French former ministers and civil society intellectuals call for support to the historic initiative of the Arab Council for Regional Integration (ACRI), whose members call for breaking the boycott of Israeli civil society in the Arab world.
The Arab Council brings together more than 30 opinion leaders — intellectuals, politicians, artists, human rights activists — from more than fifteen Arab countries, from North Africa to Kuwait.
These men and women know that peace often entails struggle and that this struggle is waged in the marketplace of ideas.
To roll back the culture of hatred and break the current deadlock, they believe it is time to learn from past failures and enter into dialogue with Israeli society rather than censorship; to place their trust in Arab-Jewish coexistence rather than a policy of rejection and exclusion.
The Arab Council does not intend to replace international diplomacy in the region, but rather to sow the seeds of a new and innovative vision — posing both a challenge and an opportunity for all parties to the conflict.
This vision is based on an observation: traditional proposals for political peace “from above” have not fared well in the real world, as civil societies in the region have not been sufficiently mobilized and committed to supporting these efforts from the ground up.
In the same way, economic development is certainly essential to create the material infrastructure undergirding a future peace, but it will not by itself determine the posture that the societies involved will adopt towards an agreement that will entail painful compromises on both sides.
There will be no peace without the development of a culture of peace. And that requires a frank and open dialogue between the civil societies of the Arab world and Israeli society.
The boycott of Israel has had a perverse triple effect on the region. It has negatively impacted the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic by preventing Arabs from positively influencing this conflict, and by deepening Palestinian civil society’s isolation from its Arab environment.
At the same time, it has fueled the skepticism and distrust of an Israeli society exposed to the hostility and ostracism of its next-door neighbors.
Finally, it served as a model for the intra-Arab and intra-Islamic boycotts that have Balkanized this region of the world. The boycott is, therefore, a counterproductive process that has benefited only radicals and extremists of all stripes.
As elected officials of the French Republic, we share a common concern on these subjects, whatever our political orientations. Since the 2000s, we have been confronted with the instrumentalization of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on our national territory.
This has resulted in an unprecedented explosion of anti-Semitic acts on French soil. The same logic of hatred and exclusion that have destabilized North Africa and the Middle East have unfortunately been exported to us.
These violent repercussions have weakened France’s social fabric as our nation is home to the largest Jewish and Muslim communities on the European Continent.
“We believe that by mobilizing the civil societies of the Middle East and North Africa to promote a true culture of peace, the Arab Council can help to reduce extremism not only in that region but in our own backyard as well.”
The members of the Arab Council are builders of peace. They propose concrete and innovative cooperation projects that can have a real impact on the ground.
Mohammed Dajani, a Palestinian intellectual fighter for peace, intends to create the first joint doctoral program for peace studies in the region, bringing together Arabs, Israelis, and international specialists in conflict resolution.
Algerian journalist Sami B’aziz proposes advanced training for Arab media professionals, all too often imbued with false “Jewish conspiracy” theories that have blocked any constructive discussion on the future of Algeria or its relationship with world Jewry and Israel.
Emirati human rights activist Maryam al-Ahmedi proposes to create a women’s league across the Middle East to advance the cause of gender equality.
These projects constitute, according to Sami al-Nesef, former Kuwaiti Minister of Information, the cultural and civic extension of the Arab Peace Initiative, introduced for the first time by the Saudi monarchy in 2002.
Egyptian MP Mohammed Anwar El-Sadat, for his part, calls for the implementation of similar projects in his country, in order to fulfill the original promise of the Camp David agreements signed by his late uncle and martyr of peace, the late president Anwar al-Sadat.
Other members of the Arab Council who also testified on February 11 at the National Assembly are considering cooperation in the areas of public health, infrastructure development, and hydrology.
All agree that, in the context of a global pandemic, Arab-Israeli cooperation to fight COVID-19 is a moral and practical imperative. The current health crisis provides a fine illustration of the power of civil society when it is mobilized in the service of the common good.
“We welcome this view of the effectiveness of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation that has helped stem the tide of the coronavirus between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.”
This unprecedented cooperation has saved lives and restored hope to the supporters of dialogue and reconciliation.
But these noble projects will not see the light of day, as laws in most Arab countries continue to threaten Arab supporters of dialogue with Israelis with the prosecution.
These “anti-normalization” laws criminalize the approach taken by the members of the Arab Council, which hold out the only viable hope of establishing a culture of peace worthy of the name in the region.
This is why we call on the French government and our European partners to offer international protection to the members of the Arab Council for Regional Integration and, more generally, to the Arabs of the Middle East and North Africa who call for peace and dialogue with Israelis.
Our diplomatic agents posted abroad should, where appropriate, be mobilized to provide such protection based on the principle of diplomatic inviolability, as recognized by international law.
Besides the guarantee of international protection, we also propose the creation of a study group in the National Assembly as well as in the Senate whose mission would be to ensure a legal and technical oversight of the obstacles which Arab proponents of dialogue with Israelis face.
Our assemblies could meet every year — notably on the occasion of the Paris Peace Forum — to take stock of the actions undertaken by the Arab Council and the difficulties encountered on the ground by its members to advance their noble projects.
Strengthened by its historical ties and its diplomatic, military, economic and cultural relations with all the countries of the Arab world, France can play a benevolent role by encouraging the constructive approach of the members of the Arab Council and the projects they carry out.
By strengthening our ties with those involved in this rapprochement between civil societies in the Arab world and Israel, our country will be able to weigh more and help enable peace to find its way into a region that so badly needs it.