TEL AVIV // Leaders from Syria, Egypt and Lebanon accused the Israeli premier yesterday of rejecting peace efforts in what appeared to be a bid to pressure Israel to accept a US plan that could lead to renewed talks with the Palestinians.
Their charges came just hours after the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, lashed out at his successor for not heeding Washington's demand to halt new settlement projects in the occupied West Bank for three months to help restart negotiations.
"Netanyahu doesn't believe in peace," said Saad Hariri, Lebanon's prime minister, in an interview published yesterday in The Washington Post. "He is somebody who is not willing to talk about real peace in the region."
Mr Hariri blasted the Israeli leader for prioritising Israel's security above all other issues of the conflict. "But you will only have security if you have … a comprehensive peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, between the Syrians and the Israelis and the Arab world, and part of it is Lebanon."
Israel currently has peace agreements with only two Arab nations - Egypt and Jordan. The administration of Barack Obama, the US president, has been trying to kick-start Israeli negotiations with the Palestinians as well as with surrounding nations including Syria and Lebanon. So far, few tangible results have emerged from the Obama administration's nearly two-year-long effort.
Walid Moallem, Syria's foreign minister, warned yesterday that a collapse of talks could lead to hostilities. "There is no doubt that closing the horizons to peace may lead to a possible war," he told the Russian newspaper The Moscow News.
"This option always exists in our region, as Israel usually outrageously evades the commitment to peace."
Mr Moallem said that Syria was open to peace negotiations but suggested that a partner to talks on the Israeli side "does not exist at the moment." Israel and Syria held four rounds of indirect negotiations with Turkish mediation in 2008, but they were suspended with the resignation of Mr Olmert in September that year.
Egypt, which signed a historic peace pact with Israel in 1979, has also not shied away from criticising its peace partner.
Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, warned late on Thursday that Israel may increasingly become the target of global terrorism should it continue settlement construction.
"We do not want the negotiations to stop," he was quoted by the official Bahraini news agency BNA as saying during a visit to Manama. "If they stop, Israel will build on all [Palestinian] land. When the time comes to establish a Palestinian state, there will be no land. And then terrorism will spread across the world against Israel."
While the Arab leaders made no mention of a recent US proposal to Israel on renewing a settlement moratorium, their statements appeared to indicate their tacit support. The US offer would call on Israel to partly freeze building in Jewish settlements in the West Bank for three months. In return, the US would grant Israel 20 fighter planes and pledge to veto any Palestinian attempts to advance the recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state in the United Nations without reaching agreement with Israel.
Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians resumed in September but were suspended just weeks afterward when Israel's previous 10-month partial construction moratorium in settlements expired. Israel's refusal to renew the freeze prompted Palestinians to exit the face-to-face negotiations.
Mr Olmert, who was forced to resign in 2008 amid corruption scandals, criticised Mr Netanyahu for not accepting the US offer during a briefing with foreign journalists on Thursday.
"If someone says that he agrees to 10 months of freezing and the president of the mightiest nation on earth and friendliest nation to Israel comes to you and says please give me two [more] months, only two months,' I mean, what could happen in two months," Mr Olmert said. "I would say 'Mr President, why two? Why not three? Take three!"
Mr Netanyahu has refused to commit to a renewal of the moratorium so far, saying he was waiting for written US assurances.