Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat- Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu-al-Ghayt, who participated on Thursday-Friday night in the meetings of the following-up committee of the Paris conference of the donors to the Palestinian State, met Jean-David Levitte, diplomatic adviser to the French president, yesterday before leaving the French capital.
In his morning meeting in his hotel with Asharq Al-Awsat, the Egyptian minister discussed in detail the Middle East situation from the angle of the indirect negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He stresses that so far these negotiations have not achieved any progress. Abu-al-Ghayt explains the “working method” of the US presidential envoy, former US Senator George Mitchell. He considers that this method can lead to results “after ten years,” which means that there is a need to change the working method, and to exert pressure from more than one side to reach a solution.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] After the meeting of the follow-up committee, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton talked about EU preparedness to help in opening and operating the crossing points. Is the Rafah crossing point included in this?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] The Rafah crossing point is not at all included in Ashton’s proposal. This is because it has never been dedicated for transportation of goods, and has never been used for this purpose since the Oslo Accord in 1993 until today. After 2005, and the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza, Rafah crossing point has never been used for the transportation of goods. Anyway, the issue has not been discussed at our meeting, because the aforementioned crossing point is open, and the Palestinians cross through it both ways. On the other hand, we discussed the opening of the Israeli crossing points in a way that secures for the Palestinians all their light and heavy needs, and all the survival requirements for them and for the Palestinian economy through the two crossing points of Karam Abu-Salim [Kerem Shalom] and Qarni. I add that there is a need to widen the two crossing points, and there is a need to open the rest of the crossing points.
There is awareness that the Palestinians need two things: the first is that the issue is not restricted to facilities for import, but it also includes the process of exporting the Palestinian goods, “this was the proposal of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and mine.” The second is giving the opportunity to the Palestinians to have secure crossing points that link Gaza to the West Bank, and vice versa. If this is achieved, it would link the Palestinian people to its two provinces, and hence we would be able to preserve the dream of the united Palestinian State.
In its turn, the European side talks about the mechanisms that could be laid down to secure the presence of European observers to monitor what is taking place, in order to avoid Israel claiming at any moment that there are provocative operations at Qarni or Karam Abu-Salim crossings in order to close them. This cannot be allowed to occur again.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But is Egypt prepared to go back to the formula that existed in the past, which organized the crossing at Rafah?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] Egypt agrees to return to the formula of 2005. However, for this purpose, the Palestinian Authority [PA], which is one of the signatories to that agreement, ought to be restored. This means that the PA should be present again at the crossing points on the Palestinian side in order to secure the interests of the Palestinians. If the Europeans propose this to the Palestinians and they accept it, then so be it. We do not at all object; bear in mind that Egypt currently allows the Palestinians to cross from and to Gaza in the absence of any European or Israeli monitoring, as there used to be in the past. Here, I remind you that the movements of the Palestinians from and to Gaza were conducted under European monitoring, and with the complete knowledge of the Israelis; the Israelis were able to prevent any person they do not want to enter by asking for this from the Europeans and the Palestinians.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are one of the most knowledgeable people about the details of the Palestinian dossier and the previous and current negotiations [interrupted]?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] (Interrupting) Some in Hamas do not think so. Please record this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] (Continuing question) Have the negotiations that have been going on for two months through Senator Mitchell achieved some results, or are they proceeding in a vicious circle?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] So far, these negotiations have not achieved anything. Time is passing, and the open window is getting nearer to being closed. This places the Palestinians, the United States, and the Arabs in a critical situation. I imagine that there is a need for an urgent move by all sides to compel Israel to speak with credibility, and to deal with the real bases of the core of the conflict.
Continuing with the evasion and maneuvers by talking about water, environment, climate, and secondary issues does not represent progress in the negotiations, and hence does not encourage either the Palestinian leadership or the Arab ministers when they meet in their assessment meeting in September 2010 to proceed to transforming the indirect negotiations into direct ones.
Everybody calls for direct negotiations; however, does not this require sincere intentions? It has to be shown that Israel indeed has the intention to engage in serious discussions, the same as the situation was between former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas. They discussed the philosophy and elements of settlement, they engaged in discussing the issues of borders, land, security, and a viable Palestinian State, and they went farther than that in detail.
