Israel, PA give positive nod to Arab League proposal

PMO positive about Arab Peace Initiative proposing "minor" land swaps as part of Israeli-Palestinian agreement, based on the 1967 lines; Erekat: Might consider minor changes that "don't harm Palestinian interests."

Saeb Erekat 370 (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Saeb Erekat 370
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
The Prime Minister’s Office responded cautiously but positively on Tuesday to an Arab League delegation’s statement in Washington that it would accept “minor” land swaps as part of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on the basis of the pre-1967 lines.
Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said Monday, following a meeting he and a delegation of Arab League foreign ministers had with US Secretary of State John Kerry, that any agreement “should be based on the two-state solution on the basis of the 4th of June 1967 line, with the possibility of comparable and mutual agreed minor swaps of the land.”
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement in the name of diplomatic sources, saying that Israel “welcomed the support given by the Arab league delegation and the US secretary of state to the diplomatic process.”
The statement further said that Israel was prepared to start negotiations with the Palestinians immediately, without preconditions, and that it expected them to refrain from placing preconditions on the talks as well.
“The two sides can present their positions in the negotiations,” the statement read.
Thani’s statement appeared to be a softening of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative which called for a two-state solution based on a complete Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines and making east Jerusalem the Palestinian capital, in return for “normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel.”
The 2002 initiative 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.
The cautious response from the Prime Minister’s Office, along with the lack of a direct response from Netanyahu himself to the comments Tuesday, indicates that he wants to tread carefully because of uncertainty about the significance of Thani’s statement, and whether it represents any type of breakthrough.
The response shows that at this point he wants neither to pour cold water on, nor to embrace, a possibly revised Arab Peace Initiative.
The initiative, however, is emerging as a key element in Kerry’s efforts to get the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
While Netanyahu did not address the developments directly, President Shimon Peres did, saying in Rome, “I believe that there is a chance to open negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and that Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] is a genuine partner for peace. The ministers of the Arab League once again expressed their support for the two-state solution, which is also accepted by us, and a broad structure of support is being created for making progress.”
Likewise, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is to head the Israeli team in negotiations with the Palestinians when they restart, wrote on her Facebook page that she welcomed the “messages” coming from the Arab League.
“The important message is that they also recognize that there will be adjustments to the 1967 lines, and that also during days of turmoil in the Arab world, they are committed to normalization with Israel when an agreement is reached with the Palestinians,” she wrote.
Livni said that while there was still “a long way to go” – and while Israel could not accept all the elements of the Arab peace initiative as sacrosanct – “sometimes it is possible to rise above the differences and say succinctly that it is good news that should be welcomed.”
The PA, meanwhile, also voiced cautious support for the Arab League endorsement of minor land swaps, with chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat saying there was nothing new about this position.
The Arab delegation, he said, “presented the official Palestinian position. Upon Israel’s unequivocal acceptance of the two-state solution on the 1967 border, the State of Palestine as a sovereign country might consider minor agreed border modifications, equal in size and quality, in the same geographical area, and that do not harm Palestinian interests.”
Erekat said that the Arab League delegation had ratified the Arab Peace Initiative, which has received the endorsement of 57 Arab and Muslim countries.
The peace plan, he said, provides for a comprehensive regional solution based on Israeli implementation of international law, in exchange for full normalization with the rest of the region.
“Israeli rejection of this initiative shows once again that the Israeli government lacks a peace plan,” Erekat added.
“Rather, it is fully engaged in further colonization and attacks against Palestinian rights and regional stability.”
Abbas, who is visiting Austria, avoided commenting on the Arab League’s proposal for a land swap.
In the past, he has not ruled out the possibility of “minor shifts” in the future border between Israel and a Palestinian state.
Speaking to reporters in Vienna after meeting with Austrian President Heinz Fischer, Abbas said that ongoing construction in the settlements and the imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails were an obstacle to achieving peace.
Reiterating his commitment to the twostate solution, Abbas said he wasn’t setting preconditions for the resumption of peace talks with Israel.
“The ball is now in the Israeli court,” he added, without elaborating.
“We talked [with the Austrian president] about the dangers of settlements in the Palestinian territories, especially in Jerusalem,” he said. “I also clarified the exceptional situation of Palestinian prisoners who are suffering behind Israeli bars.”
Abbas said he was committed to achieving reconciliation with Hamas and forming a unity government to prepare for new presidential and parliamentary elections within three months.
A PA official in Ramallah said the Palestinians were fully coordinated with the other members of the Arab League, whose representatives met with Kerry in Washington.
The official pointed out that PA Foreign Minister Riyad Malki was among the Arab League ministers who had met with Kerry.
Asked whether the PA had been notified in advance of the Arab League’s support for land swaps between the Palestinians and Israel, the official said, “This is an old idea that was discussed with previous Israeli prime ministers. President Abbas has stated in the past that he does not rule out the possibility of small changes along the border.”
But while the PA leadership supported the land swap idea, the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine group condemned the proposal.
The group accused the Arab foreign ministers of “begging” the US to resume the peace process between the PA and Israel.
“The Palestinians don’t need anyone to make concessions on their behalf,” the PFLP said in response to the land swap proposal.
“No one authorized the Arab delegation to voluntarily give up Palestinian lands. We condemn this proposal as an attempt to legitimize settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in violation of international laws and the Geneva Fourth Convention.”
Another radical group, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, also condemned the land swap idea and accused Qatar of seeking to liquidate the Palestinian issue.
Muhammad Jadallah, a senior member of the DFLP, said that Qatar was seeking to take over the Arab League in order to serve US interests in the region.