Arab states decide not to change peace offer to Israel
An international diplomatic drive for Mideast peace gained momentum Monday, as Saudi Arabia suggested it would consider changes in a 2002 peace initiative to make it more acceptable to Israel.
The signs of progress came ahead of an Arab summit in Saudi Arabia later this week, where the Saudis are expected to relaunch a 2002 proposal calling for a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Arab world.
Israel rejected the plan when it was first launched, objecting to its calls for a full withdrawal from all territories occupied in the 1967 Mideast War, including east Jerusalem. Israel also strongly opposes the plan's endorsement for the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to properties in what is now Israel.
But recently, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and other Israeli leaders have said the Saudi plan could be a good starting point for negotiations.
In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister suggested Monday that Arab leaders would be willing to consider changes in the 2002 peace offer to make it "compatible" with new developments. "It is expected from us to take notice of new developments, which require additions and developments," al-Faisal said.
"The kingdom is keen that this summit should come out with one Arab voice toward issues of destiny, and in particular the Palestinian issue," he added, according to the AP.
Arab leaders had previously publicly rejected Israeli calls for them to make changes to the peace offer.
Following a meeting of Arab foreign minsiters in Saudi Arabia on Monday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdelelah al-Khatib said the proposal would be presented without any changes. "The Arabs have agreed to reactivate the Arab initiative without changes," al-Khatib told Reuters. "We reiterated that all Arab nations will adhere to the initiative as it is."
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem also told AFP that the Arab plan was endorsed "as is."
Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian diplomat involved in preparations for the Arab summit said he didn't expect major changes in the Saudi initiative. "These articles are going to be a direct call to Israel to accept the Arab peace initiative, as it is, and that Arab countries will commit themselves in front of the international community to start a mutual implementation of this Arab initiative," he said.