Egypt, Jordan to Lead Efforts to Promote Arab Initiative

Egypt and Jordan will spearhead efforts to market the Arab initiative for peace with Israel, the Arab League committee entrusted with implementing the scheme decided yesterday. The League conditioned negotiations with Israel on the cessation of construction in the settlements.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke yesterday by phone with King Abdullah II of Jordan on promoting the Arab peace initiative.

Olmert told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the diplomatic process with the Palestinians would be based on the road map and direct negotiations. He said the Arab League initiative could provide the "envelope" for the process.

Olmert also told the committee that the U.S. had tried to promote a regional conference with the participation of the international Quartet, the Arab Quartet - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates - Israel and the Palestinian Authority. However, the attempt failed "and not because of us."

He also said the Arab League was considering sending a delegation to Israel.

Olmert's bureau said that "we will gladly accept any delegation and will speak with them. We do not present conditions to others and we expect them not to present us with conditions."

The Arab League's implementation committee, consisting of 13 Arab foreign ministers, met yesterday at League headquarters in Cairo and decided that teams would work opposite various international officials and present a report to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, said that Egypt and Jordan would explain the initiative to the Israeli government and political groups in Israel because they had peace treaties with Israel, but that "there will be no Arab normalization for free."

Moussa said the League's demand that Israel stop building in the settlements "is a natural thing. It is inconceivable that the Arab countries will negotiate and the settlements will be built. We are open to peace, and hope that Israel is also open to peace."

The Arab ministers will meet to discuss the results of talks with Israel in mid-June.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Abu-Faisal said yesterday after the meeting that his country would not hold talks with Israel and that a limited committee had been established to discuss Arab policies on the peace process. In addition to Egypt and Jordan, the committee consists of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinians.

Abu-Faisal told journalists that if Israel does not withdraw from the territories it occupied in 1967, "there will be no peace and no normalization."