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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 March 2007, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Arab leaders relaunch peace plan
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah (right) greets Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas on 27 March 2007
The summit brings together top leaders from Arab states
Arab leaders holding a summit in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, have urged Israel to accept an Arab peace initiative first proposed in 2002.

Under the plan, Arab nations would recognise Israel if Israel withdrew from land occupied in the 1967 war.

The plan allows for the creation of a Palestinian state and the return of Palestinian refugees.

Five years ago Israel rejected the plan but now the Israelis are reacting more positively to it, correspondents say.

Urging Israel not to immediately ask for amendments to the plan as it had five years ago, Arab League head Amr Moussa said the Middle East was at a crossroads.

"It is either we move towards a real peace or see an escalation in the situation," he told Arab League leaders in Riyadh.

SAUDI MIDDLE EAST PLAN
Also known as Beirut Declaration
Adopted by Arab League in 2002
Calls for "full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967"
Calls for Israel's "acceptance of an independent Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital"
All Arab states would establish "normal relations... with Israel" and "consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended"
Calls for a "just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem"

Israel rejected the 2002 plan outright after it was first proposed at an Arab summit in Beirut, but Mr Olmert is now giving it a guarded welcome, albeit with reservations linked to the issue of refugees.

However, the foreign policy spokesman for Israel's right-wing Likud party, Zalman Shoval, told the BBC that Israel could never accept the parts of the plan that call for the return of refugees who had lived in the territory of pre-1967 Israel.

"If 300,000-400,000, or maybe a million, Palestinians would invade the country, that would be the end of the state of Israel as a Jewish state," he said.

"That's not why we created the state."

Working groups

BBC Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says the plan is being revived because it is a starting point on the Palestinian issue that most parties can accept - although with reservations.

It has also seen as a move to counter Iran's growing influence - an issue to be discussed in Riyadh, along with the potentially explosive situation in Lebanon, the war in Iraq and Darfur.

The summit is expected to create working groups to promote the plan in talks with the US, the EU, the UN and possibly Israel.

After a three-day tour of the Middle East aimed at reinvigorating the peace process, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appealed to Arab states to reach out to Israel.

She said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had agreed to meet every two weeks for talks.

'Pillar of peace process'

Leaders of 21 of the Arab League's 22 member states are attending the two-day summit. Libya is boycotting the meeting.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana are also attending.

Mr Ban told the summit that "the Arab peace initiative is one of the pillars of the peace process... [it] sends a signal that the Arabs are serious about achieving peace."

Correspondents say no-one expects any breakthroughs, but the fact that Saudi Arabia, the regional powerhouse, is being so pro-active means this will be one of the most scrutinised Arab League summits.


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