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Saudi: Arab-Israel peace plan not on table forever

 Syrian President Bashar al Assad, left, is received by Kuwait's Amir, Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, on arrival at Kuwait International Airport, Monday, Jan....
 Leaders of the countries participating in the Arab Economic Summit pose for a picture at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait on Monday, Jan. 19, 2009. Saudi K...
 President Hosni Mubarak, of Egypt, King Abdullah  of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, Amir of Kuwait and Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Amir ...

KUWAIT ARAB ECONOMIC SUMMIT

Syrian President Bashar al Assad, left, is received by Kuwait's Amir, Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, on arrival at Kuwait International Airport, Monday, Jan....

KUWAIT ARAB ECONOMIC SUMMIT

Leaders of the countries participating in the Arab Economic Summit pose for a picture at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait on Monday, Jan. 19, 2009. Saudi K...

KUWAIT ARAB ECONOMIC SUMMIT

President Hosni Mubarak, of Egypt, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, Amir of Kuwait and Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Amir ...

Saudi Arabia's king warned Israel on Monday that an Arab peace initiative won't remain on the table forever, a day after a fragile cease-fire took hold in Gaza.
Arab countries have been split in two camps from the crisis _ one supporting Hamas' hardliners, the other hoping to lure the Palestinian militants toward more moderation.
But Saudi's King Abdullah called on Arab countries to end the political rift during an Arab economic summit in Kuwait. Instead, he placed the blame on Israel for the Gaza crisis, pledged $1 billion to rebuild the devastated coastal strip and invited the leaders from Egypt, Qatar and Syria to lunch after the summit's opening session.
"Israel has to understand that the choice between war and peace will not always stay open and that the Arab peace initiative that is on the table today will not stay on the table," said Abdullah during a speech at the summit. The comments were his first since Israel and Hamas declared a fragile cease-fire to halt three weeks of violence in Gaza that killed more than 1,250 Palestinians.
The Arab peace initiative, which was first proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002 and relaunched in March 2007, offers Israel collective Arab recognition in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from territory it occupied in the 1967 war, the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees.
Israel initially rejected the initiative in 2002, but in the past year has said it could be a starting point for discussion.
"The position of the Israeli government is that the Arab peace initiative remains a basis for dialogue between Israel and the Arab world," said Israeli spokesman Mark Regev on Monday. "And we continue to be willing to negotiate with all of our neighbors on the basis of that initiative."
But progress toward finalizing a peace deal has been slow, especially after Hamas seized Gaza from its rival Fatah in June 2007, creating a steep division between the two main Palestinian factions. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' faction, Fatah, controls only the West Bank and the two sides have been unable to come up with a power-sharing agreement.
After Hamas refused to renew a six-month truce with Israel last month, Egypt and Saudi Arabia initially blamed Hamas for the crisis. Later, as pressure mounted from the public in the Arab world to support Hamas, the two Arab powerhouses shifted their blame to Israel.
But the divisions between Arab countries grew deeper last week when Qatar hosted a summit. Egypt and Saudi Arabia led a boycott of the gathering, which Qatar had called to take a united stance on Gaza but ended up being dominated by supporters of Hamas.
At that summit, Syria urged putting the peace initiative on hold _ a more radical position than one outlined by Abdullah.
But Monday, Qatar's prime minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, expressed optimism after the country's emir had lunch with Abdullah, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"We hope that we will put hands in hands and heal the wounds to strengthen the Arab position," he said. He did not elaborate, and it was unclear how open Qatar was to working with its political rival, Saudi Arabia.
Assad, meanwhile, did not appear to have softened his stance, proposing that the Arab summit adopt a resolution declaring Israel a "terrorist entity."
Egypt's Mubarak also criticized Iran's influence in Gaza and the Persian country's ties with some Arab leaders. Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah are two of Hamas' main backers and both have strong relations with Syria.
"It's regrettable that we allow the ambitions of foreign forces to impose their hegemony on the area, to penetrate our Arab world and trade with the blood of Palestinian souls," Mubarak said.
But Abdullah focused on Israel. He denounced Israel's tactics in Gaza, saying the Jewish holy book called for "an eye for an eye and did not say an eye for the eyes of a whole city."
The king said his country's $1 billion donation for Gaza would go to a proposed fund Arabs are setting up to rebuild the seaside territory.
Kuwait's emir also announced that the oil-rich U.S. ally was making a donation of $34 million to the United Nation's agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees.
But it remains to be seen whether Arab expressions of sympathy for the citizens of Gaza translate into actual funds to rebuild the city. Arabs have often criticized Israel for the plight of Palestinians, but pledges of financial support have not always materialized.
Prospects for Arab-Israeli peace also seem dim following Israel's offensive in Gaza. The death and destruction enraged many Arabs and further strained relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel said it launched the campaign on Dec. 27 to halt rocket fire from Hamas into Israel.
In Jerusalem, a senior European Union official said Monday that she expected humanitarian aid to Gaza to flow quickly but signaled that reconstruction would only begin when the EU has an acceptable Palestinian partner.
Visiting EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner did not explicitly single out Hamas, but she strongly hinted that it will be difficult to rebuild Gaza as long as the Islamic movement remains opposed to international peace efforts.
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Nasrawi reported from Cairo, Egypt; Elias from Kuwait City