- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 28, 2010

SIRTE, Libya (AP) — Arab leaders on Sunday renewed their support for Mideast peace efforts, rejecting pressure from Syria and Libya on the Palestinians to abandon talks with Israel and resume armed resistance.

The Arab League’s backing of a peace initiative with Israel comes despite its firm opposition to Israeli plans for new Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem, land that Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state.

“The Arab peace initiative is a serious move. If we withdraw it, what will be the Arab stance after that?” Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told reporters after the summit’s closing session.

But the calls from Damascus and Tripoli to quit peace efforts reflected the depth of frustration and anger over the stalled peace process and continued Israeli construction in areas claimed by the Palestinians, particularly east Jerusalem.

Syrian President Bashar Assad urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw from a U.S.-supported peace strategy and take up arms against Israel, according to two delegates who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

They said Mr. Assad also urged Arab countries to halt any contacts with Israel, though only Egypt and Jordan have peace deals with the Jewish state.

“The price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace,” one delegate quoted Mr. Assad as telling Mr. Abbas.

Summit host Moammar Gadhafi of Libya warned that his nation will withdraw support for the peace initiative launched at a 2002 Arab League summit in Beirut.

Senior Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh swiftly dismissed the pressure.

“Let us be realistic. We will not follow those who have special agendas,” he told Al-Jazeera television. “We are ready for any Arab option. If they want to go to war, let them declare that and mobilize their armies and their people, and we will follow suit.”

But the wrangling reflects deep division among Arabs over how to deal with the stalled Mideast talks. Arabs blame the two sides’ failure to return to the negotiating table on Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu.

Earlier this month, Arab nations opened the door for Mr. Abbas to enter four months of indirect, American-brokered peace talks with Israel. But they later threatened to withdraw support for the negotiations after Israel announced plans for new Jewish homes in east Jerusalem.

Speaking at the summit Saturday, Mr. Abbas urged Mideast peace brokers to push Israel to stop settlement construction, and he vowed that the Palestinians will not sign any peace deal with Israel without the Jewish state ending its “occupation” of east Jerusalem.

He accused Mr. Netanyahu’s government of trying to create a de facto situation in Jerusalem that would torpedo any future peace settlement.

The Palestinians also are asking Arab nations for millions of dollars in funding for Palestinians living in east Jerusalem.

A day after proposing that Arab states directly engage Iran over its growing influence and disputed nuclear program, Mr. Moussa said some nations had reservations about an open dialogue with Tehran.

“Iran is not an enemy. Iran is a brotherly country. Let us sit and put everything on the table and reach an agreement for the sake of peace and stability,” he said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who attended the summit, immediately endorsed Mr. Moussa’s proposal, along with Syria and Iraq. But delegates said both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two key U.S allies, rejected the idea.

The summit registered a higher than usual number of no-shows from Arab leaders. Eight heads of state stayed away, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Recent Arab summits have been marred by disagreements among Arab leaders, divided between pro-Western rulers and more radical regimes. The divisions tend to water down joint Arab positions.

Salah Nasrawi reported from Cairo.

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