Arab leaders split over peace moves

Amr Moussa: No deals with Netanyahu until settlement construction ends.

Amr Moussa 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Amr Moussa 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Arab leaders argued on Sunday over the way to achieve peace in the Middle East as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu headed to the White House for his first official meeting with US President Barack Obama. Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, said on Sunday that Arab states should refuse to have any dealings with Netanyahu until there is a complete freeze on settlements. "They must not meet with him if building in the settlements continues and if demolitions of homes in Arab villages continue," Moussa said at the World Economic Forum in Shuneh, Jordan, on Sunday. "This will change the demographic balance and undermine our cause." Moussa said that halting settlement construction "must be a precondition" to a meeting between Netanyahu and any Arab leader. "If they meet with him, they will be publicly rejecting the two-state solution, and therefore the freezing of all settlement building must be a prerequisite," he said. "Otherwise, we Arabs will be undermining our own cause." Israel has agreed to limit new building in the settlements to the "natural growth" of families already living there, but according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, one-third of the population growth in the settlements during 2006-7 was due to new arrivals. Moussa's remarks appeared to be a public rebuke to Jordanian Prime Minister Nadr al-Dahabi, who had said earlier that Israel's security was of the utmost importance and could be guaranteed through negotiations. Jordan's King Abdullah II met with Netanyahu last week, as did Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The split came amid predictions of a showdown between Netanyahu and Obama, following the US president's repeated declarations of support for a Palestinian state. Obama has described himself as "a strong supporter of a two-state solution," but Netanyahu has refused to publicly endorse the creation of a Palestinian state since he was elected in February. Also speaking at the gathering in Shuneh, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israel of promoting "Iranophobia" in the Middle East, calling it the real threat to stability in the region. "I have come to the World Economic Forum to say that Israel is behind the Iranophobia plot and is seeking to depict Iran as the main threat to the security and economy of the region," he told Iran's Mehr News Agency. "Everybody should be aware that the only threat in the region is Israel's occupation and not Iran." Mohamed ElBaradei, the outgoing chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also weighed in on the issue during an interview with the German Der Spiegel, released over weekend. "It would be completely insane to attack Iran," ElBaradei said. "That would turn the region into one big fireball, and the Iranians would immediately start building the bomb - and they could count on the support of the entire Islamic world." Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon ruled out an independent Israeli strike against the Iranian nuclear program. "In my opinion, Israel won't act against Iran without coordinating with the US," Ayalon said, "but we expect the Americans to coordinate with us as well. It's possible to stop Iran, which hasn't yet crossed the 'point of no return,' through diplomatic means." Cabinet minister Gilad Erdan, a senior member of the Likud, said Iran was at the top of Israel's Washington agenda. "The central issue from our point of view is to prevent Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons," Erdan told Israel Radio. He added, however, that Netanyahu was also seeking progress on the Palestinian track. "We say it in the clearest manner. We have no interest in controlling the lives of the Palestinians. We want to make their lives easier. We are interested in opening up roadblocks. We want to do everything so that the people here can live side by side," Erdan said. "We need education for peace and co-existence," he continued. "What is happening in Israel is not happening on the Palestinian side and that is the fundamental obstacle to peace in the region in the future."