Palestinians say they back minor land swaps in peace deal

Arab League softened stance during meeting in Washington Monday, providing possible opening for revived negotiations

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90/File)
Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90/File)

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat gave crucial backing to a softened Arab League stance on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Tuesday, 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.

Speaking on behalf of an Arab League delegation to Washington Monday, Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani called for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that would be based on Israel’s lines before the 1967 Six-Day War.

But, unlike in previous such offers, Al Thani raised the possibility of “comparable,” mutually agreed and “minor” land swaps between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Al Thani spoke after the delegation met with US Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, who have been pushing Arab leaders to embrace a modified version of their decade-old “Arab Peace Initiative” as part of a new US-led effort to corral Israel and the Palestinians back into direct peace talks.

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 Prime Minister Benjamin 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.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is also the chief negotiator in talks with the Palestinians, acknowledged that Israel had concerns about some of the details of the Arab initiative, but said Israel must nonetheless respond positively. “It’s good news that should be welcomed,” she said in a Facebook post.

She noted that the plan gave the Palestinians important backing from the broader Arab world to make small concessions on the border issue, while it sent an important message to Israel that peace with the Palestinians means peace with the entire Arab world. “I hope that the message that comes from Qatar will help launch the negotiations as soon as possible,” she said.

Netanyahu had yet to remark on the initiative by Tuesday night, but diplomatic sources told Channel 2 News that the Israeli government welcomes the Arab League’s encouragement of a peace process, and expects to resume negotiations without preconditions.

Cabinet minister Silvan Shalom, a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, played down the Arab League’s decision, though, saying, “There is nothing new here.

“In principle, I support renewing the process. Of course, I don’t accept the 1967 lines,” he told Israel Radio. “If the Arab League wants to be a partner to this process, then we welcome it, but this is not negotiations.”

President Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said the Arabs’ decision provided a new chance to restart peace talks. “The ministers of the Arab League once again expressed their support for the two-state solution, which is also accepted by us and a broad structure of support is being created for making progress,” he said during a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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