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Saudis calling shots at Annapolis peace conference?

JERUSALEM – In exchange for Saudi Arabia attending this week’s U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian conference in Annapolis, the Israeli government agreed to recognize the importance of a Saudi-sponsored “peace initiative” in which the Jewish state is called upon to evacuate the strategic Golan Heights, the entire West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, WND has learned.

WND obtained a draft Israeli-Palestinian declaration to be presented at the Annapolis conference and to serve as an official outline of a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority

The wording is still being negotiated by both sides, but according to Israeli diplomatic sources, Israel agreed to a Saudi request that the declaration document include reference to a Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative, first presented in 2002 and reissued earlier this year at a meeting of the Arab League, an umbrella association of Mideast Arab states.

When it was first revealed, the Arab Initiative was heavily criticized by the U.S. and Israel because the text requires the Jewish state to withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and allow for the creation of a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, including the evacuation of the Temple Mount – Judaism’s holiest site.

The Initiative also called for a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights, strategic mountainous territory that looks down on Israeli population centers and that was twice used by Syria to launch ground invasions into the Jewish state.

But now Israel has recognized the Arab Initiative as a precondition for Saudi Arabia to attend the Annapolis summit, according to diplomatic sources in Jerusalem.

While Israel doesn’t commit itself to the Arab Initiative’s requirements, a clause in the current draft of the Israeli-Palestinian declaration slated for the Annaplis conference and obtained by WND reads: “We recognize the critical supporting role of Arab and Muslim states and the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative.”

The draft declaration is subject to final changes up to Tuesday’s summit.

Saudi Arabia announced yesterday it would send its foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, to the Annapolis summit after the Arab League decided to back the Israeli-Palestinian conference.

Syria has not yet officially decided whether to attend but has made clear it would not send a representative to Annapolis unless the Golan Heights was placed on the agenda.

Syria is in a military alliance with Iran and is accused by the U.S. of supporting the insurgency in Iraq and generating instability in Lebanon. Israel says Syria regularly ships Iranian rockets and weaponry to the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. The chiefs of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad Palestinian terror groups are based in Damascus.

The U.S. extended an invitation to Syria without any preconditions.

While many in Washington have high hopes for Annapolis, recent polls here show Israelis are less optimistic.

A survey sponsored last week by the Israel Policy Center for Promoting Parliamentary Democracy and Jewish Values in Israeli Public Life found 77 percent of Israelis believe Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas lacked the power to prevent attacks from the West Bank.

Sixty-one percent of the general Israeli public opposes a withdrawal from most of the West Bank and handing the strategic territory to the Palestinians.

If Israel indeed evacuated the West Bank, some 55 percent of Israelis believe Palestinians will use the territory to fire rockets into Jewish population centers, and 65 percent believe there is a high or very high chance Hamas would take control of the area, according to the new poll. Hamas leaders in recent days warned their terror group would take over the West Bank if Israel withdrew.

To interview Aaron Klein, contact Tim Bueler Public Relations by e-mail, or call (530) 401-3285.

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