JERUSALEM – Israel reacted guardedly Wednesday to Saudi Arabia's offer of normal relations with the Arab world in exchange for a withdrawal from all the territory it occupied in the 1967 Mideast war.
Israeli officials said the proposal was too vague and less far-reaching than the idea of "normalization" initially floated by the author of the plan, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. The prince's later addition — a demand that Israel recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return to former homes — is unacceptable, they said.
Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Abdullah's proposal, presented Wednesday at the Arab summit in Beirut, Lebanon, required further clarification in direct Israeli-Arab contacts, perhaps even another Mideast summit to which Israel would be invited.
"We would like to hear directly from Saudis what they mean by normal relations," Gissin said. "That's why we suggested contacts or that we send a special envoy so that we could learn more about the end game. ... Does this mean recognition of the right for a Jewish state in the Middle East?"
Abdullah initially floated the idea in a newspaper interview last month. At the time, he used the term "normalization" rather than "normal relations."
Gissin said that while normalization means full relations between two countries, normal relations could be restricted to formal recognition between governments, rather than reconciliation between two peoples.
In his speech, Abdullah said that "having a real peace is the only way to normalize relationships between all the peoples and the only thing that could replace all the destruction."
"Starting from this point I propose that the Arab League present a collective program to the (U.N.) Security Council based on normal relationships and security to Israel and parallel with an independent Palestinian country with its capital Jerusalem and the right of Palestinian people to come back to their homeland."
The prince added a call to recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return.
Israeli leaders have said the return of millions of Palestinians displaced in Mideast wars would undermine the Jewish nature of their state.
Danny Ayalon, another Sharon adviser, said Wednesday that demands that Israel recognize the refugees' right to return are "totally unacceptable.'
"We bear no responsibility morally for this (the displacement of the refugees)," Ayalon said. "We would like their human plight to be over. All this should be discussed directly and negotiated."