Accessibility links

Arab League Delegation to Make Unprecedented Visit to Israel

The Arab League is sending a delegation to Israel this week for the first time. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem, the 22-nation organization is pushing a new initiative for Mideast peace.

The visit of the Arab League delegation to Israel is a sign of deep concern about the violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last month by the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Moderate Arab states want to push Israel to revive peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads a western-backed government in the West Bank. They believe that negotiations on the creation of a Palestinian state could prevent a similar takeover of the West Bank by Hamas.

So the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan will visit Israel this week on behalf of the Arab League to discuss what is known as the Arab peace initiative. It calls for all Arab states to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders.

Israel rejects that demand because it would mean giving up Jerusalem's Old City and all West Bank settlements. But Israeli officials say the visit of the Arab League delegation is "historic."

"The opportunity is to find the common denominator between Israel and the other moderates in the world, but also in the region," said Foreign Minister Tzippe Livni. "And there is [a] common denominator and there are mutual interests. Nobody wants to see Hamas succeed."

But after the forces of Mr. Abbas were routed by Hamas in Gaza, many Israelis believe handing him major concessions would be a grave mistake. Israel TV journalist Yohanan El Rom says Mr. Abbas did not abide by the internationally-backed "Roadmap" peace plan, so he should not be rewarded with a Palestinian state.

"He is a leader of the Palestinian Authority in name only. He is weak, he has not kept his promises, the first item on the Roadmap was to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, he did not do it," said El Rom. "He is reaping now his inaction. He is a failure as a leader."

President Abbas is also pushing for peace talks with Israel, saying the hope of a Palestinian state will improve his standing among his people and show them the benefits of moderation. But Hamas, which seeks Israel's destruction, says Mr. Abbas is an illegitimate leader and any negotiations with him are doomed to failure.

Israeli officials say Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is to meet with Mr. Abbas next week. The exact date and location of the meeting has not been announced.