All the indicators point that we are not on the right track. Therefore, at some moment we will reach a stage of crisis. I hope that the United States and the European Union understand that they have a responsibility to push for imposing a different vision on the Israeli side; otherwise the situation will become complicated, because the Arabs will look for other options.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your assessment of the US performance, and Mitchell’s working method in managing the negotiations?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] Mitchell has years of experience during which he conducted the negotiations between the Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland, and between Ireland and Britain; he has experience of all the factors of that crisis. Therefore, Mitchell is trying to reproduce this method, which is based on directing detailed questions in order to receive detailed answers, and then he looks into the answers of every side, studies the issues over which the gap between the sides could be narrowed, and after that he addresses questions that present ideas, hoping that some will adopt this stance and reply to it in a way that will secure the building of a comprehensive stance. This type of approach succeeds on many occasions, but sometimes it takes half a decade or a decade. This is Mitchell’s method.
The other side of the US issue is that the US president is trying to impose a vision on the Israelis, but unfortunately the Israeli prime minister travels to Washington, meets the president, and it is conveyed to us that the president was sharp, he scolded or criticized Netanyahu, and proposed stances, and we all imagine that the situation will change; then the Israeli prime minister returns to Israel, and Israel goes back to maneuvering and circumventing the US stance, and mobilizing members of the US Congress to criticize the US policy; another problem emerges in the US relations with some country, or an economic or environmental crisis comes to the surface, and the US Administration directs its attention to something else.
The situation is pressing and grave. Israel usurps the land, evicts the Palestinians from East Jerusalem, and continues with the settlement operations. Rivalry among the Palestinians still exists and is widespread. The Palestinians are torn between many tendencies, especially in Gaza. All these issues call for grave concern. The Palestinians have paid a great deal, together with their supporters from Egypt and other Arab countries. All these feel sad because of the state of the Palestinian situation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The day before yesterday you said that the Arabs will go to the United Nations?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] (Interrupting) This is an Arab decision.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The question is: Have you sensed that there is European understanding, and I am not saying US understanding, because we know that the United States opposes such a direction? Is it possible to obtain European support?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] From our discussions with the European side, I sense that that side understands that when all the doors are closed, it is obliged to open some other door. They are trying to enable the Arabs to move in some direction. Moratinos [Spanish foreign minister and former EU special representative for the Middle East] and Kouchner [French foreign minister] spoke about the establishment of the Palestinian State. We asked: On what basis will it be established?! In our opinion, in order to declare the Palestinian State by an international resolution, as stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution No. 1515, the international community has to sponsor the establishment of the state, and recognize the right of the Palestinians to live the same as other peoples, and after that we write down in the international resolution (the UN Security Council resolution) a paragraph stipulating the establishment of a Palestinian State based on: the peaceful coexistence with its neighbor, Israel; not threatening the Israeli security; the Palestinians’ right to a state established within the borders of 4 June 1967; the right to take the Arab peace initiative into consideration, i.e. the principle of land in exchange for peace; the fair settlement of the refugees problem; and perhaps the consideration of the issue of using international forces from the west, and from various parts of the world, with the consent of the PA, to be stationed in the areas from which Israel feels that threats can come. All these issues can be included in a complete and comprehensive resolution by the UN Security Council.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The question is: Can the United States proceed along such a road?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] I hope so. Can the Europeans? They certainly can, especially if we exclude the influence on some Europeans by their relations with Israel. In this case it is very easy to say: Let us implement the European statement in December. After that we can proceed to build the capabilities of the Palestinian State, and to enable the Palestinians to appear as a society and people capable of administering their affairs and practicing their rights. Then we can complete all the factors through direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and Israel can adhere to the requirements of the resolutions, namely the complete halt of the settlement activities and the halt of the violations of Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem. If all these factors are issued in a resolution by the UN Security Council, it will be difficult for Israel to defy the will of the international community.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Palestinian president was in Paris a few weeks ago. I asked aides who attended his meetings in Washington whether President Obama talked about an alternative peace plan, or if the US Administration has an alternative plan. The answer was: there is no alternative plan. Is your information congruent with this pronouncement?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] I assure you that the US side will not reveal the alternative plans at the current stage. However, the US side will try to achieve some success in order to be able to move to the direct negotiations. If this does not happen, I assure you that the alternative plan will emerge. I believe that there is an alternative “US” plan, and I believe that I have some idea about what t he United States might pursue; however, I am not in a position to talk about this now.