UNITED NATIONS — Israel’s chief peace negotiator said Thursday it’s “good news” that the Arab peace initiative is negotiable and that Arab nations are supporting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians at a difficult time in the region.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians, told reporters after meeting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Thursday afternoon that it’s in the interest of Israel, the Palestinians and the international community to resume peace talks.
“We need to find a way to do so, and we’re working on it,” she said.
Livni said US Secretary of State John Kerry “is completely involved, determined” to restart negotiations, which have largely been frozen since 2008. The two met briefly, earlier Thursday, to discuss the Arab initiative and to try to suss the Obama administration’s take on it.
The original 2002 Arab initiative offered a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Muslim world in exchange for a withdrawal from all territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Sweetening the offer this week, an Arab League delegation said in Washington that final borders could be drawn through mutually agreed land swaps.
Kerry called the changed language a “very big step forward” and Livni welcomed it. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that any peace deal on his watch would be subject to a national referendum.
Yitzhak Molcho, Netanyahu’s envoy on the Palestinian issue, accompanied Livni to her meeting with Kerry and reportedly presented him with Netanyahu’s objections to the Arab League plan, including fears that the US would adopt its language stipulating only minor land swaps that don’t include the settlement blocs.
Netanyahu said Wednesday that he is “eager” to sign a peace deal, but noted that any agreement would need to ensure Israeli security and that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state.
Nonetheless, aides to Netanyahu privately cautioned that the path to a resumption of talks had not yet been completely smoothed. Although “very serious efforts” were under way, they said, it could be premature to anticipate an imminent resumption of negotiations.
Livni said Thursday that “the message coming from the Arab League is important.”
One reason is that even though the situation in the region is very difficult “and we have states that are collapsing with all these problems, yet we have the Arab League supporting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and this is good news,” she said.
“The other good news is that basically what they say is that the Arab peace initiative is not something which is ‘take it or leave it,’ but it is negotiable,” Livni continued.
She said it is also a good message to Israel, to understand “that when we achieve peace with the Palestinians, hopefully, we can have peace with the entire Arab world.”
“We live in a tough neighborhood,” Livni said. “It is going to be difficult, complicated, but the message coming from Washington after the meeting between the Arab League and secretary Kerry was quite a positive one.”
UN chief Ban lauded the Arab initiative in his meeting with Livni, where the two reportedly discussed the release of additional Palestinian prisoners and Israeli plans to build in the controversial E1 corridor, which connects Jerusalem with portions of the West Bank.
The Arab League’s statement was welcomed by a number of Israeli officials, who called to seize the opportunity and revive negotiations as soon as possible.
“This is an important step for the Arab world that has a chance of being a groundbreaking move and should be viewed seriously,” Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich said Tuesday night. Yachimovich urged Netanyahu to respond positively to the Arab League’s proposal and declared that the Labor Party would offer its support for significant steps towards an agreement.