Changes to peace plan for Palestine rejected by Syria


SYRIAN FOREIGN minister Walid Muallem insisted yesterday that there was no need to amend proposals in a 2002 joint Arab peace plan providing for full normalisation of relations with Israel in exchange for its full withdrawal from Arab territories occupied in 1967, and a “just” solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.

He was reflecting concern in some Arab capitals at reports that the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan were seeking to modify the plan.

Following consultations with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah recently sounded out President Barack Obama on the shape of a comprehensive plan for resolving the Arab-Israel conflict. Mr Abbas said on Wednesday that this plan would be presented to Mr Obama during meetings later this month.

The plan would set out goodwill gestures to Israel in exchange for Israeli movement on issues important to the Palestinians.

The tripartite plan is meant to demonstrate Arab unity and flexibility at a time when Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu refuses to contemplate creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel.

However, any changes in the broader Arab proposal, reaffirmed by the Arab summit at the end of March, would require acquiescence of all 22 member states of the Arab League which, at present, insists on acceptance of the unamended 2002 proposal.

In addition to Syria, Qatar and Lebanon are likely to reject any softening of the full-withdrawal-for-peace formula and the stance on refugees. Modifications would also be condemned by Hamas, which rules Gaza.

Quartet envoy Tony Blair said the Obama administration was developing a strategy of its own which would have the backing of the EU, Russia and the UN, the other three members of the group.

The strategy will be finalised and presented after Mr Obama’s consultations with the Palestinian, Egyptian and Israeli leaders. Mr Obama seeks to launch simultaneous negotiations on the Palestinian-Israeli and Syrian-Israeli tracks with the aim of reaching a comprehensive Arab-Israeli deal.

Meanwhile, Mr Abbas is threatening to appoint a new Palestinian government if Fatah and Hamas do not reach an agreement on a unity coalition during the next round of talks convening in Cairo on May 16th. This would deepen the rift between Hamas and Fatah in the West Bank and weaken the Arab side in negotiations.