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Israel Invites Arab Leaders to Peace Conference

Israel has proposed convening a regional peace conference. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, it's the latest sign that Middle East diplomacy is getting into high gear.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has invited all Arab leaders to a peace conference to discuss resolving the Mideast conflict. Mr. Olmert singled out the leader of Saudi Arabia, a country which is playing an increasingly dominant role in regional diplomacy. The invitation came in response to a summit meeting last week in Saudi Arabia, where Arab leaders offered Israel full diplomatic ties if it withdraws to the 1967 borders.

Speaking at a Jerusalem news conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Olmert said he appreciates the offer, but he stopped short of accepting it.

He said each side should bring its own demands, and neither should try to dictate terms.

Palestinian officials responded that Israel should first accept the Arab initiative and then, there could be a peace conference.

But Israel rejects key points of the plan, such as withdrawing from Jerusalem's sacred Old City and dismantling all Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Nevertheless, Mr. Olmert's invitation is the latest in a flurry of diplomatic moves, including visits here by the German chancellor, the American secretary of state and the United Nations secretary-general. The stepped up involvement of the world powers has raised hopes of getting the peace process moving again.