Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled readiness on Wednesday to consider a 2002 Arab peace plan whose terms were recently softened to include possible land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We are willing to discuss initiatives that are offers, not dictates,” he said in the Knesset plenum. “We are in favor of negotiating without preconditions immediately.”
Netanyahu spoke during a debate on the plan, proposed at an Arab League summit 11 years ago. Israel had rejected the initiative that offered normalized ties for it with much of the Arab world, citing its call for complete withdrawal from land captured in the 1967 Six-Day War as a main stumbling block.
Echoing previous Israeli leaders, Netanyahu has ruled out a return to pre-1967 war frontiers, calling them indefensible.
But a month ago, Arab states appeared to soften the 2002 plan when Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister, said Israel and the Palestinians could trade land rather than conform exactly to the 1967 lines.
Netanyahu has never endorsed the idea of territorial exchange publicly, but a 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks in 2010 said he expressed support for the concept in a meeting with U.S. legislators.
In his address to the Knesset on Wednesday, Netanyahu repeated a call to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return unconditionally to the peace talks that collapsed in 2010 over continued Israeli settlement building in Judea and Samaria.
Abbas has said Israel must first stop settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem before the U.S.-hosted negotiations can resume.
“Since he (Abbas) doesn’t speak Hebrew, and my Arabic is not great, I am calling on him in a language we both know and saying to him, ‘Give peace a chance,’ Netanyahu said, switching to English to utter the phrase.
“Don’t miss the opportunity,” he added, saying he was prepared to make “difficult decisions to move negotiations ahead” but cautioning he would take no moves that would jeopardize Israel’s security.
Abbas said on Tuesday “the ball is in the Israeli court” and that Israel needed to accept the Palestinians’ demand for a settlement freeze so that talks could begin.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to restart the negotiations. He has made four trips to the region since taking office four months ago and a State Department spokeswoman said on Tuesday he could return to Israel and the Palestinian territories as early as next week.
Kerry has indicated, however, that his patience is wearing thin and that he may turn his focus elsewhere if his efforts do not yield results.
Speaking to reporters in Washington on Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that now was the time for the sides to make “tough choices” and signaled that Kerry might not make the trip if he did not see signs of progress.
“I think he will go back if he feels there is an opportunity to move things forward,” she said. She declined to set any deadlines for progress.
The Arab initiative, which ended decades of official refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist, was endorsed by the Arab League and the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation. It offered Israel normalized relations in exchange for a full withdrawal from territories captured in 1967 to make way for a Palestinian state.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, blamed Israel for the impasse.
“Of course we want to negotiate. No one benefits from the success of Kerry’s efforts more than us, and no one loses, if he fails, more than us,” Erekat said. “But we want to know the agenda of the talks. We want the Israeli prime minister to utter the word 1967.”
Wednesday’s Knesset session was held at the initiative of the Israeli opposition. MK Erel Margalit (Labor), a strong proponent of the Arab initiative, called Netanyahu’s speech a “disappointment.”
“The Arab League already made a clear statement. It calls for a clear response to take advantage of the opportunity, and that response was lacking today,” he said.
Bibi you are a coward, and a traitor to the Jewish people.
OK, I agree with the Palestinians on this one.
It is time for Israel to bring up 1967, and may I be so bold as to offer the following.
“In 1967, Israel was attacked.
In 1967, Israel didn’t want to go to war.
In 1967, you Arabs got your @ kicked.
Get over it.
We won, you lost, sucks to be you.
But Judea and Samaria is again ours forever since 1967.