RIYADH, (Agencies) – Saudi King Abdullah denounced the American military presence in Iraq on Wednesday as an “illegitimate foreign occupation”. The king insisted that only when Arab leaders unite will they be able to prevent “foreign powers from drawing the region’s future.”
“The real blame should be directed at us, the leaders of the Arab nation,” he said. “Our constant disagreements and rejection of unity have made the Arab nation lose confidence in our sincerity and lose hope.”
King Abdullah called at the start of the summit on Wednesday for an end to the international blockade on the Palestinian government as a step to reviving the peace process. “It has become necessary to end the unjust blockade imposed on the Palestinian people as soon as possible so that the peace process can move in an atmosphere far from oppression and force,” King Abdullah said.
On Thursday, Arab leaders will urge Israel to accept a five-year-old peace initiative to end the Arab-Israeli conflict at the core of the region’s problems.
The two-day Arab summit, which will end on Thursday, has drawn world and Muslim leaders who backed the Arab plan offering Israel normal ties with all Arab countries in return for its withdrawal from land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
The plan also calls for the creation of a Palestinian state and a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.
A draft text of summit resolutions, endorsed by Arab monarchs and presidents, will urge “all Israelis to accept the initiative and seize the current opportunity to return to a direct and serious negotiating process at all levels.”
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said resolutions would include a call for all militias in Iraq to disband and for the constitution to be revised, addressing the grievances of Sunni Muslims dispossessed of power by the fall of Saddam Hussein and ousting of his Baathist loyalists in 2003.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani will pledge to give more power to Iraqi Sunnis but will also call on Arab countries to help stem a violent Sunni insurgency in Iraq.
“We are also of the opinion that the base of political process should be widened,” he said, according to a speech text released to reporters, which acknowledged a need to end state “factionalism” in an apparent reference to Shi’ites Muslims. He said the de-Baathification committee could be replaced by an “accountability and justice” process — a key Sunni demand. But in return, he said: “We need all forms of support from you, security, political and economic, through ending the debts incurred by the former regime.”
Riyadh, hoping to douse the flames of radicalism and rally fellow U.S. allies in the region, has called on Sunni states to overcome divisions, arguing a united front will help persuade Israel to address Palestinian grievances.
“The Arab peace initiative is one of the pillars for the peace process … This initiative sends a signal that the Arabs are serious about achieving peace,” U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon told Arab leaders on Wednesday, according to an Arabic translation.
Israel has objected to key elements in the Arab plan, including the proposed return to 1967 borders, the inclusion of Arab East Jerusalem in a Palestinian state and the return of Palestinian refugees to homes in what is now Israel.
Islamist group Hamas, which heads the Palestinian government, has also called on Arab leaders not to compromise on the right of refugees to return to homes lost in the turmoil surrounding the creation of Israel almost 60 years ago.
“It’s a sacred issue,” Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said after a dinner with Arab leaders on Wednesday. “What I heard from Arab leaders on this was reassuring.”
A final draft resolution calls for a “just solution” to the problem of Palestinian refugees but avoids any mention of the phrase “right of return”.