Ari Rabinovitch
November 19, 2008 - 8:00pm

The PLO took the unprecedented step of placing advertisements in Israeli newspapers on Thursday to promote a six-year-old Arab peace plan for the region.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestine Liberation Organisation published the full-page notices in Hebrew in four major dailies. They described the Arab plan, which was first proposed in 2002 but has long found little interest from Israel.

"Fifty-seven Arab and Islamic countries will establish diplomatic ties and normal relations with Israel in return for a full peace agreement and an end to the occupation," the text read, under Palestinian and Israel flags set side by side.

Asked about the advertisement, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reiterated that while she viewed the peace plan as "positive," it needed revisions on issues such as the future of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.

"The Arab world has to understand what I am saying now: you don't put a peace plan on the table and say 'take it or leave it,'" Livni told reporters.

The Arab League proposal offers Israel peace and normal relations with all Arab countries in return for withdrawal from all territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war -- the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The plan also calls for the sides to agree to a "just solution" for millions of Palestinians classed as refugees from homes and land taken by the new Israeli state in 1948.

Senior Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo said the campaign was meant to inform Israelis about the peace initiative, which until now has been "misinterpreted by the extreme Israeli right wing as an Arab conspiracy against Israel and its future."

The advertisement panel, bordered by the flags of dozens of Arab and other Muslim states, also ran in Arabic in three Palestinian papers.

Egypt and Jordan are the only two of 22 Arab League members to have peace accords with Israel. While some Muslim countries, like Turkey, have close relations, Israelis would like to trade with others, notably in Asia and the Gulf.

Previous Israeli governments have either ignored or rejected the Arab initiative, which would require Israel to dismantle settlements which house hundreds of thousands of Jews.

Livni, leading the centrist Kadima party into an Israeli parliamentary election on February 10, said Israel first wanted to achieve bilateral peace agreements with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors.

"And then, when an agreement is ripe, we will certainly gain the support of the Arab world," she said, urging Arab countries to start forging relations with Israel now.


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