Saudi Arabia Elaborates on Mideast Peace Plan

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, expanding on his country's Mideast peace plan, said Sunday that to get "complete peace from the Arabs" Israel should allow an independent Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital in addition to withdrawing from Arab lands.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, speaking to reporters after meeting for an hour with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, did not say whether all of Jerusalem, rather than just the eastern part captured in 1967, should be ceded to the Palestinians. That would be unacceptable to Israel, which seeks Jerusalem as its own capital.

Al-Faisal's comments on the plan were the most detailed since Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, in a newspaper interview last month, offered peace with the Arab world in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from Arab lands it captured in 1967.

The push for peace has taken on urgency in recent days as the death toll in Palestinian-Israeli violence soars. During the past week, at least 114 Palestinians and 36 Israelis have died – the highest toll during any week since the conflict erupted 17 months ago.

However, the Saudi initiative has been criticized by some Arabs, raising the possibility it will be altered before being formally presented at a March 27-28 Arab summit in Beirut.

Egypt and other moderate states have welcomed the Saudi proposal as a basis for peacemaking. The Saudis have said most details should be left to Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese and Israeli negotiators.

Al-Faisal called on Israel to withdraw from Arab territory captured in war and grant "the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, including the creation of an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital."

"If it does that, it will be met with complete peace from Arab nations," he said.

Al-Faisal said Abdullah and Mubarak have spoken at length on the initiative.

Al-Faisal did not say whether a written draft of the peace initiative had been prepared or whether it referred to the sticky issue of Palestinian refugees.

Those refugees of Israel's 1948 and 1967 wars want to be able to return to Israel. The issue has derailed several other peace efforts because Israel fears their return would destroy the state's Jewish character.

Al-Faisal did not answer directly when asked whether the Saudi peace proposal would be submitted if the Israelis kept Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat from attending the Beirut summit; but he strongly hinted it would, saying the plan "is for the benefit of Palestine."

Israel has confined Arafat to the West Bank town of Ramallah since December. Palestinian officials have said the Saudis told them that the peace initiative would be presented at the Arab summit only if Arafat was there.