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Netanyahu praises 14-year-old Saudi peace plan

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 June, 2016

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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu invokes Arab Peace Initiative in a possible bid to distract attention and derail upcoming Paris peace talks.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has praised parts of a 14-year-old Saudi plan to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, just days before a Middle East peace conference in Paris.

"I remain committed to making peace with the Palestinians and with all our neighbours," he said at a press conference on Monday that followed the swearing-in of Israel's Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

"The Arab peace initiative includes positive elements that can help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians," the PM continued.

The Saudi-formulated plan was forwarded in 2002 and proposes that relations between Israel, Palestine and 56 Arab and Muslim countries can be normalised in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in the 1967 war.

Israel, however, still rejects the initiative's demand for a Palestinian "right of return" for millions of refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel – a move that would change the demographics of a state that has largely engineered its population along religious and ethnic lines.

Distraction
The sudden mention of the comatose initiative by the Israeli PM has been seen by some as a means of distracting attention from the row surrounding Netanyahu's controversial ministerial appointments.

Avigdor Lieberman
Israel's new Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman [Getty]
"There are reasons to be cynical, but if Netanyahu and Liberman are looking to move away from the status quo, then this could help put off international efforts to impose a solution," Gerald Steinberg, a Bar-Ilan University political scientist, told the Chicago Tribune.

Liberman, who has often been at odds with the Israeli PM, is himself a settler living on occupied Palestinian land, and in the past has drawn condemnation for proposing that Israel should assassinate its opponents in Hamas.

Derailing international peace efforts

It has also been suggested that by invoking the Saudi initiative, Israel is hoping to derail the Paris peace talks on Saturday.

"It's a public relations campaign that Netanyahu is leading to prettify his right-wing coalition after he chose Liberman as defenc minister," the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Tuesday.

Neither the Palestinian Authority nor the Israeli government will be in attendance in Paris, where foreign ministers, including Russia's Sergei Lavrov and the United States' John Kerry, will meet.

Israel has cautiously avoided the prospect on international peace talks, with Netanyahu having repeatedly called for bilateral talks with Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas. The fear within Tel Aviv is that multilateral talks may favour Abbas, with the latter being able to exert greater pressure through international partners.

The President of the Palestinian Authority has rebuffed proposals of direct talks, which have not taken place since 2014 due to the continued construction of settlements in the West Bank.

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