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Arab States Unanimously Approve Saudi Peace Initiative

By Ha'aretz & VOA News

Arab leaders gathering for a two-day summit in Saudi Arabia unanimously approved Wednesday the Saudi peace initiative originally launched in 2002.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas voted in favor of the initiative, although Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas abstained in the vote.

The plan offers Israel recognition and permanent peace with all Arab countries in return for Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Six Day War. It also calls for setting up a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah called at the summit for an end to the international blockade on the Palestinian government and to revive efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Addressing the Arab League, the king said "It has become necessary to end the unjust blockade imposed on the Palestinian people as soon as possible so that the peace process can move in an atmosphere far from oppression and force."

Saudi Arabia last month brokered a unity government of Palestinian Abbas' Fatah faction and Hamas, hoping it would help end a crippling Western blockade imposed after the Islamist group took office more than a year ago.

Israel and the United States have urged countries to cut political and financial support for the Palestinians because Hamas, which leads the government, refuses to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing peace deals.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, urged Arab states Wednesday to be flexible in their land-for-peace offer to Israel, warning that without a solution to the conflict, the Middle East is at risk of missing the train of human and economic development.

Addressing the Arab summit in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh, Solana called for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 boundary - a key demand in an Arab peace plan that the two-day gathering intends to relaunch.

But he called the Arab initiative a general concept that has to be developed. He urged the Arabs and Israel to deal with the plan as a starting point in negotiations rather than a take-it-or-leave-it proposal.

"The important thing is to get the negotiations started. In any negotiations there are changes in positions, because negotiations are like that," Solana told reporters on the sidelines of the summit. Solana said he expected two or three working groups to be formed to make the initiative more operational in order to move the process forward.

In a written message to the Arab leaders gathered in Riyadh, Solana said the EU hopes all the members of the Arab League will fulfill their responsibilities and contribute to the success of this enterprise. "Failure to rise to today's challenges will put the Middle East risk of missing the train of human and economic development," he said in the message. Before arriving in Riyadh, Solana expressed optimism that the relaunched initiative could reinvigorate the Middle East peace process.

If Israel rejects the Arab peace initiative, it means it is not interested in reaching a peaceful solution with its neighbors, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said Wednesday. Speaking at the Riyadh summit, al-Faisal said, "If Israel refuses, that means it doesn't want peace. Then [the conflict] goes back into the hands of the lords of war."

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh urged Arab leaders meeting in Riyadh not to compromise on the Palestinian refugees' right to return to their homes in Israel, a clause in the initiative which Israel has asked to modify.

Haniyeh told Reuters in an interview that his group would not oppose an Arab peace initiative which the summit is expected to relaunch, but would not give in on the Palestinian refugees' right of return.

"What concerns me more than anything else ... is not to compromise on the fundamental Palestinian rights, foremost being the right of return," Haniyeh said shortly before the summit opened. I expect the Arab summit meeting in Riyadh to reiterate the Arab countries' commitment not to compromise in any way on the Palestinian refugees' right of return under any circumstances," Haniyeh said.

At the summit, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Arab leaders to prove they were serious about peace with Israel by reviving their five-year-old initiative.

"The Arab peace initiative is one of the pillars for the peace process .... This initiative sends a signal that the Arabs are serious about achieving peace," Ban told Arab leaders, according to an Arabic translation. "When I was in Israel I urged my Israeli friends to take a new look at the initiative. Here in Riyadh, I also urge you, my Arab friends, to benefit from this initiative and reiterate your commitment to it because the situation is dangerous."

At the summit, Arab League chief Amr Moussa urged Israel to accept the initiative rather than ask for changes. "The Israelis response was to ask for an amendment. We tell them to accept it first," Moussa told Arab leaders at a summit in Saudi Arabia. "We are at a crossroads, it is either we move towards a real peace or see an escalation in the situation."

Palestinian sources said Tuesday that Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal has promised Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah not to disrupt the decisions of the summit.

The same sources said that the policy of ambiguity stems from concerns that open opposition to the initiative, which is a revived version of the Saudi initiative approved at the 2002 Arab League summit in Beirut, will cause friction between Hamas and the Saudis. The initiative offers Israel normalization of relations with the Arab world in exchange for a full withdrawal to 1967 lines and a negotiated settlement to the Palestinian refugee problem.

Israel and the United States have not rejected the initiative but expressed reservations on such Israeli red line issues as the refugee problem. When asked whether Hamas will accept the initiative, senior officials in the group said they reject some of its principles.

The spokesman for Hamas in the Palestinian parliament, Salah al-Bardawil, told Ha'aretz, "We will not agree to recognition of Israel or peace with it [as it appears in the initiative]. We have no problem with the part of the initiative that calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders and the right of refugees to return."

Bardawil told Ha'aretz that Mashaal had promised to Saudi King Abdullah that Hamas would work with the Arab consensus view, but "we cannot recognize Israel or agree to peace and normalization."

Mashaal called on Arab leaders participating in the summit not to make concessions on refugees and the Palestinians' right to defend themselves, according to Saudi media. "Mashaal called on Arab leaders meeting in Riyadh to adopt a strategy based on the right to self-defense," the official Saudi news agency SPA said. "He said that conceding legitimate rights such as the right of return and the Palestinian people's right to protection was unacceptable," the report added.

Mashaal spoke to SPA in Algeria, after a visit to Saudi Arabia for talks with officials there on Sunday.

