Palestinians welcome Israeli interest in Saudi plan

PARIS (Reuters) – Palestinians hope Israeli calls for the revival of a Saudi peace initiative could lead to progress on a diplomatic track that has been dormant for years, their chief negotiator with Israel said Wednesday.

Israeli President Shimon Peres last month called on Saudi King Abdullah to “further” a land-for-peace proposal endorsed six years ago by the Arab League, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said last week Israelis were reconsidering the plan.

“For the past week Israel has started speaking in a new and positive way about this initiative. We note this change of language and we place a lot of hope in it,” Palestinian chief negotiator with Israel Ahmed Qurie told reporters in Paris.

The Saudi plan calls for full Arab recognition of Israel if it gives up “all of the territories” occupied in the 1967 Six Day War and accepts “a just solution” for Palestinian refugees. Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab countries to have signed full peace accords with Israel.

“Peres has said that it’s a good and positive initiative and it is a base for a global negotiation between Israel and Arab countries. Barak has spoken in similar terms. I think Barak and Tzipi Livni are in agreement about that,” Qurie said.

Livni, Israel’s foreign minister and prime minister-designate, has been Qurie’s counterpart in the most recent round of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Qurie said Livni, who is busy trying to put together a new coalition government for Israel, had said nothing to him about the Saudi initiative and he did not elaborate on why he thought she shared Barak’s views on the issue.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said Tuesday he hoped Livni would follow Peres’ lead when her government is up and running.

Qurie said Barak’s comments were positive although they should be put to the test of real diplomatic negotiations.

“This Arab initiative is the bravest and the best for finding a complete solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

Livni has said she would pursue U.S.-backed bilateral peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that were launched a year ago by outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Disputes over Jewish settlements in the West Bank and divisions among the Palestinians have thwarted Washington’s hopes of clinching a bilateral peace deal by the end of this year. Echoing comments by other senior Palestinians, Qurie said there was “objectively no chance” of meeting that goal.

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