By Jesse Lempel/TPS
Jerusalem (TPS) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday night that the Arab nations in the region can help facilitate a “real deal with the Palestinians,” adding that he has been discussing the issue with regional leaders “over the last few hours.”
“The initiatives I’m referring to are regional initiatives – meaning, aided by the Arab countries in the region to reach a real deal with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said in a press conference following a meeting with Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. “We always thought it would be the opposite,” Netanyahu acknowledged, “but that is the direction today. I am constantly trying, including over the last few hours, to further contacts with various leaders in the region to help in this direction.”
Netanyahu’s comments come on the eve of his meeting with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls ahead of an international peace conference planned to take place in Paris at the beginning of June. Netanyahu has so far forcefully rejected the French conference, arguing that only direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians could advance peace and suggesting that the forum was biased against Israel.
The latest remarks, however, suggest that Netanyahu places more confidence in the efforts of regional Arab governments than in European peacemaking conferences.
“We have many common interests with leading Arab countries in the region, and I think that one of those interests is to advance a process for real peace between us and the Palestinians, and perhaps with their help we can overcome those a few obstacles,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu’s comments seemed to allude to a striking speech by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last week in which he offered to act as a moderator between Israel and the Palestinians. Netanyahu immediately welcomed al-Sisi’s remarks, issuing a statement that “Israel is ready to participate with Egypt and other Arab states in advancing both the diplomatic process and stability in the region. I appreciate President al-Sisi’s work and also draw encouragement from his leadership on this important issue.”
Israel and Czechia signed a series of bilateral agreements relating to science, technology, tourism, and cybersecurity – the Czech embassy even has a special “cyber attaché.” But Netanyahu also thanked Prime Minister Sobotka for “the fairness of the Czech position in international forums.”
“Israel is often portrayed as not wanting peace. Nothing could be further from the truth. We pursue peace; we’re going to continue to pursuing peace with an expanded government, including various initiatives and possibilities within our region,” Netanyahu said. “I want to assure you that we’ll be happy to take up any suggestions and any help that you can give us in this common pursuit for peace.”