JERUSALEM — An Arab League delegation Wednesday made a historic first visit to Israel to promote a peace plan, saying it offers the country "security, recognition and acceptance" by its Middle East neighbors.
Led by the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan, the Arab delegation met the prime minister and the president and visited parliament, bringing a proposal for full recognition of Israel by the Arab and Muslim world in return for Israel's withdrawal from all lands captured in the 1967 Middle East War.
Although the Israeli and Arab officials greeted each other with smiles, jokes and what appeared to be genuine warmth, both sides acknowledged that the Arab League's peace proposal cannot bypass direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
"This serious offer constitutes a major opportunity of historical levels," Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdelelah Khatib said at a news conference alongside his Israeli and Egyptian counterparts. "It will provide Israel with the security, recognition and acceptance in this region which Israel has long aspired to."
He said the plan was endorsed not only by the Arab League, but also by non-Arab Muslim states.
Israel has welcomed the proposal as a basis for negotiations but says parts of it are unacceptable.
The Jewish state rejects a full withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, occupied in 1967, hoping to retain areas heavily settled by Israelis. And Israel strenuously objects to the plan's apparent call for the repatriation of Palestinians who became refugees in the 1948 Mideast war and their descendants -- about 4.4 million people, according to the United Nations. Israel says an 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 between Israel and the Arab world while seeking a bilateral solution to core issues such as the Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.
"I think it would be a mistake today ... to start arguing about every clause" of the plan, she said, pointing out that its central tenet, the formation of an independent Palestinian state in peace next to Israel, was shared by the Israeli government and moderate Arab states.