Another step toward the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations was taken on Thursday when Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni met in Washington with Secretary of State John Kerry.
The meeting took place against the backdrop of an Arab League initiative to revive the 2002 Saudi peace plan with modifications, which has been welcomed by Israeli leaders on the center-left including Livni, the designated chief negotiator with the Palestinians.
After the meeting, a State Department official said only that it went “well and focused on ways to promote negotiations.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said for the second time in a week that he supports a public referendum on any agreement with the Palestinians.
However, he has made no direct public comment on the Arab plan.
On Monday, Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani unexpectedly announced that the Arab League would accept an agreement that did not call for a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines, but included “mild” land swaps.
Speaking before a meeting with visiting Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter on Thursday, Netanyahu remarked that his country’s policy of holding a referendum vote on major issues was something Israel could learn from.
Responding to criticism that a referendum would undermine the role of elected representatives in the government and Knesset, Netanyahu stressed that he was not seeking a referendum on “every issue,” only on a possible agreement with the Palestinians.
One government official explained Netanyahu’s position: Mindful of the Oslo accords, which passed by a single vote in the Knesset, he believes that such a momentous decision, which would likely include extremely difficult steps — such as the evacuation of communities in Yehudah and Shomron—requires a “very special national legitimacy” of a type that can only be conferred through a referendum.