Israeli elder statesman President Shimon Peres has arrived in Washington amid another anxious moment in the perennially stalled Middle East peace process. Among Israel's concerns: the ongoing unrest in the Arab world and mounting worries that the Palestinians will seek statehood recognition at the United Nations in September.
Peres met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Blair House last night and will have a working lunch with President Barack Obama at the White House today. Tonight, he'll dine with Middle East experts at a dinner hosted by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.
Peres, who is 88, has more of a figurehead role in the Israeli government. The key decision-maker in Jerusalem is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is expected to come to Washington later this spring for a series of appearances, including at the annual AIPAC policy conference.
It had been expected that Netanyahu will give a major policy speech during his upcoming D.C. visit, possibly proposing some sort of interim peace agreement with the Palestinians, but some observers are now saying his plans are unclear.
In the meantime, a group of senior former Israeli security officials, including the former heads of Mossad and Shin Bet, are nudging him to do so by proposing what they are calling an Israeli Peace Initiative, the New York Times's Ethan Bronner reports:
A group of prominent Israelis, including former heads of Mossad, Shin Bet and the military, are this week putting forth an initiative for peace with the Arab world that they hope will generate popular support and influence their government as it faces international pressure to move peace talks forward.
Called the Israeli Peace Initiative, the two-page document is partly inspired by the changes under way regionally and is billed as a direct response to the Arab Peace Initiative issued by the Arab League in 2002 and again in 2007. It calls for a Palestinian state on nearly all the West Bank and Gaza with a capital in much of East Jerusalem, an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and a set of regional security mechanisms and economic cooperation projects.
"We looked around at what was happening in neighboring countries and we said to ourselves, 'It is about time that the Israeli public raised its voice as well,' " said Danny Yatom, a signer of the document and former head of Mossad, Israel's intelligence service. "We feel this initiative can bring along many members of the public."
Another member of the group, Yaakov Perry, a former head of Shin Bet, the internal security agency, said he sent a copy of the document on Sunday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who replied that he looked forward to reading it. The official unveiling is set for Wednesday in Tel Aviv, but a copy was made available to The New York Times.
"We are isolated internationally and seen to be against peace," Mr. Perry said in a telephone interview. "I hope this will make a small contribution to pushing our prime minister forward. It is about time that Israel initiates something on peace." ...
The initiative's goal is resolution of all claims and an end to the Israeli-Arab conflict. It acknowledges "the suffering of the Palestinian refugees since the 1948 war as well as of the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries." It says it shares the statement of the Arab Peace Initiative "that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties."
The document calls for the 1967 lines to be a basis for borders, with agreed modifications based on swaps that would not exceed 7 percent of the West Bank.
(Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greets Israeli President Shimon Peres during a bilateral meeting at Blair House in Washington, Monday, April 4, 2011.: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)