Arab summit hit by withdrawals

Arab foreign ministers met in Algiers to fine-tune the agenda for this week's Arab summit amid announcements that several heads of state will not attend.

    The meeting in Algiers will focus on a Jordanian peace proposal

    As the meeting began, Amman announced that Jordan's King Abd Allah II will not the attend the summit on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Algerian capital because of a prior commitment to meet investors in the United States.

    The king was only one of several key Arab leaders to pullout of the summit, which will not be attended also by Lebanese President Emile Lahud and United Arab Emirates President Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayid Al Nahayan.

    Nonetheless, Jordanian Foreign Minister Hani Mulki said he thought the country's peace proposal would succeed in putting back on the table the three-year-old Middle East plan for a comprehensive Arab peace with Israel, based on a land-for-peace settlement.

    "The objective was to make the Arab peace plan shine and we did," he told AFP.

    Durable peace

    The Jordanian proposal stipulates "the readiness of Arab countries to put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict and to be engaged in security and stability in the Middle East," Mulki said.

    It also evokes "normal relations between the Arab countries and Israel in case a just and durable peace is achieved on the basis of international resolutions".

    Mulki is hopeful the proposal
    will revive the Arab peace plan

    He insisted that its very foundations were based on "the principle of land-for-peace and the terms of the (1991) Madrid conference", which launched the Arab-Israeli peace process.

    The Jordanian proposal, which was first put forward by Saudi Arabia at the Beirut summit in 2002, faced opposition from a majority of foreign ministers tasked with preparing the Algiers meeting.

    An Arab diplomat said on Friday that the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon were opposed to the text and that the principal sticking points were "vague, confusing and insufficient" proposals over the future status of Jerusalem and of Palestinian refugees.

    Israel hopeful

    Late on Friday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasir al-Qudwa said his colleagues "agreed on a new formula (and) used the same language" adopted in Beirut concerning Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

    "The simple fact that Jordan has suggested this kind of proposal marks the beginning
    of change in the
    Arab world"

    senior official in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office

    Israeli officials, meanwhile, expressed hope that the Arab summit will adopt the Jordanian initiative.

    "The simple fact that Jordan has suggested this kind of proposal marks the beginning of change in the Arab world," a senior official in the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told AFP.

    "It's not yet ground breaking, but it's progress. It remains to be seen whether the moderate countries will manage to set the tone during this summit," he said.

    Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres also welcomed the Jordanian proposal and hopes the leaders of the 22-member Arab League who will gather in Algeria will rubberstamp the initiative.

    League of peace?

    "The Arab League must decide whether it's a league of peace or of continuing the conflict ... . It can't impose its will on Israel, just as we can't impose our will on it," Peres said.

    Palestinians said there was no
    mention of refugees

    "Opting for peace would be the best help the league can give towards creating a Palestinian state," Peres added.

    Arab leaders are further expected to discuss the Lebanese crisis and Syria's withdrawal from the country, although Lebanese President Emile Lahud also decided to skip the Algiers summit because of the situation in his country.

    The situation in Iraq where the first post-war elected parliament in half a century met last week to form a government, will also be on the agenda of the summit along with Sudan and Somalia.

    A review of Arab reform and plans to set up a pan-Arab "parliament" are also on the agenda.



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