|Servers offer Arabic coffee at the Arab summit|
The 22-member Arab League gathering was declared over after Secretary General Amr Moussa read out a “Riyadh Declaration” reaffirming leaders’ commitment to the Arab initiative first endorsed at a 2002 summit.
The proposal offers Israel peace and normal ties if it withdraws from all land seized in the 1967 war, allows the creation of a Palestinian state and the return of Palestinian refugees.
The leaders reaffirmed the “commitment of all Arab states to the Arab peace initiative as approved at the Beirut summit in 2002 in all its elements.”
They also reaffirmed “their call to the government of Israel and all Israelis to accept the Arab peace initiative and seize the opportunity to resume the process of direct and serious negotiations on all tracks.”
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas urged Israel “not to miss another chance” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to accept the revived plan.
The peace offer “must be turned into a practical and comprehensive plan… applicable without any change in its clauses or even its text,” Abbas said in a speech to the Arab summit.
“From here, I confirm the Palestinians’ will to extend a hand of peace to the Israeli people,” he said.
However, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres rejected the initiative as is and said negotiations were needed.
“There is only one way to overcome our differences, and that is negotiation,” Peres told Israeli public radio. “It’s impossible to say: you must take what we offer you as is.”
“With a diktat neither the Palestinians, nor the Arabs nor us will achieve a solution.”
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abdul Gheit, whose country was the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, voiced disappointment at Israel’s negative response, saying he hoped it would accept the plan in order to kickstart serious negotiations.
Israel had rejected the proposal when it was first floated, but its leaders have recently spoken of it as a starting point for talks.
One obstacle is the insistence on the right of return of those Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes during the violence that surrounded the creation of Israel in 1948, and of their descendants.
According to the United Nations, there are now more than four million Palestinian refugees, living mostly in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Libya.
Israel fiercely opposes allowing their return, arguing that the influx would effectively erase the Jewish character of the state.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had appealed to Arab states to “begin reaching out to Israel” by building on the 2002 plan.
While the Middle East peace plan has been the main focus of discussions, the crisis in Iraq was also highlighted at the summit, with Saudi King Abdullah making a strident attack on what he called the “illegitimate foreign occupation” of the country.
A White House spokesman responded with a rare rebuff of Saudi Arabia, the regional political and oil powerhouse and close U.S. ally.
“The United States is in Iraq at the request of the Iraqis and under a United Nations mandate. Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong,” said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
Despite strong criticism from Iraq’s Kurdish Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari of what he called “Arab diktat,” the heads of state agreed to call for amendments to the Iraqi constitution to give more power to the ousted Sunni Arab elite.
The Saudi monarch also appealed for an end to the “crippling” political crisis in Lebanon, where divisions were highlighted by the presence at the summit of rival pro- and anti-Syrian delegations.
Syria dominated Lebanon politically and militarily for nearly three decades until it was forced to withdraw its troops two years ago after the murder of former premier Rafiq Hariri.