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Israel Says Saudi Plan Could Revive Peace Process


Israel is signaling a new willingness to open peace talks on the basis of a Saudi Arabian initiative first proposed five years ago. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Israel sees the plan as a starting point, while the Arabs see it as the end game.

In a political turnaround, Israeli officials say the Saudi Arabian peace initiative of 2002 can be an important step toward reviving the peace process.

"As an Arab position, it is progress, and we would like to continue and negotiate," said Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres. "But this is the opening position."

The Saudi initiative calls for a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In exchange, Israel would receive full diplomatic recognition from the Arab world.

Israel rejected the plan five years ago because it would require the Jewish state to relinquish Jerusalem's sacred Old City as well as all the settlements it has built in the West Bank since the Six Day War in 1967.

Israel says it will never give up Jerusalem or dismantle all settlements. But since direct talks with the Palestinians are going nowhere and in light of the growing regional influence of Iran, Israel wants to open a dialogue with moderate Arab countries. Those countries are also concerned about Iran's support for radical elements in the region, so there is a mutual interest in reviving the peace process.

Nevertheless, the right-wing opposition in Israel deeply opposes the plan.

"The Saudi initiative, or the Arab peace initiative, in its present form is a recipe for the destruction of Israel," says Zalman Shoval of the hawkish Likud Party. He says the 1967 borders are indefensible.

"Israel cannot accept the matter of returning to the Green Line, the 4th of June 1967 border, as a precondition," he says.

The Saudi initiative is quickly rising to the top of the diplomatic agenda in the Middle East. Arab leaders are expected to formally revive the plan at a summit in Saudi Arabia at the end of the month.