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Middle East

Arab League Presents Peace Plan to Israel

The foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan formally presented an Arab peace plan during a historic visit to Israel on Wednesday.

The ministers arrived as representatives of the Arab League, the first time the 22-member group has sent a delegation to the Jewish state. The League's peace plan envisions full recognition of Israel in return for withdrawal from lands captured in during the 1967 Middle East war.

At a news conference with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Jordan's foreign minister, Abdul-Ilah Khatib, said he and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit were "extending a hand of peace" on behalf of the region and expressed hope that the gesture would "create the momentum needed to resume fruitful and productive negotiations" between Israel and the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.

The visit, which came a day after former British Prime Minister Tony Blair made his first trip as new Mideast peace envoy, is part of a flurry of diplomatic efforts meant to restart peace talks after a seven-year lull.

Egypt and Jordan both have peace treaties with Israel and have sent their leaders to the country before, but never on behalf of the Arab League, which has traditionally been hostile toward the Jewish state.

Foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the visit was historic.

"This is the first time that a delegation is coming here under the auspices of the Arab League," he said.

The Arab League asked Jordan and Egypt to take the lead in pushing forward their newly revived peace plan, which offers a comprehensive peace agreement in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from all territories captured in 1967.

Israel rejected the plan when Saudi Arabia first proposed it in 2002, at the height of the Palestinian uprising. But it softened its resistance after moderate Arab states endorsed the plan again in March, sharing their concerns about Iran's growing influence.

Israel has welcomed the plan as a basis for negotiations, but raised concerns about certain aspects. Israel rejects a full withdrawal from the West Bank and east Jerusalem. It also objects to the plan's apparent call for the return of Palestinians who became refugees in the 1948 Mideast war and their descendants.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press