On agenda: Palestinian state, Golan Heights, and Israeli-Lebanese peace.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Arab foreign ministers met Wednesday to promote a plan to revive the deadlocked Middle East peace process amid widespread Arab fears the recent war in Lebanon helped boost the influence of Iran and the militants it supports.
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said the 22-nation body will discuss a plan to request a ministerial meeting by the UN Security Council to advance efforts to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict, through direct talks among Israel, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians.
Bahrain's foreign minister, Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, who chaired Wednesday's meeting in Cairo, said in an opening speech that "a credible and real effort" is needed to put the peace process back on track.
But it's unclear what - if anything - the UN is prepared to do. And reaction from Israel and the United States also so far has been tepid.
In July, the Arab League announced that the Middle East peace process, based on the so-called Road Map, was dead and accused Israel and the United States of blocking efforts to resolve the conflict.
On Tuesday, Moussa discussed the plan with Kofi Annan during a stopover by the UN chief in Egypt.
Details about it remain sketchy, but according to a document obtained by The Associated Press, Arab nations are proposing an international conference under the sponsorship of the Security Council that would initiate direct negotiations between Israel, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians by the end of 2006.
Moderate Arab nations are worried that the 34-day conflict, in which the Iranian-backed Hizbullah guerrilla group is seen to have scored a victory by standing up to a punishing Israeli offensive, has strengthened Iran and radical groups across the region.
The document, sent to Annan and the Security Council, gives the world body's top decision-making organ a leading and supervisory role in the international conference.
"The Middle East peace process shouldn't be left open without a timetable; there must be an effective international mechanism to revive the peace process in the region," Moussa told reporters after meeting with Annan.
"We can't permit a return to vicious circles and end up with a big failure," he said.
However, the Security Council has made clear it wants to make sure that if it agrees to convene a ministerial meeting, the session will advance efforts to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict and not turn into another contentious debate.
Greece's UN Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, the current council president, said Tuesday that council members are still discussing whether to hold a meeting on the Middle East during the General Assembly's upcoming ministerial session because of concerns over what it would achieve.
He said if the council decides to hold a ministerial meeting, it will take place on Sept. 21.
"The situation in the Middle East does indeed deserve the urgent attention of the international community," Vassilakis told a news conference. "A well-organized and focused meeting may well be very useful in advancing the cause of peace in the region."
"But taking into consideration the sensitivity of the issue, everything has to be studied thoroughly and prepared so that whatever the Security Council finally decides to do will be helpful and fruitful," he said.
The Arab League believes the Security Council is the best place to launch a new Arab-Israeli peace effort whose goal would be to establish a Palestinian state, settle the Golan Heights issue with Syria, and promote Israeli-Lebanese peace after this summer's brutal conflict.
But Israel's UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman said last month he doubted a new Arab League initiative would fairly consider Israel's security needs.
Gillerman said the road map drafted by the US, the UN, the European Union and Russia remains the only viable option - disputing the Arab League's claim that it is dead.
The plan calls for simultaneous steps by the Israelis and Palestinians leading ultimately to a Palestinian state. But Israel and the Palestinians have failed to carry out the parallel steps in the peace plan, and it has languished.
The ministers are also to discuss the crisis in Sudan after the Khartoum government's refusal to allow a UN peacekeeping force to police the war-battered Darfur region.
Arab efforts to fund reconstruction in Lebanon will also be on their agenda.
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