Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is interested in taking part in a regional summit that would be part of an effort to renew direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, a number of Israeli cabinet ministers believe. By doing so, the line of thinking goes, the prime minister hopes to thwart any potential international initiative or diplomatic move by U.S. President Barack Obama in the coming months.
The ministers based their assessments on a number of recent developments, including the Israel-Turkey reconciliation agreement, the Egyptian foreign minister’s visit to Israel and the approval of Arab construction in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Al Arabiya reported on Monday that Netanyahu told Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry that he would be willing to participate in a summit in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. According to the report, Shoukry’s visits to Ramallah two weeks ago and Jerusalem on Sunday were meant to lay the groundwork for such a summit, with the goal being to hold it in the near future.
In response to the Al Arabiya report, Netanyahu’s office released a statement, saying, “Whether this matter was discussed or not, Israel always says that it’s ready for unconditional, direct and bilateral negotiations.”
At this point, Netanyahu is trying to establish an Israeli-Palestinian peace track backed by moderate Arab states (i.e. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia). This mission, however, faces two main obstacles. First, Israeli officials say Abbas is hesitant to return to the negotiating table. And second, Netanyahu is insisting the negotiations be held without preconditions (Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman will not oppose the negotiations as long as there are no preconditions). But the Palestinian Authority is asking whether the backing of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia for unconditional negotiations means those countries have given up on the PA’s demand that a future Palestinian state be based on the pre-1967 borders.
At a Likud faction meeting on Monday, Netanyahu said, “I spoke with Shoukry about an array of issues of paramount importance to Israel, as well as other regional issues, such as the promotion of peace and stability, including peace between us and the Palestinians and other countries. I think that cooperation with Egypt is a security and international asset for Israel.”
Also on Monday, Netanyahu met in Jerusalem with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. A statement released by Netanyahu’s office said the two discussed “the future of peace and security in the region.” Netanyahu’s diplomatic envoy, attorney Isaac Molho, attended the meeting.
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) said on Monday, “The Islamic State group is causing trouble for Egypt in Sinai, and therefore Israel and Egypt both have an interest in eradicating terrorism.”
The Bloomberg news agency quoted an unnamed former senior Israeli official on Monday as saying that Israel has conducted numerous drone strikes on terrorists in Sinai in recent years with Egypt’s approval. The report did not include comments by any current Israeli or Egyptian officials on the matter.
Rhonda Ballance News Editor. E-mail: Rhonda.Ballance@Scofieldinstitute.org
In what many Israelis consider to be misplaced concern, the French are working to put together a summit on the Israeli-Palestinian issue – without the Israelis or Palestinians – and will likely push Israel toward concessions that would threaten the national and security interests of the Jewish State.
The French foreign minister has confirmed that Paris will host an international meeting on May 30 to try to restart peace efforts between Palestinians and Israel — even though both sides will be absent.
Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Friday Arab nations will be among the 20 countries present, but “for the moment there is no dialogue” between Israel and the Palestinians.
Ayrault, speaking on Europe 1 radio, said new efforts are needed because “we are witnessing desperation, and desperation leads to violence.”
France has pushed to play a larger role in Middle East peace efforts, dominated by the United States.
“I think we must unify our efforts,” Ayrault said. Still, he added without elaboration his hope that “before the end of his mandate (President Barack) Obama will take an initiative.”
The Palestinians said Thursday they strongly support the French initiative.
Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Riad Al-Malki. (MOFA)
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, who has openlydeclared the Palestinians will never negotiate directly with Israel, said Palestinian and French leaders agreed during meetings in Paris a few days ago that the French initiative should move ahead and not be jeopardized “in any way” by Palestinian efforts to get the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution that would condemn Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace.
He said the draft resolution has been given to Arab ambassadors and an Arab ministerial committee will be meeting very soon to decide when to give “the green light” to circulate the draft resolution to the 15 council members.