Netanyahu says he initiated secret 2016 summit with Arab leaders

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initiated a meeting which led to a secret regional summit with Arab rulers last year, the Prime Minister told members of his Likud party on Sunday.

Netanyahu confirmed during the meeting that he did not accept a plan for a regional peace initiative presented by then-US secretary of state John Kerry that had been reported by Haaretz.

According to the report, a summit was held on February 21, 2016 in the Jordanian resort town of Aqaba and included Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

The newspaper said Kerry outlined a proposal that included recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, backed by Arab nations, along with a call for Israel to vacate territory it captured during the 1967 Six-Day War, subject to land swaps agreed between the two sides.

Both sides, under the proposal, would share Jerusalem as the “internationally recognized capital of the two states”.

King Abdullah and President Sisi tried to convince Netanyahu to accept the proposal, said the report, with Netanyahu reportedly presenting his own plan and asking that a regional summit be arranged that would include senior figures from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Sunni nations.

In presenting his plan, Netanyahu reportedly signaled willingness to agree to gestures that he had initially floated in November 2015 before taking them off the table, including permits for Arab construction in Area C of Judea and Samaria, which is under Israeli military and civilian control in exchange for US recognition of Israel’s right to build in major Jewish communities blocs.

Meeting on Wednesday at the White House, Netanyahu and President Donald Trump each spoke of prospects of a regional Middle East understanding to end the stalemated Israeli-Palestinian Authority conflict.

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“For the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but increasingly as an ally,” Netanyahu told Trump.

“We think the larger issue today is how do we create the broader conditions for broad peace in the Middle East between Israel and the Arab countries,” Netanyahu said the following day on MSNBC.

Trump said Netanyahu’s proposal for a regional alliance was something that “hasn’t been discussed before”, adding that it would take in “many, many countries and it would cover a very large territory”.

Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab states to have formal peace treaties with Israel.

Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar do not have diplomatic relations with the Jewish State, but they share informal links.

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