Arab Nations to Resume Push for Land-for-Peace Deal With Israel

Arabs will relaunch a 2002 land-for-peace offer to end the decades long conflict with Israel at a summit in Saudi Arabia later this month but without the changes Israel has been pushing, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Sunday.

Moussa's remarks at an opening speech to a meeting of Arab foreign ministers came as Saudi Arabia announced that hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expressed support for the initiative during talks with Saudi officials, though Iran later denied the two discussed the peace plan.

"The Arab peace initiative expresses an Arab consensus and will not be redrafted as demanded by some foreign powers," Moussa told the ministers, who were in meeting in Cairo ahead of the two-day Arab League summit later this month in Saudi Arabia.

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"Maneuvering and watering down (the initiative) will be a strategic mistake," Moussa said. "It perhaps will lead to new bloodshed.

Last week, Israeli newspapers quoted Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni as saying Israel would not accept the Arab peace plan as is and asked to drop any reference to the right of the Palestinians displaced in the 1948 Mideast war to return to their homes inside the Jewish state.

Moussa reiterated that Israel should give back all territories it seized in the 1967 war and allow Palestinian refugees to return.

But Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the current peace initiative is "unacceptable."

"Just as the establishment of Israel solved the problem of Jewish refugees, we believe the establishment of a Palestinian state should be the solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees," Regev said. "They want a state for their national determination but say we must provide a solution to the Palestinian refugees — that is the job of the Palestinian state when it is established."

The 2002 plan calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state and full recognition of Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal from all territory captured in the Arab-Israeli wars. A later version of the initiative states that Israel should return all Arab land and also allow Palestinian refugees to return.

On Friday, Jordan's King Abdullah II said Israel must choose between the mentality of "Israel, the fortress" or "living in peace and security with its neighbors."

Interviewed on state television before his departure to the United States, the king also said the U.S. was the country most capable of influencing Israel.

In what appeared to be a reversal of harsh anti-Israel rhetoric by Iran's president, Saudi Arabia's official news agency reported Sunday that Ahmadinejad expressed support the 2002 initiative during talks in Riyadh on Saturday with Saudi monarch King Abdullah. But further details about the talks were not released, and Iran's state media reported that an Iranian official denied that the initiative was even discussed.

The debate about the initiative also comes amid renewed efforts by the so-called Quartet of Mideast negotiators — theEU, U.S., U.N. and Russia — to help both sides resume the stalled peace talks.

Arab foreign ministers on Sunday also gave full support to a regional conference on Iraq to be held in Baghdad beginning Saturday. Baghdad officials have said Iraq's neighbors, including Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, have agreed to join U.S. and British representatives to discuss the Iraqi security crisis.

Iraq's Arab neighbors and Egypt said they will send representatives to the Baghdad meeting despite continued disquiet among some of Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbors about the country's current direction.

"All Arab countries should give full support to these efforts in order to achieve peace and stability in Iraq," the Arab foreign ministers said in a statement.

Sunni Arab countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have been deeply disturbed by what they view as a Shiite bias on the part of Iraq's Shiite-led government in recent months, as sectarian violence has flared in the country.

Egypt's foreign minister has suggested that the Iraqi government should redraw the current constitution and cancel some laws in order to give Sunnis a bigger share in power and wealth.