Mitchell urges Arab 'steps' for peace

US envoy: Arab plan includes "responsibilities"; Egyptian FM: Israel should first take its own steps.

mitchell gheit 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
mitchell gheit 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
US Mideast envoy George Mitchell on Thursday urged Arab states to take "meaningful steps and important actions" toward peace with Israel. Mitchell was speaking after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in Cairo. Mitchell arrived in Cairo after meetings in Israel and the Palestinian territories over the last few days, and reiterated Washington's stance that a two-state solution was the only way to resolve the Middle East conflict. "We are working hard to achieve our objective, a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel," Mitchell told reporters. This included "peace between Israel and its other immediate neighbors and full normalization of relations between Israel and all of the Arab nations as contemplated by the Arab peace initiative," he said. Mitchell also stressed the two sides' obligations under the 2003 Road Map peace plan that calls for a cessation of Palestinians violence and incitement, as well as Israeli settlement activity. "Israelis and Palestinians have responsibility to meet their obligations under the Road Map. It is not just their responsibility. We believe it is in their interest as well," he said. "As President [Barack] Obama said here in Cairo just last week, the Arab states have an important role to play ... We regard the Arab peace initiative as an important proposal that we are trying to integrate into our effort. "Proposing the initiative was just the beginning; it brings with it responsibilities to join in taking meaningful steps and important actions that will help us move towards our objective." But Aboul Gheit said that Arab states would take steps toward normalization once they saw Israel take its own "serious and real" steps. "Any Arab act must be matched by an act," Aboul Gheit said in answer to a question on what exactly was meant by "meaningful Arab steps." "There must be a substantial Israeli act which consists of a complete end to settlement activity and the withdrawal of the Israeli army from all [West Bank] towns and the end of the [Gaza] blockade. "If we see serious and real Israeli steps we think that Arab parties will also be prepared to return to the situation existing before 2000," he said. "If the peace process moves forward, Egypt will not be against... Arab acts to encourage the Israeli side to advance still further on the path of peace." Aboul Gheit emphasized that the 2002 Arab peace initiative must work both ways. "If Israel wants concessions from the Arab side and for Arab countries to first start applying all of the Arab initiative, that will not be the path to peace, because this will mean leaving the Palestinians to deal with Israel on their own, and [Israel] would already have obtained what they wanted." Mitchell is set to arrive in Beirut later Thursday before traveling to Damascus in what will be his first trip to Syria as Obama's envoy.