Israel deputy PM: Saudi peace plan - a step forward
Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said Tuesday that a Saudi initiative for Middle East peace was a step forward -- but only a starting point for negotiations.
The peace plan calls for the Arab world to establish "normal" relations with Israel in return for Israel withdrawing from all Arab land occupied in 1967. Peres, visiting Tokyo, said the proposal still contained "some pre-conditions" such as on the status of Palestinian refugees.
"We need to negotiate without prior conditions, but none of us can force the other a priori," Peres was quoted as saying by AFP. "It is the opening position, not the fallback position," he said of the Saudi initiative.
Peres compared the initiative with Arab leaders' Khartoum Declaration in the wake of the 1967 War which ruled out recognition of Israel. "If you look backward, if you look at the Khartoum Declaration," Peres said, "then this is progress." "But they cannot put conditions before the negotiations start," he said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on a visit to Washington Monday urged Arab nations to establish ties with Israel immediately, saying it would hasten the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "You have the power to change reality and to encourage the Palestinians to embrace co-existence," Livni said in a speech before a pro-Israeli lobbying group in Washington.
Like Peres, Livni voiced reservations about the Saudi plan's clauses on refugees. The plan would give a right of return to Palestinians who fled or were forced out when Israel was created in 1948 and rule out their permanent settlement in Arab states where they or their descendants live.
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