TEL AVIV // An Arab League initiative over its decade-old peace plan was a "new affirmation of Palestinian and Arab willingness" to move towards peace talks, said a Palestinian official close to the discussions in Washington this week.
Monday's announcement in Washington raised the possibility of land swaps in setting borders between an independent Palestine and Israel, which appeared to be the first time that the organisation has publicly mentioned the option of not strictly adhering to Israel's borders before the 1967 war.
But the official was not optimistic that the option, raised during talks with the US secretary of state, John Kerry, would result in a resumption of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis that have been frozen since 2010.
"As long as some Israeli government ministers keep talking about a Palestinian state in Jordan while another wants to put one million settlers in the occupied West Bank, nothing will happen," he said.
Nevertheless, Israel yesterday indicated support for the proposal. Tzipi Livni, the Israeli justice minister, called the Arab League's statement "very positive news".
"It's definitely an important step - I welcome it," she said on Israel Radio, although there was no immediate response from the office of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
"It would allow the Palestinians to enter the room and make the needed compromise and it sends a message to the Israeli public that this is not just about us and the Palestinians," Ms Livni said.
The Arab League's 2002 peace initiative offers full Arab recognition of Israel if the country was to give up the territories - the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip - that it captured in the 1967 war and provided a just solution for Palestinian refugees.
But Qatari's prime minister and general secretary of the Arab League, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani, said on Monday that although a final deal should mean a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines, it could involve a "comparable and mutual agreed minor swap of the land" to reflect the realities of the burgeoning communities on the ground.
Dr Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian's chief negotiator, said Sheikh Hamad's statement reflected long-standing Palestinian positions.
"Upon Israel's unequivocal acceptance of the two-state solution on the 1967 border, the state of Palestine, as a sovereign country, might consider minor agreed border modifications equal in size and quality, in the same geographic area, and that do not harm Palestinian interests," he said.
Palestinians were part of the Arab League delegation in Washington, along with foreign ministers from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar and officials from Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.
Mr Kerry described the discussion as "very positive, very constructive" and praised the Arab League's "very important role ... in bringing about a peace in the Middle East, and specifically by reaffirming the Arab Peace Initiative".
More than 500,000 Jewish settlers live in communities - deemed by the international community as illegal - in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, both of which were captured by Israel in the 1967 war along with the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians want their future state to include the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as the capital.
Both Israeli and Palestinian analysts yesterday said the US, Israel's staunchest ally, probably pressured the Arab League to publicly state its concession towards Israel as part of Washington's new attempt to restart talks. They said that prospects for a resumption of negotiations, however, are dim.
Yossi Alpher, an Israeli political expert, said the Arab League's sweetened stance signifies its support for an attempt by Washington to open a new channel of US-mediated talks between Israel and Arab states, not only on Palestinian statehood, but also on regional issues such as Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Still, he said that "from the standpoint of the Israeli government, this gesture doesn't come near to reaching Israel's opening position in peace talks". He said that Israeli positions opposed by the Arab League include Israel holding on to the Jordan Valley area in the West Bank in any peace deal as well as all of Jerusalem.
Abdul Satter Kassem, a political-science professor at Al Najah University in the West Bank town of Nablus, blasted the Arab League's softened stance as trivial, saying Arab states will have influence over the peace process only once they pressure the US to stop supporting Israel's settlement enterprise.
"A Palestinian state can only be established if the Arabs [are]strong enough to face up to the Israelis and the US on the settlement issue," he said.