Thu, Mar 28, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Saudi prince makes offer to Israel

ARAB SUMMIT Although more moderate Arab leaders failed to show up, the Saudi Arabian leader offered the Israelis normal relations -- but for a price


Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah broadened his land-for-peace proposal to Israel yesterday, offering normal relations and security in exchange for full withdrawal from Arab land, establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and a return of Palestinian refugees.

Abdullah proposed to the Arab League summit a collective Arab plan be forwarded to the UN Security Council based on "normal relations and the security of Israel in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab lands, recognition of an independent Palestinian state with noble Jerusalem as its capital and the return of the refugees."

In an apparent attempt to please Arab camps from moderate to hard-line, Abdullah offered an olive branch to Israel that came with a warning that the Jewish state will be "exceedingly mistaken" if it thinks it can use force to impose an unjust peace on Arabs.

The 10-minute speech was greeted with applause, but Abdullah's audience lacked three key leaders: President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, whose nation was the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979; King Abdullah II of Jordan, the only other to conclude a peace treaty with Israel; and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Without their personal endorsement at the summit, the Saudi proposal could carry less weight in the eyes of the rest of the world.

In a speech broadcast by the Arab satellite station Al Jazeera, Arafat said Abdullah's offer was "courageous." Arafat spoke from the Palestinian territories after Israeli threatened to prevent him from returning to the West Bank after the summit.

Arafat had been expected to address the summit via a video hookup. A senior Palestinian official in Beirut said that angry Palestinian delegates walked out of the meeting room in protest of a Lebanese decision not to allow Arafat to make a live, direct address. A Lebanese government official said Lebanon insisted on a taped speech, fearing the Israelis could manipulate the satellite link and Sharon could appear instead and try to address the summit. The Lebanese official acknowledged the Palestinians were angry.

In a newspaper interview last month in which Abdullah first outlined his ideas, he had referred to "full normalization of relations" with Israel. Though the wording yesterday differed, he generally stuck by an offer seen as meaning Arabs would treat Israel warmly as an ordinary neighbor. Hard-line Arabs including Syria, protesting it is too soon to offer Israel so much, had pressed Abdullah to drop references to normalization in favor of the vaguer phrase "comprehensive peace."

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