Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat- Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu-al-Ghayt has revealed that the previous US Administration has left a 12-page report on the progress achieved in the negotiations that took place between the Israelis and the Palestinians since the launch of the Annapolis process in the autumn of 2007.
The Egyptian minister rejects that the Arab countries should respond to the demands of gradual normalization with Israel in order to reassure it and to encourage it to respond to the US peace initiative. He puts it as a condition that this should take place after it becomes apparent that “the strong and effective US initiative has effects on Israel,” and that Israel is not maneuvering, and indeed is freezing the settlement and restoring the West Bank to what it was before the second Palestinian intifadah.
Abu-al-Ghayt rejects that the negotiations process should continue ad infinitum, and calls for a reasonable “time framework,” and for determining in advance the image of the final solution that is supposed to witness the establishment of a Palestinian State within the borders of 1967.
The statements of the Egyptian minister came in an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat on the occasion of his presence in the French capital to conduct talks with his French opposite number Bernard Kouchner focusing on the one hand on the peace process, and on the other hand on the situation of the Union for the Mediterranean, which has been suspended in practice since the Israeli war on Gaza at the end of last year.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is required of the Arabs to keep pace with the US peace initiative?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] The US side is moving in the direction of demanding that Israel should adopt specific stances, and respond with real efforts to peace that would lead us to effective moves, and to a Palestinian-Israeli settlement based on the establishment of a Palestinian State, and on an Israeli-Arab settlement. Here, I recall the Arab initiative, the principle of land in exchange for peace, and the Arab preparedness to normalize relations with Israel if the settlement is just and comprehensive, and if the Palestinians and the Arabs restore their rights.
This aspect interests the US Administration, which asks: What will the Arab reaction be if we acted on the Palestinian-Israeli front, and exerted pressure on Israel to reach peace? In Egypt, we say: We are not authorized to speak in the name of the Arabs. Experience has taught us that in the period that followed the Oslo Agreements in 1993, and in an atmosphere that was suitable for peace because Israel showed readiness to respond to the Palestinians and their aims, the Arabs adopted positive stances toward Israel. For instance, the Israeli prime minister visited a Gulf capital and received the red-carpet treatment, and Israeli offices and missions were opened in Arab countries. We did not reject these initiatives, and we said: Let us encourage the Israeli side to give the Palestinians their rights. Today, we say: Let us get our rights, and let us encourage the Israelis to give [the Palestinians] their rights, provided that these concessions are within a framework of Israeli seriousness and credibility. However, if Israel maneuvers, prevaricates, and tries to get gains and positions in the Arab countries while it continues to practice violence against the Palestinians, deny their political rights, destroy their economy, and deny the bases of the Arab initiative, i.e. land in exchange for peace, then we will not agree.
We have said to the US Administration: We understand what you are talking about. If it becomes apparent that your efforts are effective and strong, and they achieve their aims, and if Israel responds to the international demands, and moves in a direction that shows that it has changed its stance, and that its government has stopped maneuvering, then the Arab countries can respond, but at various speeds, each according to its abilities. As for the talk about opening the skies and airports from the start in exchange for nothing, what then will remain so that the Palestinians get their rights? These issues are calculated with the scales that weigh gold, and within the framework of definite and mutual commitments.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Practically, what do you demand?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] We demand a complete freezing of all settlement activities, and not gestures of freezing (this alone is not sufficient); we demand the restoration of the situation in the West Bank to what it was before the second intifadah, when the Palestinians were in control of all towns; and we demand the departure of the Israeli forces from the Palestinian towns, a clear Israeli commitment to the establishment of the Palestinian State, a clear image of the final solution, and the presence of a real momentum toward peace in the region. Moreover, we cannot negotiate within an open time framework. It is true that the US side does not want to commit itself to a specific day, but we say: Let the period until the United States has mid-term elections, i.e. within the next two years, be the deadline to reach a solution, and finish this issue. We do not want the United States to say to us: Wait for Obama’s second term so that he would have a freehand.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] We have been told that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has told French officials that Obama wants the Palestinian State to be established before the end of his first term. Have you received such information?