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Arab League Backs Israeli-Palestinian Land Swaps

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) arrives with Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani (2nd L) at a meeting with members of the Arab League at Blair House in Washington Apr. 29, 2013.
Israel is welcoming a signal from Arab League nations supporting the idea of using land swaps to negotiate future Israeli-Palestinian borders.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani said after a meeting Monday between Arab League officials and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that his delegation backs mutually agreed "comparable" and "minor" land swaps.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said Tuesday that such a change could allow Palestinians to "make the needed compromises" to further negotiations. She also said the statement is a message to the Israeli people that the peace process involves not just talking with the Palestinians, but also the wider region.

The Qatari prime minister's comments appear to represent a change in the Arab League's decade-old peace proposal for Israel. That initiative has called on Israel to withdraw from all land occupied in the 1967 Middle East War and return to its pre-1967 boundaries in return for a full peace with all Arab League members.

This latest Arab position also appears to reflect an endorsement of President Barack Obama's 2011 peace guidelines that called for Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate their borders on the basis of the 1967 lines with "mutually agreed swaps."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly has called on Israel to accept the 1967 lines as a basis for peace talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said a return to those lines would leave Israel with indefensible borders, and he has rejected setting any preconditions for talks. He also has declined to make any public comment about the idea of swapping parts of pre-1967 Israel in return for annexing major Jewish settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip for a future state.

Vice President Joe Biden joined Kerry's meeting with the Arab League delegation, which included senior ministers from six Arab governments.

VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns said Biden's presence at the talks was aimed at sending a message to the parties.

"It is meant to show the Arab ministers the importance that the Obama administration places on this [Arab peace] initiative, if they had any doubt, as declared by the president himself on his visit to the Middle East [last month]. He left Secretary Kerry there to have more talks, and the secretary has since returned to the region," he said. "It is to show the seriousness of the approach and how much the Obama administration is looking to the Arab League to not only support that process but to be an active player in it."