Saudi King Musn't Shake Peres' Hand at Interfaith Meet, pan-Arab Newspaper Editor Says

Israeli president, FM Livni to appear alongside Saudi monarch for first time at interfaith gathering at UN.

The editor in chief of the pan-Arab London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper is calling on Saudi King Abdullah to refrain from shaking hands with President Shimon Peres during next week's interfaith gathering at the United Nations headquarters in New York, Israel Radio reported on Saturday.

Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have been invited to take part in a United Nations interfaith conference initiated by Saudi King Abdullah next week.

In an article penned under his byline, the editor, Abd al-Bari Atwan, expresses bewilderment over the invitations extended to Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for an event purportedly devoted to religious issues, according to Israel Radio.

"As far as I know, Peres is not among the rabbinical scholars of Israel and Livni is not the head of the religious studies department at the Hebrew University," Israel Radio quoted Atwan as writing in the Saturday editorial.

Atwan says the organizers of the interfaith gathering have an ulterior motive - namely, to promote a normalization of ties between Riyadh and Jerusalem so as to more effectively confront challenges from Iran.

"Shimon Peres, the sly fox, will not pass up a chance to publicly shake the hand of the Saudi king," Atwan wrote. The editor called on the monarch to avoid doing so, Israel Radio reported on Saturday.

Livni is expected to accompany Peres to the conference, which will mark the first time Peres will participate in a panel alongside the Saudi ruler.

In addition to Peres and Abdullah, the panel will include Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, Jordanian King Abdullah, the king of Bahrain, the emir of Kuwait, the prime minister of Qatar, the prime minister of Yemen and the president of Pakistan.

The President's Residence issued a statement Tuesday saying "Peres and Livni plan to hold a round of political meetings with senior officials from the Arab world on the sidelines of the conference."

Peres was planning to invite a rabbi, a Muslim Kadi and a Christian priest to join his delegation to the conference, "to show that Israel is a country that allows freedom of worship to all believers."

The conference is part of Abdullah's initiative to promote interfaith dialogue, joined by religious representatives from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths. A similar conference convened recently in Madrid.