Israeli leaders are seriously considering a dormant Saudi plan offering a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for lands captured during the 1967 war, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday.
Barak said it may be time to pursue an overall peace deal for the region since individual negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians have made little progress.
Barak said he has discussed the Saudi plan with Israeli prime minister-designate Tzipi Livni, who is in the process of forming a new Israeli government, and that Israel is considering a response.
Saudi Arabia first proposed the peace initiative in 2002, offering pan-Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Arab lands captured in 1967 — the West Bank, Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
The 22-member Arab League endorsed the plan last year.
The Israeli government has in the past described the plan as a good basis for discussion, but expressed some reservations.
“There is definitely room to introduce a comprehensive Israeli plan to counter the Saudi plan that would be the basis for a discussion on overall regional peace,” Barak told Israel’s Army Radio.
He noted the “deep, joint interest” with moderate Arab leaders in containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and limiting the influence of the radical Islamic Hezbollah movement in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
While Israel’s outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has welcomed the Saudi plan, he and other leaders want to keep small parts of the territories captured in 1967. Israel also objects to language that appears to endorse a large-scale return of Palestinian refugees to lands inside Israel. Israel says a massive influx of Palestinians would destroy the country’s Jewish character.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops have cleared three Jewish wildcat settlements in the occupied West Bank, the army said yesterday.
The three outposts, one of which was built six months ago and the other two set up on Sunday by right-wing activists, were removed during the night by border police and army troops, it said in a statement.
Wildcat settlements, considered illegal by Israel, are generally built on ridge tops, close to settlements recognized by the Jewish state. About 100 wildcat settlements dot the West Bank, some consisting of just a few trailers and others made up of a dozen mobile homes connected to the power grid.
Meanwhile, Livni planed to ask Israeli President Shimon Peres yesterday for two more weeks to form a new Israeli coalition, the Government Press Office said in an e-mailed statement.
Livni, who won Kadima party primaries last month after Olmert stepped down, signed a preliminary coalition agreement with the Labor Party last week. Olmert resigned to fight allegations of corruption that he has denied.
In other news, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel failed to protect Palestinians against attacks by Israeli settlers during the olive harvest. He said the situation was “unbearable.”
Abbas’ remarks were published yesterday in Palestinian newspapers.
Abbas said he had complained to Israel and the international community. He said that if Israel did not crack down, it meant it was not serious about reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Abbas also said Egypt had issued invitations to rival Palestinian factions to attend power-sharing talks in Cairo.
An Abbas aide said on Sunday the talks are to start on Nov. 9.
The invitations were sent to Abbas’ Fatah movement, Hamas and smaller groups.