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A HISTORIC JOURNEY

An Arab League delegation visits Israel, offering a plan for "security, recognition and acceptance."

In a historic first, an Arab League delegation came to Jerusalem on Wednesday to promote a plan for peace with Israel, saying it offers the country "security, recognition and acceptance."

Such a visit - and offer - once would have been unimaginable but was greeted now with little public fanfare. Led by the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan, the Arab delegation was taken deep into Israel's political heartland.

The delegates saw the prime minister and the president and visited Parliament, bringing a proposal for full recognition of Israel by the Arab and Islamic world in return for Israel's withdrawal from all lands captured in 1967.

While the Israeli and Arab officials greeted each other with smiles, jokes and what looked like genuine warmth, both sides acknowledged that the Arab League peace proposal cannot bypass direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel has welcomed the proposal as a basis for negotiations but says parts of it are unacceptable.

After pulling out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel rejects a full withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, hoping to retain areas heavily settled by Israelis. And Israel strenuously objects to the plan's apparent call for the repatriation to Israel of Palestinians who became refugees in the 1948 war and their descendants - 4.4-million people, according to the United Nations.

Israel says any influx of refugees would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the way forward was to look for points of agreement while seeking a bilateral solution to issues such as the refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

During the parliamentary visit, Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah Khatib and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit were hosted by the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, where they appeared to reassure even hawks.

"I am happy to say that after hearing our criticisms they said (the plan) is not an ultimatum, it's not 'take it or leave it,' " said Yuval Steinitz of the opposition Likud Party.

Both Jordan and Egypt have peace treaties with Israel and have sent their leaders to the country before, but never on the Arab League's behalf.

In an illustration of the complexities of Mideast diplomacy, there were differing views on how exactly to define the delegation.

Israel presented the one-day visit as an unprecedented conciliatory gesture by the Arab League, which actively pursued the destruction of the Jewish state when it was established in 1948.

In recent years, however, many Arab League member states have adopted a more conciliatory tone toward Israel.

The delegates themselves said they were sent by the Arab League and would report back to it on Monday.

An official at the league's Cairo headquarters, however, sought to play down the Jerusalem visit, saying it was not an official delegation.

FAST FACTS

Arab League

The League of Arab States, or Arab League, is an association of countries whose peoples mainly speak Arabic. Although it aims to coordinate policies and promote joint interests, its effectiveness has been limited by divisiveness. League decisions are binding only on members who voted for them. It has had little success coordinating Arab foreign, defense or economic policy (including the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq), but some success at cultural and regional levels. Founded in 1945, the 22-member-group (including the Palestinian territories) has no diplomatic ties with Israel. Its secretary-general since 2001 is former Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa.

Source: BBC News

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