Saudi Arabia allays Arab fears of Israel recognition
RIYADH, (Arab News) — Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said yesterday that Arab states would not amend their 2002 offer to Israel of normal ties in return for Tel Aviv withdrawing from occupied land.
The Arab initiative offers Israel normal relations with all Arab states in return for withdrawal from land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War and a just and negotiated settlement for Palestinian refugees. Israel has repeatedly rejected the plan and says the Arabs may use it to impose a settlement on refugees and borders.
“There will be no amendment to the Arab peace initiative. We have said this 20 times before in the past and this is the last time I will say this,” Prince Saud told reporters here ahead of the March 28-29 Arab summit.
A day earlier, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said that changing the peace plan was not possible.
A Western diplomat said Israel and the United States want Arab countries to hold direct talks with Israel over peace terms rather than stick to the existing initiative, which sets Israeli withdrawal from land occupied in 1967 as a condition for peace.
But officials say Arab leaders have no intention of amending a plan they see as an unprecedented Arab peace offer to Israel.
“During the Arab summit preparatory meetings and setting the summit’s agenda, representatives of all Arab states agreed the Arab peace initiative would not be changed,” Palestinian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Jamal Al-Shobaki said.
Another Palestinian official who attended yesterday’s preparatory meetings said delegates from Syria, whose Golan Heights is under Israeli control, had been particularly insistent that the initiative not be watered down.
An aide to Mahmoud Abbas said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in the Middle East ahead of the summit, had asked the Palestinian president if the Arab plan was negotiable. “President Abbas said no,” the aide said.
Another senior Abbas aide said the Palestinians would propose at the summit to establish a committee of Arab states headed by Saudi Arabia to find ways to implement the peace plan.
In Egypt, Rice said the United States was not asking the Arabs to change their proposal but Arab states should do everything in their power to help bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. On Saturday, Rice held talks in Aswan with the foreign ministers of four Arab governments to promote what she is billing as a new US drive for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Prince Saud said that meeting had no impact on the summit. “The meeting in Aswan is not related to the Arab summit. It is an attempt to explain US efforts in the region,” he said.
Prince Saud said the Arab summit was expected to give full support to the Palestinian people and call for an end to the international blockade imposed since Hamas formed a Palestinian government in March 2006.
A senior Palestinian official said Hamas agreed not to express any opposition to the Arab plan. “Hamas will not contradict the Arab consensus, but will not voice a position on the Arab initiative,” the Palestinian official said, quoting Khaled Meshaal after the Hamas leader held talks with Saudi officials during a brief trip.
Majdi Al-Khalidi, an official in Abbas’ office who attended the preparatory meetings, said delegates had prepared the draft resolutions to be discussed by Arab foreign ministers today. “On the summit’s agenda is an article calling for reactivating the Arab peace plan, another calling for ending the international blockade on the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinians would ask the Arabs for financial aid of $55 million for a year for budgetary support,” Khalidi told Reuters.
Iraqi Vice President Tareq Al-Hashemi yesterday called for the summit to provide support for Iraq against foreign meddling.
“Arab leaders must have a strong role to back Iraq and avoid letting it fall prey to terrorism and external ambitions,” Hashemi said during talks in Jordan with King Abdallah, the palace said.
Hashemi, who arrived in Amman on Saturday night from a trip to Japan on his way back to Iraq, briefed the Jordanian monarch on the security situation in Iraq, it said.
Prominent among non-Arab leaders attending the summit will be President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.
— Additional input from agencies