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Saudi Arabia Offer's Land For Peace Idea To Help End The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

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Just read this today and was surprised. It is the first time another Arab country is trying to help bring Israel and Palestine to an agreement. This proposal is similar to the one Arafat refused in Clinton's last year in office.


Israel Eyes Land-For-Peace Plan

Mon Feb 25, 6:17 PM ET

By DAN PERRY, Associated Press Writer


JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel said Monday it is exploring with interest a tentative Saudi proposal that calls for an Israeli pullout from virtually all the territories it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war in return for comprehensive peace.




AP Photo


Renewed Mideast Violence After Vague Talk of Peace (AP)




Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news - web sites) has fiercely opposed a total pullout. But he knows Israelis are despondent over 17 months of dead-end conflict and eager for a ray of hope. The Saudi proposal offers two things Israel craves: Broad acceptance by Arab states and a negotiating partner beyond Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (news - web sites).


However, any discussion of significant concessions to Palestinians could undermine Sharon's governing coalition — a patchwork of parties with widely divergent positions on the land-for-peace idea.


The Palestinians and moderate Arabs have welcomed the Saudi idea, and Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) said Sunday it was an important step he hoped would be fleshed out in the next few weeks.


Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, told The Associated Press on Monday that Israel was "trying to find out through the United States and other sources ... if this is a real proposal."


"If indeed a reasonable offer is presented ... that will guarantee not just that Israel gives back territory but that real, true normalization will develop — I think you can restore the confidence in peace because most of the people want peace," Gissin said.


Trying to build momentum, Israel's President Moshe Katsav said Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah — who floated the proposal in a recent interview with The New York Times — should come to Israel for talks, or alternatively receive him in Riyadh.


However, Katsav has a mainly ceremonial role, and the real power rests with Sharon. When Katsav wanted to address the Palestinian parliament recently, Sharon blocked the plan. In any case, Saudi Arabia has refused to have any contact with Israel while its dispute with the Palestinians remains unresolved.


One possibility being discussed was for the Saudis to raise the proposal at next month's Arab League summit in Lebanon, but Palestinian officials said they were assured that would not happen unless Israel ended Arafat's three-month confinement to the West Bank town of Ramallah.


Details of the Saudi proposal remained sketchy, but it was clearly very different from the limited interim settlement that Sharon has said he would pursue with the Palestinians if and when violence subsides.


Sharon has for decades been a leading patron of the West Bank and Gaza settlements where some 200,000 Israelis live. A near-total pullout would require many, if not most, of them to be removed.


As described by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the Saudi ideas were similar to the proposal made last year by former President Clinton (news - web sites) and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (news - web sites) — which was fiercely opposed by Sharon, then Israel's opposition leader.


Barak proposed a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip (news - web sites) and more than 90 percent of the West Bank, with a foothold in East Jerusalem. Arafat held out for more land and a "right of return" for war refugees, which Israel feared could bring millions of Palestinians into its territory.


Talks broke down amid violence that has to date killed 994 people on the Palestinian side and 285 on the Israeli side.


Gissin said Israel wanted to know the current Saudi position on refugees and Jerusalem.


But Gideon Meir, a top Foreign Ministry official, said the prime concern was whether a possible deal would include not just Palestinian but Arab League endorsement.


"The highlight is that Arab world will embrace it," Meir said. "We take it seriously... It's a tremendous opportunity for Israel — tremendous. It's interesting and important, and I hope it's more than just in a newspaper."


Some hawkish politicians were less enthusiastic.


Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, who is a member of Sharon's Likud Party, ruled out the redivision of Jerusalem implicit in the Saudi proposal and said, while the ideas were a step forward, "we will have to wait until they agree to something more acceptable to Israel."


Also unclear is whether the Saudis were also asking for an Israeli pullout from the Golan Heights — most probably needed to bring Syria into the fold. Damascus lost the strategic plateau to Israel in 1967.


The Saudi ideas last week won endorsements in Egypt and Jordan — the only two Arab nations to have full peace with Israel. Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said in remarks carried by the official Petra news agency that they were "extremely positive" and could "break the stalemate in the peace process."


And in a statement to the Palestinian news agency Wafa, Arafat said the "important positions" presented by Abdullah "represent a clear support and push for the peace efforts" toward creation of a Palestinian state while giving "security for the state of Israel."

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