Arab Nations Seek New Mideast Peace Initiative

Published August 18, 2006

| Associated Press

Arab nations want the U.N. Security Council to help launch a new peace process to end the broader Arab-Israeli conflict, saying the "road map" unveiled in 2003 to establish a Palestinian state is dead.

Arab League foreign ministers have asked to send a delegation to a ministerial meeting of the Security Council in September to initiate a new effort to bring lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians after nearly 60 years of conflict.

Yahya Mahmassani, the Arab League's envoy to the United Nations, said he had personally discussed the foreign ministers' request with the 15 Security Council members and "there is very strong support" for the idea of convening a council meeting. It will likely take place between Sept. 20-24, he said.

"Now, we are working ... on what outcome would be coming out of this meeting," Mahmassani told The Associated Press.

He said bringing the question of the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Security Council will be one of the main items on the agenda of an Arab ministerial meeting on Sunday at Arab League headquarters in Cairo. The Arab ministerial delegation to go to New York will probably be selected at the meeting, he said.

Arab foreign ministers decided to take the issue to the Security Council at a meeting in Cairo on July 15, two days after Israel launched an offensive against Hezbollah militants after they captured two Israeli soldiers, he said.

At that meeting, Arab ministers displayed frustration and declared the Mideast peace process "dead," blaming Israel for its demise.

"The Middle East peace process has failed," Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said after that meeting. "We are going to the Security Council — this is a unanimous position — to discuss the whole situation from scratch."

The road map was drafted by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — known as the Quartet — and aimed to end the most recent Middle East violence and establish a Palestinian state by 2005. But Israel and the Palestinians have failed to carry out the parallel steps in the peace plan and it has languished.

The Arab initiative to try to restart the peace process from scratch at this time is significant, because the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict is at the heart of the current Palestinian-Israeli fighting in Gaza and the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah militants in south Lebanon.

Arab nations have fought several wars with Israel — in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, as well as Israel's previous two invasions of Lebanon. The first three were heavy defeats for Arab armies, and though Egypt's army saw dramatic successes in 1973, the battle had swung to Israel's favor by the time it ended.

In the eyes of many Arabs, Hezbollah's tougher-than-expected resistance against Israel's relentless bombardment and heavy ground assaults shook the Israeli military's image of invulnerability. Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has become an instant hero.

Arab states that have been traditional allies of the United States are concerned about Hezbollah's moves to consolidate their political position and capitalize on what many perceive as a military victory in the fighting against Israel. To counter Hezbollah's rising influence, diplomats said the Arab moderates sought to restart an Arab-Israeli peace process.

"We consider the peace process, the Quartet, the road map, have not achieved their objective," Mahmassani said. "So we want to bring up the whole issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict ... and especially the peace process in order to initiate a new peace process that will achieve ... a final, just and lasting settlement for the Arab-Israeli conflict in the region."

On Saturday, Russia's Foreign Ministry also said it is time to rethink the issue, saying the conflict with Hezbollah was rooted "in the lack of a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East."

"Therefore, one of the main goals of the world community should be the concentration of efforts on creating conditions for the resumption of the peace process in the region on all tracks," the ministry said. "One of the urgent tasks in that context is the normalization of the situation on the Palestinian territories and the resumption of dialogue between the Palestinian National Authority and Israel."

The Quartet still supports the road map as the best plan for peace. The Group of Eight — the seven major industrialized nations and Russia — also stuck to its previous support for the road map at its July summit in Russia.

In a July 16 communique, the group said all Palestinian parties should accept the road map's conditions including recognizing the existence of Israel and rejecting violence — which the Hamas-led Palestinian government has refused to do.

Before Arab ministers arrive in New York in September, the issue of the best way to achieve Palestinian-Israeli peace is certain to be raised by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and ministers from other council nations during their upcoming travels to the Middle East.

URL

http://www.foxnews.com/story/2006/08/18/arab-nations-seek-new-mideast-peace-initiative