Kerry Misleads on Muslim States’ Readiness to Normalize Ties With Israel

By Patrick Goodenough | February 10, 2014 | 4:14am EST

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Saudi King Abdullah at a royal hunting retreat in the kingdom on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry continues to assert, misleadingly, that the signing of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will immediately usher in peaceful relations between the Jewish state and the world’s Islamic nations.

He has made the statement several times in public since launching the drive last July for a “final status” Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Citing the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API), he says, if Israelis and Palestinians agree to a negotiated settlement then all 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will normalize ties with Israel.

He has said moreover that this would happen “instantaneously” – “the minute” that an Israeli-Palestinian deal is achieved.

But unless Arab governments agree to amend the terms of the 12-year-old declaration, there is no guarantee that the recognition and peaceful relations he is promising will result – instantaneously, or ever.

Specifically, the Saudi-initiated Arab Peace Initiative includes an Israeli surrender of the Golan Heights in its list of conditions for the world’s Arab and Islamic states to normalize ties with Israel.

The chaos in Syria merely has underscored Israel’s long-held determination to hold onto the strategic plateau, which it captured from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and formally annexed in 1981.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday that there was no discussion underway to encourage the Arab states to revise the Arab Peace Initiative with regard to its reference to the Golan Heights.

She also played down Kerry’s portrayal of Arab and Muslim normalization taking place immediately.

“That’s a figure of speech,” she said. “It doesn’t mean the minute he steps off the stage of an announcement that anything will be implemented.”

If a final status agreement is reached, Psaki said, “we’ll see what needs to happen on one side or the other. But I’m not going to make a prediction of where things stand in terms of what they’re willing to agree to.”

There are many other uncertainties regarding the Arab Peace Initiative and OIC recognition of Israel, but the Golan issue alone raises serious doubts about Kerry’s claim:

--In Jerusalem on Jan. 5, he said that the API “holds out the prospect that if the parties could arrive at a peaceful resolution, you could instantaneously have peace between the 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations, all of whom have said they will recognize Israel if peace is achieved.”

--On Dec. 7 Kerry told the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum, “Israel would also enjoy a normal, peaceful relationship the minute this [Israeli-Palestinian] agreement is signed with 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations – 57 countries in all. It is not beyond our imagination to envision that a new order could be established in the Middle East …”

--In Jordan last July, he said that the API “promises Israel peace with 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations, a total of 57 nations that are standing and waiting for the possibility of making peace with Israel.”

‘Overselling his case’

The API text calls, inter alia, for “[f]ull Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights to the lines of June 4, 1967 as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.”

In return, the Arab states say they will “[e]stablish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.”

The OIC, whose 57 members include the 22 Arab states but also other Muslim states stretching from South America to South East Asia, subsequently endorsed the API although it did not explicitly agree that every member would normalize ties with Israel even if the plan is carried out.

In a report to a policy forum last week Washington Institute for Near East Policy executive director Robert Satloff said that Kerry has a habit of overselling his case to Israelis when sketching the benefits that would accrue from a peace deal.”

“Kerry likes to entice Israelis with the idea that a deal with the Palestinians will trigger the Arab Peace Initiative’s promise of recognition from the wider Arab and Muslim worlds,” he said.

“In fact, a close reading of that initiative – first proposed by the Saudis in 2002 and since reaffirmed – shows that Israel has to make peace on both the Palestinian and Syrian fronts before any commitment to Arab and Muslim recognition applies.

“Obviously, the chances for a Golan deal with the current Syrian government or any conceivable successor are close to zero,” Satloff continued. “Kerry could therefore secure a useful contribution to peacemaking by convincing the Arab League to amend the initiative, making its commitments contingent solely on an agreement with the Palestinians.”

It’s clear, Satloff told the event, that “there’s no agreement on the Golan for a long, long time.”

The future of the Golan has not seriously featured in Mideast peacemaking efforts since Turkey tried to mediate between Israel and the Assad regime in 2008.

Since then the situation has changed dramatically. Civil unrest that began in March 2011 degenerated into a bloody civil war that has cost well over 120,000 lives, drawn in Shi’ite and Sunni terrorists on each side of the conflict and threatened to destabilize neighboring countries.

The Golan has already been under Israeli control for 47 years – more than twice the length of time it fell within the borders of an independent Syria which was formally achieved in 1946. Prior to that the small strip of territory was part of a French mandate, and before that the Ottoman Empire.

In the years leading up the Six Day War the Syrians used the Golan to launch artillery attack on Israeli communities in the Galilee valley below. A week after Israel captured the ridge in June 1967 the Israeli cabinet offered to return it in exchange for a peace treaty with Syria. The Arab states rejected the offer that September, declaring “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”

The Golan is today home to some 20,000 Druze, most of whom retain Syrian citizenship, and about 19,000 Israelis.

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