All of those countries are deeply involved in the civil war in Syria, but White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday that Obama would use the visits to “discuss the complex developments in the broader Middle East, so not just Syria, but including Syria.” He said the leaders also would talk about Obama’s trip last month to the Middle East, as well as “broader developments in the Arab spring.”
The Arab Peace Initiative, which also has been referred to as the “Saudi peace plan,” was first proposed in March 2002 at a meeting of the Arab League. It stipulated that Israel withdraw from areas occupied in the 1967 Middle East War – namely the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – and allow the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state. In return, Arab nations would pledge to adopt normal relations with Israel and effectively declare the conflict over.
Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s prime minister, immediately rejected the plan. Subsequent Israeli leaders have periodically warmed to, and then rejected, the plan. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who openly opposed the plan when he was opposition leader in 2007, has since quietly voiced support for it, including in closed-door meetings with Egyptian and Jordanian officials.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said that the Netanyahu government “has publicly praised the Arab Peace Initiative. It’s a great improvement on previous Arab positions, and we look forward to engaging on it.”
The Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank with close ties to the government, recently published an essay arguing that in light of changes in the region it could be wise for Israel to revisit the plan.
“Perhaps the Arab Peace Initiative can now afford Israel an opportunity to consolidate its Zionist vision of the secure, legitimate, democratic nation-state of the Jewish people,” said the essay, which was written by institute researcher Gilead Sher and Tel Aviv University professor Illai Alon. “It is true that the Arab initiative is in Arab interest, and otherwise would not have been proposed in the first place. However, had Israel and the international community been open to a dialogue based on the initiative at that time, it is not inconceivable that Israel’s situation today would have been more secure and stable.”
“Precisely now, in light of developments in the Arab world and the relative fluidity inherent in every revolution, the possibility of influence is greater and the price Israel will eventually have to pay to reach its national goals and attain peace with the Arab world may be lower,” the essay concluded.
Peace talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership have been at an impasse since September 2010, when direct talks broke down as Israel refused to extend a partial moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank unless the Palestinian Authority recognized Israel as a Jewish state. Israeli officials have since called on the Palestinian leadership to return to the negotiating table with no preconditions, while Palestinians have refused to hold talks while settlement construction continues on the land they want earmarked for their future state.
Privately, Palestinian officials have blamed Obama for the impasse, saying he had urged them to insist on a construction moratorium and had promised to press the Israelis to agree to the condition.
“That old model of the roadmap had left both sides with a map that only had dead ends,” said a Palestinian official who ahs taken a senior role in previous talks. He asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to comment on ongoing talks. “My understanding is that Obama wanted the new push to shake things up, to offer a new, comprehensive plan instead of getting bogged down in the mud of the old talks.”
Hannah Allam and Lesley Clark of the Washington Bureau contributed.