Sources: US may push renewed discussion of the Saudi peace initiative

According to senior diplomatic officials in New York, the US may work to raise discussion of the Saudi peace plan after the new Israeli government is sworn in.

By SHLOMO SHAMIR/MAARIV ONLINE
March 31, 2015 03:12
3 minute read.
kerry saudi arabia

John Kerry (L) walks with Saudi Arabia's FM Saud bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud before meeting with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in Diriyah. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The United States may push a renewed discussion of the Saudi initiative to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, diplomatic sources in New York believe.

According to the sources, the US would not initiate the move itself, but would "make sure" that another western state would introduce the move.

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Sources who work closely with the US delegation to the United Nations say that, parallel to the blatant declarations directed against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the White House recently, senior officials in the administration are initiating steps to be taken immediately after the swearing in of the new Israeli government aimed at renewing Israeli and Palestinian dialogue.

A senior European envoy in New York said that, amid the current chaos in the Middle East and the involvement of Arab states in the war in Yemen, he believes the US will push the Saudi initiative through a discussion at an international forum or by turning directly to the Israelis and Palestinian Authority.

The purported US plans do not signal that Washington supports all of the clauses of the Saudi initiative or agrees to its diplomatic goals. However, the move would serve Washington in two ways: first, it will placate the Saudis and strengthen the standing of Riyadh and the moderate Gulf states, who are afraid of the emerging nuclear deal with Iran and of Tehran's ambitions to take control of the area. Second, such a step would send a message to the new government in Israel: that it does not have a lot of time to ponder a renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians.

The Saudi peace plan was first proposed during a summit of Arab leaders in Beirut in 2002. The peace plan, which became known as the Saudi initiative, was again discussed at a summit of Arab leaders in Riyadh in 2007.

The plan calls for an Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories, including east Jerusalem, and the establishment of a Palestinian state in exchange for recognition of, and normalization of ties with, Israel by the Arab nations. Israel rejected the initiative outright at the time it was proposed, particularly because of the clause which calls for "a just solution for refugees," and in essence supports the Palestinian right of return. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed at the time of its release full support for the Saudi initiative.



The US has officially "ignored" the initiative for the same reason that it has ruled out attempts by its European allies and by the UN Security Council to intervene in mediation between Israel and the Palestinians - the US administration sees this as its exclusive mandate. However, the estimation now in New York is that, with the new Israeli government entering power, and in answer to France's proposed resolution to solve the conflict being planned for the Security Council, the US sees the Saudi initiative as a temporary lever that will pressure the sides and encourage new ideas about a peace initiative in Jerusalem.

The turn to the Saudi peace initiative, however, is not expected to influence US policy in the Security Council. Diplomatic sources in New York rejected recent reports that the White House is considering a change in its policy to veto resolutions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Security Council. There is almost complete agreement among the sources that the US will continue its traditional policy - to thwart initiatives in the Security Council which seek to affect the peace process. There are two factors preventing a change in this policy.

First, in the UN there are excellent work relations and close cooperation between Israeli UN Ambassador Ron Prosor and US envoy to the UN Samantha Power. Power, who was appointed by US President Barack Obama, is a staunch ally of Israel who has demonstrated special awareness of, and preparedness to preempt, efforts to hurt Israel at the UN. Power is subject to the instructions of the White House, but she is considered very close to the president and is among the small group of people that Obama listens to and whose opinions he takes into account.

In addition, the channel of communication between Obama's National Security Adviser Susan Rice and her counterpart in Netanyahu's office, Yossi Cohen, operates very effectively. The two have a trusting relationship and enjoy close cooperation. Rice and Cohen speak often, and exchange views in a friendly manner. Rice is a member of Obama's inner circle and is also a friend of Power. According to the sources in New York, the close cooperation between Israel and the US through these two channels serves as a guarantee that US support for Israel at the UN and in the international community will continue.


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