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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 July 2007, 20:51 GMT 21:51 UK
Arabs woo Israel over peace plan
Jordan's Abdulelah al-Khatib (l) and Egypt's Ahmed Aboul Gheit
Mr Khatib (left) and Mr Gheit say they hope for a "positive" response
The two Arab countries with ties to Israel have paid an historic visit to the Jewish state to "extend the hand of peace" on behalf of their fellow Arabs.

The Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers' visit was to present a peace plan backed by the Arab League, which has no diplomatic ties with Israel.

The proposal envisages the recognition of Israel if it leaves occupied Palestinian land.

Israel's prime minister has said the Arab plan contains positive elements.

"We are extending a hand of peace on behalf of the whole region to you, and we hope that we will be able to create the momentum needed to resume fruitful and productive negotiations," said Jordan's Abdulelah Khatib.

We need a precise timetable, a quick timetable and we urge Israel not to waste this historic opportunity. Time is not on our side
Abdulelah Khatib
Jordanian foreign minister

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have not seen progress for seven years, a period in which more than 5,000 people have died in violence, the large majority of them Palestinians.

Mr Khatib said Israel needed to agree on a precise timetable "not to waste this historic opportunity".

The visit comes a day after the maiden mission of new envoy Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister, and is part of a flurry of diplomatic efforts.

Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties with Israel and have sent many delegations there.

'Common ground'

Mr Khatib and Egypt's Ahmed Aboul Gheit are presenting a long-standing Arab League initiative that was readopted at a meeting in Saudi Arabia recently.

First 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"

The initiative offers Israel normal ties with all Arab states in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from territory it occupied in 1967, the creation of a Palestinian state and a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said there was "a chance in the near future for the process to ripen into talks that would, in effect, deal with the stages of establishing a Palestinian state".

Correspondents say his comments are the clearest statement yet of Israel's intention to try to relaunch final-status talks.

But Olmert said there were "no precise timetables or stages established yet".

Any progress needs to address recent developments in Gaza which last month fell under the control of Hamas - the militant Islamist movement boycotted by both Israel and the rival Palestinian movement Fatah which holds sway in the West Bank.

'Land swap'

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman called the visit historic, saying: "In the past, the Arab League has opposed dialogue, normalisation and any contact with Israel and this is the first time the Arab League has authorised a delegation to visit Israel."

But Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa stressed the ministers were not representing the organisation.

"They are not acting under the banner of the Arab League. They are not going on behalf of the Arab League nor have they been sent as delegates by the Arab League.

"They represent two Arab countries that for certain circumstances entered into peace accords and official diplomatic relations," he said.

On Wednesday, the Israeli Haaretz newspaper said Israel was considering an "an agreement of principles" with Palestinians that could establish a Palestinian state on 90% of occupied territory.

The paper said Israel would propose a tunnel linking the West Bank and Gaza, while there would also be a territorial exchange allowing Israel to keep its main Jewish settlements.

In other moves, King Abdullah of Jordan met President George W Bush at a private dinner in Washington.

Meanwhile, Mr Blair continued his tour of the region with visits scheduled for Bahrain and Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

Israeli foreign minister on opportunity for progress

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