Monday, September 29, 2008

No Interim Peace Deal with Israel, Saudi Says

Asharq Alawsat
Arab media

UNITED NATIONS, (AP) - Arab nations will totally reject any partial or interim solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because historically such arrangements have become permanent, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Saturday. While supporting current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to reach "a comprehensive final solution," Prince Saud Al Faisal said "the least that we expect from Israel during these negotiations is that it should halt all settlement operations."

"The continuation of settlement activity in the occupied Arab territories renders the negotiations meaningless and makes it difficult for us to convince our peoples of the feasibility and benefits of achieving peace," he said.

At a Security Council meeting Friday on Israeli settlements, held at Saudi Arabia's request, Saud said the settlement problem is the "one issue that threatens to bring down the whole peace process."

He said that addressing it was the only way to save the peace deal brokered in Annapolis, Maryland, early this year by President Bush's administration, which set the goal of achieving a substantive peace accord by January 2009 when he leaves office.

Saud took up the issue again in a speech he was scheduled to give to the U.N. General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting. He did not deliver the speech and it was distributed to all U.N. members, said Brenda Vongova, the assembly president's assistant spokeswoman.

The foreign minister said Arabs have affirmed their commitment to "a just and comprehensive peace based on international law" and have not yet received the same commitment from Israel.

"Please allow me, on behalf of the Arab Group, to make it absolutely clear that we will totally reject any partial or interim solutions, because history has taught us that such solutions tend to become permanent," he said.

While peace negotiators representing Israel and the West Bank's moderate Palestinian leadership privately report progress, the talks are taking place in a vacuum, and haven't been accompanied by serious goodwill gestures that could help them succeed.

Israel's corruption-tainted prime minister Ehud Olmert, who launched the talks together with the Palestinian president, has stepped down, the Palestinians remain deeply divided, and time is running out.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reminded the Security Council on Friday that "just one year ago, there was no peace process," and noted that Israel and the Palestinians continue their negotiations, along with many other partners.

In his speech to the General Assembly, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said it was time for the Mideast to develop "new regional frameworks to overcome our long-standing challenges" and ensure "stable and lasting peace."

He said it was time to consider the possibility of creating an organization that would include "all states in the Middle East, without exception, to discuss long-standing issues openly and frankly" to reach a stable and durable understanding between all parties."

U.N. diplomats pointed to the words "without exception" as significant because that would mean Israel's inclusion.

Many Arab leaders called for a peaceful solution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program. Tehran insists it is purely peaceful and aims to produce nuclear energy but the U.S. and many Western nations suspect Iran's goal is producing nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia's Saud expressed hope that Iran will take practical steps "to ensure a peaceful and rapid solution to the problem of the Iranian nuclear program and save the region from devastating conflicts, futile arms races and serious environmental hazards."

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