Egypt, Jordan plan Israel talks on Arab initiative
JERUSALEM, July 8 (Reuters) Arab League members Egypt and Jordan have proposed sending envoys to Israel this week for long-delayed talks on an Arab peace initiative, Israeli officials said today.
The visit by the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers would be the first by the Arab League working group, set up in April to hold contacts with Israel over the initiative. Egyptian diplomatic sources said it could happen as early as Thursday.
The land-for-peace initiative offers Israel normal ties with all Arab states in return for a full withdrawal from the lands it seized in the 1967 Middle East war, creation of a Palestinian state and a ''just solution'' for Palestinian refugees.
Israeli officials said last week they believed the plan was on hold because of Saudi objections to Western efforts to isolate Hamas Islamists who seized control of the Gaza Strip last month.
A spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said details for the talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdelelah al-Khatib were still pending, but they had made clear they planned to come.
''They have announced their intention but the meeting has not yet been scheduled,'' Miri Eisin said.
The visit comes as Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas prepare for bilateral talks as early as next Monday.
In April, the Arab League gave Egypt and Jordan a mandate ''to start efforts to put the Arab peace initiative into effect (and) facilitate a start to direct negotiations''.
Israel has asked the Arab League to expand the size of the working group beyond Egypt and Jordan, which already have full relations with the Jewish state.
The Arab League said it could be expanded if Israel met a list of Arab demands, including lifting sanctions against the Palestinian government and halting work on Jewish settlements and on the barrier it is building through the West Bank.
Israel has lifted sanctions on the emergency government Abbas formed last month in the occupied West Bank, following Hamas's Gaza takeover.
Olmert has said that he sees positive points in the Arab peace initiative. But Israel opposes the return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes in what is now the Jewish state, and wants to hold on to major settlement blocs in the West Bank.