Israel to offer counterproposal to Arab Peace Initiative, Peres says: “Tel Aviv should build confidence with Palestinians — King”

news3.jpgJT with AFP dispatches ISRAELI DEPUTY PRIME Minister Shimon Peres on Sunday urged Arab countries to hold talks with the Jewish state on the peace initiative they reendorsed in March.

Peres told Arab officials at a World Economic Forum panel discussion that Israel would make a counteroffer to the peace blueprint first adopted in 2002, AFP reported. But he gave no firm time frame for the counterproposal, drawing questions from Arab League chief Amr Musa about the Israeli government’s seriousness. “The Arab League has proposed. Fine. We shall make a counterproposal,” AFP quoted Peres as saying at the Dead Sea.

“Let’s sit together, air out our differences. If you are serious and we are serious, let’s sit together.”

The Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel normal ties in return for a full withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and resolution of the refugee issue. Israel rejected the blueprint when it was first unveiled, but has since warmed to the draft as a basis for negotiation, provided there are changes on the refugee issue.

“You must understand that you cannot send us a document and say — take it or leave it. It’s not done,” Peres said.

He said Israel would draw up a counterproposal “as soon as possible”, but despite repeated questioning declined to be more specific, according to AFP.

Musa said that if the Israeli government was genuine in its expressed readiness to discuss the peace plan, “we are all in business”.

On Friday, he dismissed as a mere “gimmick” repeated comments by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he is ready to meet Arab leaders to discuss the plan provided the talks are held without preconditions.

“Until now we have no answer coming from the Israeli side… no plan, no policy, that we can interpret as a hand stretched out for peace,” said Musa.

King Abdullah told the three-day forum that the initiative was an “historic opportunity to achieve a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement”. “It is in the interest of this entire region — and indeed, the world — that we succeed,” he said.

At a later meeting with Peres, King Abdullah said that Israel “should work to build confidence in dealing with the Palestinians in order to revive the peace process based on the Arab peace plan”, a Royal Court statement said.

The King also met with Musa and said “Arab efforts seeking to maintain the momentum the peace plan gained should continue”.

Also on the panel, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian territories have deteriorated.

He expressed concern that the situation was undermining public support for moderate Palestinians.

“You are destroying us, you are destroying our social fabric,” Erekat said.

He also called on Israel to accept the Arab peace plan.

“If we leave things in this region to conflict and war, and try to resolve issues through guns, then this region is doomed, and we will go through the 21st century in darkness.”

Earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki expressed strong scepticism about the prospects for success of efforts to negotiate a just peace with his government’s archfoe Israel.

He said all previous efforts had failed “because of the approach of the other side”, according to AFP.

“We do not see any chance for the success of the Arab Peace Initiative because it fails to address fateful issues, like the capital of a Palestinian state and the right of return for some five million refugees,” Mottaki said.

Around 1,000 participants from some 50 countries attended the annual forum which ended on Sunday, and which will be held in Egypt next year. Jordan will again host the gathering in 2009.

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