Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Israel hears Arab peace proposal
The foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan are in Israel to present the Arab League's Middle East peace plan.

The two ministers are meeting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other Israeli officials.

They are trying to push forward an Arab peace plan that Israel has in the past treated coolly but which correspondents say it may now be willing to discuss.

New Middle East envoy Tony Blair said after visiting the West Bank he saw a "moment of opportunity" for peace.

'Common ground'

Egypt's Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Jordan's Abdel Ilah al-Khatib are presenting a long-standing Arab League initiative that was readopted at a meeting in Saudi Arabia recently.

We are extending a hand of peace on behalf of the whole region to you
Abdel Ilah al-Khatib

The initiative offers Israel normal ties with all Arab states in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, the creation of a Palestinian state and a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.

Israel dismissed the proposal on its launch in 2002, but has recently suggested it could be the basis for negotiations.

Mr Gheit said: "We hope that upon our return, we would also convey to the Arab League the responses of Israel, and I hope that the responses will be positive."

Mr Khatib said: "We are extending a hand of peace on behalf of the whole region to you."

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev welcomed the "historic" visit, saying: "We are willing to engage on the basis of their initiative and hopefully find common ground."

But Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa denied the ministers were representing the organisation.

"They are not acting under the banner of the Arab League. They are not going on behalf of the Arab League nor have they been sent as delegates by the Arab League.

"They represent two Arab countries that for certain circumstances entered into peace accords and official diplomatic relations," he said.

Some observers see the visit as part of growing diplomatic activity aimed at reviving the moribund Middle East peace process, says the BBC's Bethany Bell in Jerusalem.

It suggests, they say, that peace is still possible if moderate forces work together. But elsewhere, our correspondent says, there is deep pessimism about whether these steps are really leading anywhere, as well as concern about the massive divisions among the Palestinians.

On Wednesday, the Israeli Haaretz newspaper said Israel was considering an "an agreement of principles" with Palestinians that could establish a Palestinian state on 90% of occupied territory.

The paper said Israel would propose a tunnel linking the West Bank and Gaza, while there would also be a territory exchange allowing Israel to keep its main Jewish settlements.

Blair trip

In the US, King Abdullah of Jordan met President George W Bush at a private dinner in Washington.

The king urged Mr Bush to step up US efforts on Middle East peace.

A US administration official said Mr Bush remained "committed to two states, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security".

Meanwhile, Mr Blair, the former UK prime minister, is continuing his tour of the region.

He is due to visit Bahrain and Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

He said in the West Bank: "I think there is a sense of possibility at the moment. I think this is a moment of opportunity."
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/07/25 10:55:08 GMT


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