Meeting to revive peace wins support — but not US

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Arab League’s call for a ministerial meeting of the UN Security Council this month to revive the Middle East peace process won support Thursday from many council members but not the United States.

A series of proposals, agreed on by Arab ministers, would have the ministers call for a quick resumption of direct negotiations to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict and give the Security Council responsibility for overseeing efforts to set a timetable and agree on a format for the new talks.

The Arab League’s envoy to the United Nations, Yahya Mahmassani, said the goal is to have a constructive ministerial meeting with no acrimonious language “to get out of this vicious circle” of violence and no talks between the parties.

Qatar’s UN Ambassador Nassir Nasser, the only Arab member of the council, submitted the proposals to members on Wednesday and expressed hope the council would agree to a meeting on September 21, during the General Assembly’s annual ministerial session.

“The Middle East is the core of the world’s problems today,” Nasser said. “We want the council to be responsible for this peace process, and we have to push this because we try many initiatives and nothing happened.

“That’s why we end up like Lebanon case, and others. I think it’s about time that we discuss all issues in the council and try to reach … [a] new roadmap.”

Arab League foreign ministers insist the “roadmap” to Mideast peace unveiled in 2003 is dead and decided in mid-July to ask for a ministerial meeting of the council to launch a new international initiative to settle decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese.

The roadmap was drafted by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — known as the Quartet — and aimed to establish a Palestinian state by 2005. But Israel and the Palestinians have failed to carry out the parallel steps in the peace plan and it has languished.

The 15 Security Council members discussed the Arab League’s proposed points for a ministerial meeting, which were circulated Wednesday, at a closed meeting on Thursday.

Diplomats said most supported a ministerial meeting, with some stressing the need for an outcome — not just another debate.

“I think there should be greater effort because this conflict has lingered on for far too long now,” said Ghana’s UN Ambassador Nana Effah-Apenteng, a council member. “It’s having an impact all over the world.”

“We said that we supported the meeting… [but] there’s no point in holding a meeting unless something productive is going to come out of it,” he said. The Arab League’s proposal Wednesday “isn’t sufficient… We need more concrete stuff,” he added.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, was the only country to speak against a ministerial meeting, saying it was “unequivocally opposed,” according to the diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.

Whether a compromise can be found to get the US onboard remains to be seen.

US deputy ambassador Jackie Sanders said that while the proposal submitted Wednesday tries to sound constructive, “we all unfortunately know that … when we get in a room or we get a document in front of us, there is a pattern of hostility toward one party and that’s Israel.”

“So we don’t want to add fuel to the flames right now, and that would be a major concern,” she said.

Given the complexity of the Mideast peace process, the United States doesn’t think that it’s possible to plan a ministerial meeting in less than two weeks, Sanders said.

Washington also doesn’t want to see the Quartet marginalised and the proposal leaves its role unclear, she said.

Asked whether the Arab proposal would mean the end of the roadmap, Qatar’s Nasser said: “We are going to build on what’s happened in the past, but we need a new package.” Israel’s UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman said last month he doubted a new Arab League initiative would fairly consider Israel’s security needs. He said the Quartet’s roadmap remains the only viable option for Mideast peace.

The Arab League’s proposal only mentioned the Quartet once — asking Secretary-General Kofi Annan to prepare a report “on possible mechanisms” to resume direct negotiations in close consultation with the parties to the conflict, states in the region and the Quartet.

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