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] We have heard such talk. It includes a number of indicators. The first indicator is that Emanuel wants strongly to act; he observes that the US society and the Jewish lobby want a settlement. He considers – so does President Obama – that there is a need to act quickly, otherwise the tempo will slow down, and if it slows down the opportunity available today will be wasted. Therefore, we have a president and an administration in the White House who want to push forward the situation, there is a good reading of the US situation, and there is a feeling of the need for credible and fast US action in order to restore the trust of the Arab and Muslim world, and of the international community.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the other messages you conveyed to Washington?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] We have stressed the need for refraining from mixing up the issues and dossiers related to the region. We said to them: If you have problems with Iran, deal with them separately from the Palestinian dossier and the Arab dossier. Do not move toward the Arabs to please them until the Iranian-western dossier is settled, and then go back to your previous way of dealing. We called on them to focus on the Palestinian dossier, because it has priority.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] I have read a statement by you in Washington in which you said: “We are not bound to agree to everything the US Administration presents.” What do you mean by this?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] I was asked about the vision of the Jewish State, and it was said that the US Administration supported such a vision; therefore, I answered by saying that we were not bound by everything Washington would say, but we were bound by what we would consider to be in the interest of the Palestinian people. We ought to work to preserve their rights, especially as there is an Israeli foreign minister who calls for their repatriation to Palestine or outside Israel [as published]. We do not have a problem with the issuing of a resolution by the United Nations or the UN Security Council talking about an Israel “of Jewish majority;” however, to describe it as “Jewish state” includes grave dangers. This is because we can never exclude that an Israeli leader will come one day and say: The number of the Arabs has increased in the State of Israel, and we have to reduce the weight of the Arab demographical bloc in order to preserve the Jewish character of the state. This is unacceptable.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But Netanyahu makes the recognition of the Jewishness of the state a condition for progress on the peace track?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] This is completely rejected. If we start by talking about conditions, nothing will be achieved. Perhaps Netanyahu is presenting these conditions so that the situation does not move forward.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] On 7 June the parliamentary elections will take place in Lebanon. Are you in Egypt confident that the Lebanese sides will accept the results of the elections whatever they might be? Are there any guarantees?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] I cannot say that we have guarantees. On the other hand, I say that we appreciate the wisdom of the Lebanese people and their ability to reject foreign interference, and to reject hegemony and control. This is sufficient to make 8 June a day that will reflect the continuous accord among the Lebanese.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However, there are those outside Lebanon who present the theory that the results will be a victory of one political line over another political line?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] These things are presented in order to influence the Lebanese public opinion, and the result of the elections. We in Egypt still say: Hands off Lebanon. Everybody ought to stop interfering in the Lebanese affairs. This is why you do not hear or see an Egyptian statement that favors this-or-that group.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has the issue of Hezbollah been bypassed?
[Abu-al-Ghayt] It is impossible to bypass it. Hezbollah is a party and has military militias on the Lebanese territories, and it decided to violate the sovereignty of the biggest Arab country. Therefore, there is a problem with this Hezbollah and its leadership. On the other hand, we do not have a problem with any of the Lebanese institutions, from the presidency, to the government and parliament, or even with the Shiite sect. However, we do not accept that some side considers that its vision of the way to help the Palestinians gives it the right to act at the expense of the rights and sovereignty of another country. This is completely rejected, and that side ought to consider it a thousand times. When someone thinks that as a leader he can address the Egyptians and the Egyptian Army, we answer him by saying: You need a great deal to understand the psychology of the Egyptian people. It was a sad day for us in Egypt to see Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah speaking the following day of the announcement of the exposure of the cell affiliated to Hezbollah when he said: Why not? I say to him: you have gone too far; not only you crossed the red line, but also you violated the respect of the State of Egypt, and this cell will pay the price. When the case is presented to the courts we will discover the size of the scheme to harm Egypt, a scheme planned by a power that is bigger than Hezbollah.