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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 23:55 GMT
Saudi move stirs regional hopes
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah
Could Prince Abdullah's initiative break the impasse?
Saudi proposals aimed at breathing new life into the Middle East peace process generate a range of comment in newspapers across the troubled region.

In countries directly involved, such as Syria and Israel, papers tend to be more reticent on the issue, perhaps waiting to see more flesh on the bones of the Saudi plan before showing their hand.

According to Lebanon's Daily Star, "the moment of truth is at hand" for Israel. The paper, published in Beirut, where Arab leaders will convene for a two-day regional summit late next month, sees the Saudi proposal as "a golden opportunity which Israel's leaders and its people would be foolish to pass up".

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon
Mr Sharon is said to be interested
Crown Prince Abdullah's proposal "awaits only the imprimatur of the Arab summit to hand the Jewish state what it has sought for all these years: acceptance," the paper says. "The ball is therefore very much in Israel's court."

Response awaited

According to Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper, Prime Minister Sharon was "caught off-guard" by the Saudi proposal.

"Sharon is keeping quiet and waiting for clarifications," the paper says, but some of the prime minister's aides, who were initially quick to play down what they called "a gimmick", were now speaking of "a positive trend" in a plan.

In any case, Ha'aretz argues, Mr Sharon should give the Saudi initiative and its ramifications "sincere and serious" consideration.

Nice idea, but not a plan

Zvi Bar'el in Ha'aretz

According to the Al-Arab al-Alamiyah, an independently-financed newspaper published in London, Mr Sharon and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad "have not yet made clear" their response to the proposals.

But Syria's Al-Ba'th, the organ of the ruling Arab Socialist Ba'th Party, said "the basics of the peace process have not changed", and in that respect, "the peace option is still valid".

The influential Saudi-owned Al-Sharq al-Awsat, published in London, says Crown Prince Abdullah is "at the forefront of Arab political leaders who want serious solutions, not cheap media coups which seek to mask the true causes of the conflict".

The solution, or at least the beginning of a solution, must come from within Israel


In Jordan, the independent, pro-government Al-Ra'y comments that the Saudi proposal has "won strong support" from influential countries in the region because it proceeds from the principle of land for peace, enshrined in the Madrid agreement.

Dangerous card

But some sections of the regional press are still haunted by the ideological demons dancing round the headstones of previous peace efforts.

The Palestine National Authority-owned Al-Hayat al-Jadidah speaks of "Israeli stubbornness" and "non-serious response to any Arab and Palestinian initiative".

And Lebanon's independently-financed Arab nationalist Al-Nahar says "the solution, or at least the beginning of a solution, must come from within Israel".

Palestinian leader  Yasser Arafat
Stuck in a ring of steel, does Mr Arafat have any room to manoeuvre ?

Zvi Bar'el, writing in Ha'aretz, speaks of a "nice idea, but not a plan".

While the Saudi initiative is fast gathering momentum, at the same time "doubts are growing about the substantive questions that his proposal does not answer," he says.

If next month's summit in Beirut throws its weight behind the Saudi proposal, it would represent "a strategic change in the Arab line".

Eytan Haber, writing in the Tel Aviv Yedi'ot Aharonot, wonders "who needs guarantees from the Arab countries, and who needs their recognition," since Israel had survived "for 53 years in the midst of an Arab ocean".

But, he concludes, Mr Sharon could "effect an historic change" in the same way that Menachem Begin "seized the moment" in reaching the peace agreement with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat at Camp David in 1978.

The influential Saudi-owned Al-Hayah, published in London, noted that normalisation of relations with the Arab states in return for a full Israel withdrawal from the occupied territories was the cornerstone of the Saudi proposal, and the stakes are high for both sides.

"Normalisation is without doubt the most dangerous card in the peace process," it says. "Keeping hold of that is a very important matter. Rejecting it and fighting it should not be done emotionally."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

The BBC's Paul Wood
"The Saudis have already won backing with President Bush"
See also:

27 Feb 02 | Middle East
What is in the Saudi peace initiative?
26 Feb 02 | Middle East
Support grows for Mid-East peace plan
26 Feb 02 | Middle East
Saudi peace initiative takes root
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