Israel, US want changes in Saudi plan

Problematic issues involve the repatriation of Palestinian refugees.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Israel and the US are hoping for a change in the Arab peace initiative at the upcoming Arab League summit in Riyadh to enable reigniting the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, senior Israeli diplomatic officials said Monday. According to the officials, the summit and the Arab initiative will be high on the agenda of talks Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is scheduled to have Wednesday in Washington with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In an Israel Radio interview from Washington Monday, Livni, echoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from the day before, praised certain aspects of the February 2002 Saudi initiative. That initiative called in very general terms for Israel to fully withdraw from to the 1967 lines in return for the full normalization of ties with the Arab world. Livni said that unfortunately, when the Saudi initiative was brought to the Arab League in Beirut a month later, two new articles were added that were "very problematic" for Israel - one that talked of a repatriation of Palestinian refugees, and another article that emphasized that a solution to the refugees should not be found in the countries where they presently resided. "This contradicts the two-state concept," Livni said. "Our argument for a long time has been two national states - one Jewish state, the national home of the Jewish people, and the Palestinian state, when it is established, is the solution for the Palestinian people, including the refugees." A senior diplomatic official said that if the statement that may come out of Riyadh did not adjust the two problematic clauses, then "it wouldn't mean anything." Livni also indirectly addressed the Saudi initiative in a speech she delivered Monday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference, saying that the moderate Arab states should not wait for peace to normalize ties with Israel. "I call on Arab and Moslem states - those who condition their relations with Israel on the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - not to wait any more," Livni said. "You have the power to change reality, and to encourage Palestinians to embrace coexistence. Do not wait for peace to come before you normalize relations with us - normalize now and peace will come." Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said that her message was clear: that were the moderate Arab states like Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states to begin normalizing ties with Israel now, it would both empower the moderates among the Palestinians and lead to more Palestinian flexibility. During her address, Livni urged the international community to demonstrate resolve throughout the Middle East. "The Middle East is a tough neighborhood. And when there is a bully in this neighborhood there are only two choices, to beat it or to join it," she said. Livni said that the Middle East was a region "where images matter, and where the perception of weakness can have far-reaching consequences. If we appease the extremists - if they feel that we are backing down - they will sense victory and become more dangerous not only to the region, but to the world." Livni said this principle was true concerning Iran, Iraq and across the Middle East. "And it is why it is so important for the international community, with American leadership, to project strength, to demonstrate absolute determination in achieving its objectives and absolute commitment to its values," she said.