Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa has affirmed that the Arabs have a clear vision of how to achieve the desired progress in the peace process. He added that withdrawing or threatening to withdraw the Arab peace initiative is out of the question.
In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat, Musa noted the positive American positions on the freezing of Israeli settlement activity and the resumption of the negotiations and said we will wait until the beginning of the new political season to see whether there will be progress through American efforts and Israeli cooperation or declare a total failure. He also talked about his meetings with Khalid Mishal, [chairman of Hamas’s Political Bureau], and Saeb Erekat, [Palestinian chief negotiator] about Palestinian reconciliation and his aim in proposing his initiative: the union of Arab neighbors.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What has the United States offered following the grace period (120 days) that the Arabs gave it to make progress toward peace through the indirect negotiations that would deal with a final status solution and not just formalities?
[Musa] Consultations were held during the Arab leaders’ participation in the nuclear security conference in Washington. The Jordanian monarch, King Abdullah, met with US President Barack Obama and with senior US Administration officials. It was clear that the United States was studying a number of ideas or steps. We are still holding to our position that indirect negotiations could have started according to the Arab resolution of 1 March as long as there were assurances to freeze Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem. When Israel defied the United States by confronting Mitchell with the decision to build 112 housing units in the West Bank and the decision during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to build 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem, this showed that there was no positive movement in the Israeli position. Israeli defiance paralyzed the efforts to restore some sort of contacts and hold indirect negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This is first, and second, the United States is still exerting efforts, and we are waiting for the results of these efforts. We do not deny that positive development has taken place in the position of the United States, which combined between freezing settlement activity, resuming the negotiations, backing Palestinian reforms in the West Bank, and an easing of the Israeli siege around Jerusalem. All these are positive points, and the American position is focusing on these points. It would be a positive thing if the United States succeeded in achieving these goals, because this would give the peace efforts a strong push. In the absence of these efforts, we would return to the stage of paralysis and distrust, and this would lead to political anxiety and turmoil in the peace process.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think Washington’s failure to kick start the indirect negotiations during the 120-day grace period is because it is consumed in Israeli arguments and sterile activities?
[Musa] Consumed or not, the United States can benefit from it by intensifying its effort to reach a satisfactory level with regard to the concept of negotiations and their results. We are not against this–on the contrary; we are trying to support the American effort for peace. But there is a relative date. It is very clear that by the beginning of the new political season in September, something should happen. If something does not happen, the Arabs must take a position on this issue, because it means that the peace efforts have not only been paralyzed, but also failed. Therefore, we hope that by September, the United States would achieve some success.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view the reported readiness of the PA to assume control of Abu Dis, the area adjacent to Jerusalem, as part of the American plan to transfer more areas to the PA?
[Musa] We have heard this often within this framework, but let us see what happens on the ground, because Israeli indicators and actions do not point to any positive step. We discuss every development with the PA.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So, the Arab peace initiative follow-up committee will discuss any positive development on this issue after two months.
[Musa] It will discuss it at any time according to need.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How long will the Arab side wait for the American response to discuss it in the follow-up committee?
[Musa] We are waiting for an American effort and not response.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are we waiting for an American initiative to correct the course to peace?
[Musa] We will wait for the American position during the 120-day period set by the Arab side.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are the Arabs threatening to withdraw the initiative, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, or will it remain the basis for future peace with Israel?
[Musa] We are not making any threats now. We are waiting for the results of the American efforts. We have not threatened to withdraw the initiative, because it is tantamount to a position that the Arabs have proposed. Instead of asking the Arabs or talking about withdrawing or not withdrawing the initiative, Israel should be asked why it has not responded to this initiative. We have not decided to withdraw this initiative. No Arab state has officially asked to withdraw the Arab peace initiative. Instead of asking us about the status of the initiative, one should ask Israel about its response to it. What I want to say is that pressure on the Arabs to take steps is out of the question and unfeasible unless Israel takes other steps–that is, a step for a step. Still, so far, no Arab state has asked to withdraw the Arab initiative. This is not on the table at this time. Israel is the one that should be asked about its response to the initiative. Israel has not responded to it, and in fact, it has rejected it. Therefore, no one should ask the Arabs to do anything in the light of Israel’s complete intransigence and explicit negative position. It is not right to exert pressure on the Arabs, because we have done everything.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have received Saeb Erekat. Is there anything new with regard to the negotiations or Palestinian reconciliation?
