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Mitchell: Arab Peace Initiative part of US drive to create Palestinian state

The Daily Star - Reuters

Sunday 23 ربيع الثاني 1430, by Mohammed Assadi

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  • English

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell said Friday that an Arab Peace Initiative should be part of a planned US drive to create a Palestinian state.

The 2002 Arab initiative offers Israel normal ties with all Arab states in return for a full pullout from the lands it seized in the 1967 war, creation of a Palestinian state and a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.

"The US is committed to the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state where the aspirations of the Palestinian people to control their destiny are realized. We want the Arab Peace Initiative to be part of the effort to reach this goal," Mitchell said after talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

Mitchell did not elaborate on what part the Arab initiative might play in US attempts to mediate a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.

US leaders including President Barack Obama have made references to the Arab peace plan without ever endorsing the Arab demand that Israel withdraw from all the land Israel captured in the 1967 war - the West Bank including East Jerusalem, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip, which is under siege.

The previous US administration of George W. Bush tried without success to use the Arab peace plan to draw Saudi Arabia and other conservative Gulf states into contacts with Israel before the Israelis gave any commitment to full withdrawal.

But Mitchell’s remarks were another reminder to Israel’s new right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that the United States wants to see progress.

Netanayahu, who saw Mitchell on Thursday, has yet to give a commitment to restart US-backed talks with Abbas on core issues such as statehood borders, and the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

Israeli officials quoted Netanyahu as telling Mitchell that his right-leaning government wanted the Palestinians to first recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinians have long rejected such explicit recognition of the Jewish nature of a state where one in five people is Arab.

"It is clear that there is a government in Israel that rejects signed agreements, that insists on continuing settlement activities," senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

Erekat said Abbas had asked Mitchell to "exert every possible effort" to pressure Israel to commit to a two-state solution and to meet other obligations, including a freeze in Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank and a halt to home demolitions in Arab East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu’s two-week-old government has yet to take a public position on the Arab Peace Initiative.

But in their meeting on Thursday, Netanyahu spoke to Mitchell about "the need to involve in the process important moderate Arab states," including Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, a senior Israeli official said.

Another senior Israeli official quoted Mitchell as telling Netanyahu: "We intend to seriously examine the Arab proposal."

A senior Western diplomat familiar with the Obama administration’s deliberations said Washington wanted to pursue the Arab peace initiative but was keeping its options open.

"We have put the flag squarely in the two-state-solution camp but we haven’t said how you get there," the diplomat said.

Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, said he saw positive points in the Arab peace initiative.

But Israel opposes the return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes in what is now the Jewish state and wants to hold on to major settlement blocs in the West Bank.

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