JERUSALEM - Two Arab envoys on a landmark visit to Israel presented its
leaders with a regional land-for-peace plan on Wednesday and called for a rapid
timetable for talks with the Palestinians over statehood.
Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak
(C) shakes hands with Jordan's Foreign Minister Abdelelah al-Khatib (L) as
Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit watches before their meeting in
Tel Aviv July 25, 2007. [Reuters]
Israel described the one-day visit by the Jordanian and Egyptian foreign
ministers as a "historic" move on the part of the 22-nation Arab League. But it
stopped short of embracing their initiative, which offers a comprehensive Arab
peace if the Jewish state cedes all occupied land and meets other demands.
Reaching out to the Palestinians and Arab states, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert sent the clearest signal yet that he would try to restart talks on the
final status of a Palestinian state with President Mahmoud Abbas, whose secular
Fatah faction lost control of the Gaza Strip last month to Hamas Islamists.
"We need a precise timetable, a quick timetable and we urge Israel not to
waste this historic opportunity. Time is not on our side," Jordanian Foreign
Minister Abdelelah al-Khatib told a news conference at the Israeli Foreign
Ministry in Jerusalem.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said it was not sufficient for
Israel to limit talk to what diplomats call a "political horizon" -- defined by
Olmert's aides as the legal, economic and governmental structures of a future
Palestinian state. "I don't see (that) as enough because the horizon, often if
not frequently, is never reached," he said.
Olmert said there was "a chance in the near future for the process to ripen
into talks that would, in effect, deal with the stages of establishing a
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Israel's Channel 10 television that
talks should include "issues that go beyond the immediate" with the goal of
achieving "the broadest agreements possible at this time."
But Olmert, weakened domestically by last year's inconclusive war in Lebanon,
said there were "no precise timetables or stages established yet" for getting to
discussions about permanent borders and the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian
refugees, all divisive issues in the Jewish state.
Livni cautioned: "If we will begin to get into the details of final status,
it may lead to a deterioration and stagnation."
Speaking in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas said he hoped Olmert would
become a "partner to a final settlement that will lead to an independent viable
Neither Israel nor the visiting Arab envoys spelled out how significant
progress could be made towards statehood with the Palestinian territories
divided between Hamas-run Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Fatah
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Olmert's comments were a diversion meant
to "throw dust in the eyes" of the world.
Wednesday's visit was the first by Arab League representatives to promote
their peace plan, which offers Israel normal ties with all Arab states in return
for a full withdrawal from the lands it seized in the 1967 Middle East war,
creation of a Palestinian state and a "just solution" for refugees.
Livni told the envoys she saw "an opportunity" to use the Arab plan to
advance bilateral talks with Abbas but she was non-committal about the plan
"We want to hear your ideas and want to express our ideas, so that we'll be
able to carry on," Olmert told the envoys.
Olmert has said the Arab plan has positive elements. But citing demographic
and security concerns, he made clear Israel opposed the return of Palestinian
refugees to their former homes in what is now the Jewish state and wanted to
hold on to major settlement blocs in the West Bank.
Israel sought to cast the envoys' visit as a potential turning point in
relations with the Arab League.
But Arab diplomats played down the gesture, and the head of the Arab League
told the BBC that the Egyptian and Jordanian diplomats were not acting on behalf
of the organization.
Egypt and Jordan already have full relations with Israel, and despite U.S.
and Israeli appeals to expand the number of Arab participants in the talks,
Saudi Arabia and other Arab League members have refused to take