Is Arab League Peace Shift ‘Big Step Forward’ or Tempest in a Mideast Teapot?

Kerry Backs Plan, But Neither Israel Nor the Palestinians Are Sure

Breakthough? Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Arab League leaders in Washington.
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Breakthough? Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Arab League leaders in Washington.

By Nathan Guttman

Published May 11, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
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But two days later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointedly rejected Kerry’s suggestion that this represented progress at all, much less a “breakthrough.”

“The root of the conflict isn’t territorial,” he told Israeli diplomats when asked about the development. “The Palestinians’ failure to accept the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is the root of the conflict.”

Netanyahu did dispatch Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, whose portfolio includes responsibility for the peace process, to Washington. Livni praised the progress made, but she also stressed Israel’s reservations, focusing on other, more difficult elements of the Arab League plan, such as its proposals regarding the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their now long-lost homes in Israel.

Yitzhak Molcho, Netanyahu’s special adviser, accompanied Livni to her meeting with Kerry. According to Israeli political analysts, the hawkish Molcho came as Livni’s minder.

After meeting with Kerry on May 8, Livni called the new Arab League position “good news.”

“Peace with the Palestinians means also peace with the Arab world,” Livni said to Kerry. “So I wish to congratulate you on this successful meeting.”

On the Palestinian side, renewed interest in the Arab Peace Initiative also received a cool response.

Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, while initially praising revival of the plan, said in a May 5 interview to the radio station Voice of Palestine that land swaps can be discussed only after Palestinians receive their sovereignty.

“The Arab League Initiative,” he added, “was approved at the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002, and any amendment to it requires another Arab summit.” Erekat said it is “impossible” for “one foreign minister” to “come and amend the plan” without the consent of all members.


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