National Security Brief: Former Israeli Prime Minister Urges Action On Arab League Peace Plan

Ehud Olmert and Barack Obama (Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday praised the Arab League’s recent announcement that it will accept “minor” land swaps between the Israelis and Palestinians as part of a wider peace agreement, saying that it discredits the view that “there is no one to talk to” for peace.

“We can’t miss this opportunity to return to negotiations,” Olmert told an Israeli television news channel. “The taboo, that there isn’t anyone to talk to, has been broken.”

The Arab League announcement earlier this week was significant as it represented the first time the Middle East bloc endorsed any kind of land swaps.

“I don’t think you can underestimate the significance of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Arab Emirates, the Egyptians, the Jordanians and others coming to the table and saying, ‘We are prepared to make peace now in 2013,'” said Secretary of State John Kerry, who called the move a “big step.” Current Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni — who arrived in Washington on Thursday to meet with Kerry — also said she was encouraged by the move.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downplayed the Arab League’s announcement, insisting instead that the most important issue is that the Palestinians recognize Israeli as a Jewish state. “The root of the conflict is not territorial,” he said on Wednesday. “The Palestinian lack of will to recognize Israel as the national state of the Jewish people is the root of the conflict.”

Meanwhile, 52 opposition members in Israel’s parliament signed a petition requiring Netanyahu to formally address the Arab League peace plan. “The government cannot continue dragging its feet and miss this great opportunity,” said Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, adding, “The new, promising version of the Arab League’s proposal for peace with Israel and dozens of Arab states is at our doorstep and the government cannot turn its back on negotiations.”

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