Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, on Tuesday played down Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s remarks about the Arab peace initiative.
In a joint statement on Monday, Netanyahu and newly sworn in Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said they were ready “to negotiate with the Arab countries on updating the Arab peace initiative, to reflect the dramatic changes since 2002, and to maintain the agreed goal of two states for two peoples.”
But Al-Jubeir said Tuesday, according to Reuters, “It's a little early for one to assess the seriousness of the Israeli side to begin talks based on the Arab peace initiative.”
"When the Israeli prime minister spoke about it, he spoke about some clauses that he considers positive, not about accepting the initiative as the basis of talks," al-Jubeir added, speaking at a press conference in Riyadh.
The U.S. State Department, which last week said Israel's new right-wing coalition raised "legitimate questions" about the direction of Israeli policy, reacted positively to the Israeli prime minister's comments, according to Reuters.
"We welcome them. We welcome their stated support for a two-state solution," State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington.
"We continue to call on both sides ... to demonstrate with policies and actions their commitment to the two-state solution and we are ready to support them in any way," he added.
Asked why Netanyahu may have chosen to speak in favor of the Arab Peace Initiative now, Kirby replied, "I don't know."
The Saudi peace initiative, unveiled in 2002 and re-endorsed at the 2007 Arab League summit, says that 22 Arab countries will normalize ties with Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria.
Israel to date has rejected the plan due to the fact that it calls for Israel to accept the so-called "right of return" for millions of descendants of Arabs who fled pre-state Israel, effectively bringing an end to the Jewish state.
Recent reports, however, have indicated that Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt, are prepared to discuss with Israel changes to the Saudi peace initiative in order to resume peace talks between Israel and the PA.
A spokesman for Netanyahu declined to discuss what changes Israel might seek in the initiative, noted Reuters.