Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa has called on Washington to take effective action to extend the moratorium on settlement activities Israel is expected to end on the twenty-sixth of the current month. Musa said in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Cairo: “We are not going to provide concessions as a gift with nothing in return from Israel”. He stressed his support to the stand of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas who rejects continuation of the negotiations if Israel refuses to extend the moratorium on settlement activities which expires in two weeks’ time. He said that this date was considered a real test on whether the negotiations process will survive and whether it will be a gesture of good intentions if such intentions exist in Israeli policies.
Musa also spoke about prospects for peace and issues on the agenda of the Arab Foreign Ministers conference scheduled for the sixteenth of the present month. These include the subjects that will be prepared for the coming Arab Summit. He said it was too early to raise doubts about Iraq’s ability to host the Arab summit, expressing hope that Iraq will succeed in forming a national accord government.
Musa added that it is difficult to ignore the Arab role in Iraq and that this role should be active within a framework of accord and support for stability. He said that the international dialogue with Iran could be accompanied by an Arab-Iranian dialogue.
The text of the interview follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How would you evaluate the first round of negotiations that were launched in Washington?
[Musa] It is too early to evaluate the results now because President Obama has asked in mediating for the direct negotiations for a timeframe of one year. Subsequently it is not possible to give an evaluation and an assessment on every session, even though the situation as a whole does not inspire optimism.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are we going to wait for one year of negotiations and 10 years for implementation, as proposed by Washington and Tel Aviv?
[Musa] Those who talked about 10 years for implementation are some Israelis. This comes within the framework of procrastination and disdain for the minds of the Palestinians and Arabs. Consequently this is not going to be rational or acceptable. But it is logical of course that there should be a timetable or timeframe for the negotiations and implementation. This is what the Arab side is always demanding, within what is reasonable, and that it should be under international supervision to prevent procrastination and fraud. As for proposing open-ended negotiations and a long period for implementation, this would be an indication of ill intentions and a kind of playfulness that benefits the Israeli occupation and hurts the Palestinian moves to establish a State. In any event, it is assuring that there are stations for following the negotiations and how serious and successful they are. The first station is extending the moratorium on building settlements which expires on 26 September. The moratorium itself is weak but it is still considered an indication of how much political will there is to facilitate the negotiations and also accept the establishment of a Palestinian State. Of course, continuing the negotiations while the settlement activities are continuing creates a frivolous situation that hurts the Palestinian and consequently the Arab interests. It is either the negotiations or the settlements. But if the settlements stop this will be a kind of positive symbolism and a show of some good will to provide an opportunity for the negotiations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But it is clear that Washington is demanding that President Mahmud Abbas should continue negotiations even if the settlement activities continue. How then can this situation be reconciled?
[Musa] If Israel resumes building the settlements and Abu-Mazin is asked to continue the negotiations this would be a very serious matter. It would mean that he is required to continue in the negotiations for the sake of appearances and to accept giving Israel the opportunity and time to complete building the settlements and thus the prospects for establishing a Palestinian State would have been eradicated. Consequently, it is not logical for the negotiations to continue with the continuation of building the settlements because there will be no use in the negotiations after colonization swallows the Palestinian lands. The Palestinian President has spoken clearly in stressing this position. The position of the Arab League is very clear, namely that the settlement activities conflict with the seriousness of the negotiations. In any event the matter will be clarified by the end of this month, and after this we shall see what happens.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you think of the proposal by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the importance of the presence of international forces in the West Bank? Would this proposal help in curbing the settlement activities?
[Musa] This proposal aims to provide serious alternatives that will perhaps facilitate final status negotiations, that is the permanent solution, especially since Israel insists on Israeli presence on the lands of Palestine after the establishment of the State. This raises questions about Israel’s objectives and whether it is seeking to perpetuate the Israeli occupation under other pretexts and different berets? Does Israel and those who protect it believe that the Arabs are that dumb to accept the berets of Israeli security instead of the berets of the Israeli occupation and the change of the classification of the Israeli soldiers from occupation forces to security forces, and that there should be no Israeli withdrawal? Thus, President Mubarak’s article came within the framework of providing a visualization for the final status that seeks to prevent this. This is what I understood.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How can real peace be achieved?
[Musa] We have options which are serious negotiations, or official intervention by the Security Council, or a decisive Arab stand that rejects the policies of procrastination, deception, and repetition of the well-known tactics we have suffered from. We chose indirect negotiations as a test. If it had not been for the pressure of the American Government, the Palestinians would not have gone to the direct negotiations. Consequently, Washington must exert pressure to stop the building of settlements in order to salvage these negotiations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Israel has not provided a clear vision on the final solution issues (Jerusalem – the borders – the refugees)?
