Arab League chief nixes PM’s of­fer for re­vised Saudi plan

Al-Arabi claims Is­rael seek­ing fi­nan­cial gains by en­ter­ing Gulf Arab mar­kets

Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - To­vah Lazaroff and Gil Hoff­man contributed to this re­port. • By MAAYAN GROISMAN

Arab League Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Na­bil al-Arabi on Mon­day pub­licly re­jected Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s at­tempts to re­vise the 2002 Arab Peace Plan and blamed the US for thwart­ing the emerg­ing French ini­tia­tive to end the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict.

“Is­rael is push­ing some Euro­pean states and the Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tion to ut­terly trans­form the Arab Peace Ini­tia­tive,” al-Arabi said in an in­ter­view with the Lon­don-based Ara­bic-daily a-Sharq al-Awsat on Mon­day.

Dis­cussing the 14-year-old plan, also known as the Saudi Ini­tia­tive, which of­fers Is­rael nor­mal­ized ties with the Arab world in ex­change for its with­drawal to the pre-1967 lines and a so­lu­tion for the refugees, he said: “The essence of this ini­tia­tive is that Is­rael will take mea­sures to end the oc­cu­pa­tion and, in ex­change, Arabs will take mea­sures to nor­mal­ize their re­la­tions with Is­rael.”

Among the changes Is­rael wants is to make nor­mal­ized ties an open­ing step in the plan rather than the fi­nal one.

“It is not Arabs who should take mea­sures first so that Is­rael will later con­sider what mea­sures it will take in ex­change,” Arabi stated, also slam­ming US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry for ton­ing down the French ini­tia­tive, to the point of in­ef­fec­tive­ness.

Arabi said Kerry was “def­i­nitely not en­thu­si­as­tic” about the Paris sum­mit that took place on June 3 and that the US ad­min­is­tra­tion did not play a proac­tive role in the sum­mit.

Kerry, he said, pre­vented the sum­mit from is­su­ing a con­clud­ing com­mu­nique with stronger rec­om­men­da­tions re­gard­ing the time lim­its of any future peace talks and the UN res­o­lu­tions those talks would be based on.

Arabi de­fined the ini­tia­tive as “help­ful,” say­ing it had re­fo­cused world at­ten­tion to the “un­pop­u­lar” Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, but he stressed that a sum­mit aimed at gen­er­at­ing ac­tions on the ground was more dire than ad­di­tional dis­cus­sions that fail to yield re­sults.

“We do not need an­other Madrid Con­fer­ence or a some­thing sim­i­lar to the Iran nu­clear talks in Vi­enna. We need a pro­duc­tive con­fer­ence, like the one that took place in Geneva in 1974,” Arabi said, re­fer­ring to the diplo­matic ef­forts that pre­ceded mil­i­tary-dis­en­gage­ment deals be­tween Is­rael and Egypt and later Is­rael and Syria.

“The Paris sum­mit did not gen­er­ate a mech­a­nism to solve the con­flict, nor did it is­sue time lim­its for any Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace talks,” Arabi added.

When asked about France’s pledge to or­ga­nize an­other sum­mit by the end of the year, Arabi ap­peared hope­ful.

“Dur­ing the talks, we were promised that teams will be set up soon to dis­cuss the dif­fer­ent di­men­sions of the con­flict,” he said. “In ad­di­tion, for­mer French am­bas­sador, Pierre Vi­mont, who is charged with the is­sue, will ar­rive in our re­gion in the com­ing weeks and we have agreed to meet in Cairo.”

The Pales­tini­ans have wel­comed the French ini­tia­tive, but Is­rael has op­posed it, be­cause it fears the in­ter­na­tion­al­ized process would sim­ply dic­tate fi­nal terms for a two-state so­lu­tion. On Sun­day night in Jerusalem, Ne­tanyahu said di­rect talks be­tween the par­ties was the best way to achieve peace.

At the Knes­set on Mon­day, the Bayit Ye­hudi fac­tion dis­cussed the French ini­tia­tive with US Am­bas­sador Dan Shapiro, who rou­tinely holds meet­ings with Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to at­ten­dees at the closed-door meet­ing, when deputy de­fense min­is­ter Eli Ben-Da­han asked about the French diplo­matic pro­posal, Shapiro re­sponded that the US op­poses uni­lat­eral steps and would veto any at­tempt to force a so­lu­tion on Is­rael.

To cir­cum­vent the French ini­tia­tive, Ne­tanyahu has spo­ken warmly in the past month of a re­gional process based on a re­vised 2002 Arab League Plan, in the hope that Is­rael would have more lever­age in its own neigh­bor­hood.

But Arabi said he did not be­lieve Ne­tanyahu re­ally wanted to im­ple­ment the two-state so­lu­tion and “end the oc­cu­pa­tion.”

Asked why he thinks Ne­tanyahu is now will­ing to ac­cept the ini­tia­tive af­ter dis­re­gard­ing it for years, Arabi claimed it was re­lated to Is­rael’s de­sire for fi­nan­cial gains by en­ter­ing Gulf Arab mar­kets.

“Is­rael wants to put its hands on the nat­u­ral re­sources in the Gulf, and it be­lieves that by us­ing the Arab Peace Ini­tia­tive as it un­der­stands it, it will be able to do so,” he charged.

“Is­rael knows that it will have a foothold in the Gulf only if it takes mea­sures to solve the Pales­tinian is­sue,” Arabi said, adding that: “We will not ac­cept any changes or trade in the Arab Peace Ini­tia­tive, which is the only linch­pin on which we can nor­mal­ize our re­la­tions with Is­rael.”

In ad­di­tion, the diplo­mat dis­missed Ne­tanyahu’s talk of a re­gional Egyp­tian-led peace ini­tia­tive that will re­place the French one.

“Ru­mors about Egyp­tian ini­tia­tives re­late to a re­cent speech by Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fatah al-Sisi, in which he talked, for the first time, about the ur­gent need to re­solve the con­flict, and an­nounced Egypt’s will­ing­ness to play a role in the process,” he said.

Arabi also lashed out at For­eign Min­istry Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral Dore Gold’s state­ment, call­ing his re­marks that Is­rael prefers an Egyp­tian ini­tia­tive is an at­tempt to evade the French plan.

“I know Gold per­son­ally from the time he served as Is­rael’s am­bas­sador to the UN. Noth­ing good can come out of him; he is one of the most ex­treme peo­ple I know,” Arabi said.

(Marc Is­rael Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

US AM­BAS­SADOR Dan Shapiro (left) meets with Naf­tali Bennett and the Bayit Ye­hudi fac­tion at the Knes­set yes­ter­day to dis­cuss the French peace ini­tia­tive.

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