Israel’s Defense Minister on Friday dismissed a Middle East peace plan actively being pushed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, calling it “spin.”
Soon after becoming the nation’s top diplomat, Kerry immediately began a renewed U.S. effort toward a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. A key element of this effort has been the revival of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, an offer by the Arab League for normalization with Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967, a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, and the creation of a Palestinian state.
Since it was first introduced in 2002, Israelis have voiced concerns with what they see as the non-negotiable nature of the initiative, particularly the demand that Israel withdraw from all lands occupied in 1967, on which hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers now live. Last month, in meeting hosted by Kerry in Washington, an Arab League delegation amended the proposal, saying that it would now consider “comparable,” mutually agreed and “minor” land swaps as part of any peace deal.
Israeli officials, including the government’s cabinet minister charged with negotiations with the Palestinians, Tzipi Livni, praised the Arab League’s decision. Fifty-two Members of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, signed a petition requiring Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu to address the issue formally and a majority of Israelis said in a recent poll that they support implementing the initiative in some fashion.
But today at an event at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon “was bluntly dismissive of Obama administration efforts to restart the Palestinian-Israeli peace process,” as JTA noted, calling the revised Arab League plan “spin”:
YAALON: Regarding the Arab Initiative. It’s a spin in my mind. It’s not a decision of Arab League or whatever. And generally speaking about the Arab Initiative, Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to it officially saying, “We’re willing to sit to the table without preconditions with any initiative. But without dictations.” And actually the Arab Initiative as it is, as we know it, is a dictation. First of all you have to give up territory, 67 lines, Jerusalem, [inaudible] and then we the Arabs will consider relations with you. It is a dictation. So to sit to the table without preconditions, we are ready with any initiative.
Fatah, the political party currently in charge of the Palestinian Authority, also endorsed the updated Arab Peace Initiative last month, saying that it was dealing “seriously with US efforts in order to make them succeed. The success of these efforts first requires a clear Israeli recognition of the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders, a freeze of settlement construction and the release of prisoners, especially those who were arrested before 1994.”
Israelis have publicly balked at halting construction of settlements — which Obama has said are an obstacle to peace and are illegal under international law — but they are apparently quietly instituting a partial freeze to acquiesce to Palestinian demands and move the peace process forward.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently praised the Arab League’s revised plan. “We can’t miss this opportunity to return to negotiations,” Olmert told an Israeli television news channel last month. “The taboo, that there isn’t anyone to talk to, has been broken.”