Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Likud ministers Monday that he will never accept the original Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, according to two sources at the meeting.
“If the Arab nations grasp the fact that they need to revise the Arab League proposal according to the changes Israel demands, then we can talk,” Netanyahu said. “But if they bring the proposal from 2002 and define it as 'take it or leave it' – we’ll choose to leave it.”
The positive part of the plan, he told the ministers, was the willingness of the Arab nations to achieve peace and normalization with Israel. On the other hand, its negative elements include the demand that Israel retreat to the 1967 borders in the West Bank with territorial adjustments, and leave the Golan Heights, as well as the return of the Palestinian refugees.
During the Likud meeting, Netanyahu said that an article 10 days ago in Haaretz by his former bureau chief, Nathan Eshel, wasn't coordinated with him. Eshel, in Haaretz, claimed that Netanyahu had been about to enter a coalition agreement with the Zionist Union, prior to making a diplomatic move, but that such a decision was thwarted due to opposition in leftist circles to sitting in a government with Likud. Eshel’s article does “not reflect my position,” Netanyahu said in the meeting.
In 2002 the Arab League adopted a Saudi peace proposal. The initiative stated that if Israel reached agreement with the Palestinians about the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital and with territorial exchanges, and in addition to a just, agreed-on solution for the refugees, then all the Arab nations would sign peace accords with Israel and establish full diplomatic relations.
Two weeks ago, after swearing-in Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister, the prime minister made a statement to the press relating to the Arab initiative in positive terms, but demanded changes.
“I want to clarify that I am committed to achieving peace with our Palestinian neighbors and with all our neighbors,” Netanyahu said at the time. “The Arab Peace Initiative includes positive elements that could help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians. We are prepared to conduct negotiations with the Arab nations about updating the proposal so as to reflect the dramatic changes in our region since 2002, but maintain the agreed-upon goal of two states for two peoples.”
Netanyahu has mentioned the Arab League proposal time and again over the years, but has repeatedly said he hopes it is open to changes.
For example, in May 2015, during a briefing with diplomatic correspondents, Netanyahu called for the initiative to be revised, saying that while he saw some good things in it, it also contained “bad things that have become obsolete – such as the demand for Israel to return the Golan, or the issue of the refugees.”
A great deal had changed in the years since the proposal was drafted, the premier added at the time, “but the general idea of an attempt to achieve understandings with leading nations in the Arab world is a good one.”
Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, for one, rejects Netanyahu’s demand that the Arab nations “update” the original proposal due to changes in the Middle East in the interim.
Answering a query from Haaretz at a press conference following the foreign ministers’ summit in Paris 10 days ago, the minister said, “Why should the Arab Peace Initiative be changed?” He added that he didn’t support the approach that the proposal be diluted so it suits Israel.
The Arab nations have never withdrawn their support of the initiative, Jubeir noted; they have even re-ratified it a number of times since 2002, and it remains a stable basis for ending the conflict. Moreover, the Arab countries and the rest of the world believe that the proposal is still the best option for a resolution, and can only hope that Israel accepts that, too.
The Arab initiative is in compliance with various international resolutions, contains all the elements necessary to end the conflict – and provides Israel with many incentives, Jubeir said, adding that the Israelis are the ones who should be accepting it.