Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) on Wednesday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to act like a “responsible adult” and pursue the amended Arab Peace Initiative recently ratified by the Arab League with an emphasis on mutually agreed land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians.
Netanyahu should endorse the Qatari-led initiative, which was in line with the American approach to peacemaking, Yachimovich told Israel Radio, arguing that even if the process failed to come to fruition, Israel would “gain points” in the international community by demonstrating that it strives for peace.
Israel and the Palestinians seemed closer Tuesday night than at any time over the past few years to a resumption of substantive peace negotiations, after both sides indicated satisfaction with the apparently American-brokered amendment to the Arab League’s longstanding framework for regional peace.
Yachimovich pledged to support and possibly join Netanyahu’s coalition if its right flank moved to pull out over an imminent agreement with the Palestinians.
Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) also expressed cautious optimism Wednesday regarding the prospect of renewed negotiaitons. The fact that the new initiative was likely to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table was a positive development, Erdan told Israel Radio. However, he said, Israel wouldn’t accept the pre-1967 lines as a starting point, or rush into decisions that, in the long term, could harm its security.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has spent recent weeks shuttling around the Middle East as well as meeting relevant players in Washington, also sounded fairly upbeat. He said there were still hurdles to clear, but “I don’t think you can underestimate… the significance of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, [United] Arab Emirates, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and others coming to the table and saying, ‘We are prepared to make peace now in 2013.'”
The new optimism emerged on the day that an Israeli father of five was stabbed to death by a recently released Palestinian security prisoner in the West Bank — the first such killing in more than a year, and an attack that was praised by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s own Fatah faction.
A senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Tuesday night that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the steps to advance the peace process taken by the Arab League, which on Monday said it could see a two-state solution based on minor adjustments to the pre-1967 lines, and by Kerry.
“Israel is ready to start negotiations — anytime, anywhere — without any preconditions,” the official said, “and expects the Palestinian side, also, to refrain from making preconditions. Both sides can present their positions at the negotiating table.”
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, which broke off in late 2010.
In the prime minister’s circle, it was also stressed that new comments by Abbas, to the effect that he had “no preconditions” for a resumption of talks, should not necessarily be read as a breakthrough. Rather than dropping his longstanding demands for an Israeli settlement freeze and for Israeli agreement to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 lines, Abbas was likely merely making a semantic shift, branding such requirements as “obligations” rather than “preconditions.”
In Washington on Tuesday afternoon, Kerry applauded the Arab League’s shift. Speaking at a press conference with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, the secretary said the Arab initiative “never received the full focus and full attention and recognition” it deserved when it was first set forth by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
He said Israelis had been asking him in recent days, “What are the Arabs going to do? What is the Arab attitude toward peace at this point in time? And so the Arab community — and I think they should be thanked for this — saw fit to come here to the United States as a delegation of the Arab League to make it clear that they are re-launching the Arab Peace Initiative.”
Kerry quoted Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who hailed the shift early on Tuesday. Livni, he noted, said that the new Arab League position “sends a message to the Israeli public that this is not just about us and the Palestinians.”
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat gave backing to the softened Arab League stance, saying that a plan including minor land swaps was consistent with the Palestinian Authority’s official position.
“In the event that Israel should accept a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, the Palestinians may consider small border adjustments, as long as it does not harm Palestinian interests,” Erekat said.
Adiv Sterman, Raphael Ahren and Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.