11/02/2007, 00.00
MIDDLE EAST
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Saudi Arabia uncertain about its presence at Annapolis

Riyadh is pressuring the United States to get Israel to accept that the upcoming Middle East Conference deal with substantive issues like the borders of the Palestinian state, Jerusalem and the return of refugees.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Saudi Arabia has renewed its pressures on the United States to get Israel to make concessions, signaling that it might not attend next month’s Middle East Peace Conference in Annapolis (MD), promoted by US President George W. Bush.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told the Guardian newspaper at the end of his visit to London that normalisation between the Arab world and Israel is “not just the absence of war”.”

“We need a successful meeting. To be successful it must deal with the main issues of peace in the Middle East: Jerusalem, borders, the return of the Palestinians,” he said.

“The question,” writes Arab News in an editorial, is whether “the US administration [is] sincere in bringing about a just and comprehensive settlement in the Middle East” or whether the “real motive behind the decision to convene the conference and the hectic activities now going on” is “to guarantee total Arab support for the US stand over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

The Arab leaders whose support is key to bringing peace to the region are sceptical about the outcome of the conference without any specific agenda to settle the thorny issues of refugees, borders and Jerusalem.”

It is apparent that President Bush wants to make the occasion a grand spectacle attended by world leaders representing the G-8 countries, the UN, the Middle East Quartet and the Arab states though it will only sign an empty agreement.”

It seems that President Bush does not want the conference to fail as he considers it an opportunity to camouflage his failures on every other front;” for this reason he is applying “maximum pressure on Abbas to attend the meeting.”

Arab countries,” the editorial concludes, “should insist that they would attend the conference only if serious moves are made to achieve real peace. Otherwise their attendance would be endorsing the Israeli scheme to prolong the conflict unresolved with the express support of the US. Their attendance would be harmful to their own interests in the long run. The focus of the conference on more financial aid and reconstruction of Palestine economy and reinforcing the West Bank police would be a waste of time. It would amount to facilitating Israel’s seizure of more Palestinian territories.” Efforts by Ms Rice, who is shuttling from Arab capital to Arab capital, “would be crowned with success if only Washington would acknowledge the legitimate rights of the Arabs.”

Meanwhile Israeli daily Haaretz cites Israeli officials who deny the existence of a tripartite Palestinian-American-Israeli team working on the first stage of the roadmap.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad had mentioned the creation of a commission for that purpose, but Israeli officials said that whilst such a step was discussed during last week's visit by US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, neither its composition nor its powers were finalised. (PD)

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