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UN Chief Urges Israel to Reconsider Rejection of New Palestinian Government


The U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon wrapped up a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories with a proposal to include key Arab states in a future meeting of the so-called Middle East Peace Quartet. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem that Israel's prime minister says he is open to the proposal.

In an interview with the left-of-center Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, Ban Ki-moon said the International quartet of Mideast negotiators made up of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations could invite the so-called Arab Quartet, made up of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates to its next meeting.

Speaking at a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Mr. Ban said in his talks with Israeli officials he also urged them to reconsider their rejection of the new Palestinian unity government.

"I told them that the new national unity government should be given some political space for them to perform, " he said.

Israel says it will not recognize the new Palestinian government because many of its members belong to Hamas which refuses to recognize Israel.

At the same time Prime Minister Olmert said he would not hesitate to participate in any meeting of an expanded Quartet that could include Arab states. However he said he is not aware of any new initiatives that could lead to such a meeting at the present time.

Mr. Olmert says as far as the Palestinians are concerned he will maintain contact with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and that he hopes current U.S. diplomatic efforts will result in the Palestinian government eventually agreeing to the conditions of the "road map" peace plan, which calls for dialogue and negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

From Israel Secretary Ban travels to Syria and then to Saudi Arabia where he will participate in the Arab League Summit in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

Participants at the summit are expected to revive a peace plan first proposed in 2002 that offers Israel Arab diplomatic recognition in exchange for withdrawing to its 1967 borders. Israeli officials say they are willing to accept many aspects of the plan, but they say they reject an addendum to the plan that calls for the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to their homes in Israel.

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