Syria, Libya team up at Arab summit to pressure Palestinians to quit peace talks with Israel

By Salah Nasrawi, AP
Sunday, March 28, 2010

Syria, Libya pressure Palestinians to quit talks

SIRTE, Libya — Syria and Libya teamed up Sunday to pressure the Palestinian leader to quit peace talks with Israel and return to violence, delegates to an Arab leadership summit said.

An adviser to the U.S.-backed Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, quickly rejected the suggestion, calling for the 22 nations represented at the gathering in Sirte, Libya, to be “realistic.” Despite the opposition from two of Israel’s longtime foes, the summit was expected Sunday to renew backing for Palestinian peace talks with Israel.

Still, the calls to abandon the effort reflected the depth of frustration and anger over the stalled process and continued Israeli construction in areas claimed by the Palestinians, particularly east Jerusalem.

Syrian President Bashar Assad urged Abbas to withdraw from a U.S.-supported peace strategy and resume armed resistance to Israel, according to two delegates who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

They said Assad also urged Arab countries to halt any contacts with Israel, though only Egypt and Jordan have peace deals with the Jewish state.

“The price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace,” one delegate quoted Assad as telling Abbas.

Summit host Moammar Gadhafi of Libya warned that his nation will withdraw support for an initiative launched at a 2002 Arab League summit in Beirut calling for exchanging land for peace with Israel, the delegates said.

Senior Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh dismissed the pressure.

“Let us be realistic. We will not follow those who have special agendas,” he told Al-Jazeera television.

“We are ready for any Arab option. If they want to go to war let them declare that and mobilize their armies and their people and we will follow suit,” Abu Rdeneh said.

Earlier this month, Arab nations opened the door for Abbas to enter four months of indirect, American-brokered peace talks with Israel. But they later threatened to withdraw support for the negotiations after Israel announced plans for new Jewish homes in east Jerusalem, the part of the city Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state.

Speaking at the summit Saturday, Abbas urged Mideast peace brokers to push Israel to stop settlement construction, and he vowed that the Palestinians will not sign any peace deal with Israel without the Jewish state ending its “occupation” of east Jerusalem.

He accused Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of trying to create a de facto situation in Jerusalem that would torpedo any future peace settlement.

The Palestinians are also asking Arab nations for millions of dollars in funding for Palestinians living in east Jerusalem.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa urged leaders at the opening of the summit to create a new strategy to pressure Israel and stressed the peace process cannot be “open ended.”

The summit registered a higher than usual number of no-shows from Arab leaders. Eight heads of state stayed away, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Recent Arab summits have been marred by disagreements among Arab leaders, divided between pro-Western rulers and more radical regimes. The divisions tend to water down joint Arab positions.

Nasrawi reported from Cairo.

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