Arab diplomats support Palestinian uprising
Ministers condemn September 11 attacks
BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Arab League foreign ministers, meeting to lay the groundwork for a summit of Arab leaders, drafted a statement Monday supporting the "steadfastness" and "courage" of the Palestinian people.
While the statement did not specifically mention the land-for-peace proposal being floated by Saudi Arabia's de facto leader, Crown Prince Abdullah, the diplomats did affirm some of the provisions of the land-for-peace plan.
The ministers also called on Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian territories, to the borders in place before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. And they urged the creation of an independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital.
The Arab League foreign ministers praised the Palestinian intifada, which began nearly 18 months ago. They said they held Israel responsible for its "aggressive and uncivilized policies" toward the Palestinians.
The full summit is scheduled to begin Wednesday. The Saudi proposal, which has so far drawn a favorable reaction from several Arab leaders, is expected to top the agenda.
Progress or confrontation
The attendance of Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat is still in doubt. For months, Israeli travel restrictions have confined Arafat to the West Bank town of Ramallah.
The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was expected to announce Tuesday whether Arafat would be allowed to travel to Beirut for the meeting. Sharon convened his Cabinet Monday night to discuss the issue. (Full story)
The foreign ministers' session opened Monday with an address by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, who gave the officials a choice between peace and progress or chaos and confrontation in the Middle East.
"This is related to the future of this region as a whole," Moussa said. "Either we have justice, peace and progress or chaos, confrontations continuously progressing and with no possibility of knowing in advance their results."
Moussa laid out the issues he sees facing the Arab world.
"We are facing a challenge as far as ... the rights of the Palestinian people. We are facing a challenge concerning some occupied Arab territories," he said, referring to the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.
Noting that the United States may expand its war on terrorism to Iraq, Moussa said the Arab world is facing the possibility of attacks on some Arab countries.
Prospect of more constructive results
Meanwhile, the United States is urging Israel to allow Arafat to attend the summit, with or without the cease-fire agreement that Israel has demanded.
"We believe Chairman Arafat should be able to go to Beirut because we think that offers the prospect of more constructive results of the conference," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday, "especially with regard to Crown Prince Abdullah's proposals for normalization with Israel and getting the support of other Arab nations."
The Saudi plan calls for Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel if Israel agrees to withdraw to borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
Several contentious issues are not specifically addressed in the proposal, however, including the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for refugees.
In their draft statement, the Arab foreign ministers held Israel responsible for what they called the "refugee problem." They rejected any attempt to resettle the Palestinian refugees.
The foreign ministers also condemned the September 11 attacks on the United States, but said it was important to distinguish between terrorism and legitimate resistance of "a foreign occupation."
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