Saudi Foreign Minister Rejects Netanyahu's Demand to 'Update' Arab Peace Initiative

Peace plan that originated in Saudi Arabia and would see normalization of ties between Israel and Arab countries shouldn't be 'watered down' to accommodate the Israelis, says Adel al-Jubei.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Paris, June 3, 2016.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Paris, June 3, 2016.Credit: Saul Loeb, AFP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

PARIS - Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir rejected Friday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative be "updated" due to the changes that have occurred in the Middle East over the past several years.

Responding to Haaretz's question at a press conference held after the peace summit in Paris, al-Jubeir said: "Why should we change the Arab Peace Initiative?I believe that the argument the Arab Peace Initiative needs to be watered down in order to accommodate the Israelis is not the right approach."

Al-Jubeir noted that the Arab Peace Initiative was never taken off the table and that it has been approved by Arab nations several times since its creation in 2002.

"It is on the table and it is a solid basis for ending the conflict," he said. "We and the rest of the world believe that the Arab peace initiative is the best option to resolve the conflict and we hope that this wisdom prevails in Israel too and that the Israelis would accept this initiative."

Al-Jubeir continued: "The Arab Peace Initiative is very clear and in line with international resolution and it has all the elements needed for a final settlement ... The Arab Peace Initiative provides Israel with a lot of incentives and it's for the Israelis to accept it."

The Arab Peace Initiative originated as a Saudi plan that was adopted by the Arab League in 2002. According to the plan, all participating Arab nations would normalize relations with Israel if the two sides were to reach an agreement for the creation of a Palestinian nation along the 1967 borders with some trading of territories, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital and with a just solution to the refugee issue.

On Monday, after Avigdor Lieberman was sworn in as defense minister, Netanyahu gave a speech in which he voiced a positive outlook on the Arab Peace Initiative, but proposed to change it.

"I would like to say that I am obligated to achieve peace with our neighbors - the Palestinians and all our neighbors," said Netanyahu. "The Arab initiative also has some very, very positive elements that enable a serious dialogue with all our neighbors in the region.

"We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in the region since 2002, but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples," Netanyahu said.

Over the last few years, Netanyahu addressed the Arab Peace Initiative on several occasions and said he hoped that the plan was not set in stone, but was open to changes. In May, 2015, during a briefing for political correspondents, Netanyahu said that the proposal should be updated.

"There are positive things and negative things that have become obsolete in the Arab Peace Initiative," said Netanyahu. "For example, the demand that Israel return the Golan Heights or the refugee issue. The initiative was proposed 13 years ago and since then many things have changed in the Middle East. But the general idea of attempting to reach understandings with the countries in the Arab world is a good idea."

During the past few weeks, Netanyahu tried to form an alternative political process with a few Arab nations, led by Egypt, in order to sink the French initiative. This push, started by opposition leader Isaac Herzog together with former British prime minister Tony Blair and other international sources, was meant to legitimize a deal for Herzog's entry into the government.

As part of the process, Netanyahu was to issue a positive statement regarding the Arab Peace Initiative, form a more moderate government and to take steps such as freezing West Bank construction outside of settlement blocs.

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