Saudi Arabia Reacts to Olmert's Offer

ByABC News
April 4, 2007, 2:09 PM

JERUSALEM, April 4, 2007 — -- Saudi Arabia has responded to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's call for Arab leaders to convene to talk peace by saying that Israel should first accept the latest Arab peace initiative.

A Saudi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that Israel must accept the Arab peace initiative "before any meeting is considered."

Earlier this week, Olmert called on the Arab states to convene a regional conference to discuss peace talks with Israel. This was Israel's first reaction to a peace initiative proposed by the Arab countries in a summit last week.

The Arab peace initiative relaunched in Riyadh last week is the same plan the Arab states proposed in the Beirut Arab Summit in 2002. The proposal calls for Israel to withdraw fully from lands it occupied in 1967 in exchange for normal relations with the Arab countries.

Israel dismissed the idea back then, but today Olmert saw positive points in it and even said that if he had been invited, he "would have taken the first flight" to Saudi Arabia to discuss it.

The Arab states offered full normalization if Israel would withdraw from the occupied territory and if it agreed to a just solution to the Palestinian refugees who have never been allowed to return to their homes and lands after the 1948 Israeli-Arab War. Fearing demographic changes, Israeli leaders always rejected any talk of the return of millions of these Palestinian refugees.

Mustapha Barghouti, the Palestinian information minister, told ABC News that Olmert "is playing games with words because he does not want to respond to the challenges of peace. This is an historical moment," Barghouti said, "where Palestinians and Arabs are unified in an offer for peace in exchange for ending occupation and to allow a sovereign Palestinian state to be established."

Barghouti said Olmert is trying to substitute a comprehensive peace plan with partial deals. "The Israeli prime minister wants to normalize relations with the Arab countries without solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More important, Olmert's statement reflects the weakness of his government and the unfortunate absence of a strong Israeli peace partner," Bargouti said.