Olmert hints he's warming up to plan
Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO
Egypt's president Mubarak to meet with Rice this weekend
Egypt said Friday that Israel should approve in principle a land- for-peace initiative before negotiations with the Palestinians could begin.
"Israel must announce first that it is accepting the initiative, then we start searching for a mechanism of negotiations, for a peaceful settlement for the conflict," said Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Hani Khalaf.
The plan offers Israel recognition and peace in return for full withdrawal from the land Israel captured in the 1967 war, plus the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also calls for allowing Palestinian refugees the right to return to homes in Israel.
The plan, first proposed at the Beirut Arab Summit in 2002, is expected to be revived at the upcoming Arab Summit later this month in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Israel initially rejected the plan, and is particularly opposed to its granting the right of return to Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
However Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the plan could provide a "convenient basis" for renewed talks with Arab moderates. His remark was seen as indicating a tentative interest in the initiative after the failure of other avenues toward peace.
The Egyptian official hinted that if Israel accepted the plan "in principle," negotiations could begin on its specific points.
"Israel should not make any requests to reformulate the initiative before negotiations, as the process of negotiations in itself will bring modifications, " Khalaf said.
Meanwhile, Arab diplomats say the US has been pushing for changes to the Arab plan to make it consistent with the Road Map, which calls for a two- state solution but does not specifying border lines for the proposed Palestinian state.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to visit the southern Egyptian city of Aswan this weekend, where she is expected to discuss the American vision for a solution to the conflict in the Middle East with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and representatives of the UN, the European Union and Russia.
Khalaf said Arab parties would listen to that vision, but would also focus on marketing the Arab plan to the US.