RIYADH (AFP) – Regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia on Wednesday rebuffed US calls for diplomatic overtures toward Israel and said the Jewish state’s settlement expansion is jeopardizing efforts to revive peace talks.
“It is Israel that has to move seriously towards the peace process,” Saudi foreign ministry spokesman Osama Nugali said.
“As we all know, Israel is continuing to take unilateral measures by changing the geographic and demographic facts on the ground, by building settlements and expanding the existing ones,” he told AFP.
Nugali said Israeli settlement expansion on occupied Arab land continues to impede any progress toward a lasting two-state solution between the Palestinians and Israelis.
“We have been seeing a schizophrenic Israeli policy. On one hand you talk about peace and their interest to achieve peace,” he said. “On the other hand they take actions against the peace process that complicate it and put it in jeopardy.”
His comments came amid a concerted US push towards restarting comprehensive Middle East peace negotiations involving Israel and its neighbors Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians.
US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and US National Security Advisor James Jones have been meeting leaders in the region this week.
Israel has rejected calls by the US administration to halt settlement activity, leading to the worst public rift between the two close allies in years.
And the Palestinians have refused to restart negotiations until Israel freezes construction in the West Bank, where around 300,000 settlers now live.
Mitchell called on Monday on individual Arab states to take “meaningful steps” towards Israel to help open peace talks, which have been on ice since Israel launched its war on Gaza in December.
“We’re not asking anyone to achieve full normalization at this time, we recognize that will come further down the road in this process,” he said after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.
In addition, in Washington several legislators have drafted a letter to Saudi King Abdullah calling on him to make a “dramatic gesture” towards Israel similar to ground-breaking overtures that paved the wave for peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.
But the Saudis maintain that those overtures have not brought progress toward creating a Palestinian state.
Since early this year Riyadh has been urging a new international effort based on its 2002 Arab peace initiative, which offers Israel full diplomatic recognition from all Arab states in exchange for the creation of a Palestinian state with a shared Jerusalem as its capital.
“The Arab peace initiative is very clear,” Nugali said.
“That Israel should withdraw from the Arab lands and put an end to its occupation and resolve the major issues of the conflict,” he said, citing the future of Palestinian refugees, water-sharing issues, and Jerusalem’s future status.
Such issues must be resolved “in order to achieve a permanent, just and lasting peace which is based on the establishment of an independent contiguous and viable Palestinian state,” Nugali said.
“In the Arab peace process normalization comes after achieving these goals, not before it. So we should not put the cart before the horse.”
Calls for new Arab diplomatic overtures toward Israel were also rebuffed by Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa after he met Mitchell in Cairo on Monday.
“It is not possible to take (normalization) steps while the settlements are still being built,” he said.