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Israel, Egypt and Jordan to discuss Arab peace plan

A Palestinian state is key to initiative

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni plans to hold initial talks in Cairo on Thursday with the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan about an Arab peace initiative, officials said yesterday.

The Arab League named Egypt and Jordan to a working group that would contact Israel over the initiative that offers it normal relations with the Arab world in return for a Palestinian state and full withdrawal from land seized in a 1967 war.

"It's the first formal session," one Israeli official said.

Political turmoil in Israel has delayed initial talks with the Arab League working group, diplomats involved in the matter said.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official said Livni's talks in Cairo were expected to focus mainly on the Arab peace initiative and "to see if it's possible to move forward."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment on the meetings, but said: "Moderate Arab leaders, of course they can't replace the Palestinians as partners in peace, but they can provide an atmosphere that is conducive to moderation."

Washington has been trying to promote the Arab League peace initiative in the hope it might bring states such as Saudi Arabia, which do not recognize Israel, to deal publicly with the Jewish state and to help support Israeli-Palestinian talks.

First launched in 2002, the Arab initiative calls on Israel to withdraw from all land occupied in the 1967 conflict, to reach an "agreed, just" solution for Palestinian refugees, and to accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

In return, Arab states would establish normal relations with the Jewish state.