Taking a more severe position, Ismail Radwan, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, declared Tuesday that "the Hamas positions have not changed in any way. The new government has accepted commitments but our positions remain unchanged."

Another Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhum, told Ha'aretz that "the issue is not a 'yes' or 'no' by Hamas regarding the initiative. We respect the Arab efforts to attain Palestinian rights and we will act within the Arab consensus. Nonetheless, the Zionist enemy continues to reject the initiative and we will not determine our position in reference to it before it has been accepted."

Meanwhile, President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to announce the Palestinian Authority's support for the initiative. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas is not expected to present the unity government's views on the initiative.

The Arab peace plan could be Israel's last chance to live in a "sea of peace" and should not be squandered, Abbas said on Tuesday. "This initiative simply says to Israel 'leave the occupied territories and you will live in a sea of peace that begins in Nouakchott and ends in Indonesia'," he said, referring to the Mauritanian capital in West Africa and the southeast Asian country that is the world's most populous Muslim country.

97-Year-Old Woman Joins 12 Great-Grandkids in Israel


A 97-year-old British Jew has become one of the oldest people to ever make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel).

Herta Lowenthal joined her 12 great-grandchildren in Israel last week, emigrating from Britain, where she lived most of her life. Lowenthal told the British Totally Jewish (TJ) web site that moving to Israel was the fulfillment of a life-long dream.

"My daughter made Aliyah after [she graduated] university at age 21," she told TJ. "I've always wanted to go and decided it was the right time. It's a special incentive to be there with the family."

Prior to her Aliyah, Lowenthal visited her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren twice a year, staying in an apartment above her daughter's home in Haifa.

Lowenthal watched the founding of the State of Israel and visited every year for most of its existence. "I'm filled with deep admiration for all the people who have built such a wonderful country out of virtually nothing," she said.

According to the TJ report, Lowenthal's daughter confronted her mother during the Sukkoth Festival last year and told her she would have to make a decision at some point whether to live in England or Israel. "She immediately said Israel. I thought it would be nicer while she is independent, healthy and able to enjoy it," she said.

Getting Ready to Celebrate Passover

By & the Challah Connection

An Israeli household spends an average of NIS 1,800 (about $428.5) for Passover preparations, a survey conducted by the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce ahead of the holiday revealed.

According to the Federation, all Jewish households spend NIS 3.5 billion ($832.4 million) ahead of the holiday, a rise of 22 percent in the family's expenses compared to the period before the holiday.

Almost half of the sum spent before the holiday is on food. According to the Federation, the food and beverages shopping basket for the Seder night costs between NIS 700 and NIS 1,100 (between $166.5 and $261.8).

In addition, the average family spends about NIS 150 ($35.7) on fuel and transportation, beyond its average expense before the holiday; about NIS 200 ($47.7) more than the average on culture and entertainment shows; about NIS 200 ($47.7) more than the average on trips abroad; NIS 100 ($23.8) more than the average on trips in Israel; NIS 170 ($40.5) more than the average on outdoor meals; NIS 80 ($19) more than the average on clothes; about NIS 70 ($16.6) more than the average on housewares, and about NIS 30 ($7) more than the average on toys and games.

If you have never been to a Passover Seder and this year you've been invited to one, don't panic. Here are some tips from expert, Jane Moritz, owner of Challah Connection, to make it a truly fun evening.

Unless the host has said to dress casually, wear nice clothes (no jeans). Expect it to be a long night. The Seder will begin somewhere around 6 p.m. and could be over at 11 or later. Every family has their own traditions, but typically there are a few minutes spent schmoozing with the other guests. You'll then sit down at the table. Let your host seat you as there may be assigned seats.

Everyone will get a Hagaddah (book containing the Passover story). The Seder is led by one person (usually the head of the home), but everyone is expected to participate in the reading. All of the responsive reading is in English but there will be various prayers in Hebrew. Don't worry about not knowing Hebrew. No one is taking notes.

If you're curious as to when you're going to eat the meal, flip forward through your Hagaddah to find "The festive meal is now served." We usually count down to the meal by the number of pages left until that text (that's our family tradition). Most important is to have fun. A Seder is meant to be a wonderful time with family and friends; to share a story that is relevant to all people of all backgrounds.

If you really want to impress your hosts, let everyone at the table know that you know these traditions: Finding the Afikomen: Early in the Seder, a special piece of matzo, the Afikomen, is broken in half and hidden away. Later, the children will search for it and the one who finds it gets a prize. The Four Questions: The Hagaddah includes four questions traditionally asked by the youngest child at the Seder. The questions are about the holiday and encourage children to discuss and learn about their religion and the history of their ancestors. Why not practice these before the Seder so you'll look like a real star.

What to Bring to the Passover Seder: Most important is to ask your host what he or she needs. Wine? Dessert? A side dish? If they assign you a dish, make sure that it contains no flour or other ingredient that is not Kosher for Passover. If your host keeps a Kosher kitchen all year round, be sure that whatever you bring is Kosher and pareve (pareve foods contain no dairy; usually meat is served at a Seder and it is not Kosher to serve meat and dairy together). Check for recipes and Passover desserts.

If your host says that you don't need to bring anything, then definitely bring something. Great choices are wine (Kosher for Passover), flowers, dessert or Passover gift baskets.

Jane Moritz is the owner of The Challah Connection, an online store specializing in Jewish gifts and gift baskets. The website can be found at

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