Netanyahu praises Arab Peace Initiative

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Benjamin Netanyahu suggested the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative could be used as a basis for a comprehensive agreement.

"We appreciate the efforts by Arab states to advance the peace initiative," the Israeli prime minister said at a reception at the Egyptian ambassador’s home in Herzliya marking an Egyptian holiday, according to media reports. "If these proposals are not final, they can create an atmosphere in which a comprehensive peace can be reached.

"We hope in the months ahead to forge peace with the Palestinians and to expand that into a vision of a broader regional peace," Netanyahu said.

It was the first time that Netanyahu had praised the 2002 Arab League proposal, which offered Israel normalized relations with the Arab world in exchange for a return to the pre-1967 borders and a "just solution" to the Palestinian refugee issue that would be "agreed upon" by the parties. Israel has objected in the past that the language on refugees is vague and leaves open the possibility of a mass return.

A Palestinian spokesman responded that Israel must freeze settlement construction before it would restart negotiations.

"We need words to be translated into action on the ground, in particular a halt to settlements in East Jerusalem and recognition of the two-state solution," said Palestinian Authority presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh, according to the WAFA news agency.

Separately, an Israeli government spokesman welcomed an initiative by a coalition of Israeli and Palestinian left-wingers to outline the terms of Palestinian demilitarization, but emphasized its unofficial status.

The document, prepared by the unofficial teams who drafted the Geneva initiative in 2003, covers Palestinian and Israeli movement and how to handle outbreaks of violence. It will be examined closely in coming weeks by senior U.S. officials, according to a July 24 report in Yediot Achronot.

"These people don’t hold any official positions, so they represent only themselves and they commit only themselves and their organization to this document," Yigal Palmor, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told DPA, the German news agency. "If anyone wants to make a contribution to peace they are welcome, they are more than welcome. Not only is there no harm in this, it is certainly a positive initiative to try and think seriously about possible ideas and how to make peace."

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