Arab Delegation Takes Peace Proposal to Israel
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Consider two meetings in two parts of the world where the topic of conversation was the same. At the White House here in Washington, Jordan's king had dinner with President Bush. King Abdullah asked the president to get more involved in Middle East peace efforts. In the region itself, members of the Arab League are paying an unusual visit. Its members include a number of nations that have gone to war with Israel over the years. But today an Arab League delegation is in Jerusalem, and that's where NPR's Eric Westervelt picks up the story. Eric, what's really happening here?
ERIC WESTERVELT: Egypt's state-run media service, Steve, has issued a statement saying the foreign minister is representing Egypt and Egypt only on this visit, not the Arab League. But other Arab League officials strongly dispute that and say this is indeed a precedent-setting visit with Arab League representatives sitting down for the first time for official talks with Israel in Jerusalem.
INSKEEP: Okay, so a symbolic visit, but apparently important enough for people to argue about who's really going and what they represent. We should mention that these two foreign ministers come with a peace proposal; not a new one, but a peace proposal.
WESTERVELT: But today Israeli officials I have spoken to say they hope these new talks about the Arab initiative might help reinvigorate the long-stalled Arab-Israeli peace process. So, Steve, they're talking about talking. And as you know, here, that can sometimes be seen as a kind of progress.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about who is not being talked with. Hamas, which controls all of Gaza, as you know, Eric, is not being talked to by the United States or Europeans or Israel or the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.
WESTERVELT: So the policy continues nonetheless to be to try to isolate Hamas and support its rival, Fatah and President Mahmoud Abbas who is now really only in charge of the West Bank. Some prominent officials, however, including former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, the former head of Israel's Mossad, Ephraim Halevy, are saying publicly, look, you have to talk to your enemies, you have to engage Hamas, however distasteful it might be.
INSKEEP: Backing away from the specific meetings, or non-meetings as it may be in specific proposals, does it seem that there's a mood on either side or any side for peace right now, Eric?
WESTERVELT: But Blair's mandate is very limited right now to trying to improve the Palestinian economy in the West Bank. And people so far are saying we aren't seeing any tangible progress on the ground. So they're skeptical of all these diplomatic moves.
INSKEEP: Eric, thanks.
WESTERVELT: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eric Westervelt in Jerusalem.
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