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Egypt has rejected an American proposal for gradual normalization between the Arab world and Israel that would have allowed Israeli planes to fly freely through Arab air space.

The idea arose during discussions in Washington last week between Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and senior White House and State Department officials, including National Security Advisor James Jones and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In an interview with the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, Aboul Gheit said that U.S. officials had asked him what the Arab response would be if Washington pressured Israel to reach a peace agreement. He responded that after the Oslo Accords were signed, some Arab states allowed Israeli offices to open in their territory, but today, the Arab world insists on seeing concrete Israeli action before making any further gestures.

If Israel accedes to international demands, he continued, "the Arab states could accede to gradual normalization, each according to its own considerations."

That implies that Egypt does not see the Arab peace initiative as requiring Arab states to normalize relations with Israel uniformly and simultaneously. Rather, normalization is something each country would institute at a time it deems appropriate.

Aboul Gheit also rejected Jerusalem's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, saying this would endanger Israel's Arabs - "especially when Israel has a foreign minister who calls for expelling the Arabs to Palestine, or outside of Israel ... It is also impossible to rule out the possibility of an Israeli leader arising one day and saying, 'the number of Arabs in the state has risen, and we must reduce their demographic weight to maintain Israel's Jewish character.'"