- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

CAIRO President Hosni Mubarak described a Middle East peace proposal floated by Saudi Arabia as neither new nor likely to work, offering the most negative assessment to date of an idea that has sparked interest from Washington to Jerusalem.
"In 1996, the Arab League was convening in Cairo [and] we concluded a resolution unanimously agreeing upon peace as the strategy of all Arab countries," Mr. Mubarak told The Washington Times in an interview. "Not a single country was excluded. All of them agreed to that."
The Egyptian president, who arrives in Washington this weekend to discuss regional issues with President Bush, said that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah was merely restating that agreement when he proposed full normalization of relations with Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders.
Mr. Mubarak cautioned that the plan was unlikely to succeed because Israel viewed it as a starting point for negotiations, while the Saudi proposal could only be an all-or-nothing deal.
"Are the Israelis ready to withdraw from the occupied territories?" the Egyptian president said. "They have started to say, 'Let's talk to Crown Prince Abdullah. We want to discuss and make negotiations, meet halfway.' This will not work."
Mr. Mubarak said he doubts that Israel is prepared for a complete withdrawal, which would mean giving up East Jerusalem and all its holy sites.
Several world leaders, from Mr. Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, have expressed interest in the plan, first broached by Crown Prince Abdullah in an interview with columnist Thomas L. Friedman for the New York Times.
Senior Palestinian official Saab Erekat has called it "the most important proposal to come out of the Arab world" in many years.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana cut short a trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories to discuss the idea yesterday with the de facto Saudi leader.
He then left for a meeting with Mr. Mubarak in Cairo, with Saudi officials suggesting the plan could become the centerpiece of an upcoming Arab League summit.
Mr. Mubarak met in Cairo on Tuesday with King Abdullah of Jordan and has been talking to other Arab leaders in order to present a consensus view during his meetings in Washington next week.
The Egyptian president was a little more positive about the Saudi plan in a subsequent interview conducted yesterday with the daily al-Akhbar, a transcript of which was provided to Reuters news agency.
"The words of Prince Abdullah are good … and it is important that Israel withdraw from [the] land," he was quoted as saying.
But, he added, "talk of entering into negotiations with Saudi Arabia about this proposal or trying to reach compromises is surprising as the issue is clear. Full withdrawal will result in full peace, while entering into interpretations and explanations will not lead to a new result."
U.S. officials have said they are interested in hearing Mr. Mubarak's views on the proposal during his scheduled meeting next week with Mr. Bush, who spoke by telephone to Crown Prince Abdullah on Tuesday.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said afterward that Mr. Bush had "praised the crown prince's ideas regarding the full Arab-Israeli normalization once a comprehensive peace agreement has been reached."
Mr. Fleischer also said the Saudi proposal "underscores Saudi Arabia's willingness to reach out to Israel, and that, the president finds, is encouraging."

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