Olmert: We'll talk to the Arab League

Discussions on Saudi plan will be limited to states with ties to Israel.

arab league 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
arab league 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert confirmed Sunday that he intended to engage in dialogue with representatives of the Arab League on the basis of the Saudi peace initiative, but emphasized that such discussions did not constitute an Israeli acceptance of all the principles of the initiative. "The discussions are a way of solving the problems without violence, and that's a positive thing," Olmert said at the beginning of Sunday's cabinet meeting. Olmert reiterated during the meeting that he accepted parts of the Saudi initiative. "As I said before, and as the foreign minister and the defense minister said, there are positive aspects to the Saudi initiative and we view those elements favorably," Olmert said.
  • PA: Little hope for PM-Abbas summit Elaborating on his meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, set for Sunday afternoon, Olmert said that their discussions would include the various obligations which were committed to when they both met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "We will discuss several issues," Olmert said. "The Palestinian Authority's struggle against terrorism, and of course the commitment that Abbas made to me about the unconditional release of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit. That is one thing that I won't drop and it won't be dropped from the agenda." Israel's dialogue with Arab League representatives would mark the first time Israel and an Arab League body have held diplomatic contacts, but the discussions would be limited to Arab League states that have ties with Israel: Egypt, Jordan and Qatar. However, sources cautioned that Israel had still not received any formal invitation to take part in working group discussions, and the Arab League had not yet set up the group. A top-level meeting was held at the Foreign Ministry last week to discuss the question after an approach from Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abdul Gheit, who told Jerusalem the League wanted to engage Israel. Olmert, however, will reject out of hand any request from Abbas for the Palestinians to assume security control over West Bank towns when the two men meet Sunday afternoon. An official in the Prime Minister's Office told The Jerusalem Post the Palestinians first had to prove that they were capable of combating terrorism and stopping Kassam rocket fire in the Gaza Strip, as well as ending the arms smuggling from Egypt before Israel would even consider extending Palestinian security control to West Bank towns. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will also participate in Sunday's meeting, which will take place at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem. Although Israel has received a list of prisoners the Palestinians want released in return for kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Schalit, the issue will not feature prominently at the meeting, as Israel believes Abbas has no control over the details of a prisoner swap. Israel is willing to discuss issues related to the "political horizon" outlined by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she visited the region last month, such as the economy of a future Palestinian state and the rule of law. But Olmert will refuse to discuss final-status issues such as borders, water and Jerusalem. Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem also dismissed US reports that final-status talks may commence this summer, stressing that the Palestinians must first endorse the Quartet's three conditions. Livni will travel to Jordan immediately after tomorrow's meeting with Abbas for talks with her Jordanian counterpart Abdullah al-Khatib. She will update him on the talks in Jerusalem and discuss the Riyadh summit, including the possible Israeli participation in the Arab League working group. The Dead Sea area talks in Jordan come ahead of a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo on Thursday, and are the first bilateral contacts since the Riyadh conference.