- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

BEIRUT The Arab League closed a two-day summit yesterday with a unanimous offer of "a just and comprehensive peace" if Israel withdraws from occupied Arab lands.
If Israel agrees, the Arab world will "consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region," said a statement adopted unanimously by the 22-nation Arab League at the summit in Beirut.
But the initiative carried with it a threat.
"If Israel refuses the peace process," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told reporters here, "there will be a return to violence, pushing forward to the precipice, inviting hostilities that God forbid will happen."
The statement won wary praise from both the United States and Israel even as Palestinian attacks continued and the Israeli military prepared to retaliate for the suicide attack on Wednesday that killed 20 Israelis as Passover began.
"We welcome the unanimous decision to accept the communique at the summit in Beirut," said Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman.
Israel called the proposal "a very interesting development, something that should be pursued." But Israel has reservations, said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Mr. Gissin insisted that Arab nations must open "direct negotiations with Israel," and Mr. Sharon has long ruled out a complete withdrawal from Arab territory captured during the 1967 war.
The declaration warns that hard-won diplomatic and economic relations with moderate Arab states such as Jordan and Egypt could be dissolved if Israel refuses the peace initiative.
"We call on all leaders to commit themselves to a full halt of all relations with Israel and the reactivation of the Arab-Israeli boycott until Israel abides by all U.N. resolutions … and agrees to full withdrawal of all Arab territories since 1967," one plank in the proposal says.
The summit communique, dubbed the "Beirut Declaration," demands that Palestinians be given a sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The Arab proposal breaks new ground by suggesting compensation in lieu of a long-standing demand that all 3.5 million Palestinian refugees be allowed to resettle in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
It marks a major change in the Arab mind-set of 23 years ago, when Egypt was ostracized for making peace with the Jewish state.
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the peace plan "can help shape a more positive environment for peacemaking."
The Saudi-inspired initiative invites international power brokers, from the United States to the United Nations, to champion the proposal with the Israeli government and its people.
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah will discuss the initiative with President Bush when he visits the president's Texas ranch next month.
The peace proposal for Israel is contained in a lengthy declaration that also purports to seal a truce between Iraq and Kuwait over disputes ranging from prisoners of war to border disagreements.
Baghdad's 1990 invasion of Kuwait led to crippling economic sanctions, the Persian Gulf war, and the hunt for weapons of mass destruction.
The communique calls for Iraq to comply with all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, and demands the immediate lifting of sanctions.
But it also includes an explicit rejection of military action against Iraq, warning that an attack on one Arab nation will be considered an attack on all Arab nations.
"The Arab League rejects any attempt to attack any Arab country, especially Iraq, or to threaten its security, for this is considered as threatening an attack in any Arab country," according to an English translation of the document.
That language appeared directed at the Bush administration, which has made removing Saddam Hussein from power one of its top foreign-policy goals.
In a surprising bit of diplomatic theater, the head of the Iraqi delegation, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, entered the Phoenecia Hotel ballroom yesterday arm in arm with Crown Prince Abdullah, and they kissed to a room full of applause. Saudi help in the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 1991 had soured relations between the two countries.
The Arab communique promises security for Israel after it cedes occupied territories.
"Israel has gambled on war for 50 years. It is time to gamble on peace," said Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa.
The Beirut Declaration is noteworthy in the language it uses and avoids.
Israel, for example, has been adamantly opposed to the phrase "right of return," saying the influx of some 3.5 million largely impoverished Palestinians would dilute Israel's Jewish character and overwhelm the already teeming West Bank and Gaza.
Instead, the 25-point proposal leaves it to individual nations to decide whether to accept the refugees as citizens.
Jordan, for example, is now nearly one-half Palestinian, but the Lebanese Constitution denies the refugees citizenship.
The text also promises undefined "normal relations," rather than the more specific "normalization," a phrase to which Syria adamantly objected.


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