Israel's defense minister said that a dormant Saudi initiative for Middle East peace could be a "basis for negotiation," indicating a new possibility for talks with the Palestinians after years of stalemate.
The Saudi plan calls for a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world, based on a complete Israeli withdrawal from lands it captured in the 1967 war -- the West Bank, Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and Golan Heights.
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said he was not endorsing the plan. But he was the most senior Israeli official even to publicly consider it.
"We could see the Saudi initiative as the basis for negotiation. This does not mean that we are adopting the Saudi initiative, but it can serve as a basis," Peretz said at an academic conference at Tel Aviv University.
Meanwhile, fighting broke out early yesterday in the Gaza Strip as Israeli troops and helicopter airstrikes killed four Palestinian militants and wounded 33 people as troops moved into a northern Gaza town, Palestinian security and hospital officials said.
Palestinian hospital officials said the wounded included a woman and an 11-year-old boy. The others were almost all armed militants, they added. Fourteen Palestinian militant groups took responsibility for attacking Israeli troops.
The army said its troops were still operating in the town of Beit Hanoun, in the latest phase in a four-month-old-offensive in the area. The army said 300 rockets have been fired from Beit Hanoun at Israel since the beginning of the year.
On Tuesday, Israeli troops shot and killed three Hamas militants during operations in Gaza.
The Saudi initiative was adopted at an Arab League summit in Beirut, Lebanon, in March 2002. For the first time, it offered Israel normal relations with the entire Arab world in exchange for a complete withdrawal from captured territory.
Israel reacted skeptically at the time, rejecting an addition by Saudi Arabia requiring Israel to recognize the demand to take back Palestinian refugees from the 1948-1949 war that followed the creation of the Jewish state, as well as their descendants -- an estimated 4 million people.
Israel has offered compensation instead, maintaining that demanding a "right of return" is a way of undermining the Jewish character of the state and destroying it from within.
Israel also questioned the meaning of "normal relations" and rejected a total withdrawal from all the territories.
In various unsuccessful rounds of peace talks, Israel has offered an almost complete pullout from the West Bank and Golan Heights, and last year it withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. However, it maintains that the pre-1967 cease-fire lines are not a border, and it wants to adjust the line to include main West Bank Jewish settlement blocks in Israel.
At the time, Israel asked Saudi Arabia to send an envoy to clarify the proposal, but that did not happen.
In 2003, the Saudi initiative was overtaken by the US-backed "road map" peace plan, which called for establishment of a Palestinian state in a three-stage process and mentioned the Saudi initiative as part of the basis for the solution.
However, the plan was frozen from the outset when neither side implemented its initial steps. Israel failed to dismantle dozens of unauthorized West Bank settlement outposts, and the Palestinians declined to disarm violent groups.
Peace moves have been stalled since 2000, when the outbreak of Palestinian violence followed a failed summit meeting of Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the US.
Israel's official position has been that the "road map" is the only plan on the table now, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev indicated the Saudi plan could be the basis for talks.
"Israel has never accepted the Saudi initiative but would see positive elements in the initiative, particularly the call for reconciliation" Regev told reporters.
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged
A cat that went missing on a family holiday on the shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland, has been identified 12 years later. Tortoiseshell-and-white Georgie spent October half term in 2008 with her owners at the Rowardennan campsite, but vanished as they were due to return home to Greater Manchester, England. After a search of the site the Davies family departed without Georgie, hoping the three-year-old microchipped feline would be located by someone. Over the intervening 12 years, she remained close to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park site, being fed and cared for by campsite staff and holidaymakers. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdown
Three Micronesian sailors stranded on a remote Pacific island have been found alive and well after a rescue team spotted their giant SOS message written into the sand on a beach. Australian and US military aircraft found the three men on tiny Pikelot island, nearly 200km west of where they had set off. Rescuers said that the men were “in good condition” with no significant injuries. The men had been missing for three days after their 7m skiff ran out of fuel and strayed off course. Authorities in the US territory of Guam raised the alarm on Saturday after the men failed to complete