Arab league 298.88 AP.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Jerusalem is receiving mixed messages regarding whether the Arab states will drop a clause calling for Palestinian refugees to return to Israel in the diplomatic initiative they are expected to relaunch at a summit in Saudi Arabia later this month, diplomatic officials said Sunday.
While Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the plan would not be altered, the officials said other Arab diplomats have been quoted recently as saying that they would work to drop the clause, a move that would make the initiative more palatable to Israel.
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There are forces in the Arab world that want to revise the proposal, the officials said. The Saudis, along with the Jordanians and Egyptians, are keen to see an initiative adopted that would be acceptable to large segments of the Israeli political map, they said.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said there were "positive elements" in the 2002 Saudi initiative; Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said it could be the basis for negotiation; and Defense Minister Amir Peretz has come out in favor of it.
Moussa, however, told the Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo Sunday ahead of the two-day Arab League summit, "The Arab peace initiative expresses an Arab consensus and will not be redrafted as demanded by some foreign powers."
"Maneuvering and watering down [the initiative] would be a strategic mistake," Moussa said. "It perhaps will lead to new bloodshed."
On Thursday, Livni said the 2002 initiative was unacceptable because of its call for Palestinian refugees to return to Israel. Her comments to a Palestinian newspaper, diplomatic officials stressed, were made in response to a question and did not constitute the beginning of an Israeli campaign to influence the initiative.
Any such attempt, the officials said, would doom the initiative.
Livni said that while Israel took a positive view of the original initiative put forward by Saudi King Abdullah, it could not accept the version approved by the Arab League at a summit in Beirut later that year because it called for the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.
The Saudi plan calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state and recognition of Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal from all territory captured in the Six Day War.
US diplomatic officials said after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's inconclusive talks with Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas here last month that the US would focus in the coming weeks on getting Saudi Arabia to play a more significant role in the diplomatic process, and perhaps getting it to relaunch its initiative.
The officials said relaunching the land-for-peace initiative would give the Israeli public a view of a "political horizon" that it could expect if there were a reinvigorated diplomatic process.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia announced that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had expressed support for the initiative during talks with Saudi officials, though Iran later denied the plan was discussed.
Saudi Arabia's official news agency reported on Sunday that Ahmadinejad expressed support for the 2002 initiative during talks with King Abdullah in Riyadh on Saturday. But further details about the talks were not released, and Iran's state media reported that an Iranian official denied that the initiative was even discussed.
AP contributed to this report.