UK raises hopes for Middle East peace plan

George Bush, Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert during a seperate peace attempt
George Bush, Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert during a seperate peace attempt

Israeli and Arab representatives meeting in Britain last week have signalled their growing enthusiasm for the Arab League's peace initiative.

Former Israeli government officials met with the former Palestinian national security advisor Saudi prince Turki al-Faisal and others to discuss how to activate the stalled peace plan in Oxfordshire last week.

Its 'land for peace' principles involve the Israelis accepting the right to return of Palestinian refugees, a withdrawal to its borders before the 1967 war and the dismantling of Israeli settlements.

The meeting was organised by the Oxford Research Group, a British thinktank which specialises in facilitating behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

"At the meeting, HRH Prince Turki al-Faisal called on the Arab League to respond to Shimon Peres' request to meet with any Arab leader to discuss the Arab Peace Initiative and called for the new president elect in the US to come on a listening tour of the Middle East," the ORG's Middle East programme director Gabrielle Rifkind said.

"Israelis were divided between those who have never heard of the Arab Peace Initiative and those who don't believe a word of it. Senior Israelis at the meeting in Oxford said there is now a momentum gathering in Israel to support the initiative."

On Sunday, two days after the Oxfordshire event, Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio that Israeli leaders have been discussing pursuing the initiative.

The Arab League's peace plan was initially tabled in 2002 and has received further endorsement in 2007 and last year.

Further progress on Israel's part will have to wait until Tzipi Livni succeeds in putting together a coalition, however, which allows her to form a government and become prime minister.


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