- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

BEIRUT Ministers here for an Arab League summit yesterday completed a draft communique of harsh anti-Israeli rhetoric that belied the conciliatory tone of a Saudi peace plan to be discussed later this week.
The formal statement, to be finalized by presidents and prime ministers from 22 Arab nations tomorrow, reflects generations of pain and hatred rather than the more generous tone of the Saudi land-for-peace initiative.
For example, the communique calls for an "activated Arab vision holding Israel fully responsible for its subversive acts against the Palestinian people" and salutes the "heroic intifada."
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who was to have been a key participant at the summit, was blocked by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from attending.
Also, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak an influential and centrist Arab voice was staying home for unspecified "domestic commitments."
The absence of both leaders came as a blow to summit efforts to address Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
Mr. Sharon, who had been under U.S. pressure to allow Mr. Arafat to attend, said he might have considered it had the Palestinian leader called on his people, in Arabic, to put down their guns and stop 18 months of fighting.
"Unfortunately, the conditions are not yet ripe for Chairman Arafat's departure for Beirut," Mr. Sharon said in an interview on Israel television's Arab-language program.
After Mr. Sharon's interview, Mr. Arafat's office said Israel was using the summit as leverage to get Palestinians to accept unfair security arrangements for ending their uprising.
"President Arafat has consulted with his leadership and has studied the issue carefully. He has decided not to allow Israel to pressure the Palestinian negotiators into submitting to Israeli conditions, and so he decided not to go to the summit," said Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo.
The Palestinian leader is expected to address the summit by satellite from Ramallah, where he has been confined by Israel for months.
With Mr. Arafat and Mr. Mubarak absent, the summit appeared yesterday to take on a harsher tone than envisioned a week ago.
The communique promises to raise an additional $150 million to support Palestinian military groups leading the 18-month-old uprising.
"Arab leaders also declared their commitment to cease building any new relations with Israel" until the Jewish state implements international legal resolutions, the communique says.
The 50-page document, written in Arabic, was translated into three pages of English by the National News Agency of Lebanon.
It could be adapted by leaders today and tomorrow to include aspects of the Saudi peace initiative in which Arab nations would make peace with Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from land occupied in the 1967 war.
The Arab leaders also could choose to issue a separate position paper on the Saudi plan.
The communique appears to drop a paragraph included in at least three previous Arab League summits that urges Iraq to comply with all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Instead, the communique rejects the use of force on Iraq, an apparent reference to U.S. plans to drive Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power.
At least one non-Arab diplomat following the summit from outside the heavily guarded meeting area said the omission could be troubling, especially after Vice President Richard B. Cheney's visit to the region earlier this month.
"I don't think the Kuwaitis would let that pass," the diplomat said.
Mr. Cheney sought, unsuccessfully, to convince Arab leaders of a need to stop with military force if necessary Saddam from developing weapons of mass destruction.
The summit communique says, "Arab leaders also stressed their deep concern for the unity and safety of Iraq, rejecting use of force or threats against it or any other Arab country."
Nearly two dozen Arab leaders arrived here yesterday, their private jets landing in a slashing rain, for the annual two-day meeting.
A brass band played national anthems, and Lebanese politicians gamely spent the unpleasant day welcoming guests on the tarmac.
Mr. Mubarak's decision not to attend surprised many summit participants, many of whom noted that Egypt was a regional powerhouse diplomatically, politically and economically.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is boycotting the summit because, he says, it is not being true to Arab ideals.
Among those too old or frail to travel are the top leaders of Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, although Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, has arrived.
Saddam has not left his country since the 1990-91 Gulf war.
The communique, like the Arab leaders themselves, is lavish in its praise for the Palestinian cause.
It promises that members will provide $350 million to fund the Palestinian Authority operating budget during the next six months and calls for the full repatriation of Palestinian refugees.
Unlike U.N. resolutions, the Arab League never has accepted the principle of restitution for the refugees in lieu of their return.
Dan Ephron contributed to this report from Jerusalem.


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