U.S. Envoy: Arab Peace Initiative Will Be Part of Obama Policy

2002 deal offers normalized Arab-Israeli ties in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories.

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The Arab peace initiative will be part of the Obama administration's policy toward the Middle East, the United States special envoy to the region said.

The 2002 initiative offers to normalize relations between the entire Arab region and Israel, in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories including East Jerusalem, the establishment of a Palestinian State and a "just settlement" for Palestinian refugees.

The envoy, George Mitchell, said the U.S. intends to "incorporate" the initiative into its Middle East policy. He made the statement at a meeting with Israeli, Arab American and European senior diplomats and officials in Washington a few weeks ago.

At the Brookings Institute workshop, Mitchell asked the participants for their recommendations for U.S. policy toward Israel's Syrian and Palestinian.

The Arab representatives were reportedly satisfied with Mitchell's statement, but added that the initiative is a package deal and cannot be modified. Israel has yet to express a formal position on the Arab initiative.

The organizers of the workshop, which began March 17 and lasted three days, were former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and Danny Abraham, a Jewish-American businessman and peace activist. Indyk, who was a consultant for former U.S. president Bill Clinton, is considered a close associate of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The workshop dealt with the U.S. attitude toward Benjamin Netanyahu's new government.

Senior Palestinian sources told Haaretz that the U.S. State Department is preparing a plan to market the Arab initiative to Israelis, and will release a document highlighting the gestures that Arab nations have agreed to take under the initiative.

The idea behind the initiative, they said, was to "break down the Arab Peace Initiative into its details and not leave it as a purely theoretical framework," adding, "The Americans promised they will handle the negotiations and the peace process. This will not only be pressure regarding the general framework of the agreement as under George Bush, but taking care of issues at hand."

On Thursday U.S. President Barack Obama met with the Saudi King Abdullah, who presented the Arab peace plan. The White House said in a statement that Obama had expressed support for the plan.

Obama and King Abdullah "reaffirmed the long-standing, strong relationship between the two countries," according to the statement. "They discussed international cooperation regarding the global economy, regional political and security issues, and cooperation against terrorism."

Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood insisted the U.S. would push for the establishment of a Palestinian state, saying, "We're going to be working hard to see what we can do to move the process forward. But we're under no illusions. It's not going to be easy."



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