CAIRO -- The United States has quietly joined Israel in urging Arab leaders to reformulate their 2002 peace offer in an effort to end the decades-long Middle East conflict, Arab diplomats said yesterday. So far, some Arab heavyweights are publicly resisting the idea.
Israel in the past rejected the plan outright. But Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday it could provide the basis for renewed talks with Arab moderates -- a sign of Israel's tentative interest as other avenues toward peace have faltered recently.
"The Saudi initiative is interesting, and has many sections that I would be willing to accept -- though, understandably, not all of them -- and it could certainly be a convenient basis for continued dialogue between us and Arab moderates," Olmert said in Tel Aviv.
Arab countries are expected to revive the proposal at a summit later this month in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Before that, the plan is expected to come up during meetings this weekend between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and regional leaders.
The offer, initiated in 2002 by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, offers Israel recognition and permanent peace with all Arab countries in return for full Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war. It also calls for setting up a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and allowing Palestinian refugees to return to former homes in Israel.
Israel rejects full withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and it strongly opposes the influx of large numbers of Palestinian refugees into the Jewish state.
Egyptian and Saudi leaders have said they want the offer to stand as is, and Vice President Farouk al Sharaa of Syria has been touring Arab countries urging no changes.
But Jordan's King Abdullah II, a key partner in the peace efforts, has called for "Arab consensus on moving the peace process forward" -- widely interpreted as a sign of flexibility on Israeli demands.
Three Arab diplomats in different Arab capitals said Washington has been pressing for changes to make the offer in line with the "road map," a peace plan supported by the United States and other members of the so-called Quartet group. That plan calls for an independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel, but it doesn't specify borders.
The American ideas were presented through different diplomatic channels, said the Arab diplomats, all speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to talk to the press.
On Wednesday, David Welch, assistant US secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, was in Cairo for talks with the Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, part of a regional tour to advance US views ahead of the summit.
As they publicly resist any changes, some Arab leaders have said Israel should come forward with a counteroffer.