A Saudi daily newspaper mildly chided the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for “automatically” rejecting an invitation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the Israeli Knesset.
Netanyahu issued the invitation to Abbas on Thursday during his address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Calling for a return to direct negotiations and a stop to Palestinian incitement, the Israeli leader said he would in turn speak to the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah.
In its editorial published Sunday, the Saudi Gazette wrote that the Palestinians “should not be too quick to dismiss the invitation,” arguing that it was “reminiscent of the one issued by former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to visit Israel — and the rest is history.”
The paper said the invite led to the Camp David Accords — and the signing of a peace treaty — which “demonstrated that negotiations with Israel were possible and that progress could be made through sustained efforts at communication and cooperation.”
The editorial also cited then-president Bill Clinton’s 1998 trip to Ramallah to address the Palestine National Council, which the paper argues led to the Palestinian leadership recognizing the right of Israel to exist and approving the removal of clauses from the PLO charter that called for its destruction.
“Despite these two examples of how official visits can bend the arc of history, the Palestinians automatically rejected Netanyahu’s invite to Abbas,” the paper wrote, adding that “it is possible that the aim of the invitation was an attempt by Netanyahu to isolate UN attempts to restart and impose a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.”
While acknowledging that Netanyahu “rejects a settlement freeze, will not uproot settlements, rejects the 1967 borders as the basis for talks and rejects any division of Jerusalem,” the editorial argued that before Begin’s invitation to Sadat, Israel and Egypt were “mortal enemies, having fought three wars” and that Camp David called for “a five-year transitional period of Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza” which would include “the introduction of Palestinian self-government and an end to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.”
“Much of the Arab world derided it as a weak deal. But in hindsight, if the provisions had been carried out, Israel and the Palestinians might not be in the impasse they are in at present,” the Saudi paper argued.
In 2002, Saudi Arabia initiated the Arab Peace Initiative which calls for Israel to cede the territories it captured in the 1967 Six Day War in return for full ties with the Arab world.
Israel has rejected the initiative, though in his address on Thursday Netanyahu said Israel welcomed its “spirit.”
In his speech, Netanyahu also praised developing relations with regional Sunni powers such as Saudi Arabia, saying that they “recognize that Israel is not their enemy but their ally,” and that the “common enemy is Iran and ISIS,” referring to the Islamic State jihadist group based in Iraq and Syria.
“In coming years, we will work together openly,” Netanyahu said Thursday, adding that Israeli relations with these countries were “undergoing nothing less than revolution.”
“The change taking place in the Arab world offers a unique opportunity to advance peace,” he added.