Netanyahu, Liberman partially endorse Arab peace initiative

(JTA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his acceptance of some elements of the so-called Arab Peace initiative as a basis for talks on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The Arab peace initiative includes positive elements that can help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said Monday evening at the Knesset in Jerusalem. “We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in the region since 2002, but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples.”

Also known as the Saudi Initiative, the plan is a proposal which the Arab League in 2002 adopted and which calls for Israel’s withdrawal of land captured in 1967 and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee issue in exchange for full normalization of ties between Israel and the league’s 22 member states. Critics of Israel’s response to the proposal argue Jerusalem never gave its answer to the offer.

Yet critics of the Saudi Initiative have said that the language on Palestinian refugees is too vague given what Israeli prime ministers, including Netanyahu, have described as the Palestinian leaderships dream of ending Israel’s existence as a Jewish state by flooding it with people whom the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority consider refugees. They also maintained that withdrawing from the Golan Heights would expose Israel to excessive risk.

But Netanyahu said on Monday that he welcomed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi recent offer to help broker a peace deal with the Palestinians, with help from other Arab states, which el-Sissi made in a speech earlier this month. “We welcome the recent speech by Egyptian President el-Sisi and his offer to help advance peace and security in the region,” Netanyahu said.

Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s newly-appointed defense minister, said that “President Sissi’s speech was very important; it creates a genuine opportunity that obligates us to pick up the gauntlet,” adding: “I certainly agree that in the Arab Peace Initiative there are some very positive elements that will enable us to conduct serious dialogue with our neighbours in the region.”

Next week, France’s foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is preparing to host in Paris a summit devoted to discussing a French initiative for talks, whose premise Israel opposes because it reportedly sets a deadline, after which France will recognize a Palestinian state regardless of the talks’ outcome. Netanyahu also objected to the absence of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians in the details of the proposal.

Neither Netanyahu nor Liberman mentioned the French initiative in their speeches at the Knesset.

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