Qatar Hints at Support for 'Swaps' as Part of Israel-PA Peace
The Prime Minister of Qatar indicated on Monday that he supported an American proposal for a change in the pre-1967 borders as part of a future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim made the comments during talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who hosted top Arab League officials Monday, as part of his attempts to renew the Middle East peace process, AFP reported.
"Peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis ... is a strategic choice for the Arab states," Jassim said after the talks, according to AFP.
He agreed that any deal should be based on a two-state solution, with the borders defined by the June 4, 1967 borders, the report added, but at the same time backed U.S. President Barack Obama's proposals for a "comparable and mutual agreed minor swap of the land" between Israel and the PA, to reflect the realities of the burgeoning communities on the ground.
Kerry has suggested that the Arab Peace Initiative, unveiled in 2002 by Saudi Arabia, in which 22 Arab countries would normalize ties with Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, could be a way forward to promote the peace process.
"We're all here to have a very key discussion with respect to the Middle East peace process and other issues in the region," Kerry said as he welcomed a group of ministers to the talks, according to AFP.
"I think it's important that we have an opportunity to be able to talk frankly," he added.
In line with Kerry's so-called "quiet strategy," the talks were being held in the privacy of Blair House, often known as the president's guest house, just a short walk from the White House, and not at the State Department.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was also expected to drop in on the talks, a White House official said.
Jassim, who chairs the Arab Peace Initiative follow-up committee, headed Monday's delegation, which also included the Palestinian Authority’s foreign affairs minister Riyad al-Maliki and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.
"I think it's an important meeting, an important era, which we hope will lead to peace, a comprehensive peace between the Arabs and the Israelis," Jassim said at the start of the talks.
"I have no doubt about your efforts and you showed your efforts since you've taken the office. And I believe that we are as Arabs serious in peace, but fair peace -- a fair deal for both parties,” he told Kerry, according to AFP.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr also attended, along with Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa and top Saudi and Lebanese officials.
The talks came after a "series of productive conversations by the secretary to explore how we can best move regional peace efforts forward," deputy acting State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told journalists.
"We welcome the Arab League's eagerness to play a constructive role in the pursuit of a durable and lasting Middle East peace," Ventrell added.
The talks were also expected to delve into new proposals from Kerry to promote economic development in the PA-assigned areas of Judea and Samaria, a plan in which he is hoping to attract private sector investment to boost the PA’s trust.
Kerry recently once again warned that time was slipping away to reach a Middle East peace deal, and for the first time said there may only be a year or two left.
U.S. President Barack Obama recently said that he believed there was a "window of opportunity" to kickstart the Middle East peace process, after Kerry dubbed his talks with Israeli and PA leaders as "very constructive.”
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has refused to come to the negotiating table and has continued to impose preconditions on talks.
Abbas told Kerry during one of his recent trips to the region, that Israel should freeze construction in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem and release terrorist prisoners, especially those arrested before the 1993 Oslo Accords, before any resumption of peace talks.
Abbas also wants Netanyahu to present a map of the borders of a future Palestinian state before talks can resume, but a top political official in Israel has said this was out of the question.