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'Peace Day' efforts of Arab states and EU offer new hope for Palestinians

By JAN YUMUL in Hong Kong | | Updated: 2023-09-20 20:56
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People mourn during the funeral of Milad al-Raai in the West Bank city of Hebron, on Sept 10, 2023. The 15-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by Israeli soldiers during clashes in Hebron on Saturday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said in a statement. [Photo/Xinhua]

Long-running international efforts to end the Israeli-Palestine conflict got a much-needed boost on Sept 18, after Saudi Arabia, along with the Arab League and the European Union, launched an initiative called "Peace Day Effort".

The collaborative endeavor was unveiled in the presence of almost 50 foreign ministers on the sidelines of the ongoing 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. The initiative, analysts said, shows how Arab states are now openly stating their support for Palestinians, despite some of them having normalized ties with Israel.

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, who led the Saudi delegation to the UNGA, told Saudi media covering the event there that there was no way to resolve the conflict other than ensuring the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Muslim Imran, director at the Asia Middle East Center for Research and Dialogue (AMEC), a think tank in Malaysia, told China Daily that Saudi Arabia "has international leverage and standing to push for Palestinian statehood and independence", and that it would "not compromise the Palestinian issue by normalizing relations with Israel".

"Normalization, in the last few years, has played a role in undermining the Palestinian struggles and the Palestinian people, rather than helping in finding a solution," said Imran.

The Peace Day Effort seeks to produce a "Peace Supporting Package" that will maximize peace dividends for the Palestinians and Israelis once they reach a peace agreement.

According to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the renewed effort is based on the urgent need to preserve the "Two-State Solution". The Peace Day Effort "does not aim to provide additional details to the needed bilateral Israeli-Palestinian agreement beyond the internationally agreed parameters", as the details "are to be negotiated between the parties", the SPA said.

Further, the Peace Day Effort entails envisaging what an Israeli-Palestinian peace would mean for relations in the Middle East region and beyond – not a substitute "for the needed and long overdue peace process".

While it will elaborate the potential benefits and dividends of peace in various areas, it will be based entirely "on the respect for the principle that all such benefits can only materialize on Peace Day, not prior to it or as a prelude to it".

The Peace Day Effort is built on, among others, the Arab Peace Initiative, the 2013 European Union offer to provide an "unprecedented package of political, security and economic support" to both parties in the context of a final status agreement.

Furkan Halit Yolcu, a researcher at Sakarya University Middle East Institute in Turkiye, noted that the major power behind the Peace Effort Day is the European Union, "which is telling" as the EU's position regarding the issue "has always been toward a two-state solution".

"The Abraham records gave a nice breeze behind the Israeli efforts on taking the Arab countries on its side. However, the Arab states now openly state that just the fact that they signed the accord cannot mean they have ceased their support for Palestine," Yolcu told China Daily.

"This is a very firm (move) toward re-emphasizing the Arab and EU stance towards the Palestinian issue."

Yolcu added that there "is also a reason the EU is gaining a grip on the Middle Eastern issue". He said it is "simply an implication of the United States' retraction from the region", which has led to "genuine solutions by the leading powers and international alternatives".

Imran from AMEC said that the efforts come as a "lifeline for the peace process" at a time when "the Israeli side has the most extremist government in its history".

"The international community is extending the olive branch to the very government that has bulldozed the peace process and such a move, such approach, looks more like rewarding the aggressor than trying to find a solution."

He added that the international community should be more serious about pushing for an implementation of international resolutions, rather than offering a "publicity cover for extremists in the Israeli government".

Imran also questioned the EU's involvement in the initiative, given that it was not doing the same in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

"We don't see them (EU) pushing for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, but rather we see these international parties, these European states, fueling the conflict in Ukraine, pushing for more armed conflict and an arms race in the region," said Imran.

"Why, in the case of the Palestine issue, they are not trying to end Israeli occupation and put restrictions on the Israeli government?"

Also during the meeting, the conveners launched the initiative's Working Groups, tasked with elaborating the components of the comprehensive "Peace Supporting Package". All participants were invited to contribute to the groups, according to the SPA.

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