Barak Ravid, Yoav Stern
May 7, 2009 - 12:00am

The United States told Syria on Thursday it was committed to seeking a peace deal between the Syrian government and Israel, a main objective for Damascus in its rapprochement with Washington.

"We conveyed...President Obama's sincere commitment to pursue Arab-Israeli peace on all tracks, including on the Syrian-Israeli track," senior State Department official Jeffrey Feltman said after meeting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem in the Syrian capital.

Moallem said Thursday there was no justification for amending a 2002 Saudi peace offer to Israel after reports earlier in the week that Arab states were revising the initiative.

The pan-Arab Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper said Tuesday that Arab states were considering concessions to Israel on the right of return of Palestinian refugees and on the transfer of the Old City of Jerusalem to UN control.

Arab sources told Haaretz on Wednesday, however, that any renewed involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would be based on the 2002 Saudi peace initiative without changes.

Moallem also told reporters before meeting Feltman and National Security Council member Daniel Shapiro that Damascus was still testing American intentions toward his country.

On Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that he and his Egyptian counterpart planned to present the Obama administration with a complete formula for resolving the Middle East conflict.

The Palestinian Authority and several Arab states are developing a plan to be submitted to U.S. President Barack Obama that would provide for gestures to Israel in return for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. The plan is designed to show Arab flexibility in the face of what they view as anticipated intransigence on the part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian sources in Ramallah said on Wednesday that they expect the Obama administration to force a new peace plan of its own on Israel and the Palestinians next month, which would be developed in consultation with the parties to the conflict but not necessarily with their agreement.

The American plan would, however, have the support of the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, said the sources. It would deal with a final settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, including relations with Syria and Lebanon. It would also mention the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab states.

The plan will only be finalized after U.S. President Obama's upcoming meetings with Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The plan is not expected to address the Iranian issue, which will be handled separately by the Americans.

A senior Palestinian official, Yasser Abed Rabbo, told Haaretz by phone from Jordan on Wednesday that the Palestinians believe the Americans are determined to pursue peace in the Middle East.

Abbas met with Mubarak in Cairo as part of an effort to coordinate the Arab position with regard to the United States. A major topic of discussion in the talks was the nature of Arab goodwill gestures toward Israel and what the Arabs would demand of Israel.

An informed source said the Palestinians are interested in bringing the Arab countries into the negotiations as a "third party," in anticipation that it would strengthen the Palestinian position vis-a-vis the United States.

The Palestinians are interested in demonstrating initiative on the part of the Arab states, including renewed involvement by an Arab League delegation in direct talks with Israel as well as other gestures demonstrating normalization.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017