The renewed talks follow a proposal from Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah to secure his country’s recognition of Israeli statehood. The plan requires Israel to withdraw from territory obtained during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, including the West Bank and Gaza and perhaps the Golan Heights, in return for a comprehensive peace.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has already said he fully supports the Saudi effort.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has expressed interest in the plan and said he would like to meet with Saudi officials to find out more about it, according to the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.
“[Sharon] would like to know more about the content and he would be ready to meet anybody from Saudi Arabia, formally, informally, publicly, discreetly, whatever, to get better information about this initiative,” Solana said.
In the past, Arab leaders have refused such meetings, seeing them as a recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and used mediators instead.
In Washington, President Bush appeared pleased with the proposal and spoke with Prince Abdullah by phone about it this morning.
“The president praised the crown prince’s ideas regarding the full Arab-Israeli normalization once a comprehensive peace agreement has been reached,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the proposal focussed on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — including the plight of refugees, access to Jerusalem, security and borders — and not necessarily relations with the rest of the Arab world.
The United States has acted as mediator between Israelis and Palestinians in the past, and recently has emphasized the need for Arafat to control Palestinian militants. The Israeli government eased the military cordon on Arafat’s compound on Sunday, but continues to limit his movement to the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has resulted in 1,100 deaths in the last 17 months.