Sat, 16 Feb 2019
9
Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, Israel - Benjamin Netanyahu has been dropping hints for more than a year now that his government is having back-channel talks with Gulf countries which are normally hostile to the Jewish state.

On Thursday he confirmed the talks are happening and referred to "relationships that are taking place now with the Arab world."

In 2002 Saudi Arabia proposed a regional pact involving peace deals with all Israel's Arab neighbours in exchange for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As is typical with Israeli negotiations as many would argue, Israel was quite prepared to accept the parts of the deal that benefited it, but not those that didn't. Mr Netanyahu has been working on just that, and in Switzerland on Thursday he was boasting that he was about to pull it off.

In a stunning revelation the Israeli prime minister said there is a great shift going on and Arab states are now prepared to put aside a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and push on with forming a relationship with Israel.

Mr Netanyahu says the view is that the conflict with Palestine can better be addressed after an alliance is forged between Israel and the Arab world. He said Israel and the Arab countries are "actually working towards that end."

The Israeli prime minister was speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where he was taking part in an on-stage interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN.

"Saudi Arabia recognizes that Israel is an ally rather than an enemy because of the two principle threats that threaten them, Iran and Daesh," he told the Davos Forum and CNN audiences.

"Who can help us? they ask. Obviously Israel and the Sunni Arab states are not on opposite sides."

The PM even suggested the European Union should take a leaf out of his Arab neighbours' book.

"I have one request, that the EU policy vis a vis Israel and the Palestinians merely reflect now the prevailing Arab policy to Israel and the Palestinians," he said.

"There is a great shift taking place. We used to think that if we solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it would solve the larger Israeli Arab conflict. The more I look at it, the more I think it may be the other way around. That by nurturing these relationships that are taking place now with the Arab world, that could actually help us resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we're actually working towards that end," he added.

Mr. Netanyahu has been pushing this initiative for at least the last sixteen months.

In an address to the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2014, the Israeli prime minister argued that improved relations between Israel and Arab countries should come first, and if achieved could then contribute to advancing peace with the Palestinians.

"With a fresh approach from our neighbors, we can advance peace despite the difficulties," he told the UN General Assembly. "In Israel, we have a record of making the impossible possible. We've made a desolate land flourish. ... peace, of course, would enable Israel to realize its full potential. but the old template for peace must be updated. It must take into account new realities and new roles and responsibilities for our Arab neighbours."

He also raised the notion that the Arab countries are now starting to understand that they and Israel are facing the same threats, Iran and Islamic extremism.

"Our challenge is to transform these common interests to create a productive partnership, one that would build a more secure, peaceful and prosperous Middle East. I believe the partnership between us can also help facilitate peace between Israel and the Palestinians," he said.

"Many have long assumed that an Israeli-Palestinian peace can help facilitate a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world. But these days, I think it may work the other way around, namely that a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world may help facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace. To achieve that peace, we must look not only to Jerusalem and Ramallah but also to Cairo, to Amman, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and elsewhere," said Mr Netanyahu.

There have been growing signs in recent weeks of a thawing of relations.

An Israeli minister visited Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, last week to attend an energy conference. Israeli television Channel 2 however said the visit was to conduct secret strategic negotiations with the UAE government. A spokesman for the office of the minister, Yuval Steinitz, the national infrastructure, energy and water minister, refused to comment on the nature of the minister's visit.

Earlier this month the Egyptian government restored diplomatic relations with Israel, three years after it withdrew its ambassador.

And last month Israel established a diplomatic mission to an intergovernmental organization in Abu Dhabi, the first ever official Israeli presence in the UAE.

(Source: Big News Network)


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