Jordan proposal to dominate summit

There were mixed reactions among Arab states to a contentious Jordanian proposal, which aims to revise the long-standing Arab strategy to normalise relations with Israel by sidestepping direct reference to Israel's return of occupied Arab territories.

    The proposal drops references to the return of Arab lands

    But Syria is expectedly raising concerns over the Jordanian plan, which drops specific references to Israel's return of Arab land seized during the 1967 Middle East war - including Syria's Golan Heights - as part of any full normalisation with the Arab state.

    The proposal by Jordanian King Abd Allah II is expected to dominate the two-day Arab League summit starting on Monday as it aims to amend a Saudi Arabian-crafted strategy, which was endorsed by Arab leaders at a 2002 summit in Beirut.

    The Saudi plan, known as the Arab initiative, offered Israel full diplomatic relations with Arab states in return for the handover of Arab territories, including the Palestinian West Bank and Syria's Golan Heights.

    Summit agenda

    Arab foreign ministers convened on Saturday for official talks to finalise the two-day summit's agenda, which Abd Allah's proposal is expected to feature prominently in.

    Syria and eight other Arab states
    have expressed reservations

    An Arab delegate, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 13 of the Arab League's 22 members are showing implicit support for the Jordanian proposal, which some see as a way to compel Israel to meet its requirements under the US-backed road map for regional peace.

    Nine Arab states, including Syria, have reservations over the current draft.

    Diplomats have asked the Jordanian and Palestinian foreign ministers to come up with a new drafting for Abd Allah's proposal in an apparent bid to make it acceptable to all sides.

    Easily understood

    Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Ghait said on Saturday that Jordan wants to reword, not change, the 2002 Arab initiative to make it more easily understood by the
    international community.
     

    Syria fears the draft could affect
    its right to the Golan Heights

    "The Jordanians are saying that through their consultations with the international community they heard them saying that the Arab initiative is too long and has too many details," Abu al-Ghait told The Associated Press.

    "This means that many of the international sides couldn't grasp the content of this initiative because of its length and its details."

    Abu al-Ghait said any "rewording of the initiative ... will need a new Arab consensus. We might succeed in this." The Saudi-crafted Arab initiative calls for the Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Syria's Golan Heights, as well as the creation of a Palestinian state and right of return of refugees.

    Golan Heights fears

    Abd Allah's omission of these conditions from his proposal suggests the king, whose country signed a 1994 peace deal with Israel, wants the Arabs to accept the geographical changes Israel has made in the territories since 1967.

    Syrian opposition is mounting against Abd Allah's proposal. Damascus believes any removal of Arab territories from the Arab initiative could jeopardise its ambitions to have the Golan Heights returned by Israel.

    Abu al-Ghait said the proposal
    will be reworded, not changed

    "We in Syria are fully committed to the Arab peace initiative and demand that it should be revived according to the international legitimacy and to move forward for the sake of achieving a comprehensive and just peace," Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Walid Mualim said.

    The Algiers summit comes at a crucial time in the region, with Iraq trying to put together a government amid continuing violence, the bid to restart the Middle East peace process and the Lebanon crisis. Another sensitive issue, reforming the Arab League itself, is on the table.

    Significantly, Lebanese President Emile Lahud has said he will not attend the summit because of the current political crisis in his country.

    Fears rekindled

    Lahud's cancellation comes amid political turmoil in Lebanon and follows Saturday's bomb attack which wrecked the facade of a building in a largely Christian neighbourhood in Beirut, sparking fears of renewed violence in Lebanon.

    "In view of the current situation and developments on the Lebanese internal arena, President Emile Lahud has decided to cancel his participation in the Arab summit which begins
    Monday in Algiers Monday," a statement released by his office said.
     
    Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud will represent Lebanon at the summit, which is expected to deal with the current crisis in Lebanon.

    Algerian authorities have taken extreme measures to safeguard the summit, deploying some 15,000 Algerian security forces in and around the capital ahead of the expected arrival of 20 Arab heads of state and some 3000 officials.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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