It's impossible for Israel to accept the Arab peace initiative in its current version, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Palestinian newspaper al-Ayyam in an interview Thursday. She was referring to an initiative agreed upon at an Arab summit in Beirut in 2002.
The foreign minister said that the current version of the initiative was primarily problematic due to its references to the right of return.
On the very day the Saudi initiative was reported in the New York Times, I was interviewed by an Israeli radio station and said that this initiative could be a good starting point (for the peace process), said Livni.
Later, they went to Beirut and added new phrases that made the initiative unacceptable from an Israeli standpoint. They added clauses stating that Palestinian refugees cannot be settled in areas where they currently reside, Livni explained.
They referred to UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (which addresses the issue of refugees from 1948), while they know that a two-state solution refers to the settlement of refugees where they currently reside, she elaborated.
As such, in the beginning, the Saudi initiative was a positive sign. But when extremists in Beirut added ideas that conflict with the two-state solution, it became something that we cannot accept in its current version, Livni said.
In an interview to Ynet, Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat offered his comments on Livni's statements, saying he did not know what she was looking for.
"The Arab peace initiative addressed an agreed upon solution to the refugee problem. What more does she want? I wonder," he said.
Erekat stressed that he felt this was a golden opportunity for all involved, saying, "I hope that Livni examines the Arab peace initiative as it was written. I believe this is the most significant Arab strategy since 1948 since it gives Israel the opportunity to retreat to the 1967 borders in exchange for normalization with the entire Arab and Muslim world - with Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, etc. and not just with Jordan."
Regarding the refugee problem Erekat said, "There is a solution to every problem – Jerusalem, the borders, the refuges any more. This is a problem that should be brought up in negotiations between the parties."
In her interview, Livni was also asked her opinion about the recent Mecca summit and the Palestinian unity government. She described the Mecca deal as a "disappointment" because it did not require the Palestinian government to recognize Israel or renounce terror.
She emphasized that Israel expected any Palestinian government to adhere to the three demands of the international community (recognition of Israel, renunciation of terror and respect for previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority).
We'll wait for the government to be founded, wait to see how things develop and see if it fully adheres to these conditions, Livni said.
Regarding European nations, such as France and Russia, who had praised the Mecca deal, Livni said that perhaps a few nations prefer to be done with the issue and say that the Mecca deal conforms to the principles of the international community.
However, we (in Israel) know that's not the case. We cannot make a mockery of ourselves. If Hamas will adhere fully to the demands, then it will become a legitimate partner, she said.
This was Livni's first interview with a Palestinian paper, a significant political step before an expected meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in two weeks' time.