Saudi Arabia's foreign minister suggested Monday that Arab leaders would be willing to consider changes in their 2002 peace offer to Israel to make it "compatible" with new developments. The statement from Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal came as Arab League foreign ministers convened Monday to prepare for a leaders summit later this week, expected to focus on how to revive Middle East peace efforts. Arab leaders have, until now, publicly rejected Israeli calls for them to make changes to the 2002 Arab peace offer.
Israel open to Arab peace initiative
But al-Faisal, in his opening remarks, suggested change was likely.
"It is expected from us to take notice of new developments, which require additions and developments in whatever is offered for our leaders about the issues and problems - in order for their resolutions to be compatible with what is dire and new," al-Faisal said.
"The kingdom is keen that this summit should come out with one Arab voice toward issues of destiny, and in particular the Palestinian issue," he added.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is believed to have been strongly pushing the Arab countries to offer some hope of changes in the plan, during her tour of the Middle East this week.
In signs that peace efforts were gathering steam, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday also welcomed the idea of a regional summit with moderate Arab leaders, saying he "would not hesitate" to attend.
Several other Arab diplomats said privately Monday that Arab leaders were seeking fresh ways to moderate their position without being seen as giving in to Israeli or American demands to change the 2002 offer.
The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions, said Arab countries including Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia would be proposing "a repackaging" of the deal.
Under that repackaging, the Arab leaders would insist that Israel accept the 2002 Arab peace plan in principle before returning to any talks, but would also agree that the Palestinians and Arab countries would be ready to soften their conditions once negotiations began, the diplomats said.
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, who spoke Monday at the foreign ministers' meeting in addition to al-Faisal, did not insist in his speech that the plan could never be changed. That was viewed as significant.
The offer, initiated in 2002 by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, offers Israel recognition and permanent peace with all Arab countries in return for full Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the Six Day War. It also calls for setting up a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital and allowing Palestinian refugees to return to former homes in Israel.
Al-Faisal said the recent formation of a Palestinian coalition government between Hamas and Fatah had "enhanced the chances for a unified Arab position based on the Arab peace initiative as the best framework to reach a comprehensive and just solution."
"The more clear the Arab position will be in this regard, the more chances will be for this initiative to be adopted by the international community...and the possibility to enter into negotiations," he said.