Amman proposes normal Israeli-Arabties before land return

IN ISRAEL / Door: WEBMASTER / 18 mrt 2005 GAZA GOLAN

Ha’aretz

By The Associated Press

ALGIERS – King Abdullah II of Jordan has put forward a new peace strategy that Arab diplomats said Friday would call for Middle East nations to normalize relations with Israel even before land seized in the 1967 war are returned.

The proposal, made for an Arab League summit that starts Monday, appeared to have little support among Arab nations. But it was a highly unusual move even to put such a plan before an Arab forum.

The Jordanian proposal includes a call for "an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict" and the establishment of normal relations "in return for a lasting and comprehensive settlement," according to an Arab diplomat who read the text to The Associated Press.

It is vaguely worded but – unlike a Saudi peace initiative adopted at the 2002 Arab summit held in Beirut – it omits any reference to United Nations resolutions and Arab demands calling for Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 borders and the right of return of refugees. The omission suggests the king, whose country has a peace deal with Israel, wants the Arabs to accept geographical changes Israel has made in the territories since 1967.

That would mark a major shift in Arab strategy, which has called for a full normalization of relations with Israel only after a complete peace, with the return of all Arab territories occupied by Israel.

"We are not altering any part of the Arab initiative. We are just trying to promote the Arab peace initiative as it was approved in Beirut in 2002," Jordanian Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulki told Reuters by telephone.

"We look forward to having it very well marketed among all the countries in the world."

Arab League officials said the proposal, which would revise the 2002 Saudi initiative, had little support. Syria has always staunchly opposed any normalization.

Palestinian delegates to the summit’s preparatory discussions said the Jordanian proposal "was not acceptable" because it ignores the "fundamental basis for a just and comprehensive settlement."

"This is like giving a thief more than he had already stolen," one senior Palestinian official told the AP.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa ruled out any change to the Saudi-proposed initiative, which he described as "the Arab term of reference" for peace with Israel.

"What is on the summit agenda is to revive the Arab peace initiative on the international level to represent the joint Arab position, especially with regard to Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 borders," he told reporters Thursday. "It is not expected to come down from this ceiling."

The Saudi plan offers a peace with all Arab nations conditional on the return of all land Israel seized from the Arabs in the six-day war of 1967, including East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Syria’s Golan Heights, in line with UN resolutions 242 and 338. It also calls for the creation of a Palestinian state and a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.

The Algiers summit, which begins Monday, comes at a particularly crucial time in the region, with Iraq trying to put together a government amid continuing violence, the bid to restart the Middle East peace process and the crisis in Lebanon. Another sensitive issue, reforming the Arab League itself, also is on the table.

Algerian authorities are on high alert ahead of the Arab League summit, deploying some 15,000 Algerian security forces in and around the capital ahead of the arrival of 20 Arab heads of state and some 3,000 officials.

Jordanian officials have refused to comment or give details on the proposal by Abdullah, who met this week in Washington with United States President George W. Bush.

Earlier this month, the Jordanian monarch said the Algerian summit should amend the Saudi initiative and take Israel’s fears into account in order to get it to make concessions.

"We were surprised that after the Beirut summit the plan had no effect on the Israeli society," Abdullah told French Channel II in a March 7 interview. "We might have to explain it in a better way."

"I think that the real price is Israel’s getting peace from the Arab states from Morocco (on the Atlantic) to Oman on the Indian ocean," he said. "Should we understand the fears of others, problems might be settled."

Arab diplomats told AP that Jordan’s envoy to the Arab League, Omar al-Rifaei, officially presented Abdullah’s proposal for discussion on Wednesday. Al-Rifaei refused to comment. Algerian envoy Abdel Gader Hajar said Abdullah’s proposal is on the summit’s agenda for further discussion.

The Saudi position on Jordan’s proposal was unclear. On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, dispatched his foreign minister to Algiers for talks with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Arab diplomats said both discussed the Jordanian proposal but no details emerged from the discussions.