Israel should withdraw from Arab territory and allow the creation of a Palestinian state before Arabs recognize it, a Saudi official said Monday - the first Saudi statement on the issue since Prime Minister Ehud Olmert publicly invited Arab leaders to discuss their ideas for peace with him. Olmert specifically called on Saudi Arabia Sunday to take the lead, the first time Israel has made such a request of the Saudis, who maintain a state of war with Israel but are pushing for a peace deal. The Saudi official told The Associated Press that "before any meeting could be considered," Israel should accept the 2002 Arab peace initiative that would recognize Israel in exchange for withdrawal from captured territory and a just solution for the Palestinian refugees. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Unserious summit (March 30 editorial)
At a summit in Saudi Arabia last week, the Arab League renewed its commitment to the peace initiative, which was initially proposed by Saudi Arabia. Olmert welcomed the decision but said Israel did not accept all parts of the plan.
He said that if King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia were to invite him, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and moderate Arab leaders to a meeting "to present Saudi Arabia's ideas before us, we will come to hear them and be glad to offer our ideas."
Egypt's assistant foreign minister for Arab affairs, Hani Khallaf, was quoted as saying Monday that the Arab side cannot negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians. The Jordanian government did not make any immediate comments.
Syria had no immediate comment to the latest Israeli offer. At a meeting on Sunday, Olmert asked US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad that if Syria stops its support for terrorism, Israel would be interested in making peace.
In a March 22 interview with French television, Assad said seeking peace with Israel is a "firm principle," but stressed that the return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the Six Day War, was a Syrian right that would not be compromised.
"The land must be returned in full. Any other details are subject to negotiations but land is not. It is Syrian land," he said.