3/27/2007 6:45:00 PM
By: Karima Saifullah

After months of efforts to bring Arabs closer to a solution that ends bloodshed in Iraq, occupation in Palestine and thus the prevailing turmoil in the region, Saudi Arabia will press leaders to support a plan to end decades of Israeli-Arab conflict, which is considered heart of the region’s problems, at the historic Arab summit that will be held tomorrow.

The two-day summit will hopefully reap the fruits of months of continuous diplomatic efforts by Saudi Arabia aimed at promoting stability and peace in the region. It will revive an offer of full peace that includes: normalizing ties with Israel if it agreed to withdraw from all Arab lands it occupied in the 1967 war, accepts the creation of a Palestinian state and a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.

Experts also believe that tomorrow’s summit will revive Saudi Arabia’s position amongst the Arab world and counterbalance the rising influence of Iran, which witnessed a great power boost following the victory of the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah in its month-long conflict against Israel last summer.

The core focus of the summit will be reviving the long-dormant Arab plan for Middle East peace that was adopted in 2002 and challenged by Washington and Israel.

Although Israel announced its strong rejection of the agreement when it was first declared, Israeli leaders began recently hinting at reconsidering the plan as a starting point for talks.
But, according to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the plan’s insistence on the right of return of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Middle East war, remains a stumbling block.

The Arab League was “sending a clear message to the world about their determination to strive for peace,” one of the Arab ministers attending the summit told AFP.

Ministers were “declaring their readiness to open negotiations with the Jewish state about the modalities of their initiative, namely the thorny question of Palestinian refugees,” he further stated.

Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab states having peace treaties with Israel. They are expected to be the ones handling contacts with the Jewish state, according to the minister’s remarks.

As described Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr, the summit comes on the right time, with tension reaching its peak between Palestinians and Israel, after 60 years of continuous fighting.

“The time is right to reach a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” the Palestinian Foreign Minister said. “I think if the relevant parties are serious we have a good plan that can achieve peace and security in the region for all,” he added, referring to the Arab peace plan first adopted in 2002.

“Who in the Arab world is ready to go into a peace plan with Israel on behalf of everyone?” said Ahmed Shalan, a columnist in Saudi-owned Arab daily al-Hayat.

“The role of leadership in the Arab world falls on Saudi Arabia, which certainly did not seek to obtain it. This role, which is a great challenge, carries enormous consequences.”

Sunni states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, whom Washington views as “moderate” for supporting its policies in the region, may seem more keen on achieving political gains from the Saudi summit, however, the historic meeting of Arab leaders tomorrow is expected to have its good results affecting the Arab and Islamic world as a whole, as it will strengthen national identity and help them meet their economic, political and cultural challenges.

Last February, Saudi Arabia played a regional role in the Mecca summit which was hosted by Saudi King Abdullah and resulted in bringing the two rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas together in a unity government that ended months of violence and turmoil in the occupied territories.

Viewed by the vast majority of Islamists in the Arab world as the country who showed submissiveness to the U.S. imperialism more than any other country in the world, the Saudi initiative will help mend the image of the kingdom across the Muslim world, and thus be regarded as the savior who led the region to a final peace, according to Reuters editorial.

But Abdel Bari Atwan, Arab nationalist editor of al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, has a different explanation.

“Saudi Arabia has been reluctant to play a leading role, and they had wanted to marginalise the Arab League,”

“Now, suddenly, they changed their minds because of American pressure, not because they are willing. The U.S. turned to them and said ‘you are our ally, please do something’.”

Libya is the only member of the 22-strong Arab League boycotting the Saudi summit.


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