Saudi Thumbs-down to Netanyahu’s Bid to Update 2002 Peace Initiative

Amid the growing number of news stories on the covert diplomatic, military and intelligence ties between Israel and Gulf states, one topic has not been addressed: an Israeli move to break through the impasse on the Palestinian question.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report that in August, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, using a back channel, sent a message to Saudi King Salman and his son, Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, indicating that the Saudi peace plan put forward 14 years ago could be made acceptable to Israel if it were updated and revised. The plan, endorsed by the Arab League, has been rejected by Israel until now.
The message was carried discreetly to Riyadh by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, currently a political and strategic advisor to several Gulf rulers.
Crown Prince Abdullah, later king, unveiled his peace plan at an Arab summit in Beirut in 2002. It contained a comprehensive offer by Arab states to establish normal relations with Israel in exchange for the complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria, including East Jerusalem, to be followed by the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The thorny Palestinian refugee issue was addressed by a reference to UN Resolution 194 which proposed a “just and acceptable” solution, whereby refugees wishing to return to their pre-1948 homes and live peacefully with their neighbors should be allowed to do so as soon as possible.
The Arab League was therefore seen to endorse the Palestinian refugees’ “right of return,” which no Israeli government has ever recognized, deeming it a prescription for the Jewish State’s extinction.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is cited by our sources as offering King Salman two options for a way forward: One is to establish a secret Israeli-Saudi commission to negotiate changes in the sections Israel finds objectionable. They would include the declaration of East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and the Palestinian “right of return.”
Alternatively, these disputed points could be thrashed out in secret meetings between senior Israeli and Saudi diplomats.
Netanyahu argued in his message that the political and military changes overtaking the Middle East in recent years have generated the right climate for a fresh Saudi initiative that would be better adapted to current circumstances in the region. In private conversations subsequently, Israeli officials assured their Saudi interlocutors that the prime minister was prepared to be flexible on the Palestinian issue to an extent that would surprise Riyadh.
However, DEBKA Weekly’s sources report the Saudis came back last week with a negative response to Netanyahu’s initiative, citing two reasons:
1. No such diplomatic initiative would be feasible in today’s Arab world. The original Saudi plan was endorsed by a special Arab League summit. But in current circumstances, it would not be possible to convene another summit and therefore no forum is available for approving a new Arab-Israeli peace initiative.
2. The issues confronting the Arab world are far more pressing than the Palestinian question. It is therefore more urgent to deal with the Syrian civil war and the threats posed by the Islamic State.

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