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Israel, Jordan and Egypt held secret peace summit a year ago: Report

Kerry reportedly outlined proposal that included recognition of Israel as Jewish state, resumption of negotiations with Palestinians
Former US secretary of state John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (AFP/file photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was presented with a plan for a regional peace initiative a year ago at a secret summit meeting by then-US secretary of state John Kerry, Haaretz reported on Sunday, citing unidentified former officials in the Obama administration.

Netanyahu did not accept the proposal, saying he would have difficulty getting approval of the plan from his coalition government, Haaretz reported. Still, the summit provided the basis for talks soon after between Netanyahu and Israel's opposition leader Isaac Herzog on potentially establishing a unity government, although that also never came to fruition.

According to the report, the summit was held in the Jordanian resort town of Aqaba and included Jordanian King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The Israeli newspaper said Kerry outlined a proposal that included recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians, backed by Arab nations.

Abdullah and Sisi tried to convince Netanyahu to accept the proposal, the report said, but Netanyahu then presented a plan of his own and requested that a regional summit be arranged to include senior figures from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Sunni nations.

Former senior US officials noted that at a meeting with Netanyahu, the prime minister evaded a clear answer on the proposed plan.

At the four-party summit on 21 February, even though the subject was the regional peace initiative, Haaretz said, a substantial portion of the discussions regarded the situation in the region. Abdullah and Sisi took Kerry to task for the Obama administration’s policies on Iran and Syria. Still, the two reacted positively to his proposal and tried to convince Netanyahu to accept it.

The former senior US officials told Haaretz that Netanyahu then presented a plan of his own, which he called his five-point plan.

Netanyahu reportedly asked that negotiations with the Palestinians be resumed and that a regional peace summit be convened that would include attendance by representatives from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Sunni Muslim countries.

The leaders then returned to their capitals, agreeing to consider the proposals. Netanyahu reportedly briefed Herzog on the Aqaba summit, and the opposition leader phoned the other three participants for details. Herzog, however, declined to confirm any details on the subject to Haaretz. The Prime Minister's Office also declined to comment.

The leaders of Egypt and Jordan were said to view the entry of Herzog or another opposition figure into Netanyahu’s coalition government as a potential rationale to press Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who had been previously made aware of the secret talks by Kerry, and to help secure the participation of the Saudis and other Arab countries in a regional summit.

Netanyahu’s coalition negotiations never panned out, however, and he abandoned the talks with Herzog, subsequently bringing right-winger Avigdor Lieberman into his government as defence minister.