Lebanese Lawmaker Calls for Arab Peace Talks With Israel

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri yesterday called for the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Arab states. This is the first time that Berri has issued a public call for peace talks with Israel.

"Now is the time to raise the issue of returning to peace negotiations [with Israel]," Berri said in an interview with the al-Arabiyah network from Paris, where he is visiting. He was also quoted in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat daily.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said in response, "If the war [with Lebanon] results in diplomatic talks with Lebanon, it would be a central strategic achievement." Livni said Berri's statement was proof that the war with Hezbollah had left its mark on Lebanon.

Berri made similar statements earlier this week to Arab lawmakers at a conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Geneva. He said that now that Hezbollah had triumphed over Israel, the time was ripe for holding comprehensive peace talks.

Berri said the victory proved that Israel could not "impose peace by force."

Berri is also the leader of Amal movement, Hezbollah's rival for the support of Lebanon's Shi'ite community. In recent years, Berri has become an ally of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, and their alliance only strengthened during the recent conflict in Lebanon. Since his organization was not directly involved in the fighting and his movement was not restricted, Berri served as go-between for Hezbollah and leaders outside Lebanon. Some two weeks ago, Berri visited Saudi Arabia and met King Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia supports Hezbollah's rival, the Al-Mustaqbal (the Future) movement, headed by Sa'ad Hariri. Berri is seen as an ally of Syria, which supports Hezbollah.

Berri said the peace initiative proposed by King Abdullah in 2002 should serve as the basis of peace talks. He said he told Abdullah that the Arab world must unite, so that all the Arab states could participate in peace talks.

Speaking to Kadima party members in Dimona, Livni said "Berri's statement was the best proof that the war has changed the rules of conduct in Lebanon, and that now different voices are heard."

Livni also commented on the Iranian threat, saying "an alliance between North Korea and Iran could lead to exchanges and proliferation of technology, information and arms to other countries in the region, and even to terror organizations."