Arab League team due for 1st-ever visit

Talks this week to focus on how to bolster Abbas; Livni meets PA prime minister.

arab league 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
arab league 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan are expected to lead an Arab League mission to Israel this week for talks on the Arab peace initiative adopted in 2002 and readopted at an Arab League summit in Riyadh in March, a Foreign Ministry source said. The first visit by an official delegation from the 22-member organization was described by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni as "historic." Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit are expected to hold talks on the Arab peace proposal and how to bolster Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in his power struggle with Hamas. The peace plan proposes full Arab recognition of Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from lands it captured in the Six Day War. The government has welcomed the plan in principle, but says some aspects, such as the call for resettling Palestinian refugees in Israel, are unacceptable. Israeli officials would not confirm a date for the visit, but Jordan's foreign ministry said Khatib and Aboul Gheit would arrive in Jerusalem on Thursday for talks with Israeli officials - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "This is the first time the Arab League is coming to Israel," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. "From its inception, the Arab League has been hostile to Israel. It will be the first time we'll be flying the Arab League flag." According to the League's secretary-general, Amr Moussa, "the upcoming visit of Egypt's and Jordan's foreign ministers to Israel, upon the request of the Arab committee on the peace initiative, is to conduct necessary contacts with Israel." Livni held talks on Sunday night in Jerusalem with PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. It was their first meeting since Fayad was appointed prime minister following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. A Foreign Ministry official said the talks focused on ways of improving the day to day lives of Palestinians while safeguarding Israeli security. Livni stressed that the new government headed by Fayad is showing determination to change the Palestinian reality on the ground. Earlier, at the cabinet meeting, Livni said, "It is possible and necessary to enlist the Arab world by presenting an option that would strengthen the Palestinian government." Shortly after the Arab League delegation visit, Olmert is expected to meet with Abbas. Israeli and Palestinian teams are still working on the agenda for the talks, which are tentatively set for next week. An official in the Prime Minister's Office said the two leaders would discuss security and humanitarian issues, and a "political horizon" for the Palestinians. AP contributed to this report.