Arab League refuses to change plan

Moussa urges Israel not to reject offer; Jerusalem reserves judgment.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Israel adopted a low-key, wait-and-see approach Wednesday night to the Arab League's unanimous decision to relaunch without changes its land-and-refugee-for-peace initiative from March 2002. The Prime Minister's Office responded to the Arab League decision taken earlier in the day in Riyadh by saying that Israel would "study in detail the initiative and see if there is anything new, any changes, and then respond." According to an AFP report, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit confirmed the heads of state adopted all resolutions submitted by their foreign ministers, including relaunching the peace initiative. The report said that in the resolution the Arab leaders "reaffirm the commitment of all Arab states to the Arab peace initiative as approved at the Beirut summit in 2002 in all its elements."
  • Analysis: Palestinians want more than rhetoric
  • Analysis: Are the Saudis seeking peace? Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa urged Israel not to immediately submit its reservations to the initiative, as it had done in 2002 when the plan was first proposed. Following the approval, Moussa said the Middle East was at a "critical junction." "If we don't move forward, we will witness an escalation (of violence) in the region," he said. In recent weeks Israel had sent signals to the Arab League urging it to change two articles in the initiative viewed in Jerusalem as enshrining the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel. Initial reports from the summit indicated that there was no alteration in the original initiative. The initiative also calls for a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines and establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem in return for a peace agreement, an end to the conflict and normal relations. Moussa rejected amending the peace offer, saying, "They tell us to amend it, but we tell them to accept it first, then we can sit down at the negotiating table." But he said the Arabs must "do more to convince" the Israelis on the offer. The summit will create "working groups" to promote the offer in talks with the US, UN and Europe - and perhaps Israel. The summit's final resolution calls on Israel to accept the initiative and "seize this opportunity to resume serious, direct negotiations on all tracks." Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt hope the working groups can negotiate behind the scenes to make the initiative more palatable to Israel and the West and the basis for restarting talks. Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib told the Arab daily Al-Hayat there was a "potential" that the working groups could hold direct talks with Israel. Much depends on the makeup of the working groups, which could be the source of dispute at the summit. Some have spoken of restricting the membership to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. But Syria - which opposed changing the initiative - may also seek to join, fearing it will be sidelined by the moderates. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at a press conference with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier in the week he would attend a regional conference if invited. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, a guest at the Riyadh summit, said both sides should show flexibility. "The important thing is to get the negotiations started. In any negotiations there are changes in positions, because negotiations are like that," he said. Despite the apparent Arab refusal to change the language, one senior official said Israel would not reject the document out of hand. In the next few days Israel will likely hone in on the positive elements of the document, overlooking the problematic aspects to try to distinguish how much flexibility the initiative provides. "What we are hearing is that the Arab countries are openly talking about resolving the conflict through dialogue and through recognition of Israel," the official said. "That is positive." But in a Daily Telegraph interview Wednesday, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud warned that the "lords of war" would decide Israel's future if it rejected a peace plan "crafted by the entire Arab world." "What we have the power to do in the Arab world, we think we have done," he was quoted as saying, "so now it is up to the other side because if you want peace, it is not enough for one side only to want it. Both sides must want it equally. "If Israel refuses, that means it doesn't want peace and it places everything back into the hands of fate. They will be putting their future not in the hands of the peacemakers but in the hands of the lords of war." The prince said there wouldn't be any further diplomatic overtures towards Israel. "It has never been proven that reaching out to Israel achieves anything, other Arab countries have recognized Israel and what has that achieved? The largest Arab country, Egypt, recognized Israel and what was the result? Not one iota of change happened in the attitude of Israel towards peace." Vice Premier Shimon Peres, in a meeting he held with visiting British parliamentarians, responded to Saud's statements by saying that "there are disagreements between us on a number of issues. The question is how they are overcome - through attempts to dictate terms, or through negotiations. They will come with their positions, and we will come with ours. We will discuss them and reach an agreement as we did with Egypt and Jordan." Jonny Paul and AP contributed to this report.