Egypt: Israel should accept Arab peace initiative
Egypt said on Sunday Arab nations were prepared to negotiate with Israel if Tel Aviv accepts their 2002 peace initiative as a starting point. But Arab states will not amend their initiative, which Israel claims it finds problematic, before Israel makes the first step, Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told a news conference.
The initiative offers Israel normal relations with all Arab states in return for withdrawal from land occupied in 1967 and a solution for Palestinian refugees.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is touring the Middle East and trying to persuade Arab states to make the plan more attractive to the Hebrew state by adding what she calls "active diplomacy" -- seen as code for early contacts with Israelis.
"The initiative is a tool for starting negotiations. It is offered for the Israeli party to take and deal with it so that we can set off in negotiations," the Egyptian minister said. "Of course the Arab side cannot make a proposal then amend it before taking up the matter with the other party. We are waiting for the Israeli side," he added.
Rice, speaking at the same news conference, said Washington was not asking the Arabs to change their proposal but Arab states should do everything to help bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. "I have not suggested amendment of the Arab initiative... What I have said is that I hope there will be a way to make it the basis for active diplomacy," she said.
Rice said: "That (the Arab initiative) is a useful step and we talked about how the Arab-Israeli side of this may indeed help to promote ... the establishment of a Palestinian state."
"I would hope that every state will search very deep to see what it can do at this crucial time," she added.