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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 13:38 GMT
Saudi peace initiative takes root
Israeli soldier on the West Bank
The Saudi plan could lead the way out of escalating violence
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Israeli soldier on the West Bank

Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

A peace initiative by Saudi Arabia is gathering fresh support.

Crown Prince Abdullah's peace proposal:
  • Israel should withdraw to pre-1967 borders and sign a peace deal with the Palestinians
  • In return, Arab states offer Israel full diplomatic relations, including security guarantees and trade relations
  • Initiative welcomed by the US State Department
      History in maps

  • The proposal - for a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories in return for full normalisation of relations with the Arab states - was first made by Crown Prince Abdullah earlier in the month.

    The American Secretary of State Colin Powell has described it as important.

    So has the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan - and Israel's leading liberal newspaper.

    And yet, when the Saudi peace initiative was first made public in the New York Times just over a week ago, it failed to make much of a stir.

    The prime minister, who promised to bring peace and security, must undertake a sincere and serious examination of the significance of the Saudi initiative and its ramifications

    Editorial in Israel's Haaretz newspaper
    After all, the idea of an exchange of land for peace has been at the heart of Middle East diplomacy for a long time.

    But what's new and potentially important is that a leading Arab state should have made such an offer now - at a time when 17 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence have all but extinguished hope of reviving the Middle East peace process.

    Whether the proposal can indeed help break the deadlock will depend on three things.

    Conditions for success

    Will Crown Prince Abdullah, the author of the plan, formally launch it at the Arab summit at the end of next month - and, if so, will the summit endorse it?

    Second, will Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, give the Arab states any encouragement to endorse it?

    If he continues to keep the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat confined to the West Bank town of Ramallah - and to respond harshly to any fresh Palestinian violence - some Arabs will argue the plan gives Israel something for nothing.

    Finally and crucially, will the plan be actively promoted by US President George Bush?

    Only if that happens is Ariel Sharon likely to take it seriously.

    See also:

    25 Feb 02 | Middle East
    Israeli president seeks Saudi talks
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