In a telephone conversation with Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “said yes” to new efforts led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia for regional progress toward peace, an Israeli television report said.
The call was made on the eve of Friday’s Paris peace summit, and was a factor in the summit’s vague concluding communique, which Kerry helped negotiate, and which did not set a firm date for the international peace conference Paris wants to host by the year’s end, the Channel 2 report said.
Netanyahu also spoke by telephone with France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault hours after the summit ended, and told him that France and its allies would best advance peace prospects if, rather than pushing their own initiative, they pressed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas into resuming direct talks with Israel, a source close to the prime minister said. Netanyahu also told Ayrault that France’s bid to host an international conference could wind up complicating regional efforts that might actually have a chance of making progress, the source said.
Ayrault reportedly initiated the call in order to update Netanyahu on the session. The prime minister also told the French foreign minister that he opposed Paris’s idea of setting up working groups to discuss core issues such as security arrangements for a peace accord. “Israel will deal with its own essential security needs,” Netanyahu said, according to a senior Israeli source.
Dore Gold, the director general of the Foreign Ministry, told The Times of Israel earlier this week that Israel was hopeful that improved ties with Arab states would ultimately yield Arab pressure on the Palestinians for substantive progress.
“The conventional wisdom for the last few decades has been that a solution to the Palestinian issues will result in improved ties between Israel and the Arab world,” Gold told The Times of Israel on Wednesday. “But there is a serious basis for thinking that, actually, the sequence is exactly the opposite — that by improving ties with the Arab states, we set the stage for a future breakthrough with the Palestinians.”
Gold has recently met with several officials from Arab countries, including those with which Israel has no formal ties.
In the days leading up to Friday’s summit, Netanyahu and other Israeli officials held behind-the-scenes contacts with various international figures, to try and ensure that the summit did not end with an effort to impose terms discomfiting for Israel, the Channel 2 report said. The final statement was indeed relatively vague.
Furthermore, Britain, Russia and Germany did not send their foreign ministers to the meeting, and were represented instead by lower-level officials. Kerry did attend, but did not make any dramatic comments to reporters at the event, merely speaking before the ministers met of the “need to know where it’s going.”
The Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, who did fly to Paris, used the event to stress that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is “still on the table,” and said it was the best way to reach a solution to the decades-long Israeli-Arab conflict.
“The initiative has all the elements needed for a final resolution,” al-Jubeir told reporters, adding that it could not be “diluted” and that he hoped “Israel will wise-up” to the opportunity it constitutes.
Responding to a question in Arabic, al-Jubeir said that the API, first drafted by Riyadh in 2002 and subsequently backed by the Arab League, has not been and would not be amended. Israel has raised objections to elements of the initiative, which calls for an Israeli withdrawal from all territories captured in the 1967 Six Day War and an agreed resolution to the issue of Palestinian refugees, in return for normalized relations with the Arab world.
“The Arab Peace Initiative does not need changing or adjusting, it is on the table as is,” al-Jubeir said, repeating that the essence of the plan is Israel’s return to the “1967 lines” and the establishment of East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Netanyahu on Monday partially endorsed the initiative, offering to negotiate with the Arab world the parameters of the plan.
“I take this opportunity to make clear that I remain committed to making peace with the Palestinians and with all our neighbors. The Arab Peace Initiative contains positive elements that could help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu declared in the Knesset.
“We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in our region since 2002, but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples,” Netanyahu said, making his statement first in Hebrew and then repeating it in English.
Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said last month that there was a “real opportunity” for Israeli-Palestinian peace, and pledged all Egyptian assistance to realize it.