Skip to content
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

A Primer for the Arab Summit in Beirut

Filed under: Israel, Palestinians, Peace Process
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Vol. 1, No. 21    March 26, 2002

The Arab summit must not alter the only agreed terms of reference for the Arab-Israeli peace process — UN Security Council Resolution 242.

The whole debate over whether Israel allows PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to travel to the Arab summit meeting in Beirut presupposes that this gathering could potentially improve the chances of restoring Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. In this sense, American advocates of Arafat attending are hoping that the resulting environment would be productive and yield moderate resolutions that would encourage new bilateral diplomacy. Israelis who have reservations about Arafat’s leaving for Lebanon are skeptical about the potentially positive effects of the summit, in addition to their criticism of Arafat’s failure to stop terrorism and implement the Tenet cease-fire proposals.

The Arab summit’s resolutions will only be finally known when the Beirut meetings conclude. Nonetheless, draft language has appeared in the Arab press based on the proposal of Crown Prince Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz of Saudi Arabia and the preparatory meetings of the Arab foreign ministers. From these reports several trends are already apparent:

An Effort to Dilute UN Security Council Resolution 242

UN Security Council Resolution 242 was painstakingly drafted by the British ambassador to the United Nations, Lord Caradon, in the fall of 1967 after the Six Day War. The withdrawal clause in the resolution called on Israel to withdraw from “territories” occupied in the recent conflict and not from “all the territories.” Additionally it called for the establishment of “secure and recognized boundaries.” A Soviet effort to include the word “all” before the word “territories” was rebuffed, so that the legislative intent of the resolution was crystal clear, at the time. Indeed, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, at the time, George Brown stated three years later that, according to Resolution 242, Israel was not expected to withdraw from “all the territories.” The U.S. ambassador to the UN in 1967, Arthur Goldberg, added another dimension when he wrote: “I never described Jerusalem as occupied territory….Resolution 242 in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate” (Letter to the Editor, New York Times, March 6, 1980). Resolution 242 was adopted unanimously by the Security Council, and has since become the foundation of every Arab-Israeli peace agreement.

An Arab summit statement calling on Israel to execute a “complete withdrawal” to the June 4, 1967, lines would involve a dilution of Resolution 242. The net result for Israel might be characterized as “242-minus.” It would compromise Israel’s right to “secure and recognized boundaries” or “defensible borders” that has been the hallmark of U.S. policy from the time of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger through Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Rather than representing progress, this language of “complete withdrawal” would be a regression in the peace process, by tying the hands of Arab parties willing to consider territorial compromise in the future.

Normalization or Normal Relations

The main new idea that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman originally reported about the thinking of Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah was his willingness to use the term “normalization” of relations between Israel and the Arab world. Israelis have long sought normalization, modeling their concept of peace on the Franco-German experience in Europe where the deep interdependence of societies has made a reversion to hostile relations between France and Germany unthinkable. Arab foreign ministers, including Egyptians, have preferred the terminology of “normal relations,” that means nothing more than the exchange of ambassadors. Egypt has translated this concept into a cold peace, by which it has even withdrawn its ambassador but maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv. In short, “normalization” produces a peace that is hard to reverse, while “normal relations” can be easily changed. The language of “end of conflict” would be helpful, but it cannot be a substitute for normalization.

But even normalization cannot serve as a substitute for defensible boundaries: peacemaking cannot rely on intentions alone, but rather must be structured to take into account military capabilities. Even so, according to initial indications, the Arab summit will not adopt Abdallah’s reported language of “normalization.” If that is the case, then there will be little new that will come out of Beirut.

Renunciation of Terrorism

It is essential that a new Arab consensus arise renouncing terrorism as a political instrument in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1373. It would be helpful if the Arab summit explicitly supported the Tenet cease-fire proposals and the Mitchell Committee’s call for an unconditional cease-fire. Unfortunately, Arab ambassadors at the UN have sought to justify terrorism as legitimate “resistance to occupation.” A shift away from this formal line of argument at the UN would be a welcome change, but there are no indications that the Arab states are moving in this direction.


Language stating that a “fair solution” to the refugee issue must be reached or an “agreed solution” is necessary would be an improvement over the unrealistic call for a “right of return” to Israel itself. Yet the establishment of an international refugee resettlement fund would be the best indication that the Arab states are serious about resolving this issue.

It is probably unrealistic to expect any real peace breakthroughs at the Beirut Arab summit in any case. Historically, ground-breaking developments in Arab-Israeli diplomacy have emanated from direct bilateral contacts between Israel and various Arab parties — and not through multilateral Arab summit meetings where the lowest common denominator prevails. U.S. and Israeli negotiators should realistically judge the success of the summit by the extent that it does not weaken the agreed terms of reference of negotiations in the past, particularly UN Security Council Resolution 242.