Arab states threaten to rescind 2002 Saudi peace initiative
By The Associated Press Last update - 11:26 23/02/2008
CAIRO, Egypt - Arab officials are warning they could withdraw their landmark
offer of peace and full ties with Israel in exchange for a return of Arab
lands, unless Israel explicitly accepts the initiative.
The warnings reflect increasing Arab impatience with the long-stalled peace
process with Israel. Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians
have bogged down since they were relaunched at the U.S.-sponsored Annapolis
peace conference last November after a seven-year hiatus.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal - whose country sponsored the
Arab peace initiative, adopted by Arab nations in 2002 - warned Thursday
that despair would force us to review these options, including withdrawing
He accused Israel of sabotaging the initiative, which is now facing grave
The Arab plan offers Israel full recognition by the Arabs and peace, in
return for complete withdrawal from the lands Israel captured in the 1967
Six-Day War, as well as the establishment of an independent Palestinian
state with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also calls for Palestinian
refugees' right of return to their homes in Israel to be addressed.
Israel initially rejected the plan. Last year, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
praised the plan as showing a positive approach and said it would be taken
into account in the peace process. But he stopped short of accepting it and
rejected its call on refugees. Israel has also rejected the full withdrawal
called for in the plan, hoping to hang on to several settlement blocs in the
West Bank and to keep much of east Jerusalem, with its holy sites.
Arab leaders are planning to hold a summit in March in the Syrian capital,
Damascus, at which they are expected to reiterate their adherence to the
peace plan. But ahead of the gathering, they have stepped up their warnings
it could be rescinded.
The head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, said the Arabs extended the hand of
peace to Israel with the peace proposal but now face unprecedented Israeli
"The key to solving the Arab-Israeli issue is to hold serious negotiations,
not fictitious ones," he said.
Moussa's deputy at the League, Mohammed Sobeih, accused Israel of putting
the sole political initiative on the table at risk. "If Israel makes it
fail, they [Arabs] have to search for other options," Sobeih told reporters
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been marred by ongoing Israeli
construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas the Palestinians
want for their future state, as well as by the near-daily rocket barrages
into Israel from the militant Hamas rulers of Gaza and Israel's blockade of
the coastal strip.
The struggling talks have thrown into doubt hopes expressed by all sides at
Annapolis that a final settlement could be reached by December 2008.
Arab countries, including Syria, participated in the Annapolis gathering,
hoping that it meant a strong U.S. commitment to push forward
negotiations -and American pressure on Israel to make concessions. In recent
weeks, several Arab leaders have expressed frustration with the talks.
Saud, whose country is a close U.S. ally, blamed Israel during a gathering
of South American-Arab foreign ministers in Argentina on Thursday.
"It's unbelievable that we keep blaming the weak party in the equation,
which is the Palestinian people, with all the suffering they live under,
while ignoring what Israel does by expanding settlements, tightening the
siege, humiliating the Palestinians and carrying out a mass punishment
against them," al-Faisal said.
Egypt in particular fears a failure of the Palestinian-Israeli talks,
worried this may boost the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls
the Gaza Strip and could eventually saddle Egypt with the responsibility for
the Mediterranean area.
Egypt faced a tough test last month when hundreds of thousands of
Palestinians, blockaded in Gaza, streamed into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula after
Hamas blew holes in the border wall.
The breach ended Israel's tight blockade of the coastal strip, imposed a
week earlier in response to a spike in rocket attacks on Israeli border
towns. Egyptian troops resealed the border 12 days later.