Arabs Warn Israel to Keep Its Obligations


Arab leaders appeared to take a tough stance yesterday by demanding that Israel's new government continue the Mideast peace process and not reject exchanging occupied land for peace.

They also declared that any "setback" will be the responsibility of Israel alone and threatened to back away from the peace process if Israel implements a hard-line path.

But, in meeting together for the first time in six years, the Arab leaders made clear that they are willing to wait and see how the new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would fulfill previous Israeli obligations under the peace process. They called for a resumption of Arab-Israeli talks.

Arab leaders papered over long-simmering disputes between themselves and together threw down the gauntlet of peace to Israel, requiring a full withdrawal from Arab lands occupied since the 1967 war. Any violation, the communique said, "will lead to a setback to the peace process with all the hazards involved...."

Arabs would respond in kind to Israeli actions, said Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa. "Land for peace, right for right, security for security," he said. Arabs want "a balanced peace, and a balanced settlement."

The summiteers also called on the US and Russia - the original sponsors of the Mideast peace process - to guarantee Israel's compliance.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher is due to begin a two-day visit to Israel and Egypt tomorrow to help calm the region's renewed tensions. And President Clinton is to meet the Israeli prime minister in early July.

"We are not warmongers, and we reject violence," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told 21 heads of state and top-level representatives at the summit. "We insist on pursuing the road to peace ... none of us wishes to return to war and destruction, nor seek to revert to the state of no-war, no-peace."

In strongly worded policy guidelines, Mr. Netanyahu ruled out a Palestinian state, any non-Israeli control over Arab East Jerusalem - which Palestinians see as their "capital" - and withdrawal from the Golan Heights captured from Syria in 1967.

High on the leaders' minds is a growing disappointment that Clinton is throwing US weight behind. Netanyahu's tough line toward the peace process.

Despite his administration's admonitions to "wait and see" if Israel takes a severe stance, on the eve of the summit, Clinton said in an interview, "I am pleased by the tone Prime Minister Netanyahu struck in the guidelines of the new government."

Anger at US grows

That view struck a raw nerve at the summit. Referring to Clinton's comments, the Egyptian foreign minister said: "I don't think statements of Mr. Netanyahu would encourage anybody." Arabs face "a grave situation in the region and real threats."

Attitudes throughout the Arab world appeared to harden, as Israel was seen to move further from the peace agreement signed with Arabs in Madrid in 1991.

"Never has the rejectionist front been so strong as today," said the leftist Egyptian political commentator Mohamed Sid Ahmed.

"Many are now saying that this whole exercise has taken us nowhere, that it is a sham. The more Israel engaged, the more they asked for. Peres divided us, and Netanyahu comes to give us the final blow," he said.

The stand among Arab leaders he added, "is that there was a peace process. [Israel] moved out; we haven't."

President Mubarak kept the summit a "moderate" event, but elements of Syria's hard-line position - a call for all Arab states to reconsider the status of talks with Israel - seemed to dominate.

Israeli response

In Israel, on the eve of the summit, Foreign Minister David Levy softened the Israeli line, saying Israel may agree to "cosmetic changes" on the Golan Heights. But Netanyahu later distanced himself from that statement.

In Cairo, during the public sessions, Arab leaders stared glumly at each other across a vast, ornate table. The summit's real business was conducted behind closed doors.

Mubarak's success at convening the summit - and limiting extreme views - reconfirms Egypt's role as a key interlocutor in the Arab world.

Inter-Arab conflict simmers

Trying to soothe regional disputes, Mubarak brought together King Hussein of Jordan and President Hafez al-Assad of Syria for the first time since Jordan's 1994 peace deal with Israel.

Though officials said the meeting went well, the king used combative language in a speech following the meeting: "We must confront the problem of cross-border terrorism, through ... the liquidation of all pockets of terrorism, wherever their dens may be," he said, making veiled reference to Syria.

Mubarak also brought together long-time enemies Mr. Assad and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. And Assad reportedly invited Mr. Arafat to the Syrian capital, Damascus.

In the end, the inter-Arab conflicts were prevalent, but they did not dominate.

"This summit comes at a crossroads for Arabs ... and they want to stand fast in the face of the Likud [Mr Netanyahu's right-wing party] philosophy," said Mohammed el-Sayed Said, of Cairo's Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

"But this is just a start," he said.

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