Covenant with manyEnd Times News Update
Sign: Covenant With Many (Mideast peace news)
Scripture: Daniel 9:27
News Source: AP
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Ex-officials: Israeli leader spurned secret peace offer

By ARON HELLER and MATTHEW LEE
Feb. 19, 2017 4:41 PM EST

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister turned down a regional peace
initiative last year that was brokered by then-U.S. Secretary of State
John Kerry, former American officials confirmed Sunday, in apparent
contradiction to Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated goal of involving
regional Arab powers in resolving Israel’s conflict with the
Palestinians.

Netanyahu took part in a secret summit that Kerry organized in the
southern Jordanian port city of Aqaba last February and included
Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah
el-Sissi. The secret meeting was first reported by the Israeli
newspaper Haaretz1

According to two former Obama administration officials, Kerry proposed
regional recognition of Israel as a Jewish state — a key Netanyahu
demand — alongside a renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians with
the support of the Arab countries.

Netanyahu rejected the offer, which would have required a significant
pullout from occupied land, saying he would not be able to garner
enough support for it in his hard-line coalition government.

The initiative also appeared to be the basis of short-lived talks with
moderate opposition leader Isaac Herzog to join the government, a plan
that quickly unraveled when Netanyahu chose to bring in nationalist
leader Avigdor Lieberman instead and appoint him defense minister.

Herzog tweeted Sunday that “history will definitely judge the
magnitude of the opportunity as well as the magnitude of the missed
opportunity.”

Two former top aides to Kerry confirmed that the meeting took place
secretly on Feb. 21, 2016. According to the officials, Kerry tried to
sweeten the 15-year-old “Arab Peace Initiative,” a Saudi-led plan that
offered Israel peace with dozens of Arab and Muslim nations in return
for a pullout from territories captured in the 1967 Mideast war to
make way for an independent Palestine.

Among the proposed changes were Arab recognition of Israel as the
Jewish state, recognition of Jerusalem as a shared capital for
Israelis and Palestinians, and softened language on the “right of
return” of Palestinian refugees to lost properties in what is now
Israel, the former officials said.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were
still not authorized to discuss the secret meeting publicly, said the
Egyptian and Jordanian leaders reacted positively to the proposal,
while Netanyahu refused to commit to anything beyond meetings with the
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

One of the officials said the main purpose of the meeting was to start
a regional peace process that Netanyahu said he wanted. However, he
said it was not clear if the Arab states would have gone along with it
either.

He said it appeared that Netanyahu was not interested in more than
meeting Abbas and some Arab leaders and promising unspecified
confidence building steps. This was not enough for anyone at the
meeting and would not have been enough to get other Arab states to
even express willingness to pursue a regional approach, the former
official said.

“We saw it as building on, or updating, but certainly not superseding”
the 2002 Arab initiative, one of the officials said.

A second former official said other Gulf Arab countries, including
Saudi Arabia, along with the Palestinians, the Europeans and the
Russians, were also consulted as part of the process.

The officials said opposition inside Netanyahu’s hard-line government,
which is dominated by nationalists opposed to Palestinian
independence, presented a formidable obstacle. But he said the Arab
partners also showed varying degrees of enthusiasm, with the
Palestinians most concerned about concessions forced on them.

In Cairo, el-Sissi’s office issued a statement late Sunday that
appeared to implicitly confirm that the meeting took place. It said
Egypt been working toward a two-state solution for the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “It is in this framework that Egypt has
sought to bring closer the positions of the relevant parties and
supported any meetings or initiatives aimed at discussing Practical
ideas that would revive the peace process,” said the statement without
directly mentioning the Aqaba meeting.

Netanyahu himself did not address the newspaper report in his weekly
Cabinet meeting and his office refused to comment. Instead, the prime
minister focused on last week’s visit to Washington to meet new
President Donald Trump.

At that meeting, both Trump and Netanyahu talked of searching for new
ways forward with the Palestinians and raised the possibility of
involving the broader Arab world in a new peace process.

Netanyahu called the meeting “historic” and one that strengthened the
two countries’ longtime alliance. He said at the end of meeting, Trump
shook his hand and told him it was a “new day” in Israeli-American
relations.

After eight years of testy ties with Barack Obama, Netanyahu seems to
be relishing Trump’s warm embrace. The new president has broken from
his predecessor in adopting friendlier positions to the Israeli
government regarding a tough line on Iran, a vaguer stance on
Palestinian statehood and a more lenient approach to West Bank
settlements.

Netanyahu said the two leaders see “eye to eye” on Iran and a host of
other issues. “There is a new day and it is a good day,” he said.

But in a joint press conference last week, behind the warm smiles
there were signs of trouble ahead.

Trump asked Netanyahu to “hold off” on Jewish settlement construction
in occupied territories the Palestinians claim for a future state.
Netanyahu said Sunday that the sides have formed joint teams to
coordinate settlement construction.

In a striking departure from longtime American policy, Trump also
refrained from supporting a two-state solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While this pleased Netanyahu’s hard line coalition partners, Trump
still said whatever solution is reached would have to be acceptable to
both sides.

That has raised questions about what kind of agreement could be
reached. The alternative, a single binational state, could require
Israel to grant citizenship to millions Palestinians under its
control, threatening its status as a Jewish-majority democracy.

Lieberman, the Israeli defense minister, said that for him a
Palestinian state remains the preferred outcome — and it should come
through the type of regional structure Netanyahu reportedly rejected.

“My vision, it’s the endgame no doubt, two-state solution. I believe
that it’s necessary for us to keep the Jewish state,” he said at the
Munich Security Conference. “The Palestinians don’t have capacity to
sign a lone final status agreement with Israel. It’s possible only as
a part of an all-regional solution, not an incremental process but
simultaneously.”

Source: AP
URL: http://bigstory.ap.org/urn:publicid:ap.org:eccdd7b6df8840b985263b271bd824ad

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