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Analysis

PM open to Arab Peace Initiative as potential basis for talks, official says

Source stresses no change in Netanyahu’s position, however, and nothing new on the table: ‘If it’s a case of take it or leave it, he’ll leave it’

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

A group photo of the Gulf Cooperation Council and regional partners with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, September 11, 2014. (Brendan Smialowsky/AFP/Pool)
A group photo of the Gulf Cooperation Council and regional partners with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, September 11, 2014. (Brendan Smialowsky/AFP/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regards the Arab Peace Initiative as a potential “vehicle that can get negotiation going with the Arab world,” a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

This contrasts with recent negative comments on the Saudi-initiated idea expressed by Netanyahu in a recent interview. But the official said that there had been no change in the prime minister’s position, and that there was nothing new on the table.

Netanyahu has never accepted or endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative, the senior official said Wednesday, but he hasn’t rejected it either, and indeed regards it as “a basis for discussion.”

“It’s an improvement on the [Arab world’s rejectionist 1967] Three No’s of Khartoum,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity.

Netanyahu is far from approving it unconditionally, the source said. “If it’s a case of take it or leave it, he’ll leave it,” the official clarified, “because it provides for a return to the pre-1967 lines, including East Jerusalem, and he won’t go back to the 1967 lines.” It’s also “a blur” on the issue of Palestinian refugees.

But “if it’s the start of negotiation, a vehicle that can get negotiation going with the Arab world, [Netanyahu thinks] it’s a good thing,” the official said.

These comments came weeks after Netanyahu appeared to dismiss the initiative, telling The Jerusalem Post that it was “set up in another period, before the rise of Hamas; before Hamas took over Gaza; before Islamic State took over chunks of Syria and Iraq, effectively dismantling those countries; before Iran’s accelerated nuclear program.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Israeli parliament on the 'Jewish state' bill, November 26, 2014. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Israeli parliament on the ‘Jewish state’ bill, November 26, 2014. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The prime minister’s dismissive position in those comments was received with disappointment by the Obama administration, American sources told The Times of Israel at the time.

Soon afterwards, however, in his address to the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu was relatively upbeat and conciliatory in reaching out to the Arab world.

“Despite the enormous challenges facing Israel, I believe we have an historic opportunity,” he said in New York. “After decades of seeing Israel as their enemy, leading states in the Arab world increasingly recognize that together we and they face many of the same dangers: principally this means a nuclear-armed Iran and militant Islamist movements gaining ground in the Sunni world. Our challenge is to transform these common interests to create a productive partnership…”

“We must look not only to Jerusalem and Ramallah, but also to Cairo, to Amman, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and elsewhere,” he said then. “I believe peace can be realized with the active involvement of Arab countries, those that are willing to provide political, material and other indispensable support…  There is a new Middle East. It presents new dangers, but also new opportunities. Israel is prepared to work with Arab partners and the international community to confront those dangers and to seize those opportunities.”

In a fierce speech to the Knesset on Wednesday, Netanyahu made clear (Hebrew text) that he does not favor dramatic territorial compromise with the Palestinians. Opposition politicians urge him to “take the initiative, relinquish territory, jump off the cliff,” he said derisively from the podium, “because at the bottom there’ll be a soft quilt and a bouquet of roses.” Actually, waiting at the bottom, he said, “are the Islamic State terror group, and Hamas.”

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