Arab Leaders Unanimously Approve Saudi Peace Initiative at Riyadh Summit

Arab leaders gathering for a two-day summit in Saudi Arabia yesterday unanimously approved the Saudi peace initiative originally launched in 2002.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas voted in favor of the initiative, although Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas abstained in the vote.

The plan offers Israel recognition and permanent peace with all Arab countries in return for an Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. It also calls for setting up a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees.

At the summit, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah called for an end to the international blockade on the Palestinian government. The king said: "It has become necessary to end the unjust blockade imposed on the Palestinian people as soon as possible so the peace process can proceed."

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, yesterday urged Arab states to be flexible in their land-for-peace offer to Israel. Addressing the Arab summit, Solana called for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 boundaries.

He called the Arab initiative a general concept that has to be developed. He also urged Arabs and Israel to deal with the plan as a starting point in negotiations.

In a written message to the Arab leaders gathered in Riyadh, Solana said the EU hopes all the members of the Arab League will fulfill their responsibilities and contribute to the success of this enterprise. "Failure to rise to today's challenges will put the Middle East at risk of missing the train of human and economic development," he said in the message.

Before arriving in Riyadh, Solana expressed optimism that the relaunched initiative could reinvigorate the Middle East peace process. Solana's presence at the summit was designed to highlight the European Union's support for the peace initiative, officials said.

If Israel rejects the Arab peace initiative, it means it is not interested in reaching a peaceful solution with its neighbors, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said yesterday. Speaking at the summit, al-Faisal said, "If Israel refuses, that means it doesn't want peace."

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh urged Arab leaders not to compromise on the Palestinian refugees' right to return to their homes in Israel, a clause in the initiative which Israel has asked to modify. "I expect the Arab summit meeting to reiterate the Arab countries' commitment not to compromise on the Palestinian refugees right of return," Haniyeh said.

At the summit, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Arab leaders to prove they were serious about peace with Israel by reviving their five-year-old initiative. "The Arab peace initiative is one of the pillars for the peace process ... This initiative sends a signal that the Arabs are serious about achieving peace," Ban told Arab leaders. "When I was in Israel I urged my Israeli friends to take a new look at the initiative. Here in Riyadh, I also urge you, my Arab friends, to benefit from this initiative and reiterate your commitment to it."

At the summit, Arab League chief Amr Moussa urged Israel to accept the initiative rather than ask for changes. "The Israeli response was to ask for an amendment. We tell them to accept it first," Moussa told Arab leaders. "We are at a crossroads - either we move toward a real peace or see an escalation in the situation."