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By David Blair, in Riyadh
The "lords of war" will decide Israel's future if it rejects a blueprint for peace crafted by the entire Arab world, Saudi Arabia's veteran foreign minister warned yesterday.
As leaders began gathering in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, for today's summit of the Arab League, Prince Saud al-Faisal told The Daily Telegraph that the Middle East risks perpetual conflict if the peace plan fails.
Under this Saudi-drafted proposal, every Arab country would formally recognise Israel in return for a withdrawal from all the land captured in the war of 1967.
This would entail a Palestinian state embracing the entire West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. Every Arab country will almost certainly endorse this blueprint when the Riyadh summit concludes tomorrow. Prince Saud said Israel should accept or reject this final offer.
"What we have the power to do in the Arab world, we think we have done," he said. "So now it is up to the other side because if you want peace, it is not enough for one side only to want it. Both sides must want it equally."
Speaking inside his whitewashed palace, surrounded by luxuriant lawns and manicured flower beds resembling a green oasis in the drabness of Riyadh, Prince Saud delivered an unequivocal warning to Israel.
"If Israel refuses, that means it doesn't want peace and it places everything back into the hands of fate. They will be putting their future not in the hands of the peacemakers but in the hands of the lords of war," he said.
Prince Saud dismissed any further diplomatic overtures towards Israel. "It has never been proven that reaching out to Israel achieves anything," he said.
"Other Arab countries have recognised Israel and what has that achieved?
"The largest Arab country, Egypt, recognised Israel and what was the result? Not one iota of change happened in the attitude of Israel towards peace."
Israel has numerous reservations about the Arab peace plan - which was previously proposed at a summit in 2002. Israel fears any hint that Palestinian refugees would have the right to return to their homes in the event of a peace settlement.
Prince Saud is the 66-year-old son of the late King Faisal. Relieved of the need to seek re-election, he has held office for 32 years.
Flush with oil money, Saudi Arabia is playing a more assertive role in Middle Eastern diplomacy. As well as securing the Arab peace plan, the Kingdom brokered the agreement between Hamas and Fatah - the two Palestinian factions - to form a unity government.
But western diplomats in Riyadh believe this resurgence in Saudi diplomacy stems from more than the kingdom's oil boom.
The menacing spectre of Iran, the rising Shia power with nuclear-tipped ambitions for regional dominance, looms large across the waters of the Gulf.
Saudi Arabia is quietly moving to contain its bellicose neighbour. Prince Saud offered conciliatory words to Iran, laced with coded criticism. "We have no inhibitions about the role of Iran," he said. "It is a large country. It wants to play a leading role in the region, and it has every right to do so. It is an historic country. But if you want to reach for leadership, you have to make sure that those you are leading are having their interests taken care of and not damaged."
Saudi Arabia has privately urged Iran to stop enriching uranium, in compliance with United Nations resolutions and lay to rest any suggestion that it is seeking nuclear weapons. Prince Saud called for a "Middle East free of nuclear weapons" with "no exceptions for anybody, be it Israel or Iran".
Asked whether the kingdom would consider seeking nuclear weapons of its own if Iran managed to acquire a bomb, Prince Saud replied: "We have made it very clear that we are not going down that road under any circumstances."
He paused for a moment, before adding, "under any foreseeable circumstances".