Secretary of State John Kerry is in Israel and the West Bank this week — his third trip to the region in as many weeks — to explore possibilities for a new round of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians aimed at achieving a lasting peace agreement.
For weeks, media outlets have been reporting that Kerry might seek to revive the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as the basis for the new talks. The Saudi-proposed and Arab League-backed plan is a comprehensive peace deal calling for the Israelis to withdraw from the territories seized in the 1967 war in exchange for a normalization of relations.
And it appears that there is some validity to the reports. The AP says today a senior State Department official said Kerry “welcomes” the role the plan can play in his current push:
Kerry “welcomes efforts to enhance the constructive role the Arab Peace Initiative can play moving forward,” a senior State Department official said, while denying that he was proposing changes to the plan. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of Kerry’s orders not to brief reporters.
Bloomberg also reported that a unnamed Turkish official said Kerry discussed the Arab Peace Initiative with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in meetings ahead of his trip to Israel and the West Bank. Bloomberg says the Turkish official reportedly asked for anonymity “because talks about the plan are intended to remain private.”
If the reports are true, it’s worth noting that back in 2011, President Clinton told a blogger roundtable that the Israelis missed an opportunity for peace by not seizing on the Arab-backed plan, as Foreign Policy reported at the time:
Israel also wants a normalization of relations with its Arab neighbors to accompany a peace deal. Clinton said that the Saudi-inspired Arab Peace Initiative put forth in 2002 represented an answer to that Israeli demand.
“The King of Saudi Arabia started lining up all the Arab countries to say to the Israelis, ‘if you work it out with the Palestinians … we will give you immediately not only recognition but a political, economic, and security partnership,’” Clinton said. “This is huge…. It’s a heck of a deal.”
While the Israelis saw flaws in the plan, and obstacles on both sides remain today, CAP’s Matt Duss noted last month that “a number of liberal Israelis promulgated the Israeli Peace Initiative, which called on the Israeli government to ‘accept the Arab initiative of 2002 as a basis for negotiations for peace agreements in the area’”:
One of the leaders of this initiative is Jacob Perry, a former head of the Shin Bet security service who is now the number two man in Yesh Atid, the new party that made a surprising second-place showing in Israel’s recent elections, and is now a member of the governing coalition.
“I am convinced there is a road forward. I would say to everyone that I have no illusions about the difficulties, we’ve seen them,” Kerry said as he met Israeli President Shimon Peres this afternoon in Jerusalem.
“The two-state solution is the best solution and the parameters for that agreement already exist, two states for two peoples — a Jewish state, Israel and an Arab state, Palestine,” Peres said.
The Associated Press has since updated its story and removed the quote from the senior State Department official saying Kerry “welcomes efforts to enhance the constructive role the Arab Peace Initiative can play moving forward.” In its updated story, the AP did not note or explain the deletion.