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Olmert, King Abdullah Discuss Arab Peace Initiative at Jordan Summit

15 May 2007

Israeli and Jordanian leaders have held a summit in Jordan's Red Sea resort of Aqaba in a bid to advance the peace process. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, an Arab land-for-peace proposal topped the agenda.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Jordan's King Abdullah that Israel is ready to negotiate on the Arab peace initiative.

"I invite these 22 leaders of the Arab nations that are ready to make that kind of peace with Israel to come wherever they want, to sit down with us and start to talk and to present their ideas," he said.

The Arab initiative calls for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders in exchange for full diplomatic ties with all Arab states.

While Mr. Olmert is ready to discuss the plan, he rejects key points. Israel says it will never dismantle all West Bank settlements or withdraw from Jerusalem's Old City, home to the holiest places in Judaism. Israel also rejects the so-called "Right of Return" of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their former homes in Israel.

Since all of these issues are unacceptable for Israel, Israeli analyst Dore Gold does not see a breakthrough any time soon.

"I do not believe the chances are very good at this point," he said. "The Arab states are going to want significant progress by Israel to move toward their agenda of full withdrawal before they are going to begin giving us any significant upgrading of relations."

Gold said Mr. Olmert's talks with King Abdullah enabled Israel to make its positions clear.

"The Arab states, they have a very specific agenda," he said. "And what is very important in such a meeting is to clarify an Israeli agenda."

Jordanian officials say the King told Mr. Olmert that if Israel wants to advance the peace process, it must first take concrete steps to improve relations with the Palestinians. That would include halting the expansion of West Bank settlements and easing economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Olmert responded that progress on the Palestinian track is not possible as long as the Islamic militant group Hamas is the senior partner in a coalition government. Hamas has been crippled by international sanctions because it refuses to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

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