KHARTOUM,(Reuters) – Arab leaders meeting in Sudan on Wednesday expressed dismay at the Israeli election victory of a party committed to unilateral steps, after renewing their own offer of peace-for-land through international mediation.
The Arab League’s 22 members ended a two-day summit in the Sudanese capital with a unanimous rejection of go-it-alone Israeli measures, but Iraq and Saudi Arabia added notes of rancour in the final stages of a poorly attended meeting.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari accused his country’s Arab neighbours of failing to prevent insurgent infiltrators and allowing their media to create a political atmosphere favourable to rebels attacking U.S. and Iraqi government forces.
Saudi Arabia backed out of hosting the next annual Arab summit and asked that it take place instead in Egypt, where the Arab League has its headquarters. It gave no reason.
The Arab heads of state said they remained committed to a 2002 initiative which offers Israel peace and normal relations in return for withdrawal from land occupied in the 1967 war.
They promised to maintain financial aid to the Palestinian Authority at $55 million a month and urged other donors to keep paying even after the Islamist movement Hamas takes office.
Israelis voting on Tuesday ignored the Arab peace offer and gave victory to interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party, which has pledged to annexe parts of the West Bank and define Israel’s borders unilaterally unless Palestinian militants lay down their guns ahead of any negotiations.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the election result would make no difference unless Olmert amended his policies.
“This result will not change (anything) as long as the agenda of Olmert himself does not change and he does not abandon the question of ‘unilateral agreements’,” Abbas told reporters.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said Kadima’s win was expected and it was more important to see the shape of his coalition and “what its course would be — peaceful or not”.
“The ball is in the Israeli court because during these years since the launch of Madrid (the 1991 peace conference in the Spanish capital), Israel with all its ruling parties has put obstacles in the way of attaining peace,” he added.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa said: “It’s not comprehensible…accepting unilateral withdrawals according to Israeli whims. This will not work but will only lead to worsening matters.
“It is impossible to accept Israeli proposals that we have seen so far. Is there anything new the new Israeli government can come up with? Many Arabs don’t think so,” he added.
Foreign Minister Abdelelah al-Khatib of Jordan, one of two Arab countries which have peace treaties with Israel, was less pessimistic. “It’s too early to judge,” he said.
“We hope the elections will contribute to creating the right conditions for resuming negotiations. We believe a peaceful solution is only possible through a negotiated agreement between Palestinians and Israelis,” the Jordanian minister added.
It was a disappointing turnout for the Sudanese hosts, who had wanted a show of solidarity against criticism of their handling of the conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
In the brief closing session, Iraq’s Zebari aired his government’s grievances against some of its Arab neighbours, saying they had been lax on border infiltration and had given material and logistical support to what he called terrorists.
They had also “created a political and media environment conducive to them (insurgents), propagating and supporting their empty allegations such as ‘resistance’ and ‘confronting occupation’ and other abrications,” he said.