JERUSALEM Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met secretly a year ago with the leaders of Egypt and Jordan in a failed attempt by the Obama administration to convene a wider regional summit on Israeli-Palestinian peace, Israel's Haaretz daily said on Sunday.
At the White House on Wednesday, Netanyahu again raised the possibility of what he described as a "regional approach" to Israeli-Palestinian peace at a news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump, who appeared to embrace the idea.
Citing unidentified senior officials in former U.S. President Barack Obama's administration, Haaretz said Netanyahu, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Jordan's King Abdullah and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry convened on Feb. 21, 2016 in the Jordanian Red Sea resort of Aqaba.
But the initiative to involve other Arab states in the pursuit of peace with the Palestinians ultimately fizzled out, the newspaper said, after Netanyahu withdrew his initial support, pointing to opposition within his right-wing government.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas did not attend the Aqaba meeting but was updated by Kerry, Haaretz said.
At a meeting with ministers from his Likud party, Netanyahu acknowledged the meeting took place, though he said it was his own initiative to try and bring about a regional summit, according to a cabinet member present, who declined to be identified.
A spokesman for Netanyahu declined to comment on the report. Sisi's office issued a statement referring to the news report, though it did not name Haaretz, as having "incorrect information" but did not deny that a meeting took place. No immediate comment was available from Jordan.
Kerry launched his final peacemaking bid after U.S.-backed talks between the two sides collapsed in 2014 over issues that included Israeli settlement-building in the occupied territories and Palestinian refusal to accept Israel's demand to recognise it as a Jewish state.
Prospects for a new peace push appear dim with Netanyahu in a political tight spot at home and under police investigation for alleged abuse of office, which he denies.
Far-right members of Netanyahu's coalition have been emboldened by Trump's suggestion that he was open to new ways to achieve peace that did not necessarily entail the creation of a Palestinian state, a benchmark of U.S. policy for decades.
"I'm looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like," Trump said.
On Thursday, however, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the United States still supports a two-state solution.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, said he believed a Middle East peace push was possible. "My country stands ready together with other Arab countries to work and to see how we can promote that," Al-Jubeir said.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, also at the Munich conference, said he supported the creation of a Palestinian state. "The end game is no doubt a two-state solution," Lieberman said, adding a peace accord should be reached within a regional deal.
Asked whether Lieberman would be meeting in Munich with any senior Arab officials, his spokesman declined to comment.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; additional reporting by John Irish and Vladimir Soldatkin in Munich, Ahmed Aboulenein in Cairo; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Ruth Pitchford, Mark Potter and Andrew Bolton)