Saudi Arabia and its allies have asked Israel to resume Middle East negotiations under new terms which include changes to Riyadh’s “peace” initiative, Israeli media reports say.
The kingdom, its Persian Gulf allies, Jordan and Egypt have been sending messages to Israel through various emissaries, including former British PM Tony Blair, the Israeli newspaper Arutz Sheva reported.
“They are expecting to receive from Israel a response and are also expecting Israel to make gestures toward the Palestinians” in the West Bank, the paper said.
The Saudi “peace” initiative, unveiled in 2002, offers to normalize ties with Israel by 22 Arab countries in return for Tel Aviv’s withdrawal from the occupied West Bank.
Tel Aviv has rejected the Saudi initiative due to the fact that it calls for Israel to accept the right of return for the Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes under the Israeli occupation.
Saudi Arabia and its allies are now prepared to discuss changes to the initiative in order to resume talks between Tel Aviv and the Palestinian Authority, Israel’s Channel 10 News revealed.
The daily Maariv revealed earlier this month that the Israeli regime would present a bill to the Knesset in the coming weeks, calling for the annexation of 60% of the West Bank.
According to the paper, preliminary talks have been held to annex Area C of the West Bank where more than 350,000 illegal Israeli settlers are based.
Nevertheless, there is a desire among the leadership of the Arab countries in the region to change their attitude towards Israel and to start taking an active mediating role, Channel 10 reported, citing diplomatic sources.
The report comes days after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi urged Israelis and Palestinians to seize what he said was a “real opportunity” and renew “peace” talks.
Most extremist cabinet in the works
PM Benjamin Netanyahu, however, is set to form the most extremist cabinet in Israel’s history after revealing his intention to name notorious politician Avigdor Lieberman as the new minister of military affairs.
Palestinians have denounced the planned appointment, saying the decision showed Israel was intent on spreading extremism and expanding illegal settlements.
As the minister of military affairs, Lieberman would oversee military operations in the Palestinian territories and have a major say in policy towards the settlements.
Lieberman himself lives in a settlement which the international community considers illegal and persistent expansion of settler units as one of the biggest causes of the escalating tensions.
He has called on the Israeli regime to treat Palestinian resistance movement Hamas the same way as the United States treated “the Japanese in World War II.”
On Saturday, an Israeli website said the “nightmare” of those critical of the new Israeli cabinet “is if Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, along with Netanyahu and Lieberman, will sit on the same podium and sign a cooperation agreement.”
“But this is a reality that is happening every day, not just wishful thinking,” the Israeli military intelligence website Debkafile wrote.
Last month, a well-connected former general in the Saudi military said the kingdom would open an embassy in Tel Aviv if Israel accepted the Saudi initiative to end the Middle East conflict.
Anwar Eshki was asked during an Al Jazeera interview how long it would be before Riyadh opened an embassy in Israel.
“You can ask Mr. Netanyahu,” Eshki replied, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Jerusalem Post reported on its website.
“If he announces that he accepts the initiative and gives all rights to Palestinians, Saudi Arabia will start to make an embassy in Tel Aviv,” Eshki said.
Eshki met publicly in June with Dore Gold just before the latter was appointed director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry. Gold said then Israel had contacts with “almost every Arab state.”
In the interview, Eshki said the Saudis are not interested in “Israel becoming isolated in the region.”
In March, Netanyahu said Israel’s relations with regional Arab countries were “dramatically warming” in what analysts said was an acknowledgement of behind-the-scenes ties.
Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s minister of military affairs who resigned on Friday, pointed to open channels between the regime and Arab states in February.
Ya’alon said he was unable to shake hands with Arab officials in public due to the “sensitive” political realities, however, the two sides “can meet in closed rooms.”
The Israeli minister later publicly shook the hand of Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal al-Saud, who himself has openly met with a number of Israeli officials in the past.
Israeli training Saudi forces: Hezbollah
Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy secretary general of Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement, said in April that Israel was training Saudi military forces under the framework of clandestine relations.
Dozens of Saudi military officers were being trained following secret contacts that led to military cooperation, he said.
“The Saudis are currently fulfilling the cycle of the Israeli project in public and secret meetings,” he added.