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Another Arab Peace Initiative
By Karen Nakamura
On July 10, instead of visiting the Middle East for important meetings as she had announced, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush announced yet another new peace effort for Palestine and Israel.
On July 12, the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan, on behave of the Arab League, were due to travel to Israel for a long scheduled, much discussed visit, the first in more than half a century and the first since both the Arab League and Israel were founded. This was a very big deal with a lot of adjustments being made at a lot of embassies and ran extensively in the Arab press.
That visit, however, was postponed until July 25. Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, said the postponement was due to "special considerations" for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Olmert's office said the talks were put off "due to a prior commitment" although it's difficult to think what could be more important than your enemies arriving for peace talks for the first time in 60 years. Another view held that the July 12 visit would have coincided with the anniversary of the start of last year's war in Lebanon from which Olmert has yet to recover politically.
The Arab League working group established in April initiated the visit by the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers. The Land for Peace Initiative, written by Saudi King Abdullah for an earlier summit in Beirut, was re-launched at the April Arab League Summit. The Arab Peace Initiative is fair and balanced and already applauded by moderates in the European and Arab world. It offers Israel normal ties with all Arab states in return for a full withdrawal from the lands Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war, the creation of a Palestinian state and a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.
In the meantime, Israeli has placed one obstruction in its path after another. According to Reuters, Israeli officials believed the initiative was on hold, even though it was Olmert who cancelled the visit, because of Saudi objections to Western efforts to isolate Hamas. Israel also wanted the Arab League to expand the size of the working group beyond Egypt and Jordan.
The Arab League's answer was that the working group could expand if the Israelis met Arab demands, which include lifting sanctions against the Palestinians and ending the expansion of Jewish settlements and the barrier in the West Bank. Olmert said he sees positive points in the initiative but opposes the return of Palestinian refugees to former homes in Israel and wants to hold on to major settlement blocs in the West Bank.
So when Bush and Rice announced their plans for an international conference with Sec. of State Rice presiding, Beirut's Daily Star newspaper was quick to point out that the American plan would include Israel, the Palestinian Authority and just some of their Arab neighbors. Only governments that support the creation of a Palestinian state would be invited. Hamas would be excluded. Bush also urged Israel to remove unauthorized settlements in the West Bank.
The Arab Peace Initiative would bring peace to the region within the year. The Bush conference is scheduled to take place sometime later in the year and whittles away at the edges.
During all of this finagling, Dan Toole, director of emergency programs for the United Nations Children's Fund stated the living conditions for children in Gaza are unbearable. "Isolation, both externally and internally imposed, combined with under funding for humanitarian aid, is denying children the basic goods and services that would normally be taken for granted."
Almost all residents of Gaza rely on humanitarian aid, but relief efforts have been largely thwarted by the current isolation, despite a recent move by Israel to ease barriers to the delivery of goods. Funding for UNICEF programs in all of Palestine is running at only 36 percent of needs for the year.
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