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Israeli-Arab Peacemaking Efforts Set

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By LAURIE COPANS
The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 8, 2007; 1:16 PM

JERUSALEM -- Efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking shift into higher gear in the coming week, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert traveling to Jordan and his foreign minister heading to Cairo to discuss a sweeping Arab peace proposal, an Israeli official said Tuesday.

Olmert's spokeswoman said the Israeli leader also would meet "very soon" with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The three meetings offer some counterbalance to a setback to recently invigorated U.S. involvement in the regional conflict. On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled an upcoming visit to the region because of the political turmoil caused by an Israeli commission's findings that Olmert and his government badly mismanaged last year's war in Lebanon.

Although Olmert survived the initial tempest the scathing report generated, he and his government have been badly weakened _ something that could hobble any bold moves to restart long-stalled peace efforts.

His visit to Jordan on May 15 will be his first trip abroad since the report was released last week. He is scheduled to meet with King Abdullah II in the ancient city of Petra on the sidelines of an annual Jordanian conference for Nobel laureates.

Chief Jordanian government spokesman Nasser Judeh said Abdullah would "focus on the Arab peace plan and ways to move the peace process forward."

"His Majesty said that he will spare no effort to revive the peace process and we believe that the upcoming visit will provide an opportunity to do so," Judeh told The Associated Press.

The plan _ introduced by Saudi Arabia in 2002 and revived at a recent Arab summit in Riyadh _ calls for full Arab recognition of Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in the 1967 Middle East War. It also calls for Palestinian statehood.

Israel has praised the broad land for peace concept but rejected the premise of a full withdrawal from captured lands. It also rejected Arab demands to repatriate Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants, on the grounds it would destroy Israel's character as a Jewish state.

On Thursday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni travels to Cairo to meet with her Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts to discuss the plan.

"She wants to see if it is possible to turn this into a tangible vehicle to promote the Middle East peace process," ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

If the Arabs are willing to modify the plan, it could become "a turning point in the history of the Middle East," Regev said.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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