Netanyahu pressed to accept new Arab peace offer

Wednesday, May 01, 2013 |  Ryan Jones

Members of the opposition and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's own coalition are pressing the Israeli leader to accept a new Arab peace proposal as a basis for renewed negotiations with the Palestinians.

On Monday, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani referenced the Saudi-authored Arab League Peace Initiative while visiting Washington. However, Al Thani seemed to suggest a softening of the proposal's conditions, stating that the Arabs were ready to accept comparable, mutually agreed and minor land swaps between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

This removes one of the main obstacles to Israel's accepting the initiative when it was first introduced in 2002. The other obstacle, the demand that Israel open its borders to millions of so-called "Palestinian refugees," remains.

Nevertheless, Israeli officials hailed Al Thani's remarks as an opportunity for peace.

"It is very important that they have reiterated their support for the two-state solution," said President Shimon Peres as he visited Pope Francis I at the Vatican.

Opposition leader Shelley Yachimovich demanded that Netanyahu act like a "responsible adult" and pursue the proposal. Another member of Yachimovich's Labor Party, MK Merav Michaeli insist that the government must stop entertaining the idea of a national referendum that would allow the public to thwart any peace agreements which it does not accept.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is also in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians, called Al Thani's remarks a real step forward to finding a peaceful conclusion to the conflict.

Netanyahu responded on Wednesday by reminding officials at the Foreign Ministry that the conflict is not actually about land and borders, but rather about Israel's existence.

As Netanyahu noted, Israel was under attack for nearly two decades before it captured the so-called "occupied territories" in 1967. And when Israel tried to unilaterally surrender the Gaza Strip in 2005, the move resulted in increased terrorism.

That being said, Netanyahu concluded that in order to avoid a bi-national state in which Arabs outnumber Jews, Israel must reach an agreement that results in the creation of a Palestinian Arab state.

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