PM’s readiness to negotiate peace based on Arab plan makes no waves

Government officials would not discuss possible ways Netanyahu might try to move the idea forward in the coming days.

June 1, 2016 05:34
3 minute read.
PM Netanyahu

PM Netanyahu. (photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/POOL)

The world greeted with a yawn Tuesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement from the previous day that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative contains “positive elements” and that Israel “would be willing to negotiate on the basis of an updated initiative.”

While there were no reports of enthusiastic responses either in Western capitals or the Arab world, UN special envoy Nickolay Mladenov issued a statement praising the comments.

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“I welcome yesterday’s statements by the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister [Avigdor] Liberman on the Arab Peace Initiative,” he said. “This can help advance negotiations on achieving a two-state solution. It follows the call by the President of Egypt to Israelis and Palestinians to continue the historic step toward peace, taken by Israel and Egypt 37 years ago.”

Mladenov said that the Quartet – made up of the US, Russia, European Union and UN – has “repeatedly emphasized the significance and importance of the API with its vision for a comprehensive settlement of the conflict and as an opportunity for building a regional security framework. This opportunity should not be missed and must be followed up with concrete and timely action.”

Government officials would not discuss possible ways Netanyahu might try to move the idea forward in the coming days.

Netanyahu did not add any follow-up of his own to his statement during public comments he made at the start of a special cabinet meeting held on Tuesday, the first with his newly reconstituted government.

National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, however, told reporters before the meeting that Israel is in the midst of a process that has continued for a number of years of “warming ties, and strengthening connections – most of them secretly,” with the Arab and Muslim world. “I welcome this trend,” he said.

Steinitz pointed out that he recently met with Egypt’s foreign minister, the first time Israeli and Egyptian ministers had met in a number of years, and also had a conversation at an international meeting in Washington with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which was also a first in many years.

“The region is prepared and finally understands the importance of Israel as a stabilizing element, and we need to leverage that diplomatically,” he said.

Both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Liberman have spoken favorably in the past in broad terms about the Arab initiative, though they have stressed that it must be updated to take into account the huge changes that have taken place in the region since it was adopted by the 22 states of the Arab league in 2002.

For instance, the plan calls for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, something that Netanyahu has made clear in recent weeks that Israel would never do.

The plan also calls for a withdrawal from east Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, and a “just” solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.

In 2013 an Arab League Delegation meeting in Washington said that it would accept “minor” land swaps as part of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on the basis of the 1967 lines.

This statement appeared to be a softening of the original initiative that also called for the “achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.” In the Arab world, that resolution is viewed as enshrining a Palestinian refugee “right of return” to Israel.

Meanwhile, the Quartet is expected in the near future to release a report on the reasons for the current diplomatic logjam.

On Friday France is scheduled to host a summit of some 30 countries and international organizations in Paris – without the participation of Israel or the Palestinian Authority – to discuss the diplomatic process and ways to get it started. Israel has come out squarely against the summit, while the Palestinian Authority is supporting it.

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