Arab governments to Netanyahu: Let's talk about the Saudi peace initiative

Channel 10 says Arab governments have sent messages through third parties to Netanyahu indicating a desire to change their posture toward Israel.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (L) and Saudi King Salman (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (L) and Saudi King Salman
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Moderate Sunni Arab governments in the region have communicated to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu their willingness to engage in negotiations with Israel over possible changes to the Saudi peace initiative so that it may serve as the agreed-upon basis of renewed talks with the Palestinians, .
Arab regimes led by Egypt and the wealthy Gulf sheikhdoms have signaled their desire to publicly change their posture toward Israel, according to Channel 10.
Officials in Arab capitals are now awaiting Netanyahu's response to their offer of substantive discussions on the Saudi initiative so as to make it more palatable for Israel.
During a Twitter chat he held in the courtyard of his Jerusalem home in honor of Israel’s 68th Independence Day, Netanyahu said Israel is ready to talk about an amended Saudi peace initiative.
One of the questioners asked him in Arabic about the 2002 Saudi Initiative, otherwise known as the Arab Peace Plan, which calls for a two-state solution on the pre-1967 lines with a just settlement for Palestinian refugees. In exchange the Arab world would offer Israel normalized relations.
“Why don’t you accept the Arab initiative and what are the reasons why it is not implemented,” Twitter questioner @abosarah7 asked.
Netanyahu responded, also in Arabic, that an updated initiative which “addresses our concerns merits further discussion. Israel will always seek peace.”
In Arabic, Hebrew and English, the prime minister fielded a number of questions about the two-state solution and the peace process with the Palestinians has been frozen since April 2014.
In response to Sam Rubinstein from Brown University, Netanyahu said in a short video response, “I am willing to meet President Abbas today, right now. He can come to my home here in Jerusalem or I can go to his home here in Ramallah. Now I want you to forward that question to President Abbas and see what he says, #askAbbas.”
Channel 10 cites Western diplomatic sources as saying that a number of emissaries have relayed conciliatory Arab messages to Netanyahu, one of them being former British premier Tony Blair.
The Arab regimes are eager to hear Netanyahu's response to their invitation for talks on the Saudi plan. In addition, Arab capitals expect the Israeli government to take confidence-building steps on the ground in the West Bank so as to enable them to change their public stance toward Jerusalem.
Earlier this week, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made an unusual impromptu appeal to both Israelis and Palestinians to take historic steps for peace, just as his country had done in 1979.
“If by our combined efforts and real desire, we can all achieve a solution to this problem and find hope for the Palestinians and security for the Israelis, history will write a new page that will be no less and might even be more of an achievement than the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel forty years ago,” Sisi said during a speech in the southern city of Assiut.
Netanyahu responded immediately that he is open to working with Egypt and other Arab nations to advance a diplomatic process to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I welcome Egyptian President Sisi’s remarks and his willingness to make every effort to advance a future of peace and security between us, the Palestinians and the peoples of the region,” Netanyahu said.
“Israel is ready to participate with Egypt and other Arab states in advancing both the diplomatic process and stability in the region. I appreciate President Sisi’s work and also draw encouragement from his leadership on this important issue,” Netanyahu added.
Sisi’s remarks come amid a push by France to jump-start the peace process, which has been frozen since April 2014.
In what was construed as an Arab plea for a national unity government that would include the Zionist Union, the Egyptian president urged all political factions both in Israel and the Palestinian territories to put aside their differences so they could strengthen the peace process.
“I ask Israeli factions and the Israeli leadership to please agree on finding a solution to the crisis, and this should be in return for nothing but good for the current, future generations and children,” Sisi said.
Should such a solution be found, he said, “I can guarantee, and we can all guarantee peace and security for both sides.”
Israel, instead, experienced a political earthquake in the wake of the news that Avigdor Liberman, the hawkish former foreign minister from the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu faction, would assume the role of defense minister. The stunning development left observers skeptical that the Israeli government was eager to advance diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians and other Arab states.
In his speech, Sisi added: “I say to our Palestinian brothers, you must unite the different factions – and I won’t add anything else to this point – in order to achieve reconciliation and quickly.”
Sisi called on the Israeli media to broadcast his speech. He said that he spoke in the hope of a two-state solution, rather than as a bid for Egypt to lead the process.
There are many peace processes that Israelis and Palestinians could chose to adhere to in order to end the conflict, Sisi said.
“There is currently an Arab initiative, a French initiative, there are American efforts and there is the Quartet that are all working toward a solution to this issue. In Egypt, we do not intend on playing a leading role or to be leaders of this issue, but we are prepared to exert all efforts that will contribute to finding a solution to this problem,” Sisi said.
He noted that he had spoken of the matter just a few days ago when he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo. Abbas has welcomed the French initiative and any internationalized process, but has refused to hold direct talks with Israel outside of such frameworks. He has insisted that before negotiations can resume, Israel must halt settlement activity, including Jewish building in east Jerusalem.
He has also insisted that Israel must agree to a withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.
Netanyahu in turn has called for direct talks with out preconditions and has opposed the French initiative, which he warned proscribed a solution and gave the Palestinians an excuse to return to the negotiating table.
In Ramallah, Abbas called on Netanyahu to hold such talks under the auspices of the French initiative.
“Let’s leave everything in the past and let’s meet,” the Palestinian leader said as he met with a group of visiting Meretz politicians.
“When two sides are invited to a meeting, one cannot present preconditions,” the Palestinian leader said.
“It’s the international community that should determine what is right and what isn’t.”
When asked by The Jerusalem Post’s Hebrew-language sister publication, Ma’ariv, why he refuses the Israeli demand to explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas refused to comment.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.