Arab foreign ministers, gathering in Egypt on Friday to probe the issue of participation, said they decided to join the U.S.-sponsored peace conference next week aimed at jumpstarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Following the session, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal held a joint press conference. Both told reporters that the decision was made unanimously.
Earlier Friday, the ministers reportedly urged the United States to include the issue of the occupied Golan Heights on the agenda of the next week's U.S.-sponsored conference.
"Arab foreign ministers sent an urgent message to the United States asking it to explicitly include the Golan Heights on the agenda so Syria can attend the talks," the diplomat attending a ministerial meeting in Cairo told AFP.
"Syria would attend if the United States agreed," the diplomat said.
Asked whether the United States had responded, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told reporters: "We are still waiting."
Dubai-based AlArabiya news channel reported Friday, quoting unnamed sources that Washington agreed to the Arab Ministers demand, conditioning its approval to add the Golan Heights on “full participation” of all Arab countries invited.
The channel later quoted “Egyptian sources” as saying that Washington retracted its approval to include Lebanese and Syrian issues on the conference’s agenda.
Some Arab states are skeptical about the chances of any concrete developments at Tuesday's meeting in the U.S. city of Annapolis, which is aimed at kick-starting the Middle East peace process after seven years of stalemate.
As the Cairo meeting opened, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that maintaining the status quo with the Palestinians would have "deadly" results for the Jewish state.
"We have spent too much time dealing with the status quo but it will lead to results that are much worse than those of a failed conference," Olmert was quoted as saying by the Haaretz newspaper.
"It will result in Hamas taking over Judea and Samaria (the occupied West Bank), to a weakening or even the disappearance of the moderate Palestinians," he said. "Unless a political horizon can be found, the results will be deadly."
The Cairo meeting brings together members of an Arab contact group tasked with reactivating a Saudi-inspired peace blueprint offering normalization of ties with the Jewish state in exchange for Israel withdrawing from Arab land occupied since 1967.
"The main issue on the agenda is to decide whether Arab participation will be determined by a common decision, or individually," said Hisham Yussef, Moussa's chief of staff.
Syria has been invited to Annapolis meeting despite strained relations between Washington and Damascus.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said Damascus will stay away unless the broader Arab-Israeli conflict is up for discussion, including the Golan, the strategic plateau which Israel has occupied since 1967.
In a related matter, an opinion poll showed Friday that the majority of Israelis support next week's U.S. meeting but are pessimistic about its chances of success.
Sixty-nine percent said they supported the conference, compared with 27 percent who were opposed, said the poll published in the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot.
But 71 percent believe the meeting will not succeed in jumpstarting the peace process between the Israelis and
Palestinians, which has been dormant for seven years, it showed. Only 22 percent thought it would succeed.
And 82 percent believe it will be impossible to strike a final peace deal with the Palestinians in 2008, as Olmert said this week he hoped to do. Seventeen percent think this possible.
Seventy-five percent think that Israel should not demand that the Palestinians recognize it as a state for the Jewish people, as Olmert demanded last week, compared with 25 percent who support the demand.
The poll was carried out by the Dahaf Institute, questioning 500 people representative of Israel's adult population, and had a 4.5-percent margin of error.