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Saudis to Israel: Accept Our Terms By: Benny Avni
NySun.com | Friday, March 30, 2007


UNITED NATIONS— As Secretary of State Rice called on Arab countries to reassure Israel about its future, Saudi Arabia made clear that there would be no diplomatic openings toward the Jewish state and warned of the likelihood of war if Israel does not fully accept Arab terms.

Ms. Rice slightly shifted the focus of diplomacy during a Jerusalem press conference yesterday on the final day of her latest trip to the region. Rather than concentrating solely on the dispute between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, she sought help from neighboring countries.

"The Arab states should begin reaching out to Israel — to reassure Israel that its place in the region will be more, not less secure, by an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state," Ms. Rice said.

On the eve of a Riyadh summit of the Arab League, Ms. Rice added that Arab leaders need "to show Israel that they accept its place in the Middle East, and to demonstrate that the peace they seek is greater than just the absence of war."

Ms. Rice's shift followed a call made by Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on a recent tour to America for countries like Saudi Arabia to establish diplomatic ties with Israel prior to the final settlement of all the outstanding issues with Palestinian Arabs.

Yesterday, Ms. Rice, who intends to return to the region on April 12, inched toward endorsing Ms. Livni's statement. "Such bold outreach can turn the Arab League's words into the basis of active diplomacy, and it can hasten the day when a state called Palestine will take its rightful place in the international community."

However, aides to Ms. Livni, and also to Prime Minister Olmert, told The New York Sun yesterday that they had received no Saudi feelers or official proposals to meet Israeli officials, or any indication that the Saudis intend to begin normalizing ties with Israel.

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph yesterday, dismissed any diplomatic overtures towards Israel.

"It has never been proven that reaching out to Israel achieves anything," Prince Saud said. "Other Arab countries have recognized Israel, and what has that achieved? The largest Arab country, Egypt, recognized Israel, and what was the result? Not one iota of change happened in the attitude of Israel towards peace."

Israeli officials have warmed up to Saudi Arabia recently, stressing "positive elements" in a plan initiated by King Abdullah five years ago. But they rejected the notion that the plan, officially adopted by the Arab League in 2002, should be accepted as a whole.

Israeli officials also pointed to recent positive nuances. Although Arab foreign ministers refused to change any elements in the so-called Arab Plan during a meeting yesterday, one Jerusalem official noted, they formed a small body of experts that would look at ways to turn the plan into a basis for negotiations.

"The mere fact that the Saudis want to get involved is excellent," the former Israeli ambassador in Washington, Daniel Ayalon, told the Sun yesterday. Riyadh's concern about Iran, he added, has driven its latest diplomatic drive. "There were good signals coming from Riyadh," he said, "but then they dried out."

Mr. Ayalon said that a Saudi offer to recognize Israel "could be very seductive" for Jerusalem. By extending such an offer, he added, Riyadh could become influential on the Israeli-Palestinian Arab front.

Israeli sources have confirmed at least one secret meeting between the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar, and Prime Minister Olmert, although both sides officially denied such a meeting took place. Since then, however, Prince Bandar was reportedly pushed out of the decision-making circle in Riyadh.

Prince Saud, on the other hand, insisted yesterday that no amendments would be made to the Arab Plan, which mandates a return to pre-1967 borders for Israel, a transfer of East Jerusalem to Arab control, and the right to return to Israel for all the descendants of Arabs who fled or were chased away in the 1948 war.

"What we have the power to do in the Arab world, we think we have done," Prince Saud said. "So now, it is up to the other side because if you want peace, it is not enough for one side only to want it."

Israel opposes several provisions of the Arab Plan, and sees it as mere "opening position" for negotiation. But Prince Saud said Israel must accept it fully.

"If Israel refuses, that means it doesn't want peace, and it places everything back into the hands of fate," Prince Saud told the Daily Telegraph. "They will be putting their future not in the hands of the peacemakers but in the hands of the lords of war."

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