UNITED NATIONS – Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Thursday there is a new "very significant" consensus among Arab countries for restarting the stalled Middle East peace process.
"We have found for the first time probably a consensus that is very significant about the need for restarting the peace process," Prince Saud al-Faisal told The Associated Press.
He said the Arab League foreign ministers would meet Thursday, but their idea is to take "stock of the past failures that prevented peace from happening and urging a new look and approach to the peace process."
He said the Arab countries wish for a restarted peace process that would "concentrate on the important issues, rather than the process itself. In other words, the final status negotiations, the border, Jerusalem, Palestinian rights and so on."
Those nations are hoping to revive efforts to end the Arab-Israel conflict during a Security Council ministerial meeting on Thursday. The meeting comes a day after the architects of the "road map" to peace have also reaffirmed their commitment to the plan.
Leaders of the so-called Quartet — the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia — met Wednesday and issued a statement stressing the need for "a credible political process" to make progress toward the goal of two peaceful, democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side.
The Quartet "stressed the urgent need to make progress toward a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East." It also "expressed its concern at the grave crisis in Gaza and the continued stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians."
It welcomed the prospect of a meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Ehud Olmert, and expressed hope that a Palestinian national unity government "would reflect Quartet principles which would lead to an early engagement."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan hosted the meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, a day before the Security Council convenes to take a fresh look at how to end Israel's conflicts with the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. That event is being held at the urging of the Arab League.
International aid to the Palestinians has dried up since Hamas, which does not recognize Israel and refuses to renounce violence, took power after its January election victory. The Quartet principles include recognition of Israel, a renunciation of violence, and adherence to previous Palestinian agreements.
European diplomats said the language on the Quartet principles could allow wiggle room for Hamas to moderate its position without taking the dramatic step of fully recognizing Israel, but U.S. officials disputed that. British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett also expressed concern, noting that in the past few days several Hamas leaders said they didn't accept the principles.
Key participants included Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
The road map called for confidence-building steps leading to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel by 2005. It was launched by President Bush with great fanfare at a summit in Jordan in June 2003. But neither the Palestinians nor Israel met their initial obligations, and the plan never got off the ground
U.N. Mideast envoy Alvaro De Soto underlined the importance of the negotiations, saying they are "essentially the only game in town."
What will emerge from Thursday's Security Council meeting remains uncertain.
The United States, Israel's closest ally, initially opposed a ministerial meeting and U.S. Ambassador John Bolton has said he sees no reason for the council to adopt any kind of statement.
But the Arab League wants an outcome and has proposed that Secretary-General Kofi Annan prepare a report "on possible mechanisms" to resume direct negotiations, in close consultation with the parties to the conflict, states in the region and the Quartet.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa stressed earlier this week that Arab nations want action — not just words.
In July, some Arab League members said the road map was dead, but Moussa insisted that "it's not our intention to sideline any of the mechanisms that exist," including the Quartet.
The Quartet and the Security Council are both concerned about the plight of Palestinians living in Gaza.
In May, the Quartet adopted a temporary mechanism for delivering relief to the area. The World Bank-led program lets donors make aid payments to Palestinians, bypassing the Hamas-led government.
The Quartet agreed Wednesday to extend and expand the program for three months and encouraged greater donor support to meet Palestinian needs, "with a particular emphasis on security sector reform, reconstruction of damaged infrastructure and economic development."