UN envoy welcomes comments lending support for Arab peace plan

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) hold a press conference in the Knesset on Monday, May 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) hold a press conference in the Knesset on Monday, May 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace Process calls for ‘concrete and timely action’ on 2002 Saudi initiative after Netanyahu and Liberman signal partial support

(SOURCE)   The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process on Tuesday welcomed statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and new Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman lending some support for an Arab peace plan.

Nickolay Mladenov said the comments made a day earlier could “help advance negotiations on achieving a two-state solution.”

In a dramatic move, Netanyahu on Monday partially endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative, offering to negotiate with the Arab world regarding the parameters of the plan, which promises Israel full diplomatic ties with 57 Arab and Muslim states in return for cementing a peace accord with the Palestinians.

Mladenov said that the Middle East Quartet, which brings the United Nations, the US, the European Union and Russia together to mediate an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, had “repeatedly emphasized the significance and importance of the Arab Peace Initiative with its vision for a comprehensive settlement of the conflict and as an opportunity for building a regional security framework.”

“This opportunity should not be missed and must be followed up with concrete and timely action.”

The proposal was first put forward by Riyadh in 2002, but has languished since, with Israel regarding the peace plan as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition it couldn’t possibly embrace.

In 2013, the Arab League showed some flexibility in allowing that, to reach a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “comparable,” mutually agreed and “minor” land swaps could be possible.

On Monday night, Netanyahu said the plan “contains positive elements that could help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians,” going further than he has before in showing support for the initiative.

The statement came after months of Netanyahu and other Jerusalem officials hinting at closer ties with moderate Sunni states in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, saying those states could help broker an arrangement with the Palestinians.

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov talks during a press conference in Gaza City, September 17, 2015. (AP/Adel Hana)

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov during a press conference in Gaza City, September 17, 2015. (AP/Adel Hana)

“We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in our region since 2002 but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples,” Netanyahu said Monday night, making his statement first in Hebrew and then repeating it in English.

Mladenov pointed specifically to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s involvement in pushing Israel toward the peace proposal.

“It follows the call by the president of Egypt to Israelis and Palestinians to continue the historic step toward peace taken by Israel and Egypt 37 years ago,” Mladenov said.

Standing next to Netanyahu Monday night, incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he fully endorsed the prime minister’s statement, including his call for an agreement leading to two states for two peoples.

His party, Yisrael Beytenu, has long supported Netanyahu’s 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, in which he for the first time accepted, in principle, the idea of Palestinian statehood, Liberman said. “President Sissi’s speech was important; it creates a genuine opportunity that obligates us to pick up the gauntlet.

“I certainly agree that in the Arab Peace Initiative there are some very positive elements that will enable us to conduct serious dialogue with our neighbors in the region.”

Earlier in the month, Sissi made a rare call for Israel to accept the Arab Peace Initiative, seen at the time as an unsuccessful attempt to push Netanyahu toward accepting dovish Zionist Union party leader Isaac Herzog as a coalition partner instead of Liberman, considered a hard-liner.

“There is a real chance to make peace with Israel, and that it can exist naturally in the region, if it accepts the Arab Peace Initiative,” Sissi said on May 13.

Liberman’s addition to the coalition has been met with skepticism in the international community and his Monday speech accepting the Two-State solution was seen by many as an attempt to calm fears.

According to a senior Israeli official cited in daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Netanyahu’s speech had been coordinated with Sissi in order to lay the groundwork for a regional peace conference.

On Friday, several foreign ministers are expected to meet in Paris to push forward a multilateral French peace initiative. Israel, which along with the Palestinian Authority is not invited, has rejected the French plan.

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