[Musa] All these dossiers are supposed to be clarified during the negotiations that is within the year specified as a timeframe. But many doubt that Israel has anything to offer at the negotiating table that is sincere and rational.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some reports have indicated that the negotiations during the period of Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made progress on 90 percent of the issues of a solution. Will the negotiations start from where they ended or from square one?
[Musa] The Arab League had no knowledge of what happened at the time and has no details about what Olmert offered. Actually, President Abu-Mazin continued to say throughout Olmert’s tenure that he had not moved a single inch. Olmert talked only but refused to put a single word on paper. This is what Abu-Mazin said. What we know is that there are basic rules for negotiations, and what we know is the Arab Peace Initiative through which we move in addition to the road map. We are not aware of and do not know that there is an Israeli position, plan, elements or initiative for peace until this moment.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will Arab Foreign Ministers discuss at their 26 of September meeting the solutions and alternatives in the event that the negotiations stumble?
[Musa] The Foreign Ministers will meet in Cairo and in New York. But we are following matters and consulting as of now on how to behave so all options are feasible. If Israel refuses to freeze settlement activities, then it is assumed that the negotiations will stop–unless frivolous and motion picture scenes are what is required. I mean moving from one city to another to conduct negotiations and photograph tables and smiles being flashed around. Who among the Arabs can accept such a responsibility? Can Abu-Mazin accept it?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In the event that the American effort for a peace agreement flounders, is there an Arab drive to obtain a resolution from the Security Council to establish the State of Palestine and ask the world to recognize it, a resolution similar to Resolution 181 which led to the establishment of the State of Israel?
[Musa] Resolution 242 stipulates that it is inadmissible to seize territories by war. This applies to all the Arab territories occupied in 1967. As for the right to establish the State of Palestine, it is contained in the Partition Resolution 181 and is mentioned in more recent resolutions by the General Assembly.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] During your participation recently at an economic conference held in Italy, the Israeli press circulated various reports about a meeting you held with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Is this true?
[Musa] What happened was that we were in one place during the conference and a few words [were exchanged]. It was not a meeting for negotiations or defining positions. This is for the table of negotiations taking place in Washington and not any place else.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did Peres ask you for moderate Arab League positions toward Israel, as mentioned in the Israeli media reports?
[Musa] What Peres should understand, and I hope he has understood it, is that the moderate positions are required from Netanyahu and not Abu-Mazin who is accepted [as moderate] to begin with, and that the positive steps are required from Israel and not the Arab side. He should understand that all the Arab steps are continent on conditions specified in the Arab Initiative. This means that the League is committed to its resolutions, to the Arab Initiative, and to very clear conditions for any peace or progress with Israel. These are issues on which there can never be any compromise. I would like to assure you that no one can budge me from my position on the Palestinian case and that I sometimes feel I am able to convince those I speak with more than they can convince me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] These reports coincided with statements by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that the direct negotiations are proceeding together with attempts for normalization with the Arab countries. Was the objective of the leak to suggest that there were dialogues between the Arab League Secretary General and the Israeli President before a peace agreement is reached?
[Musa] There are no such dialogues. But the question is whether we shall be asked to adopt additional steps to satisfy Israel without any steps on its part. Who can convince any Arab country to provide another concession in return for “zero” concessions from the Israeli side? For whose sake would this be done? The required progress is from Israel’s side and not from the Arab side. This is an announced Arab position and it will not change. We shall not provide any other concessions. We have provided a lot and we are waiting for what will happen on 26 September, the date for extending the moratorium on settlement activities.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] what other issues are on the agenda of the Arab Foreign Ministers other than the peace process?
[Musa] We have other items related to preparing for the extraordinary Arab summit that will be held in Serte on 9 October and the Arab -African Summit that will be held the next day on 10 October. We are due to consider two issues. The first is restructuring the system of collective Arab action. There are many proposals on the basis of the Libyan and Yemeni initiatives and on the basis of the discussions among member States and the views of the Secretary General. The second issue is the Arab Neighborhood Initiative which I proposed during the previous summit.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the situation in Iraq be discussed, especially in view of the difficulties in forming the Iraqi government and the possibility of holding the regular Arab Summit of 2011 in Iraq?
[Musa] The Iraqi issue is being discussed at various Arab League meetings within the framework of the Arab League’s support for Iraq’s stability especially after the withdrawal of American forces. As for the summit, it has been decided that Iraq will host it and there is no need to raise doubts about Iraq’s ability to do so. We have sufficient time for forming the government of Iraq and stabilizing the situation in a better direction.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When do you expect the formation of the Iraqi government?
