Regev claims 'revolution' in Israeli relations with Arab countries
Israel's relationship with several Arab states is undergoing a "revolution", according to the recently appointed Israeli ambassador to the UK.
Mark Regev, who took his post in April, said discussions were underway on deepening security and political ties with several Arab countries, including with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which are showing "explicit" support for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.
"We are having good conversations. These are new contacts, these are new relationships, there is new cooperation," he told The Jewish Chronicle.
The Israeli envoy - a familiar face on Western TV screens from his previous role offering a full-throated defence of Israeli actions as spokesman for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - also hinted that talks were underway with Arab states over a deal similar to the Arab Peace Initiative.
Under the plan, put forward by Saudi Arabia in 2002, Israel would withdraw from the occupied territories and a "just solution" would be in place for Palestinian refugees.
In exchange, relations between Israel and the Arab world would be normalised.
Regev added that Israel had become a "necessary ally" for Sunni states "let down" by the nuclear deal with Shia-majority Iran.
"When we opposed the Iran deal last year, the US, UK, Germany, China and Russia said to us: you alone are opposed to the Iran deal. And even your best friends are supporting it. Who agreed with Israel? Almost all of our neighbours," he explained.
"And I have no doubt that the perception in the region that some of the major powers got it wrong is bringing us together."
Regev then denied that Israel posed any threat to Arab states, adding that they faced the same threats from the Islamic State group and other armed groups, as well as Iran and Hizballah.
"They see them as a threat. So there has been a realignment, and they see Israel as a strong country on their side of the divide. And so there is something to be hopeful for."
|I have no doubt that the perception in the region that some of the major powers got it wrong is bringing us together.
- Mark Regev
Asserting that relations with Egypt and Jordan "have never been better", the Israeli ambassador added that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's televised statement last month, in which he said that Arab states were willing to discuss changes to the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for a new round of negotiations with the Palestinians, was "very important".
He also referred to the Camp David peace talks in 2000, which collapsed when the then-leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) Yasser Arafat rejected an offer which involved giving up chunks of West Bank to Israeli annexation.
"People who make excuses for Arafat say that he didn't know if the Arab world would support him," he said.
Today, he added, the attitude in the rest of the Middle East appears to have reversed.
"If the Arab world is supporting talks and reconciliation, that is a major change, and that's where we think the focus should be in international diplomacy, because that's where the movement is," he explained.
"There's a possibility here to break out of the box in which we are at the moment, but it has to be done carefully and nurtured."
French peace initiative
In addition, Regev commented on the peace initiative currently being put forward by the French government, which held a summit of 28 foreign ministers in Paris earlier this month without any Israeli or Palestinian delegates present.
"Any plan that gives the Palestinians a cover and the excuse that they don't have to directly negotiate with Israel... is a bad initiative," he said.
The initiative aims eventually to restart negotiations that would lead to a Palestinian state.
|If the Arab world is supporting talks and reconciliation, that is a major change, and that's where we think the focus should be in international diplomacy, because that's where the movement is.
- Mark Regev
Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.
Regev also strongly criticised the announcement by former French foreign minister Laurent Fabius that his government would seek a UN Security Council resolution on the creation of a Palestinian state if their peace push failed.
This, he said, undermined the French initiative by removing any motivation on the Palestinian side to cooperate and make the necessary compromises.
"We want direct talks with the Palestinians, we think the international community should encourage that," he said.
"We're ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions… [The Palestinians] prefer to run to international bodies where they can get automatic majorities - UN institutions and others."