When the members of the Arab League gather later this month in Beirut, one of the major topics for discussion will be the proposal recently offered by Saudi Arabia that calls for Arab recognition of Israel if it withdraws from land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war. While many Arab governments, including Syria and Lebanon, have expressed interest in the plan, there have been few comments from the groups that have actually been fighting Israel.
Most Arab governments give moral support to the Palestinians. Some give financial support. But no Arab government is giving any soldiers to help the Palestinians in their fight against Israel. What military help the Palestinians are getting comes from groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, all of which have bases in Beirut.
All three groups have carried out attacks killing scores of Israeli civilians, and all three are on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations.
Do these attacks mean that such groups are not interested in the Saudi, or any other Middle East peace plan?
Osama Abu Hamden is the representative for Hamas in Lebanon.
He said his group will never recognize Israel's right to exist. In fact, he says, Israel should cease to exist and be replaced by a Palestine "where Israelis would be welcomed as citizens."
"We are talking about taking back our rights. And if they give it back we can talk about their future. They can live under the Palestinian government rule. They can live as Palestinians, not Israelis, as Palestinians in a Palestinian state. Or we can help them to go back to their own countries. But if they don't we are going to have our rights by fight. And I believe we will do that sooner or later," Mr. Hamden says.
Abu Imad el Rifaey is the representative for Islamic Jihad in Lebanon. Though the State Department has listed it as a terrorist organization, he disputes that characterization. He says Islamic Jihad suicide bombers aren't terrorists because they are fighting foreign occupation.
Is there a chance Islamic Jihad will ever recognize Israel? Mr. el Rifaey says there will never be peace until Israel is eliminated and a Palestinian state established in its place.
Mr. el Rifaey says all Palestinian territories must be returned. All Palestinians who became refugees in 1948 when Israel was created must be allowed to go back to their lands. He says all Palestinian prisoners and detainees must be released and meaningful peace must be established for Palestinians that includes freedom from Israeli aggression.
Islamic Jihad is secretive about its office locations in Beirut for fear of Israeli attacks.
I was taken to a location, for the purposes of an interview, with a cloth bag covering my head. But Hezbollah operates in the open, at least in Lebanon. For years it fought Israeli forces in southern Lebanon and when Israel withdrew its troops from the area two years ago, Hezbollah claimed credit for forcing them out. As a result, the group has gained a measure of public support throughout Lebanon and Syria. Hezbollah has representation in the Lebanese parliament, owns and runs its own television and radio stations, and has set up a network of clinics in Lebanon and Syria that provide free medical care.
However, there is another side to the group. It was recently called the world's most dangerous terrorist organization by Vice President Dick Cheney. The group's senior representative in Lebanon is Mohamed Fneich. While he acknowledges Hezbollah has carried out attacks against Israel, he disputes the idea that it is a terrorist organization. He says there is a difference between terrorism and fighting occupation.
As for peace in the region and recognition of Israel? Mr. Fneich is as blunt as the officials from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He says there can only be peace in the region when Israel no longer exists.
How representative are these officials? Could they doom the Saudi peace process even if it is accepted by Israel and the Arab governments?
Abdel Moneim Said is the head of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He says Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not representative of the Arab view in the Middle East. He says the majority of Arab states recognize Israel's right to exist and, he says, "this sector will increase when there are two states, Palestine and Israel." But Mr. Said acknowledges that Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas will never support the Saudi proposal.
"They will not go along. These groups have a position exactly like Israeli settlers who wanted to take all Palestine. So these people are anti-peace and I think, in a moment, there will be a clash between these forces and these forces are doing their best to undermine the whole peace process," he says.
Mr. Said says he believes regardless of whether extremist groups support the Saudi initiative or any other peace plan it will be the policies adopted by Arab governments that will ultimately prevail. But he adds that, "given the animosity between Palestinians and Israelis, true peace may not occur for many more generations to come."
Mohamed Kamal teaches political science at Cairo University. He says if Arab governments, including Lebanon, agree to a peace plan with Israel he believes there will be a crackdown on extremist organizations.
"I don't think that the Lebanese government will continue to allow them to operate against Israel. It's not going to let them form a state within a state and there will be all kinds of international pressure on them to stop that," Mr. Kamal says.
Mr. Kamal says he believes governments will disarm extremist groups in order to maintain any peace agreements with Israel.
As for whether these groups are terrorist organizations or groups dedicated to fighting occupation both analysts said when civilians are killed it is terrorism and consequently, they said, all three groups would have to be classified as terrorist organizations. It is a view the majority of Arab governments say they share.