Jordan, Egypt FMs brief peers on Israel visit

1201.jpgJORDAN ON MONDAY took part in the meeting of the Arab League to discuss the efforts of the league’s ministerial committee tasked with rallying support for the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib and his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Aboul Gheit briefed the meeting on communications carried out by the committee in this regard, including the two ministers’ recent visit to Israel to promote the plan, which offers Israel normal ties with the Arabs in return for withdrawal from territories it occupied in 1967.

Khatib said though the initiative was adopted in 2002 in Beirut, the efforts exerted recently to promote the peace initiative, especially after the Riyadh Summit in March when the Arab leaders renewed support for the plan, managed to rally substantial international support to the initiative.

Khatib said the Jordanian-Egyptian delegation presented the plan on behalf of the Arab countries to the Israeli government, parliament and public opinion.

He stressed that the Arabs are honest in their will to bring about just and comprehensive peace based on the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the Arab territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem and withdrawal from other Arab territories occupied in 1967.

The two ministers said it was important that Israel takes practical steps to launch Palestinian-Israeli negotiations to reach to a permanent solution agreement.

They also said it was important to create an atmosphere that render these talks a success and to link progress with a fixed time frame. He said Tel Aviv most remove roadblocks and help the Palestinian Authority to reinvigorate the Palestinian economy and build its institutions, including the security bodies.

Arab ministers taking part in the meeting commended the efforts of Khatib and Aboul Gheit and stressed the need of continued efforts to highlight the initiative, which represent a serious and constructive Arab position that seek to bring about stability and security to the region.

Meanwhile, the Arab states taking part in the meeting threw their support behind US President George W. Bush’s proposal to hold an international conference to revive the faltering Middle East peace process.

“We support the convening of an international meeting attended by all parties involved in the peace process to launch direct negotiations on all tracks to reach a final settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a specific time frame,” Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa said.

Musa was speaking after the emergency meeting lasting seven hours to discuss Bush’s proposal as well as to hear the results of Jordan and Egypt’s mission to Israel promoting the Arab Peace Initiative.

“Our position on the next steps now depends on many points, including the parties involved, the objective of the conference and its agenda,” Musa told reporters.

“What is on the table here is the Arab-Israeli conflict and the solution of the conflict which means that all parties should be there.”

On July 16, Bush proposed holding an international conference which is expected to be held in September, and warned Palestinians against supporting Hamas and its backers Syria and Iran.

For his part, the Syrian representative to the meeting expressed “reservations” over Bush’s plan since the Palestinians were now divided and he criticised his colleagues for refusing to address this crisis.

The ever-daunting task of bringing peace between Jews and Arabs has been further complicated by last month’s takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas members who ejected Fateh.

Musa dismissed the Syrian criticism saying that the league was focusing on the “positive” aspects of Bush’s plan.

“It is a very critical situation in the region and we don’t think that any propaganda or speech would be the best way to deal with this,” he said when asked about Ahmed’s objections.

Just the day before, Musa met with interim Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and described the continued division of the Palestinian territories as unacceptable.

The league instead expressed sympathy for the children and reminded Bulgaria to abide by its agreements with Libya, while the secretary general said he would follow up on the situation.

Israel, meanwhile, was on the ground taking what it called “goodwill gestures.”

Israel was preparing to remove some of the roadblocks and checkpoints that restrict Palestinian travel in the West Bank as a gesture to President Mahmoud Abbas after months of resistance, officials said on Monday.

Security sources told Reuters a list of barriers and restrictions was being compiled to be presented to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Ehud Barak for final approval.

“The urgency is clear to everybody. These measures should be taken soon,” a senior source said on condition of anonymity.

Under US pressure, Israel has taken some initial steps — from handing over frozen Palestinian tax funds to freeing more than 250 Palestinian prisoners —  to try to bolster Abbas and the Western-backed government he formed in the West Bank after Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip last month.

After removing some of the travel restrictions, Israel would then consider transferring responsibility for some West Bank enclaves to Abbas and his security forces, officials said.

It is unclear how many of the estimated 500 West Bank roadblocks, checkpoints and other barriers would be removed or relocated under the plan being drawn up. Officials said the changes would be carried out in stages, beginning within weeks.

Previously announced roadblock removals were either never carried out or quickly reversed by the Israeli government. In recent weeks, Palestinians have seen an increase, rather than a decrease, in travel restrictions in parts of the West Bank.

Tel Aviv has also agreed to a United Nations request to let dozens of Palestinians fleeing Iraq enter the West Bank, an Israeli official said Monday, calling the decision the latest in a series of goodwill gestures to Abbas, since he fired the Hamas from his government last month.

The official, foreign ministry spokeswoman Zehavit Ben-Hillel, could not say exactly how many would be allowed into the West Bank, access to which is strictly controlled by Israel, but Israeli daily Haaretz put the number at 41.

She did not say when they would arrive.

Under the agreement with the UN, the new arrivals will not be classified as refugees, Ben-Hillel said, adding that Israel does not want the arrangement to be seen as a precedent but will examine similar future requests on a case-by-case basis.

Russia considers President Abbas the legitimate leader of all Palestinians, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday told Abbas, who was in Moscow seeking support in his standoff with, Hamas.

Lavrov’s comments were the strongest to date in support of Abbas and the West Bank-based government of moderates he installed following the violent June takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas, Reuters said.

“We firmly support you as the lawful leader of the entire Palestinian people,” Lavrov told Abbas, “and we support your efforts aimed at restoring law, achieving unity among the Palestinian people and continuing the process to seek a resolution to the situation in the Palestinian territories.” Abbas, who arrived Sunday in Moscow for his first trip to Russia since the Hamas takeover, met with Lavrov a day before meeting with Russia’s president.

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