March 27The road to peace in the Middle East hit several new roadblocks on Wednesday as Israel began celebrating the Passover holiday.
In Israel, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up at the Park Hotel in Netanya, killing at least 15 and wounding more than 80 Israeli citizens. The terrorist group Hamas has claimed responsibility. Hamas is the militant arm of Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization.
At the Arab Summit in Beirut, Lebanon, Lebanese officials refused to allow Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to address the summit live via satellite. The Palestinians left in protest.
Lebanese leaders wanted Arafat to record his speech for later broadcast. The Palestinian delegation said it would not return to the conference unless Arafat was permitted to speak to summit participants on live television.
Even before the Palestinians walked out, the summit had gotten off to a shaky start. A dozen Arab leaders, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II, chose not to attend. Arafat also did not attend because Israel would not guarantee that he could return to his compound in Ramallah in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank.
Still, with many of the members of the Arab League present, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah proposed a plan to end the violence in the Middle East. In an emotional speech, he called on the Arab world to establish "normal relations" with Israel in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from occupied territories, the return of Arab refugees, and the recognition of a Palestinian state. If Israel agrees to those terms, the Crown Prince promised a peaceful future.
"I would further say to the Israeli people that if their government abandons the policy of force and oppression and embraces true peace, we will not hesitate to accept the right of the Israeli people to live in security with the people of the region," he said.
Although Arafat was not allowed to address summit participants on Wednesday, his remarks did air on the Arabic satellite news network Al-Jazeera. Speaking from Ramallah, the Palestinian leader referred to the Saudi peace plan and offered words of hope.
"At this summit, this initiative, God willing, will turn into an Arab initiative for the peace of the brave between us and the Israeli people and Jews in the world," said Arafat.
"We are going to exercise our right of self defense," Raõannan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in response to the Passover Massacre. "We are not going to live with a terrorist on our borders and we are not going to live with terrorist activity every day. Palestinians gain from talks, not terror. They must go back to the negotiating table."