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Discussion Over Saudi Mideast Proposal Widens

Political discussion is widening over a Saudi proposal to end Israeli-Palestinian violence. But political analysts in Egypt are divided over whether this is the appropriate time to present the initiative to the rest of the Arab world.

Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz is in Jeddah to discuss his land-for-peace proposal to end the Middle East crisis with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian president has expressed misgivings about the proposal. It calls for Israel to withdraw from all Arab lands seized during the 1967 Mideast war in return for Arab normalization of relations with Israel.

Mr. Assad has said peace with Israel must be based on all U.N. resolutions, including the right of millions of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

The Saudi initiative comes at a time of increased Israeli-Palestinian violence that some political analysts believe undermines its chances for success. But Abdel Moneim Sa'id, the head of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, thinks the violence is causing a greater sense of urgency to make the Saudi initiative become a reality. "There is enormous international attention to it starting from the European Union and then you have the United States and the rest of the world, the Arab countries, and I think it seems that there is also an interest to it some quarters in Israel," he said. "So I think it will have a little bit of time, but finally it will fly."

Jordan has expressed support for the Saudi proposal and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is in Washington for meetings with President Bush. He is expected to urge Mr. Bush to support the initiative.

It is believed the Saudi proposal may be put on the agenda for the Arab summit in Beirut March 27 and 28.

Arab affairs expert Abdullah el Ashaal, who lectures at several universities in Cairo, says Iraq and Libya would likely not support the proposal and Lebanon and Syria have serious reservations about it. He says he believes the Arab League summit will not give the proposal official consideration. "I am afraid it is going to divide the already weak potential of the Arab summit in Beirut," he said. "The Arab mood is very bad and I do not know whether the Saudis will be encouraged to submit it officially on the agenda. They may feel this may divide the Arab world more and they may be very cautious, as usual, not to put it out officially, but to wait until the last moment and do something else. So I am sure it is not going to see sunlight during the summit."

Cairo University Political Science Department head Hassan Nafae thinks presenting the Saudi proposal at the Arab League summit could be premature. "I do not think the Saudis, right now, have a complete proposal to present to the Arab summit," said Hassan Nafae. "So it is important that the Arab countries react to that so this will enable the Saudis to see first whether it is appropriate to present these proposals or to modify it or simply to discover that this is not the right time to present these proposals to the summit. So it is a process. It has not been completed yet."

Mr. Nafae says if all past agreements regarding the Palestinian-Israeli issue reached in the U.N. Security Council were implemented there would be no need for the Saudi proposal. But he says the current initiative may give all concerned parties something fresh to work with in an effort to achieve peace.