Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Thursday that the Arab League's peace proposal of 2002, which offered normalized relations with Israel in exchange for a full withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders, is unacceptable to Israel because it also calls for Palestinian refugees to return to Israel. She spoke both to Channel 10 and to Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam in advance of the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia at the end of March. There is some speculation that the League will attempt to revive its proposal as a basis for negotiations with Israel at that time. Diplomatic pundits speculate that Saudi Arabia and moderate Arab states are pushing for peace with Israel now to help neutralize the threat of a radicalized Iran.
'Arab peace plan currently unacceptable'
This weekend, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to visit Saudi Arabia to talk with King Abdullah about stability in the Persian Gulf, the unrest in Lebanon, violence in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Peace with Israel on the basis of the Arab League Plan has the support of chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
"In my opinion this is the most strategic and most important initiative taken by the Arab countries since 1948," Erekat told Channel 10.
Livni, however, countered that the proposal was a non-starter. In 2002 she supported the initial initiative proposed by Saudi Arabia even though she disagreed with a key component for the plan, which was a call for a return to the 1967 borders.
She said she accepted that such a demand was the basis for any negotiations with the Palestinians. In the end, she said, the borders would be determined by an agreement with both sides.
But Livni said she withdrew her support from the plan when the Arab League added the clause about returning refugees into Israel, which she said undermined the existence of a Jewish state.
"Stagnation is bad for Israel. We're interested in advancing the process. But there are subjects that are critical for us," she said.
Livni added that in light of the upcoming summit it was important to her that the Palestinians and the Arab countries understood why Israel found the proposal problematic.
Erekat countered and said that Livni had misunderstood the agreement.
"It says that the refugee problem should be solved in a fair and agreed-upon manner," said Erekat. He added that the Palestinians had already agreed to negotiate on issues relating to refugees as well as borders, Jerusalem and settlements.
Erekat also urged Israel to enter negotiate with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in spite of Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel.
"The government has nothing to do with the negotiations. It is the jurisdiction of President Abbas," Erekat said. He added that any agreement would be put to the Palestinian people in the form of a referendum.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday told visiting British opposition leader David Cameron that he wanted to maintain his connection with Abbas.
Olmert and Abbas are slated to meet later this month.
But Olmert said he would not recognize a national unity government that did not adhere to the three principles of the Quartet: stop violence against Israel, adhere to past international agreements and recognize Israel's right to exist.
Livni said she believed that the Quartet itself would stand behind these three principles. She added, however, that she feared the Quartet might conclude that these conditions had been met when in fact they had not by way of trying to push ahead the peace process.
(Bloomberg contributed to this report.)