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Egypt, Jordan, Israel Discuss Arab Peace Initiative

10 May 2007

The foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt and Israel have met in Cairo to discuss an Arab initiative for Middle East peace. It is the first meeting between Tel Aviv and the members of the Arab League "working group" tasked with negotiating with Israel. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from Cairo.

It was the first time that Jordan and Egypt have formally briefed Israel on the recently re-launched Arab peace initiative.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called the meeting "important" and "historic." Her Jordanian counterpart, Abdel-Ilah al-Khatib said the Arab League is hoping to breathe new life into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"Today's meeting was beneficial," he said. "It allowed us to express the Arab position and discuss the Israeli position. We hope that this leads to tangible results that could be positively reflected on the Palestinian-Israeli track and achieving comprehensive peace in the region."

Jordan and Israel are the only two Arab states that have already made peace with Israel and established full diplomatic relations, so meetings between them are not unusual. But in these talks, for the first time, the Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministers represented not their own governments, but the Arab League.

The Arab League has asked the two countries to work on convincing Israel to accept the Arab peace initiative recently revived at a special summit in Saudi Arabia.

The Arab proposal offers Israel peace and normal relations with all Arab countries in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from all lands taken during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Israel rejected the deal when it was first proposed five years ago, but has recently shown more interest in it and said it might be a starting point for negotiations.

Livni said the Arab world has "an important role" to play in moving toward peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. But she also said it would be a supporting role, and the main peace negotiations would be the bilateral ones between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

"I would like to say clearly that it is not our policy, nor our goal to control the Palestinian life," she said. "On the other hand we are facing terror on a daily basis and when it comes to our ability to open passages and so on, on the other hand we have a responsibility to the life of Israeli civilians. So, this is the equation, but I truly believe if we will be determined enough to work it out we will find a solution."

Livni did not mention other regional issues, such as the return of Palestinian refugees or Israel's territorial disputes with Syria and Lebanon. The Arab League representatives said they would not be negotiating with Israel on behalf of those parties. They said the appropriate role for the Arab League is setting the stage and creating the right atmosphere to push the peace process forward.

Earlier in the day, Livni met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to discuss a range of issues, including security in the Gaza Strip and along the Gaza-Egypt border.

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