Senior Shas Figure Urges Netanyahu to Adopt Arab League Peace Initiative

In letter to PM, MK Yitzhak Cohen calls for 'bridge of understanding' between Islam and Judaism, Israeli aid to Palestinian refugees.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The reprise of Aryeh Deri as the chairman of Shas has brought with it a signal that the ultra-Orthodox party has softened its stance on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in the form of a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from MK Yitzhak Cohen on Monday urging the government to adopt the Arab League peace initiative.

"I beseech you to leave no stone unturned and to examine the feasibility of the peace initiative in light of the fact that we live in a region that is almost completely Muslim, and out of the belief that the peace initiative contains the seeds to begin building a bridge of understanding between Islam and Judaism and the Jewish state," wrote Cohen, who has served in the cabinet almost continuously since 2000, most recently as deputy finance minister in the previous government.

Cohen called on Netanyahu to extend financial aid to Palestinian refugees and to translate the Arab League plan, which Arab leaders endorsed in April, into concrete measures that would help to rebuild neighboring Arab states.

The letter heralds the approach Shas intends to take in its new role as an opposition party, by challenging the government from the left and outflanking Habayit Hayehudi, which chose to join Netanyahu's coalition at the expense of the ultra-Orthodox parties.

"In my humble opinion and to my best judgment the peace initiative gives Israel something more precious than gold that cannot be obtained in bilateral negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. It grants - de facto - recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Recognition that comes from the guardians of the holiest places in Islam (Mecca and Medina), backed by a firm majority of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world" wrote Cohen, adding, "From a historical perspective it could be said that Christianity did not make such an offer to Judaism, until the Holocaust."

Cohen also suggested, in his letter, that Netanyahu should introduce "a regional Marshall Plan" to resettle the Palestinians living in refugee camps "wherever they are situated" to "enable the rehabilitation of the surrounding states."

A political figure who is familiar with internal affairs within Shas said on Monday, "It is doubtful such statements would have been made by party MKs in the era of [former Shas chairman] Eli Yishai. Cohen is regarded as relatively moderate, but we can guess this letter would not have been sent without at least the tacit consent of Deri."

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
Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

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