PM's Jordan visit to focus on Arab plan

FM Livni: Disengagement justified, but is not Israel's last pull-out.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet with Jordanian King Abdullah in Petra on Wednesday, at a gathering to honor Nobel laureates including Vice Premier Shimon Peres. This will be the first meeting between the two leaders since last summer, and top of the agenda will be the planned visit to Israel by an Arab League delegation set to discuss the League's peace plan. A date for the visit has still not been set. The delegation will be headed by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abdul Gheit and his Jordanian counterpart, Abdullah al-Khatib, and will mark the first time an Arab League team visits Israel. Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said Israel would welcome an expanded delegation including representatives from other Arab states but that this is a decision for the League. After talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and her Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts in Cairo on Thursday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni described the forthcoming visit as "historic." The Arab League reaffirmed its peace initiative of 2002 at a meeting in Riyadh in March. It calls for full normalization in relations with Israel in return for a withdrawal to the pre-1967 Green Line and the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendents to Israel. Peres said Israel was willing to enter into serious talks with the Arab League over the plan. Addressing a visiting American delegation on Friday, Peres suggested that Israel would make its own proposals in order to conduct serious talks and find common ground. Livni pledged in comments published Saturday that Israel would make further withdrawals from the West Bank to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state, but added that the process was being hindered by moderate Palestinian leaders' inability to rein in terrorists. In an interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, Livni said the 2005 pullback from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements would not be the last Israeli withdrawals from Palestinian areas. "I can assure you that Gaza is not the last step. We are convinced that to establish a Palestinian state, we have to withdraw from additional areas," she said. "We do not want to control the Palestinians." She did not detail the extent or timing of a future pullback. A source close to Olmert criticized Livni for her statements. "Even if the foreign minister speaks every day in the news about diplomatic progress, there is no chance for a diplomatic process without a wide consensus in Israel, and if she doesn't know this, she will learn it," the source said. National Union MK Zvi Hendel, who was evacuated from his home in Gush Katif in 2005, called Livni "a cheap imitation of the extreme Left who is trying to implement Meretz's platform." In a related story, Army Radio reported on Friday that Livni held a series of meetings with Military Intelligence Research Division head Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz during the Second Lebanon War last summer without Olmert's knowledge. They began meeting two days after the campaign started. Livni's associates said she initiated the meetings because Olmert had not included her in national security consultations. Shortly after meeting with Baidatz, Livni began developing a diplomatic plan aimed at ending the fighting. A source close to Olmert said there was nothing wrong with her meeting security officials but that doing it behind the prime minister's back was unacceptable. The source said the matter would be looked into, because it "requires correction." The report about the meeting came a day after Olmert's associates said he was considering asking the Winograd Committee to allow him to testify for a second time in order to respond to charges made by Livni to the panel that he said were false and helped create the impression that he mishandled the war.