Minister says Israel can work with Arab world for progress
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Minister says Israel can work with Arab world for progress

Yisrael Katz tells Arab leaders not to lose sight of 'regional challenges'; US envoy says Israeli-Palestinian deal possible

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister office in Jerusalem on January 22, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky/ POOL)
Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister office in Jerusalem on January 22, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky/ POOL)

A senior cabinet minister said that Israel can work together with the Arab nations and the Palestinians to respond to regional challenges while a US envoy told Arab leaders on the sidelines of a summit in Jordan that President Donald Trump believes an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is possible.

The Arab League summit’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflects “the many challenges faced by the Arab world,” Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said on Wednesday.

Katz said that the Palestinian issue should not be ignored. But the Arab world should not lose sight of “strategic regional challenges,” he said, including Iran, the Islamic State group and crises in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.

Working together on these threats, while improving conditions of the Palestinians, can “lay the ground work” for progress, Katz said.

Israel has been trying to push toward a regional peace deal with Arab nations before addressing the Palestinian issue, however, the Arab states are adamant that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be solved first.

The summit held in Jordan reaffirmed a 2002 Arab peace plan that offers Israel normalization if it cedes captured lands for the creation of a Palestinian state. That appeared to undercut Israel’s attempts to seek regional normalization ahead of a peace deal.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) meets with Jason Greenblatt, the US president's assistant and special representative for international negotiations, at Abbas's office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 14, 2017. (WAFA)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) meets with Jason Greenblatt, the US president’s assistant and special representative for international negotiations, at Abbas’s office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 14, 2017. (WAFA)

Trump’s international envoy told officials at the summit that the president believes an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is possible and would “reverberate positively throughout the region and the world.”

The US Embassy in Jordan said that in meetings Jason Greenblatt “focused on how tangible progress could be made toward advancing Middle East peace,” but that he stressed that a deal could not be imposed on the two sides.

On the sidelines of the summit, Greenblatt held talks with the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt and Qatar, as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The gathering, hosted by Jordan, drew leaders from 21 Arab countries. In a final statement, the leaders relaunched an Arab peace plan that offers Israel full normalization in exchange for Palestinian statehood.

21 kings, presidents and top officials from the Arab League summit pose for a group photo at a gathering near the Dead Sea in Jordan, on March 29, 2017. (AP Photo/ Raad Adayleh)
21 kings, presidents and top officials from the Arab League summit pose for a group photo at a gathering near the Dead Sea in Jordan, on March 29, 2017. (AP Photo/ Raad Adayleh)

The Arab peace plan was first launched in 2002. Its renewed endorsement Wednesday would undercut Israel’s proposal of a regional peace in which normalization with some Arab countries would precede a deal with the Palestinians.

The Palestinian quest for independence also served as a showcase for Arab unity in a fractured region, where leaders find themselves on opposite sides of long-running conflicts, particularly Syria’s six-year-old civil war.

They also warned against moving diplomatic missions to contested Jerusalem, whose eastern sector is sought by the Palestinians as a capital. Trump has said he would move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but relocation no longer appears imminent.

Trump hasn’t yet formulated a policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but has suggested the internationally backed idea of a two-state solution isn’t the only option on the table. His international envoy, Jason Greenblatt, held meetings with Abbas and the foreign ministers of Qatar and Egypt on the sidelines of the summit.

The Palestinians want to set up a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

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