(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, keen on a diplomatic breakthrough with Saudi Arabia, stressed the positive impact a Saudi role in the diplomatic process could have on moderates in the Palestinian camp at a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier Monday, hours before Steinmeier flew to Riyadh.
Although officials in Olmert's office would not say whether he asked Steinmeier to pass along an explicit message to the Saudis, the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement saying that he "views as positive the developments in the Arab world, led by the moderate Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, and notes their willingness to bring about a peace agreement that includes recognition of the State of Israel."
Olmert "emphasized the central role of Saudi Arabia, which has great influence on the Palestinians and on the moderate Arab states," in the statement.
In closed meetings, the prime minister has recently reiterated his interest in meeting Saudi King Abdullah to give a boost to moderate Palestinians and to weaken support for Hamas and its refusal to recognize Israel.
During the meeting with Steinmeier, however, Olmert reiterated that Israel unequivocally rejected the so-called Palestinian right of return as expressed in the Arab peace initiative.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is expected to repeat this message when she meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdelelah Al-Khatib in Cairo on Thursday. Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said this meeting was not in lieu of a meeting that Jordanian and Egyptian officials are expected to hold with Israel in the near future about the Arab initiative.
The Arab League designated Egypt and Jordan, which have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state, as its interface with Israel on the plan.
Israel's position is clear: it prefers bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians.
Steinmeier, meanwhile, invited Livni to discuss Israel's view of the diplomatic process at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in June.
"I told Tzipi today that I'd like the Israeli foreign minister to seize the opportunity, to present her views to the European foreign ministers one more time," he said at a joint press conference with Livni after they met on Monday. German holds the rotating EU presidency until June 30.
A delegation of Arab League officials is scheduled to meet with European foreign ministers in Brussels next week to discuss the Arab plan, and diplomatic officials said they thought the invitation to Livni was an effort to keep the Arab peace initiative and the diplomatic process alive, despite the diplomatic turmoil in Israel.
That turmoil has, however, already had some effect, as officials in Jerusalem said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was originally expected here in mid-May, had postponed her visit, waiting for things to settle down a bit politically before returning to Jerusalem.