Saudi prince offers Israel land-for-peace deal
Arab League summit opens amid discord
BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Wednesday outlined his land-for-peace plan with Israel at the Arab League summit, which got off to a shaky start with some Arab leaders absent and Palestinians angry after Yasser Arafat was prevented from delivering a speech.
Abdullah called for the Arab world to establish "normal relations" and security for Israel in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, allowing the "return of refugees" and the recognition of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
But 12 of the 22 Arab leaders did not attend the opening of the summit, with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah, whose countries traditionally have been key players in the quest for Mideast peace, among the absentees. And Syrian President Bashir Assad expressed doubts that Israel could ever deliver on the Saudi peace plan.
Also, the Palestinian delegation walked out of a session after Lebanon stopped Arafat from making a live televised speech from his West Bank headquarters.
Palestinian officials later said Arafat would address the summit Thursday and would offer his support for the Saudi peace initiative.
The prospects for peace, however, were further shaken by a Palestinian suicide bombing Wednesday evening at a hotel in Netanya, Israel. At least 19 people were killed. (Full story)
The attack drew no immediate reaction from the Arab leaders here, who had already adjourned for the day.
Ra'anan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said that unless the Arab leaders at the summit condemned the latest terror attack, the summit would be little more than a "public relations" effort by the Saudis.
Discord marked the summit from its outset.
Saeb Erakat, the Palestinians' chief negotiator, said Arafat had been scheduled to speak Wednesday, following Abdullah, to offer his support for the Saudi plan. But Arafat's broadcast was blocked and the host of the summit, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, adjourned the session.
Arafat's link-up was stopped because Israel might have interfered with the transmission, Lahoud told the summit. He said the Palestinians had been asked to provide a videotape of Arafat's address, which he said the summit is "keen" to see.
In protest, members of the Palestinian delegation walked out. Arafat appeared instead on Arabic satellite news network Al-Jazeera. In his speech, he backed the Saudi peace plan and condemned what he said was Israeli terror.
Despite the walkout, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said the Palestinians would attend a morning session Thursday.
Nabil Sha'ath, a member of the Palestinian delegation, said Arafat would address the summit Thursday. He would not say whether the address would be live, via satellite, or on videotape, but insisted the Palestinians would not return to the summit unless Arafat gets a chance to speak to the Arab leaders on live television.
In his address to the summit, the Saudi crown prince called for the leaders to unanimously back his initiative. (Speech excerpts)
"In spite of all that has happened -- and what still may happen -- the primary issue in the heart and mind of every person in our Arab and Islamic nation is the restoration of legitimate rights in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon," the prince said. "Israel, and the world, must understand that peace and the retention of the occupied Arab territories are incompatible and impossible to reconcile or achieve."
If the Israeli government accepts his proposal, Abdullah said, Israelis would find that Arabs in the region would quickly and peacefully accept them.
The crown prince also proposed that the Arab summit approve a "clear and unanimous initiative" calling for normal relations and security for Israel. In exchange, Israel would withdraw from "all occupied Arab territories," recognize an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and agree to the "return of refugees," he said.
The initiative would be forwarded to the United Nations Security Council, Abdullah said.
Abdullah's remarks were short on a number of details -- for example, what he meant by the "return of refugees." Israel has said that If all Palestinians who were removed from what became Israel were to return along with their heirs, Israel would no longer be a Jewish state.
Saudi sources said the prince intentionally did not spell out the details on what he meant by "all occupied Arab territories" and "the return of refugees" to allow the Israelis to settle those matters through negotiations with the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese.
The Israeli government reacted to the Saudi proposal with caution, but Alon Pinkas, the Israeli consul general in New York, said Israel is ready to discuss the initiative
"Look, the Saudi idea has a lot of positive elements in it, which is why we have never dismissed it at face value," Pinkas said. "Quite the contrary, we said we will endorse and enter a dialogue with the Saudis or anyone else -- indeed in the entire Arab world -- if they are serious on the normalization issue. The thing is, that life in the Middle East has taught us to be extremely skeptical and extremely wary of these kind of declarations until they are actually delivered in the Arabic language."
Positive words, criticism
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell cited the Saudi prince's speech as progress.
"I take note of Crown Prince Abdullah's statement in Beirut today which I think was quite helpful to our efforts, and the United States will remain engaged," Powell said. "We will not let terrorists or terrorism take us away from our desire to see peace in this region and for these two people eventually to live side-by-side in peace."
In his satellite address Wednesday, Arafat criticized Israel.
"We are victims of occupation and settlement and terror," he said. "We are against killing civilians on both sides. But isn't occupation, isn't Israeli occupation of our land, and our holy shrines, Islamic interests and the like, a peak of terror? Isn't collective punishment and suffocating siege, military escalation that has been applied by the government of Israel as official policy against our people, isn't it the worst form of terror?"
Meanwhile, violence continued in the region. Israeli forces killed two armed Palestinians in Gaza after being attacked in two separate incidents during an overnight operation, the Israel Defense Forces said.
Earlier, two international observers were killed and one was slightly wounded Tuesday when a Palestinian opened fire on their car in the West Bank, the Israeli army said.
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