- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Palestinians yesterday hailed a reported Saudi plan under which Arab countries would offer full recognition of Israel if it returned to its 1967 borders. But Israeli officials called the idea vague and said it could push Jews away from their most sacred site: Jerusalem's Wailing Wall.
Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, told the New York Times that he had drafted a speech offering a deal "full [Israeli] withdrawal from all the occupied territories, in accord with U.N. resolutions, including in Jerusalem, for full normalization of [Arab-Israeli] relations."
But Prince Abdullah shelved the speech in anger at Israeli repression of the Palestinians, said the Sunday New York Times commentary by Thomas Friedman.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed the idea as a huge step forward.
"This is the most important offer that's been made by the Arab world for decades," he told Reuters news agency. "Prince Abdullah's offer is a very significant development that should be considered very seriously by the United States and Israel. [They] must not waste this historic opportunity."
An Israeli official said such a Saudi proposal could end Israeli control over the Western Wall of the ancient Jewish Temple and could hide a call for the immigration of 4 million Palestinians into Israel, under U.N. resolutions dating back 50 years.
"It is positive when Saudi officials talk about peace," said the Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We should encourage it. We have not had enough of it and hope the Saudis will play a more active role."
But he said the New York Times column was vague and "could justify the right of return" by millions of Palestinian refugees hostile to the Jewish state.
The Israeli official also said the Saudi idea was a step backward from what was set down at Camp David in 2000, when Palestinian negotiators considered terms under which "Jewish parts of East Jerusalem would stay in Israel and some settlement blocs [adjacent to Israel's 1967 border] would also stay in Israel."
The Camp David talks ended in failure when Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat rejected those provisions and insisted on the right of all refugees to return to Israel.
Yesterday, Mr. Arafat welcomed Prince Abdullah's ideas as "important" and said they could contribute to peace and to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on Israeli-occupied lands.
The Palestinian Legislative Council said in a statement that it hoped the world and Israel would respond positively.
Inside Israel, another peace solution was offered by a group of 1,000 senior reserve generals and colonels, as well as reserve Shin Bet and Mossad intelligence officials, who wanted Israel simply to pull out of the entire Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank.
The Council for Peace and Security said it would begin a campaign for unilateral Israeli withdrawal, often called disengagement or separation, from conquered Arab lands.
The group wants Israel to abandon about 50 settlements, including all those in Gaza, and allow the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state. It favors immediate peace talks with the Palestinians, regardless of whether a cease-fire comes first as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon insists.
Reserve Maj. Gen. Danny Rothschild, president of the council, was quoted by Ha'aretz newspaper yesterday as saying that radicals had "taken over the entire [Palestinian] moderate camp." He also said he was concerned by the refusal of more than 200 Israeli reservists, many of them hardened veterans, to serve in the occupied territories.
Violence continued yesterday when a Palestinian man set off a bomb in a car near Jerusalem, killing himself and a policeman who stopped the vehicle, officials said.
In the West Bank, an Israeli F-16 missile destroyed the police headquarters in the Al-Tira neighborhood of the Palestinian-ruled city of Ramallah, but there were no casualties, according to Palestinan security sources and witnesses.
The Israeli army said that strike was in retaliation for an attack by a Palestinian militant in the Gaza Strip last night that killed a Jewish settler and two Israeli soldiers.
The Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement, said it was behind Sunday's failed attack on a military base in northern Israel in which two assailants were killed, one in a gunbattle with police and the second in an explosion he set off while being pursued by officers.
Also Sunday, three suspected Palestinian assailants and a would-be suicide bomber were caught by Israeli forces near the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Israel's military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi, said Israel had credible warnings about more planned suicide attacks. The Israeli military does not have the tools to prevent such attacks, Mr. Zeevi told Israel's Channel 2.


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