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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 00:54 GMT
Israel under pressure to release Arafat
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal (l) and his Sudanese counterpart Mustafa Osman Ismail
Arab ministers are preparing an agenda for the leaders
Israel is coming under increasing pressure to allow Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to attend a key Arab summit.

US White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush believed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his government should give "serious consideration" to allowing the Palestinian leader to attend the Beirut meeting.

We have a choice: either justice, peace and progress or chaos and escalating confrontation whose consequences nobody can predict

Amr Moussa
Arab League Secretary General
But the Palestinians have postponed until Tuesday key security talks, the outcome of which could determine whether Mr Arafat is released.

The BBC's Barbara Plett says the delay has pushed the final decision until the last possible moment.

Raanan Gissin, an aide to Mr Sharon, told the Associated Press news agency the decision would now be made "very close to the time of the summit", which begins on Wednesday.

Mr Bush also urged Arab nations "to seize the moment" at the summit on Wednesday, and support a Saudi-inspired land-for-peace deal with Israel.

But Mr Fleischer said Mr Arafat had not done enough to stop violence in the region - and that remained a condition for any meeting with US Vice President Dick Cheney.

Lack of time

The latest US-brokered talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis were supposed to have continued after Sunday's talks chaired by American peac envoy Anthony Zinni ended without agreement.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa
Amr Moussa said the international situation was critical
Both sides were meant to have given their answers to US ideas for bridging gaps over implementing a truce plan.

Israeli security sources said the Palestinians told them they had not had enough time to discuss the proposals, but US officials said only that the talks had suffered from a scheduling problem.

Arab leaders are themselves demanding Mr Arafat's attendance in Beirut, but the Israeli Government has yet to decide whether he will be allowed to leave his West Bank headquarters which are blockaded by the Israeli military.

The Arab League's Secretary-General Amr Moussa opened the preparatory meeting in Beirut on Monday by reminding all present that both the regional and the international situation were "critical".

High on the agenda will be suggestions for Middle East peace proposed by Saudi Arabia which could amount to a "collective peace treaty" between Arab states and Israel, one official said.

Arab proposals

A draft text of the plan to be presented for approval by the heads of state calls for Israel and its citizens to accept the peace proposal to enable Arab states and Israel to co-exist peacefully.

Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat remains confined to Ramallah
Specifically, the Council of the Arab League wants Israel to:

  • Withdraw from all Palestinian lands, the Golan Heights and the remaining occupied areas of south Lebanon to return to its 1967 borders

  • Accept an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital

  • Agree to find an acceptable solution for Palestinian refugees.

In return, the Arab states would:

  • Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over and agree a peace treaty

  • Achieve peace across the region

  • Establish normal relations with Israel.

The peace plan will be discussed whether or not Mr Arafat is allowed to leave Ramallah, but the Arab leaders are taking a tough line.

Bahrain's King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa said it would "not be useful" if the Palestinian leader was absent.

Lebanon's Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud said: "We want peace not surrender.

"We will not accept anything less than regaining our firm rights."

There has been quiet and cautious optimism about the Saudi plan from the international community, including Israel, though violence continued on Monday with Israeli tanks active in Palestinian areas.

Middle East expert Nadim Shehadi
"A lot of Arab states have been normalising with Israel"
Arab League's Abbas Shiblak
"It is important for Arafat to be there"
See also:

25 Mar 02 | Media reports
Great expectations from Beirut summit
25 Mar 02 | Middle East
New Mid-East plan considered
25 Mar 02 | Middle East
Beirut given summit facelift
24 Mar 02 | Middle East
'Militants' killed near Jordan border
24 Mar 02 | Middle East
Arafat's travel dilemma
27 Feb 02 | Middle East
What is in the Saudi peace initiative?
21 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Quick guide: Arab League
04 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Timeline: Arab League
23 Jan 02 | Middle East
Profile: Amr Moussa
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