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World - Africa

Arafat: Most Arab states agree to support summit

Arafat returns from the UAE  

Israeli Cabinet tries to break deadlock Monday

May 31, 1998
Web posted at: 8:01 p.m. EDT (0001 GMT)

GAZA, Gaza Strip (CNN) -- With the Middle East peace process stalled, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Sunday that he has received the go-ahead from most of the Arab states to hold an Arab summit to coordinate their efforts to move negotiations forward.

Returning from a trip to the United Arab Emirates, Arafat said that "truly there is a very important effort to have this Arab summit conference very soon because we are in need of it." However, he did not give a date for when the proposed summit might take place.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- the man Palestinians accuse of thwarting the peace process -- faces two distinct challenges from within his own Likud party on the peace issue.

On Monday, the Israeli Cabinet will meet to see if it can break an internal deadlock between Netanyahu and Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon, who wants to put forward his own peace initiative. The prime minister is reportedly resisting the idea of letting Sharon inject himself into the peace process.

And Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo, who has announced he is leaving Likud to form a new party to challenge Netanyahu, met Sunday in Amman with Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan to discuss his political initiative.

"He came to renew his commitment, and his party's commitment, to the peace process and the need to work vigorously to prevent its collapse," a Jordanian official told Reuters.

Sharon is reportedly opposing any effort to give Palestinians control of more than an additional 9 percent of the West Bank. The United States is pressing Israel to cede 13 percent. However, some observers believe Sharon may be willing to go further than Netanyahu on the issue of establishing a Palestinian state, which Arafat wants to do next year.

"I think Mr. Sharon at this point in time seems to be more generous concerning the establishment of a Palestinian state, less generous concerning the territories the Palestinian state will control," said Israeli political analyst Chemi Shalev.

Chirac pushes international summit on Middle East

Also on Sunday, French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, on a state visit to Lebanon, renewed his call for an international summit on the Middle East, saying it would "recreate a dynamism" to revive the peace process. The summit had been proposed earlier this month by Chirac and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The French president also warned Israel that it must simultaneously negotiate with both Lebanon and Syria for withdrawal of its troops from southern Lebanon and return of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in a 1967 war.

"Things being complex, it is not realistic to imagine that we could establish a solid peace by cutting it up into small pieces," Chirac said.

Israel, which signed peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, has tried over the years to reach a separate agreement with Lebanon that would leave Syria isolated as its only neighbor still in a state of war. But Chirac said his view is that Israel cannot obtain security unless it makes peace with all of its neighbors.

Chirac's efforts to increase the French role in securing Middle East peace comes at a time of increasing Arab disillusionment with the United States, which launched the peace process in 1991. The Arabs believe the United States hasn't put enough pressure on Netanyahu.

Syrian, Saudi leaders meet to discuss summit

The idea of an Arab summit has been gaining ground as Arafat has shuttled between various capitals promoting the idea. In Damascus Sunday, Syrian President Hafaz al-Assad and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah held their own talks to discuss the Arab-Israeli peace process and the possibility of a summit.

In a statement upon arriving in Syria, Prince Abdullah appealed to the United States to support the peace process and warned that failure to do so would encourage extremists in the region.

"We appeal to the world, especially the United States, to support legitimate and just solutions and to push the peace process forward," he said.

A senior Syrian official told Reuters that the recent consultations among Arab leaders are designed "to achieve a unified Arab stand against the obstinacy of Netanyahu and his anti-peace policies."

"Arabs have big resources and capabilities that allow them to impose their will and their political decisions on others, and they should use that," the official said.

Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.

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