Date
24 March 2017
Avigdor Lieberman (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu speak to the media after Lieberman was sworn in Monday as Israel's defense minister. Photo: AFP
Avigdor Lieberman (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu speak to the media after Lieberman was sworn in Monday as Israel's defense minister. Photo: AFP

Netanyahu willing to discuss Arab peace initiative

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held out the prospect Monday of reviving a 2002 Arab peace initiative that offers Israel diplomatic recognition from Arab countries in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s comments were a formal response to a speech last week by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who promised Israel warmer ties if it accepted efforts to resume peace talks, Reuters reports.

“The Arab peace initiative includes positive elements that can help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said, echoing comments he made a year ago to Israeli reporters.

“We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in the region since 2002 but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples.”

He made his comments also in English in a speech that was mostly in Hebrew — which Netanyahu often does when he wants to make a statement to the international community.

Netanyahu spoke moments after ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman was sworn in as Israel’s new defense minister and Israel’s fragile right-wing coalition gained vital support in parliament.

Lieberman concurred, and Netanyahu appeared to indicate that the new far-right defense minister’s inclusion in the government did not spell an end to peace efforts with the Palestinians.

The original Arab plan offered full recognition of Israel but only if it gave up all land seized in the 1967 Middle East war and agreed to a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.

In 2013, after the initiative’s terms were softened to include possible land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians, Netanyahu signaled a readiness to consider it.

The Palestinians say Israeli settlement expansion denies them a viable state they seek in the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip and a capital in Arab East Jerusalem.

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