Arab states are reportedly awaiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s formal response to a new offer aimed at restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, days after Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi made a televised call for the two sides to return to negotiations.
Channel 10 television’s diplomatic correspondent said Friday that Arab states conveyed a message to Israel indicating their willingness to discuss changes to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, as a basis for a new round of negotiations with the Palestinians. Israel previously rejected the Saudi-drafted initiative, which calls for the Jewish state to cede the territories it captured in the 1967 Six Day War, in return for full ties with the Arab world.
Former vice prime minister Silvan Shalom, who was at the time responsible for negotiations with the Palestinians, last year rejected outright the Arab League-backed initiative as a blueprint for a possible agreement.
Channel 2, meanwhile, said that Netanyahu discussed the possibility of regional progress when he made a condolence phone call to el-Sissi Thursday after the disappearance of an Egyptian airplane. “I’m committed to the regional initiative,” Channel 2 quoted Netanyahu as saying, with the report saying Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states were pushing the effort.
“Herzog wasn’t bluffing,” Channel 2’s diplomatic reporter said in reference to the Arab initiative, alluding to opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s claims this week that he sought to join the Netanyahu coalition because there was a rare opportunity to advance peace efforts. Herzog was ultimately sidelined by Netanyahu, who instead is bringing hawkish Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman into his coalition, a controversial move that on Friday prompted the current defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, to announce he was quitting politics for the time being.
Sissi on Tuesday proclaimed his belief that there was a “real opportunity” for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, in a speech that was reportedly part of an international effort to jump-start the moribund peace process. Those efforts also apparently included a failed effort by an alliance of foreign leaders led by former British prime minister Tony Blair to secure a new peace-oriented unity government between Likud and Herzog’s Zionist Union.
Blair was said to have been coordinating his actions with Netanyahu, Herzog, US Secretary of State John Kerry and even Sissi.
The former UK prime minister declared his intent to renew peace efforts late last year, saying his experience and network of contacts made during eight years of diplomacy as an international envoy to the Mideast would help him.
Blair has been visiting the region every 2-3 weeks in recent months, reportedly holding multiple meetings with Herzog and Netanyahu, in which he updated them on the willingness of the Arab leaders to support a new peace initiative and to improve relations with Israel in tandem.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.