Arab leaders relaunch peace offer
Arab leaders on Wednesday offered Israel normal relations in return for withdrawal to 1967 borders -- a condition which Israel has repeatedly rejected.
A communique read out at the final session of an Arab summit in Algiers said peace was the "strategic option" of Arab states to settle the conflict with the Jewish state.
The offer of peace for land was a relaunch of a 2002 peace initiative.
"I would note that 13 of the 22 heads of state were there, but I would say that the final communique did not have anything noteworthy, one way or the other, to comment on," Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.
"I would note that the final communique does not appear to reaffirm support for the trend toward greater democratization and freedom in the Middle East. We think that was a missed opportunity," he added.
The communique said: "(We) affirm in this context the Arab peace initiative approved by the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002."
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the reference to peace as a strategic option was positive but his government regretted the summit had not proposed dialogue.
"From our first reading ... it would appear that not much is new. We are disappointed that nothing was done to put substance behind that statement (on strategic option)," he added.
Jordan had pressed the Arab leaders to repackage and simplify the 2002 initiative to make it more appealing to Israeli and international public opinion. It put forward a text which included the explicit promise of normal relations.
But some Arab governments resisted any new gestures toward the Jewish state at this juncture and the more cautious Arabs appeared to have diluted the impact of Jordan's efforts.
"We don't see any reason for a rush (to normal relations)," said Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa.
"Israel is still building settlements and the barrier (through the West Bank). They don't deserve anything ... If they had taken any step, we would have taken a step," he added.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammed, in a pro-Syrian government, said: "We are not thinking of normalization, neither now nor in the future.
"There is the Arab peace initiative which everyone is committed to. If it's implemented in its stages, then we will cross that bridge (normalization) when we come to it."
Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa said the Arab leaders had asked Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the chairman of the summit, to give the initiative fresh impetus "in the way he sees fit." A group of Arab presidents could go on a tour to promote it, officials said on Tuesday.
"We want this peace initiative to take its path to the world," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters.
An Israeli analyst, Matti Steinberg, said the Arabs had already accepted that normalization would come. "The debate (is) over whether it should usher in Israeli withdrawals or be conditioned on Israeli withdrawals," he added.
Egypt and Jordan have full diplomatic relations with Israel. Several other countries have had less formal ties, fluctuating according to the state of the Middle East conflict.
The communique, at the insistence of governments opposed to easy normalization, set out in details the conditions Israel should meet for integration into the region.
They included full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution for refugees based on a 1948 U.N. resolution which gives them the right to go home or receive compensation.