Israel welcomes Arab League shift on peace talks

Jerusalem (Photo: Tsvika Sion)

Jerusalem (Photo: Tsvika Sion)

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office has “welcomed” the Arab League’s new positioning on peace talks with Israel.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani announced that the Arab League backed minor land swaps after an Arab delegation met US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on Monday.

The Bahraini, Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers were at the meeting, as well as officials from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority and the Arab League.

The announcement marked a shift from the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002, which asked for a return to 1967 borders, the inclusion of East Jerusalem in a Palestinian state and the return of Palestinian refugees, in exchange for a full Arab recognition of Israel.

Mr Kerry told a news conference that his meeting with the Arab League was “a very big step forward.”

He said: “We’re going to continue to march forward and try to bring people to the table despite the difficulties and the disappointments of the past.”

“So the Arab community - and I think they should be thanked for this - saw fit to come here to the United States as a delegation of the Arab League to make it clear that they are relaunching the Arab Peace Initiative,” he added.

Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office “welcomed the support given by the Arab league delegation and the US Secretary of State to the diplomatic process.” The office said it is prepared to negotiate with the Palestinians immediately.

Israel President Shimon Peres said that the announcement means that “a broad structure of support is being created for making progress” and that “there is a chance to open negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni hailed it as “a message to the Israeli public that this is not just about us and the Palestinians.” She told Israeli Army Radio on Tuesday that the agreement “allows the Palestinians to enter the room and make the needed compromises.”

All 52 opposition members of the Knesset have signed a petition asking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address parliament on the Arab League announcement.

Last updated: 9:55am, May 1 2013