security fence 88 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel has no intention of stopping work on the security barrier to lure Saudi Arabia to the US-sponsored conference on the Middle East later this year, senior diplomatic sources said Thursday night in response to comments made by the Saudi foreign minister in New York.
"Israel has its own security needs that we have to address," the official said. At the same time, the official characterized Prince Saud al-Faisal's comments, which included some upbeat remarks about the upcoming Mideast meeting, as "interesting," and added that Israel always listened to what the Saudis have to say.
The New York Times reported Thursday that Faisal said Israel should stop work on the security barrier and stop settlement activity as good-will gestures to assure Arab states and show it was serious about comprehensive peace talks.
Up until now, Israel has rejected Saudi conditions on participation in the talks. Jerusalem feels, however, that Saudi participation is critical in garnering Arab support to Israeli-PA negotiations.
Faisal stopped short, however, of making these "good-will gestures" conditions for Saudi participation, and also sounded an optimistic note about the meeting.
"It is not Saudi Arabia that puts conditions, or Saudi Arabia that is going to negotiate," he told reporters Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. "Its presence there, or non-presence, is not the most significant issue." Regarding the planned conference, he said, "We have been shown a canvas with some brushstrokes that have nice colors in them ... but we don't yet know if it is a portrait or a landscape that we are looking at."
Based on the discussions with US officials, "there is a sense there is something new happening and this is encouraging" if it turns out to be true, he said.
Faisal said that discussions indicated that "the intent is to look at the final-status issue - the important issues, and not the peripheral issues.
This is encouraging. This is what we have always asked for." He said that the onus lay on the Israelis to show their commitment to a comprehensive settlement and that they were willing to take confidence-building measures such as freezing settlement building.
"It will be curious for (Palestinian) President Abbas and the prime minister of Israel to be talking about peace and the return of Palestinian land while Israel continues to build more settlements," he said. "At least, a moratorium on the building of settlements will be a good signal to show serious intent."
While the US hopes that Saudi participation will put the kingdom
on a path to recognizing Israel, Faisal said this possibility was already outlined in the Arab peace initiative, which offers peace in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, including in Jerusalem and on the Golan Heights.
"Recognition comes, but comes after peace, not before peace," Faisal said.
The Prime Minister's Office had no formal response to the Saudi foreign minister's comments, waiting to see the full transcript, and context, of his remarks.
In a related development, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met Wednesday with Tunisian Foreign Minister Abdelwaheb Abdullah, and was expected to meet Thursday evening with her Moroccan counterpart. Israel would like to see both countries, considered part of the "moderate" Arab coalition, participate in November's planned conference.
Both meetings took place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting, which Livni is attending.
According to Livni's spokesman, the Foreign Minister briefed her Tunisian counterpart on the status of the current talks with the PA and spoke of the importance of the moderate Arab countries taking part in the process.
The meeting, the first with a Tunisian official at this level in a number of years, took place even though Israel and Tunisia have no formal diplomatic relations.
Livni also met on Wednesday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Despite the importance of Israel's relationship with Turkey, and the tension caused because Israeli fuel tanks were found on the Turkish side of the Turkish-Syrian border following Israel's alleged attack in Syria, the Foreign Ministry was mum on the content of that meeting.
The Turkish press, however, reported that the current Israeli-Syrian tensions, as well as the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, dominated the talks. There was no word, however, on whether the Anti-Defamation League's recent decision to characterize the massacre of Armenians in World War I as tantamount to genocide, a move that could impact adversely on Turkish-Israeli ties, was raised.
Livni held a breakfast meeting Wednesday with representatives of some 20 African states, and also met with Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani for talks that focused on the Iranian nuclear program and the situation inside the PA.
According to Livni's office, Giuliani said that were he still mayor of New York, he would not have given Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "free access and the platform" he received this week in the city.
AP contributed to this report.