Arab states appeared to soften their 2002 peace plan on Monday when a top Qatari official said Israel and the Palestinians could trade land rather than conform exactly to their 1967 lines.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister, made the comment after he and a group of Arab officials met Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss how to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Speaking on behalf of an Arab League delegation, Sheikh Hamad appeared to make a concession to Israel by explicitly raising the possibility of land swaps, although it has long been assumed that these would be part of any peace agreement.
“This news is very positive,” Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Army Radio on Tuesday. “In the tumultuous world around … it could allow the Palestinians to enter the room and make the needed compromises, and it sends a message to the Israeli public that this is not just about us and the Palestinians.”
On Tuesday evening, it was announced that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will address the Knesset about the Arab initiative, after 52 opposition MKs signed a petition requiring him to do so.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, who initiated the petition, said “the government cannot continue dragging its feet and miss this great opportunity.”
Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich called on Netanyahu to accept the Arab League’s proposal for land swaps. “This is an important step by the Arab world, which has a chance to be groundbreaking. We must examine it seriously,” she said.
Not everyone was so enthusiastic. Most Likud-Beiteinu MKs would not comment on the subject. Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, however, offered his caustic observation on Army Radio that “the Arab League proposal offers Auschwitz borders with slight changes.”
Jewish Home faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked was dismissive: “There’s nothing new here. [Former prime minister Ehud] Olmert and [former president Bill] Clinton talked about this. No one thinks that 400,000 people can be removed from their homes,” she said.
In convening the group, Kerry is trying to ensure that a new peace process would have the backing of the Arab states, who, if they were to offer Israel a comprehensive peace, hold a powerful card that could provide an incentive for Israeli compromises.
“The Arab League delegation affirmed that agreement should be based on the two-state solution on the basis of the 4th of June 1967 line, with the (possibility) of comparable and mutual agreed minor swaps of the land,” he told reporters after the meeting at the Blair House, the president’s guest house.
Monday’s talks included the Bahraini, Egyptian, Jordanian and Qatari foreign ministers as well as officials from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority and the Arab League. Vice President Joe Biden also attended part of the meeting.
The Arab League proposal offered full Arab recognition of Israel if it gave up land seized in the 1967 war and accepted a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.
Rejected by Israel when it was originally proposed at a Beirut summit in 2002, the plan has major obstacles to overcome. Israel objects to key points, including a return to 1967 borders, the inclusion of eastern Yerushalayim in a Palestinian state and permitting Palestinians with refugee status to settle in Israel.