year has passed since the Arab Spring began to change our region, showing the determination of Arab men and women, especially youth. But a key issue remains unresolved: peace between Palestinians and Israelis. This month, in Amman, the parties sat across the negotiating table for the first time in 16 months. What message will the United States now send to them and to the people of the region?

I've heard it said that with all the regional change and uncertainty, there's no point in restarting talks right now. This "wait-and-see" argument joins a long line of false excuses for why the parties can't get negotiating. A changing region doesn't preclude a settlement, it demands one. It is now, not tomorrow, that a settlement can show that political processes of negotiation and agreement can deliver what people want. It is now, not next year, that young people, Arab and otherwise, need to see the U.S., Europe and the rest of the democratic world mean what they say about justice for all.

Make no mistake about it: The Palestinian right to statehood and their cry for justice and a homeland free of occupation remain the Arab people's foremost cause. In Jordan, the "final-status" issues—including borders, refugees, security and Jerusalem—are at the heart of our priorities. This means making real the promise of a viable, independent, sovereign Palestinian state, as part of a two-state agreement that resolves all final-status issues and guarantees security for Israel.

The two-state solution is supported by the U.S. and the rest of the Quartet (the European Union, the United Nations and Russia), and it is at the core of the Arab Peace Initiative, adopted unanimously by the 2002 Arab Summit in Beirut. Ours was an unequivocal statement of the Arab world's commitment to a neighbourhood of peace and acceptance, opening the way to a comprehensive settlement that would end the conflict, meet the Palestinians' right to freedom and statehood, and give Israel acceptance and security. This Initiative was endorsed by the entire Muslim world—57 countries—and remains a cornerstone for peacemaking in the Middle East.

Yes, substantive negotiations are difficult. But what is difficult today may be next to impossible if we fail this time. In three months, the Arab Peace Initiative will have been on the table for 10 whole years. Meantime, Israel has continued to build settlements, particularly in Jerusalem, a flash point for global concern. Threats to holy sites, or efforts to change the city's character by driving out Arab Muslim and Christian Jerusalemites, could stop peace for decades to come.

This coming spring, a new government will take office in Egypt. Momentous events are unfolding in countries such as Syria. People are raising questions about how they will be governed, and there is a feeling that everything hangs in the balance. In this environment, settling the region's central conflict, a crisis in East-West relations for more than three generations, will show that the outside world can and will help us as we build a more just and optimistic future. It will place more weight on the balance in favour of moderation everywhere. If we stop trying, we leave our fates too much to chance, and leave the field to the extremists.

What is frustrating is that the components of a final agreement have been addressed in numerous rounds of negotiations over two decades. Still the parties, and by extension all of us, are failing to cross the finish line. This month's launch of exploratory talks in Amman can now lead to substantive negotiations—first on borders and security, to resolve the issue of settlements once and for all, and then on remaining final-status issues. The Quartet has set a timeline to wrap up an agreement by the end of 2012. But it can't happen unless we all build the environment for success. U.S. support is pivotal.

Across the entire Arab world, people are demanding freedom, dignity and hope. In Jordan, we have charted our course through an irreversible, inclusive and evolutionary process of political, social and economic reform. Regional peace must be part of this future—for Palestinians, for Israelis, for all. There have been too many failed attempts. Can we all do it this time?