A meeting of Arab and Muslim leaders here that ended Thursday
provided a venue for Saudi Arabia to put some distance between
itself and the US, hand-wringing about the possible spread of Iraq's
civil war, and negotiations to resolve the growing crisis between
Iran and Britain.
But it didn't deliver as much progress as expected on the key
issue - called "the crux of the crises in the region" by the Saudi
foreign minister - everyone was talking about beforehand: a revived
push for peace with Israel led by Saudi Arabia.
The so-called Arab Peace Initiative was proposed in Beirut by
Saudi King Abdullah - then the crown prince - and accepted by the
Arab League in 2002.
At Thursday's summit, Arab leaders reaffirmed their support for
the Saudi proposal, which offers full recognition of Israel by the
Arab states in exchange for a return of Palestinian land seized in
the 1967 war, East Jerusalem as the Palestinians' capital, and the
return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes.
Saudi Arabia appears to be convinced that the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict is the key issue inflaming Islamist
revolutionaries in Arab countries, and gives Iran a wedge in gaining
regional influence by inflaming anti-regime sentiments.
That potential threat, along with instability in Iraq, make the
Saudi kingdom more eager for peace. Securing a deal that
Palestinians can live with would appear to go a long way to securing
its interests in the region, Saudi experts say.
But Israel considers the right of return a threat to its
survival, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called for Arab
concessions before moving forward. Israeli Deputy Prime Minister
Shimon Peres has called for negotiations, though. "You come with
your positions, and we will come with ours," he told Israel Radio.
Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa shot back at press
conference in which he sat next to Saudi Foreign Minister Prince
Saud al-Faisal: "The response from Israel is that they want
normalization and nothing else ... they come to us asking for the
Arab position to be amended. No, we say, why should we?"
Representatives of the US, the European Union, United Nations,
and Russia - who together comprise the so-called Quartet of Middle
East mediators - plan to meet with various Arab states and Israel in
the next few months.
But until there is significant compromise from one side or the
other, the bar for success on the Saudi plan is still high.
King Abdullah called for a lifting of Israel and America's
"unjust embargo" on the Palestinian territories, which would allow
the "peace process to move in an atmosphere of justice away from
humiliation and compulsion."
He also described the US presence in Iraq as an "illegal foreign
occupation,'' unusually harsh words from a close ally that comes at
a time when Saudi Arabia is increasingly decoupling its diplomatic
efforts from America's.
Other steps taken at the conference included:
* Calling for a nuclear-weapon free Middle East "without double
standards," a reference to Israel's suspected nuclear capacity. …