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French Version

Israel snubs Arab initiative, again : No breakthrough at Algiers Summit

Israel rejected Wednesday the peace initiative that was proclaimed by the Arab summit in Algiers, and termed it “unacceptable”. A senior Israeli official criticized the Arab League for showing “illusion of unity” among its members and rejected the initiative for its “disfavor of all the advances that were made earlier by Egypt and Jordan,” as he was referring to the peace treaties that Israel signed with these two Arab countries.

According to the initiative, Arab countries would normalize diplomatic ties with Israel once the Jewish State returns all the occupied Arab land and recognizes the establishing of an independent Palestinian State. “The summit proved it is out of touch with reality and in a delicate situation regarding developments in the Arab world,” the Israeli official was quoted to say by AFP. The summit ended its sessions on Wednesday with the Arab leaders’ renewed recognition of the peace initiative that was proclaimed first by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdel Aziz in the Beirut Arab Summit in 2002. The leaders also reiterated the need to implement the internationally recognized “roadmap”, which was approved by the Quartet—the United State, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United Nations—three years ago. Arab leaders agreed to better market their peace plan for Israel by explaining it to members of the Quartet as well as other nations. The summit earlier rejected a Jordanian proposal that offered Israel gradual naturalized relations based on its commitment to return all the occupied lands.

The leaders, instead, offered Israel normal relations only in exchange for its full withdrawal from East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and Lebanon’s Shaba’a farms, with the creation of an independent Palestinian state and a just solution to the Palestinian refugees. Algerian President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika made it clear by saying that peace with Israel “remains an Arab strategic option”. But said that such peace should be based on Israel’s returning all territories it seized in the 1967 war. Amr Mousa, the Arab League’s secretary general, told the summit that Israel should not expect “Arab concessions without anything real in return”. He stressed that there should be “exchanged commitments” between Israel and the Arab countries, “where we can reach a balanced peace after closing the conflicting issues in order to establish relations in parallel with the Israeli withdrawal and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.” The Arab leaders designated a special committee that would represent the Arab League to market the Arab peace initiative around the world.

It aims at promoting the initiative, which was rebuffed by Israel and received little support from the US and Europe. Arab leaders did not agree on the make-up of the committee, as differences emerged over who should be grouped in the committee. The Jordanian proposal stirred wide controversy in the Arab political scene over the past week, as Jordanian Foreign Minister Hani Mulqi tried to clarify the proposal by hanging on to the Arab common stance. It does not utterly mention full normalization with Israel but promotes such a move once the Jewish state shows its readiness to withdraw from all the occupied lands. “Our proposal simply adheres to the Arab peace initiative and emphasizes the Arab legitimate rights in Palestine and other occupied territories,” he told reporters in Algiers. The Jordanian government also rejected earlier accusations suggesting that its proposal called for “a compromise” on the issues of Occupied Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. “These two issues were not mentioned in the proposal, and the Kingdom stands by its position to solve these two issues through direct dialogue between the concerned parties,” said the government’s Spokesperson, Asma Khader. Jordanian political observers blamed the government for “failing to promote its proposal efficiently”.

Political commentator Batter Wardam lamented the “deficient Jordanian media in tackling such decisive issues”. He urged the government to revise its diplomatic performance on the international scale, saying, “The latest affair with the Arab summit hurt Jordan since the proposal was not clear enough to the world, including the Jordanians themselves.” He called on the government “to coordinate its efforts with the political and media institutions in the Kingdom before launching such critical proposals internationally”. Meanwhile, the Arab leaders also expressed their full support of Syria against the so-called “Syria Accountability Act”—a US law that was endorsed by the Congress last year and which threatens to impose economic sanctions against Syria. “This is a violation of international law, and it is a stance against the logic of dialogue,” said Mousa, who read the summit’s final communiqué. The leaders also promised to continue reforms, development and modernization to strengthen democracy, human rights, the role of women and civil society. The Arab League also decided to establish, on a transitional basis, a non-elected consultative body dubbed as “Arab parliament”. The leaders decided to amend the Arab League’s charter to improve its decision-making procedures.

Eight of the 22 Arab heads of state failed to attend the summit, which witnessed landmark attendance of international leaders and politicians. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan met with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who confirmed his troops’ planned full withdrawal from Lebanon. In the meantime, on Tuesday, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero urged Arab leaders to back his initiative to create an “alliance of civilizations” to defeat terrorism and bridge the gap between Islam and the West. “We are in favor of a constructive dialogue between civilizations, peoples and religion,” Zapatero said during his speech at the summit’s opening session. Such alliance aims at forging ahead “toward consolidating a more just international order”, according to Zapatero, who initiated his proposal last September at the United Nations. He condemned efforts to link terrorism to Islam, saying, “It is a very serious error that only serves to multiply misunderstandings and to erect a wall more mighty than the Berlin Wall.” Controversy stirred on the summit’s sidelines over a brief TV interview with President Assad made by an Israeli reporter. The interview was aired Tuesday night on the second channel of the Israeli Television, which quoted Assad as saying that he is committed to reach a peace treaty with Israel, as part of a comprehensive and just peace settlement with all Arab countries. The reporter said that Assad knew that the Israeli TV interviewed him. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi also grabbed the summit’s spotlight early Wednesday by calling Israelis and Palestinians “idiots” for seeking separate states and saying the UN Security Council was “a terrorist organization”. He said the world should thank Syria for maintaining peace in Lebanon and argued that what he called “Islamic terrorism” was mainly the result of “the West’s cultural arrogance”.

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