Egyptian FM to hold talks in Israel

First visit by Arab League delegation expected soon; Rice due here in mid-July.

gheit 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
gheit 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israeli officials expect a visit by the Arab League delegation comprised of Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and his Jordanian counterpart Abdullah al-Khatib in the near future. This will be the first time that an Arab League team has visited Israel. On the agenda will be the Arab peace initiative of 2002 which was reaffirmed at an Arab League meeting in Riyadh in March. The Arab League peace plan calls for full normalization in ties with Israel in exchange for a withdrawal by Israel to the pre-1967 Green Line and a return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. Israeli officials have expressed willingness for talks over the initiative while expressing reservations over certain elements, notably on the refugee question. A visit from the delegation was expected earlier but plans were put on hold due to the violence in Gaza. Last week Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni renewed her invitation for the two Arab foreign ministers to visit. On Thursday, Aboul Gheit told reporters in Cairo he would visit Israel after meeting with US officials in Washington to push for discussion of the peace plan at an upcoming meeting of the Quartet. The Egyptian foreign ministry said in a statement that Aboul Gheit will visit Washington July 8-10 but did not provide a specific date for his trip to Israel. Aboul Gheit said he planned to push for Israeli support for the initiative during his visit. He said he will meet with Livni and also hopes to sit down with Israeli lawmakers and members of civil society. During these meetings, Aboul Gheit said he would explain to them the "Arabs' point of view" of the peace initiative. Foreign ministry officials in Jerusalem have also confirmed that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be visiting Israel on the 15th or 16th of July. A joint meeting of the Quartet, comprising representatives of the US, the European Union, Russia and the UN, and the so-called Arab Quartet of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is also scheduled to take place in July.