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Saudis invite PA but not Israel to UN ministerial meeting on Arab Peace Initiative

Session marking 20th anniversary of proposal attended by officials from Arab League, EU and US, foiling Israeli effort to present initiative as an outdated formula for peace

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent

Diplomats gather at a meeting convened by Saudi Arabia on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York to discuss the Arab Peace Initiative on September 20, 2022. (Saudi Foreign Ministry)
Diplomats gather at a meeting convened by Saudi Arabia on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York to discuss the Arab Peace Initiative on September 20, 2022. (Saudi Foreign Ministry)

NEW YORK — Saudi Arabia hosted a closed ministerial meeting at the United Nations on Tuesday marking the 20th anniversary of the proposal of the Arab Peace Initiative, two Arab diplomats confirmed to The Times of Israel.

Representatives from almost every member in the Arab League, including the Palestinians, attended the meeting, while Israel did not receive an invitation. The Saudi Al Arabiya news outlet, which broke the story, said that the US sent Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf and that the UK and several EU countries were also represented at the evening session.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell, Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan and Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit addressed the session, Al Arabiya reported.

Ministers are slated to discuss proposals to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process based on the Arab Peace Initiative and similar plans, one Arab diplomat told The Times of Israel.

The holding of such a session and its attendance by such senior diplomats from the Middle East, the EU and the US appears to represent a blow to Israeli efforts to dismiss the initiative as an outdated formula for peace.

An Israeli official familiar with the meeting dismissed it as a “low-level initiative,” adding that Israel “was not invited and we will not comment on it.”

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud at a round table meeting at the La Nuvola conference center for the G20 summit in Rome, October 30, 2021. (AP Photo/ Andrew Medichini)

The 2002 proposal offers Israel full normalized relations with all 22 members of the Arab League if Israel agrees to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and with a just resolution for Palestinian refugees.

The initiative was quickly rejected by Israel, whose governments have become increasingly antagonistic to the demand that it pull back its troops and settlements to the pre-1967 borders, arguing that they are indefensible and that its citizens should not have to be removed from territory in the West Bank to which the Jewish people have ancient ties.

More recently, Israel has pointed to the 2020 signing of the Abraham Accords as proof of the Arab Peace Initiative’s irrelevance. Those deals brokered by the US saw the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco agree to normalize relations with Israel before any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The three countries who signed onto the Abraham Accords all sent their foreign ministers to the Tuesday session.

The Walla news site reported that the Saudi decision not to invite Israel to the meeting was also made with the expectation that Jerusalem would not agree to attend.

While optimism in Israel about the possibility of Saudi Arabia following in the path of some of its Gulf neighbors has increased over the past year, Riyadh has made clear publicly that it still abides by the formula of the Arab Peace Initiative.

Senior Saudi officials doubled down on this position in July after the country agreed to open its airspace to all foreign airliners, including Israeli ones. The move was made in tandem with another agreement to receive a pair of Red Sea islands from Egypt, which required Israel’s authorization as they used to be under Jerusalem’s control.

US President Donald Trump, center, with, from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, September 15, 2020, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

A document obtained by Al Arabiya’s whose authenticity was confirmed by the diplomats who spoke with The Times of Israel revealed the agenda for the session.

“The absence of the prospects for a political resolution of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the alarming deterioration of the humanitarian situation, the growing threats on the two-state solution, with the rapid growth of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories point to an explosive situation that may erupt at any time and spiral into a new wave of violence or even war threatening the people of Palestine and the wider region,” the document reads.

“Twenty years later, it is apparent that relaunching the Arab Peace Initiative, in support of the Palestinian cause and regional security, is an important step towards paving the way to overcome the hurdles standing in the way of realizing a fair and lasting peace,” the document continues.

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