Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested to his cabinet on Sunday that he is ready to try something new in order to reach peace with the Palestinians, and hopefully the entire Arab world.
Freshly returned from Washington, Netanyahu briefed his ministers on the renewal of direct peace negotiations between himself and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Netanyahu and Abbas met for several hours last Thursday, and were accompanied by US President Barack Obama, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II.
Netanyahu said he came away from the meeting feeling like the Arabs had turned a corner, and were now genuinely ready for peace with Israel.
"There may be some important countries which have yet to stand up for a move of peace, but my impression from their willingness to reach peace despite the attacks reflects a feeling of maturity in the Arab world," he told the cabinet.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu said Israel would need to learn the lessons of past failed peace efforts and "think outside the box" this time around.
"It's time to move forward towards peace with the Palestinians and extend it to a wider circle. This feeling stems from my understanding of the meaning of the alternatives, as well as the recognition (of Arab countries) that an agreement with Israel is required," the prime minister said.
Netanyahu did not elaborate on what new concessions or gestures Israel may be ready to make, but did say that for now his decision to end the self-imposed Jewish building freeze in Judea and Samaria on September 26 "remains unchanged."
Abbas and the Palestinians have threatened to end the negotiations if Israel does not extend the building freeze indefinitely. They insist that ultimately, all Jewish towns in the so-called "West Bank" must be destroyed to make way for "Palestine." However, Netanyahu is under immense pressure at home to not extend the freeze, considering that the Palestinians have yet to prove they are truly ready for a lasting peace, as evidenced by ongoing anti-Jewish and anti-Israel propaganda in the official Palestinian media.
Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren said Netanyahu is looking for other ways to keep Abbas at the negotiating table without jeopardizing the current Palestinian leadership.
"We know that President Abbas's position can sometimes be precarious, and we are trying to find other means of incentivizing him to stay at the negotiating table," Oren said without elaborating in a conference call with American Jewish leaders.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat gave cause for concern when he said that Netanyahu had agreed to resume negotiations where former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had left them. During his final months in office, Olmert offered to divide Jerusalem and withdraw from nearly all of Judea and Samaria.
Erekat said that Abbas and Netanyahu had decided to meet regularly and forgo the traditional series of meetings between committees representing the two leaders. The goal, said Erekat, is to make hard decisions fast and conclude negotiations up to the point of declaring an independent Palestinians state within 12 months.
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