SHANNON, Ireland, (AP) -Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she hopes Arab states will soon recommit to an old offer for a broad peace with Israel and be willing to negotiate with the Jewish state.
Rice plans meetings in Egypt and Jordan in the coming days in hopes of rallying wider Arab support for the stalled effort to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians and to encourage flexibility from Arab nations that have not made peace with Israel.
Arab states have been pushing the Bush administration to do more to resolve the festering Palestinian issue, an effort Rice has apparently taken to heart. At the same time, however, she has been arguing to Arab allies that they should consider parallel overtures that could strengthen her hand.
“You need the energy and the help of moving forward on the Arab-Israeli side not at the end of the process but earlier,” Rice told reporters.
Among Arab states, only Egypt and Jordan have made peace with Israel. U.S. officials say other Arab states have too often seen their separate peace with Israel as a bonus that Israel might win only after accommodation with the Palestinians.
Rice’s trip is timed in part so that she can see Arab leaders and diplomats ahead of an Arab summit later this month. That meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is expected to revive a mothballed 2002 Arab proposal for blanket peace with Israel.
The top U.S. diplomat will shuttle between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and the West Bank, but she tried to lower expectations for that part of her mission.
“It’s almost at this point more important, given the upcoming Riyadh summit, to have the discussion with the Arabs about relaunching the Arab initiative,” Rice said.
Although Rice denied reports from some Arab diplomats that she had asked for changes in the original proposal, she said it should be revived “in a way that leaves open the possibility for active diplomacy based on it, not just putting it in the middle of the table and leaving it at that.”
The Arab plan offers Israel diplomatic recognition and peace in return for full withdrawal from the land Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war, plus the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also calls for allowing Palestinian refugees the right to return to homes in Israel.
Israel initially rejected the plan, and is particularly opposed to its granting the right of return to Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
The proposal went nowhere, in part because Israel and the United States considered it a take-it-or-leave-it deal they could not accept. Now Rice is trying to nudge Arab leaders to regard the proposal as a starting point for talks.
Rice also said Friday the United States might one day propose its own solutions to the most vexing problems dividing Israel and the Palestinians, such as the borders of an eventual independent Palestinian state.
In the meantime, Rice said, she wants to draft a common set of questions and concerns on both sides. She gave no timetable for either effort but made clear that the United States will be at the center of them.
“I don’t rule out that at some point that might be a useful thing to do,” Rice said when asked about presenting a set of U.S. proposals to settle enduring problems that have scuttled past negotiations for peace. Those include borders, the fate of Jerusalem and the rights of Palestinians and their descendants who left when Israel was formed in 1948.
Hard negotiations on those and other points will define whatever political deal Israel and the Palestinians can reach, and both sides say U.S. involvement will be crucial. The United States has not publicly placed its own proposed solutions before the two sides since the closing months of the Clinton administration.