Arab League chief nixes PM’s offer for revised Saudi plan
Al-Arabi claims Israel seeking financial gains by entering Gulf Arab markets
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.
US AMBASSADOR Dan Shapiro (left) meets with Naftali Bennett and the Bayit Yehudi faction at the Knesset yesterday to discuss the French peace initiative.