[Musa] I met with Saeb Erekat and Khalid Mishal a few days ago when I was in Syria. We talked about the general atmosphere for reconciliation. Fatah and Hamas appreciate the situation and feel that reconciliation is a necessary and fundamental step. In my talks with them, I stressed that no one in political history or the history of these organizations would dwell on the reservations about this paragraph, word, or term. No one would be interested in this. We will wait and all the people will wait to see whether the Palestinians have risen to the level of the challenge that faced them or not–the challenge to their future, existence, and entity. No one will come to say that the committee was not formed. Such talk is below the level of the event and the challenge. We all hope that we can resolve this issue, achieve reconciliation, and turn over this dark page in the history of Palestine.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you sensed renewed readiness to set dates to complete the reconciliation?
[Musa] Do not forget that Fatah has signed the reconciliation agreement.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has your meeting with Erekat dealt with other issues?
[Musa] The meeting dealt with full coordination on the Palestinian issue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What will be the next stop on your Arab tour of Eastern and Western capitals?
[Musa] I will resume my tour in the coming days. Now, we are preparing for the implementation of the Arab summit resolutions and preparing for the extraordinary summit.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With regard to the idea of the union of Arab neighbors, how did the idea originate?
[Musa] The idea of the union of Arab neighbors has been the subject of much attention, commentary, and reactions. Hundreds of popular and official commentaries were made. Many Arab states have informed me of their support of the idea. With regard to Iran, there is some reservation. Some have said that we should take the time with regard to dialogue with Iran. The union of Arab neighbors is a strategic initiative, and reservations about it would be difficult, in my opinion. I think it is necessary to act in this respect, because this is a positive political framework, a policy of extending our hands, a policy of openness toward the neighboring countries. I am determined to raise it in all future official meetings–the next meeting of the Arab foreign ministers and the extraordinary summit.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When will you present the details of your proposal for the establishment of the union of Arab neighbors?
[Musa] We are currently preparing the document, and we will present it in the coming period.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the union reflect positively on Arab action and resolutions?
[Musa] I do not invent ideas. The idea is based on my observation of what is happening in the world around us, whether near or far. Unions exist in several regions, for example, the EU in Europe. Based on my proposal, we want to work with the European, Asian, and Mediterranean groups. We want to start now and work gradually, because the union of Arab neighbors will have a positive effect on and big benefit to the Arab states. I cannot understand why there would be any negative reaction to it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will this union strengthen the Arab role and change the political reality in the region?
[Musa] Of course, of course there will be states from the Horn of Africa, from the Arab Maghreb, the Mediterranean states, and the Asian states.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This means that the idea of the union of Arab neighbors was not born recently, but was preceded by the establishment of cooperation forums between the Arab League and big states in the various continents.
[Musa] I personally began working on this idea more than five years ago through the establishment of comprehensive political forums–that is, cooperation on political and economic issues, as we did in the forum with Japan last year. It was one of the most successful meetings. It was well received by the Japanese. We talked about politics. I met with the prime minister and the foreign minister. There were hundreds of Arab business leaders and hundreds from the other side. They talked about economic cooperation and cooperation in the fishing industry. The results were clear to everyone in the leap that Arab-Japanese relations have taken in all fields. The same applies to Turkey. This replaced sporadic meetings. This also applies to the South American summit that was based on a proposal by Brazilian President Lula. All these relations promote the interests of the Arab states. We are now at the thresholds of the third summit, which will be held in Peru next spring. The same goes for the cooperation with Russia. After all these, I began planning for better relations with the neighboring states to create an Arab-African-Asian-Mediterranean environment.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the Arab-African summit serve this purpose?
[Musa] Yes, it will definitely do. The initiative of the union of Arab neighbors will include seven African states, two from Asia, two Mediterranean states, and five south European states.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With regard to Iran, which has been the subject of reservation, I ask: have you begun contacts with Iran?
[Musa] I am in contact with Iran, and Iranian officials have visited the Arab League. As a state in the region, it would be inappropriate to turn our backs to Iran. I recognize that there are problems and tensions. The sound way is to engage in a dialogue with it, and the time will come for that.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has Iran been in touch with you after you proposed the idea of the union of Arab neighbors?
[Musa] There was communication between the Iranian foreign minister and I. He invited me to participate in the nuclear disarmament conference, and indeed, the Arab League participated and I sent Ambassador Wail al-Assad, the envoy to Iran.