Israel: Arabs won't withdraw peace plan

Saudi FM accuses Israel of sabotaging "Saudi Initiative," which is now "facing grave danger."

Saud Al Faisal 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Saud Al Faisal 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israeli officials have dismissed as "a storm in a teacup" reports from Arab League officials that the organization may withdraw its 2002 peace plan unless Israel explicitly accepts the initiative. The warnings reflect increasing Arab impatience with the pace of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, whose country sponsored the Arab peace initiative, warned over the weekend that "despair would force us to review these options," including withdrawing the proposal. He accused Israel of "sabotaging" the initiative, which was now "facing grave danger." But Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev said, "Israel has welcomed the initiative and spoken of positive elements in the Arab League plan." There was no change in Jerusalem's position, he stressed. "Israel remains willing to have discussions with Arab states on the basis of the initiative and this is the time for the Arab world to back the peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians," Regev said. Israeli officials in the past have criticized Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa for being less positive when it came to peace efforts than the foreign ministers of individual Arab states. One Israeli diplomat described Moussa as "a traditional Nasserite." The Arab plan offers Israel full recognition and peace, in return for complete withdrawal from the lands Israel captured in the Six Day War and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, and for the right of return to Israel of Palestinian refugees and their descendents. Israel initially rejected the proposal. Last year, Olmert praised the plan as "showing a positive approach" and said it would be taken into account in the peace process. But he stopped short of accepting it and rejected its call on refugees. Arab leaders are to hold a summit in March in Damascus, at which they are expected to reiterate their adherence to the peace plan. But ahead of the gathering, they have stepped up their warnings it could be rescinded. Moussa said the Arabs "extended the hand of peace to Israel" with the peace proposal but now faced "unprecedented Israeli obstinacy." "The key to solving the Arab-Israeli issue is to hold serious negotiations, not fictitious ones," he said. Moussa's deputy at the league, Muhammad Sobeih, accused Israel of putting the "sole political initiative" on the table at risk. "If Israel makes it fail, they [the Arabs] have to search for other options," Sobeih said. Prince Saud blamed Israel during a gathering of South American and Arab foreign ministers in Argentina on Thursday. "It's unbelievable that we keep blaming the weak party in the equation, which is the Palestinian people, with all the suffering they live under, while ignoring what Israel does by expanding settlements, tightening the siege, humiliating the Palestinians and carrying out a mass punishment against them," Prince Saud said.