Olmert Backs Regional Summit to Discuss Saudi Peace Initiative

Olmert: Israel is ready to take proposal 'seriously'; Abbas reiterates that Arab League won't alter initiative.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that Israel was willing to treat the 2002 Saudi peace initiative "seriously," and said he supports a regional summit to discuss the plan.

"We have said more than once that the Saudi initiative is a matter which we would be ready to treat seriously and we have not altered our position," Olmert said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

"We hope very much that at the meeting of heads of Arab states to take place in Riyadh, the positive elements expressed in the Saudi initiative will be revalidated and will perhaps improve the chances of negotiation between us and the Palestinian Authority."

The Saudi initiative calls for normalization of ties between Israel and the entire Arab world in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 boundaries, as well as an "agreed, just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees in conformity with [UN] Resolution 194."

The is the first time that the prime minister has backed a regional dialogue on the Saudi plan, although he has previously commented on its "positive elements."

Abbas, meeting Saturday with MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al), reiterated that no changes will be made to the Saudi initiative - as called for by Israel - but urged critics of the plan to explore the initiative before ruling it out.

The initiative is set to be relaunched at the Arab League meeting at the end of the month. It was first adopted by the League at a summit in Beirut in March 2002.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has expressed hopes that changes be made to the initiative, addressing specifically the document's section on the Palestinian refugees, which was not part of the initial Saudi draft, but was added at the 2002 Beirut summit.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa has also stressed that no changes will be made to the current format of the initiative.