Peace process may be a total failure: Moussa
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa addresses to media during a press conference in Sirte, Libya. (EPA)
SIRTE, Libya: Arab leaders opened a summit on Saturday determined to send a clear warning that the Middle East peace process is doomed unless Israel freezes Jewish settlements in annexed east Jerusalem.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Arab states should prepare for the possibility that the Palestinian-Israeli peace process may be a total failure and come up with alternatives.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas set the tone when he ruled out US-brokered peace talks with Israel unless the Jewish state backs down on settlements and pleaded with Arab leaders to "rescue" Jerusalem.
"We cannot resume indirect negotiations as long as Israel maintains its settlement policy and the status quo," Abbas said in a speech at the start of the two-day summit.
Abbas, who was speaking after UN chief Ban Ki-moon, urged Arab leaders to help facilitate the US-brokered talks, accused Israel of working to alter the Arab identity of Jerusalem with "ethnic cleansing." "We have always said that Jerusalem is the jewel in the crown and the gate to peace," Abbas said, who insisted that Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Moussa did not say what the alternatives to the peace process might be, but one option is to revive an eight-year-old initiative under which Arab states would normalize ties with the Jewish state in exchange for Israeli concessions on territory.
The alternative to the stalled peace process, which is favored by many states in the region is the Arab Peace Initiative, first proposed by Saudi Arabia at an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002.
Under that initiative, Arab countries would normalize relations with Israel in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and a fair settlement for Palestinian refugees.
Speaking to Arab leaders at a summit of the Arab League in the Libyan town of Sirte, Moussa said a fresh approach was needed.
"We have to study the possibility that the peace process will be a complete failure," Moussa said. "It's time to face Israel. We have to have alternative plans because the situation has reached a turning point.
"The peace process has entered a new stage, perhaps the last stage. We have accepted the efforts of mediators. We have accepted an open-ended peace process." "But that resulted in a loss of time and we did not achieve anything and allowed Israel to practise its policy for 20 years," he said.
The UN chief, also addressing the summit, appealed for Arab backing for the "proximity" indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians, saying "our common goal should be to resolve all final-status issues within 24 months." Ban also reiterated that Israel's settlement activity in east Jerusalem was "illegal" and stressed "Jerusalem's significance to all must be respected, and it should emerge from negotiations as the capital of two states."
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, another guest speaker, blasted Israel's policy of considering and treating with the whole of Jerusalem as its united capital as "madness." "Jerusalem is the apple of the eye of each and every Muslim ... and we cannot at all accept any Israeli violation in Jerusalem or in Muslim sites," Erdogan said.
"If Jerusalem burns, all of Palestine will burn, and if Palestine burns then all of the Middle East will be afire," Erdogan warned.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was likewise invited by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to address the summit, said "now is the time to give peace a chance." "We have the possibility, we have the responsibility and we feel the urgency," Berlusconi said.
He hoped that hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "will respond to the call made by the international community to improve the living conditions of Palestinians," especially in the Gaza Strip.
The 13 Arab leaders along with Gaddafi attending the summit are expected to adopt a resolution to raise 500 million dollars in aid to improve living conditions for Jerusalem Palestinians as part of a "rescue plan."
The Arab League chief also said the 22-member organization should start talking to Tehran to address concerns, especially strong among Iran's neighbors across the Persian Gulf, about its nuclear program. "I know there is a worry among Arabs regarding Iran but this situation confirms the necessity of a dialogue with Iran," Moussa said in his speech.
Erdogan, whose country's traditionally warm relations with Israel have soured in the past few months, was a guest at the summit and he accepted an offer to form a new regional grouping of Turkey and the Arab League.