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Friday 8 May 2009 (13 Jumada al-Ula 1430)

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Arab peace offer is not negotiable

DAMASCUS: The Arab League and Syria have shot down a US suggestion that the Arab peace initiative be changed to make it more palatable to Israel.

The 2002 peace initiative offers Israel Arab recognition, peace and normal relations in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from territory it occupied in the 1967 Middle East War, the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees.

Several Arab diplomats said this week that the Americans are asking Arab states to drop demands for a right of return for Palestinian refugees and agree to either resettle them in the host countries or in the Palestinian territories.

Arab foreign ministers meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo yesterday rejected the request, said Jordan’s foreign minister. “The ministers renewed their commitment to the initiative as it is without change,” Nasser Judeh said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem also rejected the idea of changing the Arab peace offer, saying: “I don’t see any justification for amending this initiative.”

At a joint news conference with the foreign ministers of Finland and Estonia, Al-Muallem said: “Is it logical that with every new Israeli government the Arabs would concede and put forth a new plan and new concessions under the slogan of a comprehensive plan?”

The minister was commenting on Jordanian King Abdallah’s remark that a new “combined approach” currently under discussion with the US would have Israel, Syria, Lebanon and other nations sitting down together to try to resolve the Middle East conflict.

The talk of the new US-backed approach coincided with a visit to Damascus by Jeffrey Feltman, the State Department’s top Middle East envoy.

“We came here today as part of President Obama’s commitment to use diplomacy, to use dialogue in order to try to see where we can move forward, where our interests overlap, and to see where we can try to work together to bridge the differences that remain in some of our policies,” Feltman said.

He was accompanied by White House official Daniel Shapiro, both visiting Damascus for the second time since March.


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