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proposals for resuming peace negotiations

BACKGROUND

On Sept. 28, 2000, Ariel Sharon, the head of the Israeli right-wing Likud Party and now Israel's prime minister, visited the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. The mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites, sits atop what Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, believed to be the site of the destroyed Jewish Temple. Sharon's visit sparked Palestinian protests that escalated into riots and streetfighting in the Israeli-occupied territories and eventually in Israel itself. It marked the beginning of what Palestinians would come to refer to as the "Second Intifada," or "uprising," against the Israelis.

Since then, there have been several attempts to quell the conflict and resume Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. An effort to broker a settlement in April 2001, headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, resulted in the Sharm el-Sheik Fact-Finding Committee Report (commonly known as the Mitchell Report). As the violence continued to escalate, another U.S. plan was proposed by CIA Director George Tenet in June 2001.

In late March 2002, as the Israeli-Palestinian crisis continued to worsen, the Arab League endorsed a plan offered by Saudi Arabia that would lead to normalized relations with Israel.

Below are outlines of these three proposals, with links to their full texts.

Sharm el-Sheik Fact-Finding Committee Report (Mitchell Report)

Released in April 2001, this report contains the conclusions of a fact-finding commission headed by former Senator George Mitchell, which was established to investigate the outbreak of violence in the region that began in September 2000. The commission was created following the October 2000 Israeli-Palestinian summit at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik.

In its investigation of the roots of the conflict, the committee reported both sides were suffering from a "crisis of confidence." "Each side views the other as having acted in bad faith," the commission declared. "In their statements and actions, each side demonstrates a perspective that fails to recognize any truth in the perspective of the other."

The report recommended that the Government of Israel (GOI) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) "must act swiftly and decisively to halt the violence. Their immediate objectives then should be to rebuild confidence and resume negotiations."

Among its recommendations for steps to rebuild confidence, the commission advised that the PA "make clear through concrete action to Palestinians and Israelis alike" that terrorism is unacceptable, and punish perpetrators within their jurisdiction. In turn, it recommended that the GOI freeze all settlement activity, "including the 'natural growth' of existing settlements" and encourage its forces to use non-lethal force in responding to unarmed demonstrators.

The Tenet Plan

Marking a noted shift in his administration's involvement in the Middle East conflict, President George W. Bush sent CIA Director George Tenet to the region in June 2001 to negotiate a cease-fire agreement intended to lead to a resumption of the peace talks prescribed by the Mitchell Report.

Although the U.S. has never officially released the text of the Tenet plan, according to the Israeli foreign ministry and the Jordanian Embassy in Washington, the agreement contained six key components:

  • The Government of Israel (GOI) and Palestinian Authority (PA) will immediately resume security cooperation.
  • Both will take immediate measures to enforce the cease-fire. These actions will include the PA's apprehension and incarceration of terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Israel's release of all Palestinians arrested in security sweeps who have no known association with terrorist activities. In addition, the PA will agree to stop Palestinian security officials from "inciting, aiding, abetting, or conducting attacks against Israeli targets, including settlers," and the GOI will agree not to conduct "'proactive' security operations in areas under the control of the PA or attack against innocent civilians."
  • Security officials from both sides will provide each other with information on terrorist threats.
  • Both sides will "move aggressively" to prevent individuals and groups from carrying out attacks based from areas under their respective control.
  • Within one week of the resumption of security cooperation, both sides will determine an agreed-upon schedule for the redeployment of Israeli forces to positions held before Sept. 28, 2000.
  • Within one week of the resumption of security cooperation, the sides will develop a "specific timeline" for easing travel restrictions, including the reopening of internal roads, and border crossings.

The Saudi Peace Plan

On March 28, 2002, the Arab League, representing 21 Arab nations and the Palestinians, endorsed a Saudi proposal for peace with Israel. The plan offers "the establishment of normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel" on three conditions:

  • Israel's full withdrawal from all territories it has occupied since June 1967;
  • The achievement of a "just solution" for the Palestinian refugees; and
  • The establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Although this particular plan offered no new proposals, it is considered a landmark development in the quest for peace in the Middle East because it had the unanimous support of the Arab League, including traditionally hard-line, anti-Israeli nations such as Iraq, Syria, and Libya.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon called the Arab proposal a "non-starter in its current form." Israel has traditionally seen both a return to its 1967 borders and the right of return for Palestinian refugees as non-negotiable threats to its security.

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