World

Israelis, Palestinians endorse Arab peace plan

JERUSALEM (AP) — A newly formed group of Israeli and Palestinian politicians on Monday urged the Arab League to renew a comprehensive peace offer to Israel, saying such a gesture would give a much-needed boost to troubled U.S.-backed peace talks.

The group called on the Arab League to make a bold statement at its summit in Kuwait this week, saying this would pressure negotiators to consider the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. The landmark plan offered Israel peace with dozens of Arab and Muslim countries in exchange for a withdrawal from all territories captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

In a letter released Monday, the group said the initiative "provides the fundamental foundation for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace." Known as the Prague Forum, the group consists of Israelis, Palestinians and other Arab parliamentarians. It was unveiled after over 40 politicians and leaders began secret meetings in Prague in February.

Hilik Bar, chair of the Knesset Caucus for the Solution of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, praised the new coalition for its efforts. "It's one thing to have a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine," said Bar, a member of the opposition Labor Party. "It's another thing to have Israel and Palestine as a joint partner in a much bigger neighborhood."

Israel and the Palestinians relaunched peace talks last July, agreeing to talk for nine months. The current round of peace talks brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have faced daunting challenges as both sides spar over the drawing of future borders, the status of Palestinian refugees, security arrangements and Israel's demand that it be recognized as a Jewish state. After months of deadlock, Kerry has given up hopes of brokering a deal and is scrambling to persuade the sides to agree to extend talks beyond his original April deadline.

The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for a future state. They have demanded that a future border with Israel be based on the pre-1967 lines.

The Arab initiative could theoretically provide a way out of the deadlock. Last year, shortly before peace talks resumed, Kerry persuaded the Arab League to renew its offer and sweeten it by saying Israel and the Palestinians could modify their final border away from the 1967 lines through mutually agreed land swaps.

Kerry praised the gesture at the time. But Israel has never formally responded. Mohammed al-Madani, who heads an official governmental committee in charge of outreach to Israel, accused the Israeli government of "foot-dragging" and "wasting time" while diminishing the prospect of a feasible agreement. "We continue to speak of a just peace," he said, "but we don't see it."

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