Efforts to Resume Peace Process |

Netanyahu Worried Kerry Drifting Toward Arab League Stance on Two-state Solution

The Arab League declared it will allow small shifts in Israel's 1967 border as part of its Mideast peace plan.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his aides fear that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will accept the Arab League definition of the borders for a Palestinian state and the principle of territorial exchanges.

Netanyahu and his advisers believe the Arab League declaration could undermine Israel’s position in negotiations with the Palestinians, according to an Israeli source familiar with talks held in the past two days.

On Monday, the Arab League endorsed a Mideast peace plan that would allow for small shifts in Israel’s 1967 border, moving it closer to the two-state concept endorsed by U.S. President Barack Obama.

“The prime minister’s advisers are not keen about the Arab League’s announcement,” the source said. “Netanyahu and his advisers believe it would have been better had this announcement not been made.”

The source said that while the aides acknowledge positive parts of the Arab League’s announcement, such as the desire to renew the peace process, they see more disadvantages in it than opportunities.

Netanyahu and his aides’ objections result from the emphasis in the Arab announcement that they are willing to endorse “small shifts” in Israel’s 1967 borders, by means of “minimal” land swaps of identical size.

In recent years the Palestinians have said they were ready to exchange 1.9 percent of the West Bank’s area.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said they were willing to accept land swaps of 6-10 percent of the West Bank’s area. That would allow Israel to retain many more settlements than the smaller land exchange the Palestinians favor.

The American administration’s position, expressed in Obama’s speech in May 2011, is that the Palestinian state’s borders must be based on the ‘67 borders with territorial exchanges, without mention of their size.

A few days later Obama added that the Palestinian state’s borders must take into account the changes made since 1967, i.e. the large settlement blocs.

The Israeli source said Netanyahu and his aides see the Arab League’s declaration as a “trick” that could determine opening terms for negotiations that would be bad for Israel.

The fact that Kerry stood beside Qatar’s prime minister while he was reading the announcement increased Netanyahu’s aides’ suspicions toward Kerry.

“Netanyahu and his advisers aren’t sure where Kerry is going and where he stands regarding the Arab announcement,” he said.

Netanyahu’s aides fear Kerry’s news conference with the Arab League representatives could mark a drift in the American position on the Palestinian state’s borders and land swaps, moving it toward the Arab position of “small” border shifts and minimal land swaps of identical size.

PM:’Paper doesn’t promise a thing’

Netanyahu did not address the recent development on the Arab Peace Initiative on Wednesday. He didn’t say a word about it even in a closed meeting with senior Foreign Ministry officials.

Netanyahu said he was working for the resumption of the peace talks and hoped negotiations with the Palestinians would soon be resumed. He said that an initiative is being put together that includes economic solutions for the Palestinians together with a political plan.

The prime minister added during the meeting that any peace agreement would require “reliable and durable” security arrangements, since, in his words, “paper doesn’t promise a thing.”

Netanyahu said he was not setting preconditions for the resumption of the talks with the Palestinians and was ready to discuss all the issues at the negotiating table. The demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he said, was not a condition for the start of the talks, but rather for their successful conclusion.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Wednesday that recent comments by Arab League officials did not represent an opening for peace talks if Israel did not agree to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.

On Monday, Arab League officials told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden that the league was still committed to the plan it proposed in 2002. After signing a peace treaty based on the 1967 borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, all Arab nations would normalize relations with Israel.

“Netanyahu has to say ‘1967,’” Erekat told Nazareth-based Radio Ashams. “If he doesn’t say that, there’s nothing to talk about. For us, what the Arab League delegation presented in Washington is no different from the official Palestinian position.”

Erekat noted that the Palestinian Authority had negotiated in the past based on the 1967 borders and had been willing to adjust them with land swaps on either side of the Green Line. “We don’t see that as recognition of the settlement blocs, as some commentators on both sides try to interpret it,” Erekat said. “For us, every stone in the settlements constitutes a violation of international law, so it’s impossible to talk about Palestinian consent regarding the settlements.”

“Our position is clear: As long as Netanyahu does not say the number 1967, there’s nothing to talk about. Maybe he needs to undergo psychological therapy to utter that number,” Erekat added.

A senior Palestinian official close to the talks told Haaretz that the Palestinian position on resuming negotiations was clear. This position was expressed to the Americans during Obama’s visit to Ramallah in March, and during meetings between Kerry and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The official said that for the PA, this was an opportunity for Kerry to present an option that would lead to the resumption of talks based on the 1967 borders.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meeting Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem April 9, 2013.Credit: Reuters
The Arab League leaders led by Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, from fourth from left, with Secretary of State John KerryCredit: AP

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