One or more new peace proposals for the conflicts between Israel and its Arab neighbors will be unveiled in the near future, according to reports in the Arabic and Hebrew media on Wednesday.
FRESH PROPOSAL NECESSARY
The existing "Arab peace initiative" is being revamped by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to make it more palatable for the Israelis, according to the Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi.
The newspaper suggests U.S. President Barack Obama urged the Arab states to make some changes to the plan. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is expected to hand over the revised edition to Obama when they meet in Washington later this month.
The Arab peace initiative, which was originally known as the Saudi initiative, calls on Israel to withdraw from all the lands it captured in the 1967 war in exchange for a full peace with all Arab states.
The territories Israel would have to cede comprises the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which would become the Palestinian state; the Golan Heights that would be returned to Syria; and a couple of small pockets of land where the borders of Syria, Israel and Lebanon meet. Additionally, Israel would have to give up control of Eastern Jerusalem, which would be most likely to become the Palestinian capital.
Meanwhile, the office of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now international Mideast envoy, denied reports that the Quartet itself is about to launch a fresh proposal of its own.
The Mideast Quartet, which includes the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, will meet in five to six weeks, Blair's team told Xinhua, adding that such a meeting would be necessary since Barack Obama assumed office.
LAND DISPUTES IN THE WAY
One of the leading figures in the Israeli settler movement immediately dismissed the new revised initiatives even before their details have been published.
"Of course we're pro-peace but not based on the deportation of people," said Noam Arnon, spokesman for the Jewish community in the Arab-dominated West Bank city of Hebron.
Right-wing Israelis maintain that any peace plan that calls for territorial compromise and the withdrawal of Jewish citizens from their homes in the occupied territories will simply bring "terror" closer to the doorstep of Israel.
"We saw what happened after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza --only terror," said Arnon.
The apparent hardening in the Arab tone came in the months after Israel's military operation in Gaza, in response to the daily barrage of rockets on communities in southern Israel, killed hundreds of Palestinians.
In the wake of what Israel dubbed Operation Cast Lead, Arab leaders warned Israel that time was running out and the Arab peace initiative would not remain on the table indefinitely.
NETANYAHU's STANCE SOFTENED
Despite that threat, Israel elected a hard-line government in February. The new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has so far not been keen to push ahead with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process or any other Israeli-Arab tracks.
Some analysts are of the opinion that for the time being it does not need change, even though Netanyahu is slated to visit the White House in two weeks.
"These are going to be statements, intentions but with few details, therefore flexibility can be shown but it doesn't have to be proved," said Reuven Hazan, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The first sign that Netanyahu is softening his stance a little ahead of his parley with Obama came this week when he made a video address in Jerusalem to the annual gathering of the main pro-Israel American lobby AIPAC.
"We are prepared to resume peace negotiations without any delay, without any preconditions. The sooner, the better," he told delegates.
Spin doctors in Netanyahu's Likud party say he is not anti-peace, but he has simply spent the past month or so since coming into power on March 31 in defining Israel's peace policy.
It will take some time before Netanyahu will have to show his true colors, said Hazan. First there will be some visits to Jerusalem by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and only when Obama himself arrives in the region will Netanyahu have to be more forthcoming, he said.