[Musa] It must be mentioned first that I was very optimistic because of the results of the Iraqi elections which provided a horizon for the future and affirmed that the Iraqi people are not controlled by sectarian, ethnic, or denomination views but by the nationalist view that they are all Iraqis irrespective of these differences. Then the formation of the government floundered, perhaps for personal, sectarian, or denominational reasons. I mean what is going on now is the opposite of what the Iraqi people and their overwhelming majority expressed during the elections. All this leads to shaking the Iraqi political psychology after it had hopes for a future that is different from what happened since the US invasion in the past seven lean years. Despite this, there is no alternative to forming a national accord government because the Iraqi mood requires the enactment of accord in a fundamental and real way. I recently met with Mr. Adel Abdel Mahdi and Dr Iyad Allawi. Before that I met President Talibani and President Barzani and a number of other leaders and officials. I follow the statements and moves of Prime Minister Al-Maliki. Sometimes there are breakthroughs, and there are now more than one proposal and more than one idea that could lead to a solution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But there are apprehensions and fears that the situation would remain as it is for two months, something which would require conducting new elections that might not contribute to Iraq’s stability in the foreseeable future?
[Musa] We want to move in ways that ensure Iraq’s stability under all circumstances. We must not forget the positive step which came concerning the withdrawal of American forces. I believe all of us, especially the neighboring countries, are required to work for Iraq’s stability and independence. As for the Arab role, it is present and cannot be side-stepped through any attempts at exclusion which will not succeed because the Arab role is a principal role and because Iraq is an Arab country and it has an Arab mood that transcends Arab and sectarian and other engagement lines. The Arab role exists and is energetic but it is directed to saving Iraq not corrupting it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It was reported that the League tried during the past weeks to undertake a reconciliatory role with Syria to support the formation of the government?
[Musa] We always seek to undertake reconciliatory roles that support the formation of the Iraqi government and ensure the necessary measure of stability to get rid of the consequences of the previous stages the Iraqi people went through. The Syrian role is important and required, but we do not interfere in the internal affairs of the Iraqis.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With the swelling of the dossier of Iranian interventions in Arab affairs, is it feasible for the Arab League to propose a working paper with Iran on disputed issues in order to narrow the gap in viewpoints as a start for an Arab-Iranian dialogue?
[Musa] As you know I believe that an Arab-Iranian dialogue has become necessary because there are many differences that must be discussed frankly. I believe that even if there are some reservations about the idea of dialogue, we must approach a dialogue from various angles. It is my view that if the negotiations are resumed between the Group of Six and Iran it would be appropriate for Arab-Iranian negotiations to be launched with them or parallel to them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] I mean that the Arab League should prepare a report on Iranian interventions in Arab affairs and obtain a reply from Tehran on it as a beginning for a collective Arab dialogue?
[Musa] This is also relevant. It might be one of the ideal means of dialogue with Iran. But it has not ripened yet.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Arab League has exerted a commendable effort in Darfur and in South Sudan to support unity and peace. What are you going to do regarding the escalated tone about inevitable separation coming from the South?
[Musa] There is no such a thing as inevitable separation. Why should it be inevitable and why should unity not be inevitable? Both [options] depend on the results of the referendum. There are indications and assessments that might change the inevitable results you talk about. Unity is a legitimate option. Separation could be a majority decision and it would then also become legitimate. But we work on the basis of unity and demonstrating its benefits, just as we moved from the beginning when we went to Darfur and Juba together to launch Arab development projects in various fields that have already produced very good results. Perhaps there will be other visits by the Arab League to the South in the coming months. But the referendum that will be held next January will decide the issue.
The important thing is that it should be conducted on the set schedule and under safe political conditions; that the two sides should agree according to the concept of no victor and no vanquished, no one winning and no one defeated, and that all are brothers who accept the results of the referendum that must be conducted under international supervision. The Arab League will be present within this framework as an observer at the request of the Sudanese Government. This referendum must not create enmity or end in a collision that results in other problems that hamper development in North and South Sudan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the revival of the rebellion in Yemen and non-abidance by the Huthists regarding the ceasefire? How can this be solved?
[Musa] Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasim, Qatar’s Foreign Minister, has informed me that they are on the way to reaching an agreement that ends the crisis. We hope the matter will end in a solution. He also informed me they have successfully ended the dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea. This is a good thing.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you plan on conducting a tour of Arab states before the Arab summit in Libya in order to narrow differences in viewpoints and end settle the outstanding disputes in intra-Arab relations?
[Musa] These matters require quiet diplomacy and this is what is taking place. I hope that these disputes will end and that we shall leave them behind our back. This might look difficult on the surface, but they are disputes caused by sensitivities and it is high time to get rid of them and not let them control us.