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First Day of Arab Summit Marred by Disunity, Palestinian Walkout - 2002-03-27


The first day of the Arab League summit in Beirut has been marred by the absence of key leaders and a walkout by Palestinian delegates. The summit, so far, has been a display of Arab disunity.

In the days before the summit, Arab political analysts said that the Arab nations would have to show unity during their annual gathering if the resolutions they adopt are going to be viewed as credible by the rest of the world. But the first few hours of the opening session in Beirut only showed Arab turmoil.

The Palestinian delegation walked out of the conference protesting the fact that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's televised address to the summit was not shown during the opening session. Conference organizers said they were only following a "very carefully planned schedule" that included an address from Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah who laid out his initiative for peace in the region.

The organizers said the dispute has since been resolved. Mr. Arafat's speech, they have said, will be shown Thursday morning and the palestinian delegation will return to the conference.

Before the dispute over Mr. Arafat's broadcast, the focus of concern was the absence of Mr. Arafat, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah from the summit.

Aides to the Palestinian leader said Mr. Arafat refused to accept the conditions Israel laid down for his travel to the summit. Israel wanted him to declare a cease-fire before he left for Beirut, and it also warned that it might not permit him to return to the territories if violence occurred while he was gone.

President Mubarak said he decided not to attend in order to express solidarity with Mr. Arafat. No reason was given for the absence of the Jordanian king.

Despite the opening turmoil, the centerpiece of the summit still seems to be the Saudi initiative for peace. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah discussed the proposal at the opening session of the conference.

The crown prince said the "peace process is based on a clear principle: land-for-peace. The only acceptable objective of the peace process is the full Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied territories, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and the return of the refugees." He said without moving toward this objective, the peace process is an exercise in futility.

The crown prince said, in return, Israel would enjoy full Arab recognition and normalization of relations.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, addressing the opening session, said that while Israel's occupation of Arab lands must end, Arabs in return must guarantee Israel's security.

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