Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog planned to announce a new regional peace initiative during an abortive bid to piece together a national unity government last fall, according to a Sunday report in the Haaretz daily.
As part of the regional initiative, Netanyahu and Herzog, whose coalition talks collapsed amid mutual recriminations by October, were to release an eight-point English-language text detailing Israel’s position in support of a new peace push.
The document, published by Haaretz, is dated September 12-13, 2016, and addresses Arab states, especially Egypt.
It thanks Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi “for his willingness to play an active role in advancing peace and security in the region and re-launching the peace process.”
It explicitly welcomes wider Arab involvement in a new peace effort, noting: “Israel regards positively the general spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative and the positive elements in it. Israel welcomes a dialogue with Arab states regarding this initiative, so as to reflect the dramatic changes in the region in recent years and to work together to advance the two-state solution and a broader peace in the region.”
The statement then affirms “our commitment to a solution of two states for two peoples and our desire to pursue this solution,” and says Israel “extends its hand to the Palestinians to begin direct, bilateral negotiations without preconditions.”
The proposed text would have committed the Netanyahu government to an apparent curtailment of settlement construction, committing Israel, “in the context of the renewed peace effort” to implementing its “settlement activities in Judea and Samaria… in a manner that would facilitate a regional dialogue for peace and the goal of two states for two peoples.”
It affirms that Israel “seeks an end of conflict and finality of all claims, mutual recognition between two nation-states, enduring security arrangements and an agreed territorial solution which, among other thing, will recognize the existing population centers.”
According to Haaretz, the proposed initiative never panned out because Netanyahu was caught in the political vise of the Amona outpost controversy.
The illegal West Bank outpost, which the High Court of Justice ruled in 2014 had been built on privately owned Palestinian land, was due to be demolished by the end of the December of last year, and the weeks leading up to the deadline saw rising tensions with the Jewish Home party and many Likud ministers on Netanyahu’s rightist flank.
The proposed text was written in close coordination between Netanyahu and Herzog, and was due to be presented publicly by the two leaders in a planned summit in Cairo or Sharm el-Sheikh with Egypt’s Sissi and possibly Jordan’s King Abdullah II last October, the report said.
According to the newspaper, the text’s content, as well as the plans for the summit, were known to officials in Egypt and Jordan, as well as to then-US secretary of state John Kerry and Quartet Mideast peace envoy Tony Blair.
Netanyahu’s office told Haaretz that the narrative according to which a possible regional peace process was prevented by Israeli political infighting was completely untrue. Herzog’s office declined to comment on the Sunday report.
The prospect of a regional solution has dominated discussion on the conflict in Jerusalem, Washington and around the world, but has been rejected by Palestinian officials.
In a February meeting at the White House, Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump voiced support for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that builds on Israel’s ties with other Arab countries.
During public comments delivered by the two leaders before their meeting, Netanyahu avoided mentioning Palestinian statehood, calling instead for a “regional” approach to resolving the conflict that included Arab states. He noted that he would be discussing such an initiative with Trump.
In response, Trump said the two had been discussing a regional deal, and noted it “would take in many, many countries.”
But later last month, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the idea of “temporary” and regional frameworks for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which have been endorsed recently by the leaders of both Israel and the United States.
Addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Abbas said, “It is impractical for the sake of peace and justice to discuss temporary solutions or merge the question of Palestine within the framework of regional affairs as the current Israeli government has attempted to do.
“Palestine today is a fact, and has deep roots within the international community,” he added.
Abbas reiterated his demand that countries that have recognized Israel and support a two-state solution to the conflict should “defend and support this solution by recognizing the State of Palestine.”
The PA leader in December presented that demand directly to the United Kingdom and France, both of which have refused to do so.
A previous Haaretz report that may have drawn from similar sources claimed that Netanyahu had already rejected a regional peace plan put forward at the behest of Kerry last February, which had culminated in a secret meeting in Aqaba on February 21, 2016 between Netanyahu, Kerry, Sissi and Abdullah.
Netanyahu is said to have objected to the initiative at the time out of fear of alienating his right-wing coalition partners, the daily claimed.
Many politicians in Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition are opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, with some urging the annexation of either part or all of the West Bank. Netanyahu has said recently he has not given up on a two-state solution, but for the time being he is only willing to give Palestinians “not exactly a state with full authority, rather a state minus.”
For their part, both Sissi and Abdullah have insisted in recent weeks that a two-state solution to the conflict is nonnegotiable.