Arab states reportedly waiting for Netanyahu’s response on restarting peace talks

(JTA) – Several Arab countries are reportedly waiting for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to respond to an invitation to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Citing a Friday Channel 10 report, The Times of Israel said the Arab states have said they are open to discussing changes to Saudi Arabia’s 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, using it as a starting point for new negotiations.

The initiative, which Israel has repeatedly rejected, promised full ties with the Arab world in exchange for a retreat to its 1967 Green Line borders and establishment of a Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital. The initiative also calls for a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, but does not insist on a right of return.

Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are said to be pushing for the renewed talks. Meanwhile, France is hosting an international conference next month aimed at restarting negotiations. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians are invited to the French event, but both sides are expected to be included in follow-up meetings.

Talks earlier this month between Netanyahu and the Zionist Union about the possibility of the center-left political alliance joining the governing coalition were reportedly tied to the Arab world’s peace overtures. However, those talks fell through earlier this week when the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu joined the coalition and it was announced that the party’s leader, Avigdor Liberman, would replace Likud’s Moshe Ya’alon as defense minister.

Ya’alon resigned Friday, leaving not just his post as minister but his position in the Knesset and warning that “extremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement and are destabilizing our home and threatening to harm its inhabitants.”

Yehuda Glick, an advocate of increasing Jewish access to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is next in line on the list of party members and will replace him.

Netanyahu said Friday he is still open to bringing the Zionist Union into the coalition.

“The government is looking for peace. There are diplomatic opportunities because of certain regional developments that I personally work all the time to attain,” he said, according to The Times of Israel. “This is why I made a great effort to have Zionist Union join the government. And therefore I leave the door open, in the most serious manner, for such a move, which can only do good for the State of Israel.”

It is unclear whether Zionist Union’s leader, Isaac Herzog, will seriously consider such an offer after being blindsided by Netanyahu’s negotiations with Yisrael Beiteinu. On Friday, he criticized Netanyahu harshly on Facebook, suggesting he is being controlled by the more hawkish members of his cabinet, particularly Liberman and the Jewish Home party’s Naftali Bennett and Bezalel Smotrich.

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