Israel praises "sweetened" Arab League plan for two-state solution

There had been rumors a few weeks ago that the new Israeli government had started to take a second look at the Arab League’s peace plan from a decade ago.  The plan was based on the 1967 borders, with a complete withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank, the former of which has already taken place.  Benjamin Netanyahu originally opposed the proposal, but has quietly changed his mind, according to McClatchy earlier this month.

The support may not stay quiet for long, thanks to a “sweetened” proposal from the Arab states. New Justice Minister and chief negotiator on Israeli-Palestinian affairs, Tzipi Livni, today praised a revised Arab League plan which now incorporates “minor” mutually-agreed land swaps:

 Israel’s chief peace negotiator on Tuesday welcomed the Arab League’s decision to sweeten a decade-old initiative offering comprehensive peace with Israel, hoping the gesture would help get peace talks back on track after years of standstill. …

The original 2002 Arab peace initiative offered Israel peace with the entire Arab and Muslim world in exchange for a “complete withdrawal” from territories captured in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians claim the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, all seized by Israel in 1967, for their future state. Israel withdrew from Egypt’s Sinai in 1982 and Gaza in 2005. It also holds the Golan Heights after failed peace talks with Syria.

Speaking on behalf of an Arab League delegation to Washington, Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani on Monday called for an agreement between Israel and a future Palestine based on those 1967 lines. But unlike in previous such offers, he cited the possibility of “comparable,” mutually agreed and “minor” land swaps between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Al Thani spoke after talks with Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been pushing Arab leaders to embrace a modified version of the Arab peace plan as part of a new U.S.-led effort to corral Israel and the Palestinians back into direct peace talks. The changes are meant to win Israeli support, since the modified version could allow it to keep parts of the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The Associated Press’s Josef Federman says this raises the possibility of a “rift” between Livni and Netanyahu. If the earlier McClatchy report was accurate, though, this might be a way for Netanyahu to look reluctant while embracing the Arab League plan as the basis for new negotiations.  The election forced Netanyahu to moderate his stand, which is why Livni is representing the Israeli government on this issue now.

Knesset members in both Labor and Yesh Atid, the latter of which is part of Netanyahu’s coalition, embraced the proposal:

“I think the Israeli government should embrace it with both hands,” said Erel Margalit, a member of the dovish opposition Labor Party. Margalit said he was in the process of forming a parliamentary lobby to support the initiative. He refused to provide details on its size or composition, saying it was in the preliminary stages.

Dov Lipman, a lawmaker in the centrist Yesh Atid party, a member of Netanyahu’s coalition, also welcomed the Arab League’s offer. He said the party had not formulated a formal response, but said it was “very consistent” with the party’s platform seeking a negotiated peace deal with the Palestinians.

The prize in the Arab League proposal for Israel would be normalized relations with its Arab neighbors, a condition that the present civil war in Syria makes questionable.  While Assad keeps losing ground, Israel will be reluctant to return the Golan Heights, especially if it means putting that strategic position in the hands of the Nusra Front and its al-Qaeda allies.  Whether or not that will scotch the deal with the other Arab states will be a key consideration, assuming that the other Arab states can get the Palestinians to accept a permanent two-state solution in good faith at all.