This is at least a hopeful sign but unless Israel agrees to talk to the Palestine coalition government it is hard to see that it can get very far. At least the US is talking to Abbas still and Arab states are taking some positive steps.
Arabs head to Saudi summit to endorse Mideast peace
Tue Mar 27, 2007 6:36PM BST
By Wafa Amr
RIYADH, March 27 (Reuters) - Arab leaders arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday ahead of a summit set to revive a five-year-old plan to end decades of Israeli-Arab conflict at the heart of the region's problems.
The two-day Arab summit, due to open on Wednesday, is expected to renew an offer to the Jewish state of normal ties with all Arab countries if it withdraws from all territories it occupied in the 1967 war, accepts the creation of a Palestinian state and agrees to a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged Israel to seize on the Arab offer, describing it as a last chance for Israel to live in a "sea of peace" across the Arab and Islamic world.
"This initiative simply says to Israel 'leave the occupied territories and you will live in a sea of peace that begins in Nouakchott and ends in Indonesia'," Abbas said, referring to the Mauritanian capital in West Africa and the southeast Asian country that is the Muslim world's most populous.
"If this initiative is destroyed, I don't believe there will be another opportunity in the future like this."
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Monday the plan will have a strong chance of winning international support and of reviving Israeli-Arab peace talks if adopted unanimously by all Arab leaders at the March 28-29 summit.
The meeting will also tackle other crises, including the Iraq conflict that has divided Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims across the region and a political standoff between the Western-backed government and the pro-Iranian opposition in Lebanon.
Fears are also high among Sunni leaders that any U.S.-led attack on Iran, which has refused to comply with U.N. demands to halt atomic work, could further destabilise their region.
But draft resolutions, hammered out on Monday, are dominated by the Arab-Israeli conflict and appear designed to entice Israel into talks without altering the text of the peace plan.
The draft text obtained by Reuters calls on "all Israelis to accept the initiative and seize the current opportunity to return to direct and serious negotiating process at all levels."
'NO CONCESSIONS ON REFUGEES'
Israel has objected to some parts of the plan, including the proposed return to the 1967 borders, the inclusion of Arab East Jerusalem in a Palestinian state and demands for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes in what is now Israel.
The Islamist movement Hamas, which heads the Palestinian government, also has some reservations about the text.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was quoted by Saudi media as urging Arab leaders not to make concessions on the demand for the Palestinian refugees to return home.
Hamas demands a right to return for all Palestinians who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war. It has refused to recognise Israel, but Palestinian officials say it has agreed not to go against the peace plan.
The final draft avoids any mention of the phrase "right of return" for Palestinian refugees but calls for a just solution to the problem.
It also sets up a mechanism to promote the peace plan that could pave the way for Arab countries with no ties to Israel, including Saudi Arabia, to open channels of communications with the Jewish state -- a long-time goal of U.S. administrations.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Arab states needed to reach out to Israel in "active diplomacy".
"The Arab states should begin reaching out to Israel to reassure Israel that its place in the region will be more -- not less -- secure by an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state," she told a news Jerusalem conference.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will attend the summit, said on Monday that Israeli and Palestinian leaders, along with officials from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, could be invited to attend the next Quartet meeting, expected to take place in Egypt.
The "Quartet" of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia has been responsible for steering peace talks.
The Arab summit will also encourage the international community to end a political and financial embargo on the Hamas-led Palestinian unity government. (Additional reporting by Andrew Hammond)
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