Arab League unanimously approves Saudi peace plan
Peretz hails initiative as the key to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; MK Shalom says proposal is "impractical and unreasonable."
By JONNY PAUL, JPOST STAFF
March 28, 2007 16:51
4 minute read.
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Leaders of the 22 countries in the Arab League decided Wednesday night to approve the Saudi peace plan and called on the Israeli leadership to adopt the initiative as soon as possible.
The decision was made unanimously during the Arab League summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
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Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa urged Israel not to immediately submit its reservations to the initiative, as it had done so in 2002 when the plan was first proposed.
The initiative offers Israel recognition and permanent peace with all Arab countries in return for Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war. It also calls for setting up a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital and a solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees.
Following the agreement to revive the plan, Moussa said that the Middle East was at a "critical junction."
"If we don't move forward we will witness an escalation (of violence) in the region," he continued.
In response to the Arab League's decision, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that the Saudi initiative was the card with which to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nevertheless, Peretz went on to say that Israel would not agree to the clause in the plan regarding the right of return for Palestinian refugees, Army Radio reported.
"Israel must present a government initiative which should be discussed at the next conference in Riyadh and should include a final settlement proposal," added the defense minister.
In contrast, MK Silvan Shalom (Likud) said that the Arab leaders had been thrown off course by extremists.
"They have adopted an illogical plan. It is impractical and unreasonable." said Shalom.
Moussa rejected amending the peace offer, saying, "They tell us to amend it, but we tell them to accept it first, then we can sit down at the negotiating table." But he said the Arabs must "do more to convince" the Israelis on the offer.
Saudi King Abdullah opened the summit with a strongly worded speech, painting a bleak picture of the crises and bloodshed in the region - from Lebanon and Sudan to Iraq - and lecturing the leaders that it was time to act.
He pointed to the bloodshed in Iraq, where he called the US military presence an "illegitimate occupation" and warned that "abhorrent sectarianism threatens a civil war."
He called for the lifting of the "oppressive" international financial embargo on the Palestinians "as soon as possible so the peace process will get to move in an atmosphere without oppression."
"The real blame should be directed at us, the leaders of the Arab nation," he said. "Our constant disagreements and rejection of unity have made the Arab nation lose confidence in our sincerity and lose hope."
Only Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi boycotted the summit.
Earlier Wednesday, a British newspaper reported that Israel would face war if it rejected the peace plan.
In an article in The Daily Telegraph, entitled 'Accept peace plan or face war, Israel told', Prince Saud, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has warned that the "lords of war" will decide Israel's future if it rejects a peace plan "crafted by the entire Arab world".
Speaking in Riyadh on the eve of the summit, Prince Saud, the son of the late King Faisal, said that Israel should "accept or reject this final offer" and that every Arab country will almost certainly endorse this plan when the Riyadh summit concludes on Thursday.
"What we have the power to do in the Arab world, we think we have done," he told the Telegraph, "so now it is up to the other side because if you want peace, it is not enough for one side only to want it. Both sides must want it equally.
"If Israel refuses, that means it doesn't want peace and it places everything back into the hands of fate. They will be putting their future not in the hands of the peacemakers but in the hands of the lords of war."
The Prince said there won't be any further diplomatic overtures towards Israel. "It has never been proven that reaching out to Israel achieves anything, other Arab countries have recognised Israel and what has that achieved? The largest Arab country, Egypt, recognised Israel and what was the result? Not one iota of change happened in the attitude of Israel towards peace."
The report also says that some Western diplomats think that Saudi Arabia's focus on diplomatic means is also to do with the "menacing spectre of Iran, the rising Shia power with nuclear-tipped ambitions for regional dominance".
Speaking about Iran, Prince Saud said: "We have no inhibitions about the role of Iran, it is a large country. It wants to play a leading role in the region, and it has every right to do so. It is an historic country. But if you want to reach for leadership, you have to make sure that those you are leading are having their interests taken care of and not damaged."
Prince Saud called for a "Middle East free of nuclear weapons with no exceptions for anybody, be it Israel or Iran".
Asked by the Telegraph if Saudi Arabia would seek nuclear weapons if Iran did, the Prince said: "We have made it very clear that we are not going down that road under any circumstances."