American and Israeli press outlets (Washington Post/AP, Detroit Free Press, Times of Israel, Arutz Sheva/Israel National News) are carrying unsourced reports that Secretary of State Kerry, currently visiting Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, is hoping to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on the basis of the “dormant” Arab Peace Initiative, which is “suddenly” springing back to life.
That would be the Saudi-initiated plan adopted unanimously by the League of Arab States in 2002, and reaffirmed in 2007. It offered Israel full recognition, normalized diplomatic relations and a formal end to the Arab-Israeli conflict in return for a return to the pre-1967 borders and an “just” and “agreed” resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. Kerry reportedly wants to dust off the supposedly long-forgotten plan and introduce certain “sweeteners,” such as better security guarantees and border modifications, to make it more palatable to Israel, which has never formally responded to the offer.
The funny thing is, from the Arab point of view the plan isn’t dormant at all. It turns out the Arab League considers it very much alive and actually has a standing Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee that’s been meeting regularly (2010, 2011, 2012 to discuss the plan and figure out how to get it moving. The committee is meeting today in Doha, Qatar, with the Palestinian Authority’s president Mahmoud Abbas, foreign minister Riyad Malki and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in attendance, to finalize plans for a delegation of foreign ministers that will go to Washington on April 29 to meet with Kerry.
How Kerry figures to get the plan moving is a bit of a mystery, though. Erekat told Voice of Palestine radio on Sunday that the P.A. won’t accept the few changes in wording Kerry asked for. Even if he ends up backing down, as he frequently does, it’s not likely that Prime Minister Netanyahu will accept any version of the plan. He’s called for a Palestinian state but rejected the pre-1967 lines even as a basis for discussion. Much of his own party dismisses the idea of a peace deal as “impossible,” starting with his own No. 2, Avigdor Lieberman. And he just formed a new governing coalition that includes the 12 Knesset seats of Naftali Bennett’s settler-based Jewish Home Party, which rejects Palestinian statehood on any lines, as Bennett reiterated just yesterday. Maybe Bibi has been whispering something to Kerry and Obama that leads them to hope he’ll buy in at some point?
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).