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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK
Saudi peace plan a 'step forward'
The BBC's Tim Sebastian interviews Dan Meridor
The BBC's Tim Sebastian interviews Dan Meridor
A member of the Israeli Government has offered his support for the Saudi peace plan, claiming it could offer the best opportunity for a renewal of peace negotiations in the Middle East.

Dan Meridor, Israeli cabinet minister with special responsibility for security strategy, told Tim Sebastian in an interview for BBC HARDtalk that the plan was a "step forward".

"Let them [the Saudis] come tomorrow and talk here with me in London, in Jerusalem, in Cairo, in Geneva, wherever they like," he said.

"If they are serious about it they need to come and talk with us because there are issues where we don't agree."

Peace plan

The Saudi peace plan was put forward by Crown Prince Abdullah, the de-facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, during an Arab summit in Beirut at the end of March.

Crown Prince Abdullah is meeting President Bush in Texas
Crown Prince Abdullah is meeting President Bush in Texas
Under the initiative, Israel would withdraw from Arab land, including the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, it has occupied since 1967.

In return Arab states would establish diplomatic relations and recognise the state of Israel.

Mr Meridor's comments come as President George W Bush meets Crown Prince Abdullah at his private ranch in Texas.

Mr Meridor went on to say that agreement over borders and the right of return had to be agreed before real progress could be made.

"There will be a Jewish state and a Palestinian state - without the right of Palestinians to call the people to go to Israel and make it an Arab state. What they call a right of return. This should be totally out of the question," he said

"If this is agreed we are in business."

UN mission

The truth about Jenin should be found by people who are well equipped to find the truth

Dan Meridor
On Saturday a UN team is scheduled to arrive in the West Bank town of Jenin to investigate an Israeli army attack on a refugee camp there.

The Palestinians have accused the Israeli army of killing hundreds of people in Jenin. Israel denies such allegations claiming that only militants, who had been offered a chance to surrender, were killed.

Mr Meridor also denied that any massacre took place and said he welcomed the UN mission as an opportunity to uncover the truth.

He also cast doubt on the ability of the UN delegation in its current form to carry out an "impartial" investigation.

"The truth about Jenin should be found by people who are well equipped to find the truth," he said.

"We want additions to the team. We want people who know what it means to fight terrorism, what war looks like. We want them in the team so the team will be able to look at the problems from all angles."

Under siege

Arafat remains under siege at his compound in Ramallah
Mr Arafat remains confined to his compound in Ramallah
Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, has remained confined to his Ramallah compound since last December.

In March, Israel refused to allow Mr Arafat to travel to Beirut to attend the Arab league summit.

Mr Meridor said that the Palestinian leader would only be released from his compound when "he stops giving shelter to murderers in his own place."

He also claimed that Israel could not negotiate for peace with Mr Arafat as long as he continued to use violence.

"If Arafat turns up tomorrow morning and says stop shooting, start talking he is the partner," he said.

BBC News 24 (times shown in GMT)
25 April 0430, repeated 2230

BBC World (times shown in GMT)
25 April10430, repeated 1130, 1630, 1930, 0030

Dan Meridor
"Let them come and talk"
See also:

25 Apr 02 | Middle East
Saudis to press US over Israel
27 Feb 02 | Middle East
What is in the Saudi peace initiative?
24 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel's troubled UN relations
28 Feb 02 | Middle East
Saudi looks to repair dented image
17 Apr 02 | Middle East
US puts funding pressure on Arafat
29 Mar 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
Beirut's hollow calm
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