- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

ALGIERS - An Arab summit formally rejected yesterday a proposal by the Jordanian king that would have revised Arab conditions for normalizing relations with Israel, sinking a plan that had won Israeli praise only hours earlier.

King Abdullah II ” who is in Washington to receive an honorary degree from Georgetown University today ” had called for dropping an Arab demand that Israel withdraw from all land it has occupied since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war before the Arab nations would grant it diplomatic recognition.

Nine of 22 Arab League countries assembled for the summit, which begins tomorrow, objected to the proposal on Saturday, and league Secretary-General Amr Moussa declared it dead yesterday.

“If Israel implements all its commitments, all the Arab countries will be ready to normalize relations with Israel. We are not going to move even 1 millimeter away from this,” Mr. Moussa told reporters after a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in the Algerian capital.

Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem concurred with Mr. Moussa, telling reporters the summit “will not be the summit of normalization.” Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom had praised the Jordanian proposal yesterday as he welcomed the newly installed Egyptian ambassador, ending a diplomatic freeze that had lasted through most of the past four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

“We are very satisfied by the Jordanian initiative. I think we can make progress with other Arab countries,” Mr. Shalom said.

The very fact that Jordan had put such an initiative to an Arab forum indicated a change in the diplomatic climate and showed that moderate Arab states were “testing the water,” he said.

“I would like to believe that after the Arab League [summit] will take place, it will be easier for some of those countries to make a move toward a better understanding with Israel,” Mr. Shalom told reporters.

Besides the return of the Egyptian envoy, Israeli government officials have said Morocco is expected to renew low-level ties soon.

Mr. Shalom said no date had been set with Morocco or any other country, but that talks were at an advanced stage with a number of Arab and Muslim states.

Also yesterday, Israeli and Palestinian commanders met to work out the last details of handing over the West Bank town of Tulkarem to Palestinian control, but the session ended without agreement.

Israel’s defense minister had said the turnover would take place today, making it the second of five West Bank towns to be transferred to Palestinian control. Palestinian officials said both sides would reconvene today.

As with the earlier turnover of Jericho, the main issues concerned control over surrounding territory and removal of Israeli roadblocks.

The transfers were part of a truce announced last month in Egypt by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and reinforced last week at a meeting of Palestinian factions in Cairo.

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