US said to seek adding ‘Jewish state’ language to Arab Peace Initiative

John Kerry reportedly preparing to push idea at upcoming meeting with Arab League officials

John Kerry meeting in Saudi Arabia, Sunday, January 5 2014. (photo credit: US State Department)
John Kerry meeting in Saudi Arabia, Sunday, January 5 2014. (photo credit: US State Department)

The US is reportedly exploring the possibility of altering language in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative to include recognition of Israel as a Jewish State should the country reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

According to a Monday report in Palestinian newspaper al-Ayyam, citing Western sources, the US negotiating team is investigating the possibility.

The changed language, which would insert a key Israeli demand into the 2002 Saudi-drafted Arab Peace Initiative, would also include the stipulation that Israel’s Arab citizens not be affected by recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

The initiative’s current language calls for the Arab world to offer comprehensive peace with Israel in exchange for a full pullout from all territories it captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

The Palestinian report comes a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry left the region after four days of intense talks, including several hours in Riyadh in which he said he gained Saudi backing for his peace push.

Ramallah has not given permission for any changes to the Arab League initiative, according to al-Ayyam.

Kerry is expected to meet in Paris soon with Arab League foreign ministers who sit on the monitoring committee of the Arab Peace Initiative, the paper reported, and may present the idea to them.

It is not clear when the meeting would take place.

Kerry’s trip to the region was reportedly to push the sides to agree to a framework plan which would guide future discussions.

The US diplomat met with Saudi leader King Abdullah on Sunday and said the king’s 2002 initiative “has been part of the framework that we’ve been piecing together — both in inspiration and substance.”

The initiative, revolutionary when it was introduced, has been endorsed by the Arab League and, technically, remains in effect.

“Saudi Arabia’s initiative holds out the prospect that if the parties could arrive at a peaceful resolution, you could instantaneously have peace between the 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations, all of whom have said they will recognize Israel if peace is achieved,” Kerry said.

“Imagine how that changes the dynamics of travel, of business, of education, of opportunity in this region, of stability. Imagine what peace could mean for trade and tourism, what it could mean for developing technology and talent, for job opportunities for the younger generation, for generations in all of these countries,” Kerry said.

Israel, however, has conditioned any peace deal with the Palestinians on recognition of the country as a Jewish state, a demand the Palestinians have rejected.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Likud Knesset faction Monday that “there is no American framework document yet,” and that even if it could be agreed, it would not be binding on the sides, Channel 2 reported. He also assured the Likud MKs that he had not given in to American pressure for more flexible positions regarding the fate of Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, and said he was only too aware of the consequences of dismantling settlements in the absence of a viable peace accord, the report said.

Kerry has paid 10 trips to the region this year, initially expressing confidence that a permanent peace accord, providing for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, could be wrapped up by the end of April. More recently, though, evidently realizing that this was a tall order, he has been pushing the less ambitious “framework” idea.

Netanyahu on Monday, however, reportedly told the Likud that even the framework plan, which Kerry has not yet been able to finalize, would not be binding to the two sides. The prime minister also said there would be elements in the non-binding paper that he and his party colleagues wouldn’t like, and elements that the Palestinians wouldn’t like.

The two sides are believed to be at odds over almost every aspect of the core issues involved in a two-state accord. Kerry has been reportedly pushing Netanyahu to agree to at least keep talking on the basis of a Palestinian state to be established along the pre-1967 lines, with land-swap adjustments, and urging Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Beyond these points, the two sides are said to disagree over security arrangements, border demarcations, the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugee demands under a permanent deal. There have also been disputes over who will be released in a final phase of prisoner releases by Israel of terror convicts in the coming months. And it is unclear whether the Palestinians are prepared to extend the current talks beyond their scheduled expiry date in late April.

A Palestinian official told al-Ayyam that the meetings recently held between Kerry and the Palestinian leadership failed to reach an agreement on any issue.

“We talked about everything, but without agreement on anything,” the official said.

According to the newspaper, the Palestinians presented their positions on all the issues to Kerry, and are expecting to be presented with the positions of the US secretary of state on the framework agreement.

The Palestinian official added that when the Palestinian Authority speaks about East Jerusalem, it does not mean outlying villages such as Abu Dis or the Shuafat area, but rather the city itself. One of the ideas presented by Kerry during the talks on the formulation of the framework agreement is that Jerusalem would be united but the Palestinians would “have their capital within it.”

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