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French Version

Egypt, Jordan to drum up Israeli support for peace

Arab foreign ministers asked Egypt and Jordan on Wednesday to contact Israelis and try to persuade them to accept an Arab peace plan offering normal relations in return for land and a Palestinian state.

"Egypt and Jordan, the two Arab parties which retrieved their lands [from Israel], will undertake efforts to revive the Arab peace initiative and facilitate direct negotiations," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told a news conference after a special ministerial meeting on the peace plan in Cairo.

Asked when contacts would start, the minister said: "It could be tomorrow [Thursday] or within a week. It will be up to Egypt and Jordan."

The Israeli government had hoped that the Arabs would include other governments in the Arab League working group set up to promote the plan with the Jewish state.

But Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said a larger Arab delegation would only negotiate after certain conditions had been met.

"There is no free normalization [of relations]," he said.

"Once Israel stops its practices in the Occupied Territories, mainly lifting the sanctions on the Palestinian people, halting the building of settlements and the building of the wall ... then a larger working group will be formed to contact the Israeli government," Moussa said.

But Saud, asked if his country might join the expanded working group, said: "No."

"We reiterate our call to the government of Israel and all Israelis to accept the peace initiative and to seize the opportunity for a resumption of the process of direct and serious negotiations on all fronts," he said.

A spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would give the Arab delegation a hearing.

"We will be happy to listen to the Arab initiative ... We will not dictate to anybody what they need to say to us, and we will express our positions and will be happy to do so to the representatives," said spokeswoman Miri Eisin.

The Arab peace plan was relaunched at an Arab summit in Riyadh last month.

The meeting Wednesday was attended by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and Palestine.

The meeting set up another working group of eight Arab foreign ministers and the Arab League chief to make broader contacts elsewhere. Members of the group are Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

It will contact the United Nations Security Council, the United States, the European Union, Russia and a wide range of international organizations and drum up support for the initiative, Prince Saud said.

Olmert told a key parliamentary committee on Wednesday that the US was considering the possibility of a summit including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Palestinians, the United States and others.

The US State Department played down the likelihood of such a meeting, saying nothing imminent was planned.

"It's an idea that's out there and it might be ... a geometry that might work in the future. It is not one that is being contemplated for the immediate future," a spokesman said.

Jordanian King Abdullah II on Wednesday called Olmert to stress the importance of keeping the peace process moving and drawing up a timetable for a comprehensive solution.

Abdullah stressed "the need to maintain the momentum [to relaunch] the peace process and agree on a precise timetable for concrete results based on the two-state solution and the Arab peace initiative," the official Petra agency said.

Egypt and the Arab League have dismissed speculation that the two-member working group will negotiate details of the plan with Israel, saying that is up to Arab governments which have territorial claims - Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians.

The Arab peace initiative dates back to an Arab summit in Beirut in 2002 but Israel had rejected the terms as too demanding.

The Daily Star

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