Arab Leaders to Renew Mideast Peace Plan

The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 27, 2007; 10:53 PM

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Tuesday that Israel should accept a broad land-for-peace offer that Arab leaders plan to revive at a summit here this week, expressing frustration at Israel's hesitation over the initiative.

Saudi Arabia and other U.S. Arab allies hope the peace plan can build momentum for a resumption of the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal took a tough stance, suggesting Israel must also show more flexibility.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has toured the region in the past weeks, urged Arab nations to show a readiness to alter their peace offer enough to convince Israel it could be a basis for negotiations.

The initiative, the centerpiece of the summit starting Wednesday, offers Israel recognition and permanent peace with all Arab countries in return for full Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war. It also calls for setting up a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital and a "just solution" to the issue of Palestinian refugees forced out of lands in what is now Israel.

Israel rejects a full withdrawal from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and it strongly opposes the influx of large numbers of Palestinian refugees into the Jewish state.

Israel rejected the Arab initiative when it was first made in 2002, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last week his country was willing to accept it with some changes, particularly if demands on Palestinian refugees were watered down.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal hinted on Monday that Arab leaders could consider amendments, saying they had to "take notice of new developments."

But in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, al-Faisal appeared to back off, saying, "What has changed in order for the proposal to change?"

An Arab diplomat said Saudi Arabia had been hoping Olmert would show a stronger willingness to restart peace talks on the Arab proposal in order to give the Arabs leeway to show flexibility. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the diplomatic maneuvering.

Al-Faisal appeared disappointed with the Israel stance, saying Israel had to change its "fortress" mentality "that force will achieve what they need in terms of security." He said the Arabs were serious and unanimous in their offer, and "now it depends on the other side to do the rest."

"We want to have peace. That is the best solution for the problem," he said.

"If Israel reaches an agreement on redeployment from Arab lands," he said, "then there will be peace signed between all the Arab countries. But not before."

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