Israeli FM Meets Mubarak on Arab Deal

ei.jpgAssociated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held talks Thursday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the first high-level discussion between Israel and the Arab world on an Arab initiative calling for an exchange of land for peace.

Israel and the United States have called the Arab initiative a possible basis for reviving the Arab-Israeli peace process. But Israel has expressed reservations over many of its provisions, including the initiative’s call for a solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees.

Arab nations first launched the Saudi-led initiative in 2002 – meeting an outright Israeli rejection – then revived it at a summit in Riyadh in March. The Arab League has designated Egypt and Jordan to take the lead in discussions with Israel to promote the plan.

Livni and Mubarak held talks at the presidential palace in Cairo. Livni was to meet afterward with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib.

Arab TV Al-Jazeera reported that Livni was also expected to contact Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s intelligence chief, who is in charge of the Palestinian portfolio.

The Arab initiative calls for full Arab recognition of Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in the 1967 Middle East War and the creation of a Palestinian state. It also calls for a “just solution” to the issue of Palestinian refugees.

Israel rejects the right of return for refugees, on the grounds it would destroy Israel’s character as a Jewish state.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visits Jordan on Tuesday to meet with King Abdullah II in the ancient city of Petra on the sidelines of an annual Jordanian conference for Nobel laureates.

Chief Jordanian government spokesman Nasser Judeh had said Abdullah would “focus on the Arab peace plan and ways to move the peace process forward.”

“The Arab peace initiative is a historic chance and if we don’t move, there would be nothing to negotiate on,” King Abdullah of Jordan was quoted as saying in an interview published Thursday in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram.

Olmert and Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz were targets of harsh criticism in an Israeli government commission report last week about the shortcomings of last summer’s war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, leading to a chorus, including Livni, of demands that the two resign.

On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled an upcoming visit to the region because of the political turmoil caused by an Israeli commission’s findings.

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