London, Asharq Al-Awsat – The visit of the Arab League Secretary General, Amr Musa to London lasted just over 24 hours, a great part of which he spent communicating with Arab communities and organizations in Britain. He met with representatives of British Arab societies which are trying to be politically effective in British society, and he was a main speaker at the British Arab Economic Forum which was inaugurated on Tuesday. After that he went to the British House of Lords, within the framework of Arab League efforts to keep in touch with Arab communities around the world.
His interview with Asharq Al-Awsat took place after a meeting he had with representatives of British Arab societies hosted by the Egyptian embassy. He expressed his views with the same vitality that he gives to the office of Arab League Secretary General, and the frank but diplomatic language for which he is renowned, which pleases some but angers others; yet in the end causes ripples of useful debate.
Asharq Al-Awsat interview commenced with his meeting with representatives of Arab societies and the proposals made there to support such societies, his view that such societies should be self-dependent in the first place, and the need for those societies to allow leadership change and have new faces so as to achieve real success.
Asked about the Arab League’s present interest in Arab communities abroad and the formation of Arab lobbies, Musa stressed that the Arab League has been actively involved in this issue in the United States as well as in Europe, and that a conference will be held for Arab communities abroad in the early months of next year.
He said: “In the next two months we are going to start preparatory meetings. That is why I called this group (which he met with last Sunday evening in London [25 October]. We shall write to everyone and the Head of the Arab League office in London is asked to gather together these communities and the heads of their boards of directors.
Musa raised the question whether this would be enough to set up an Arab lobby abroad and he replied: “No, in my view it does not, but the Arab League has started working with Arab communities; there is interaction between us and the Arab communities, whether in Europe or the United States. You may be surprised to know that whenever they come to the Middle East they inevitably come to the Arab League. There is a new spirit, but for many reasons I can say it is not good enough yet. One of those reasons is that we are still at the beginning, although we have made progress in some countries more than others. We have made some progress in the US, made a start in Europe and will make a start in Africa, Australia and Canada. All this will have ramifications.”
With respect to the date of convening the conference of Arab communities abroad, the Arab League Secretary General said that it will be held before the next Arab summit.
From the ordinary Arab summit, we moved to talking about the first Arab economic summit that was held in Kuwait earlier this year and its achievements prior to convening the second summit. Musa said: “There are decisions whose implementation began well, and there are decisions that have not been implemented. At some turning point, I shall make my recommendation on whether to convene or not to convene the next summit. Most of the decisions of the first summit, held in Kuwait, have not been implemented. He went on to explain his view expressly, saying: “The issue is not an issue of convening summits per se. The issue is that at a certain point of time the Arab League Secretary General will have to recommend whether the second economic summit will be held on time, postponed, or not at all. The underlying reason for all this will be the non-implementation [of the first summit’s decisions]. I will submit a report to all the Arabs stating the issue of ‘non-implementation.’ In his view this will not embarrass anyone; the embarrassment is in the non-implementation of the summit decisions.
One of the important decisions that remained without implementation, as the Secretary General put it,: was “a very important decision based on a proposal by the Emir of Kuwait to establish a fund to support small and medium size industries with a capital of two billion dollars, of which Kuwait allocated 500 million dollars – that is a quarter of the fund’s capital – but no other sums were paid.”
During the interview, the Secretary General received a telephone call that lasted for a few minutes, after which he was pleased to say: “Good news. The UN General Assembly is expected is expected to hold a special session on 4 November [ 2009] to consider the recommendations of Richard Goldstone’s report on the Gaza war and the issue of Jerusalem, before taking the next step, which is moving the issue to the UN Security Council.”
Replying to a question concerning the debate that was raised following the adoption of Goldstone’s report by the UN Council of Human Rights, Musa denied that the decision was amended, saying that: “the report was a very good report and was adopted as it stood. The issue is how the UNSC would deal with the report’s recommendations, which is supposed to be considered by the General Assembly and then the Security Council. On the basis of a step by step approach the aim at the UNSC, of course, is to try to transfer the issue to the International Criminal Court.”
Concerning the condemnation in Goldstone’s report of both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes, Musa used the Egyptian slang “maalish” – never mind – before saying: “95 percent of the report blames Israel. In the last analysis, Hamas is an organization not bound by [International] law and we are trying to make it abide by it; while Israel is a state that has taken a political decision not to abide by [international] law.
With respect to his sharp toned statement following the initial Palestinian Authority request to postpone the discussion of Goldstone’s report, Musa regarded the issue as over, as the PA retreated from its position and Goldstone’s report was adopted.
Concerning the ramifications of the PA’s initial position towards Goldstone’s report and the Palestinian reconciliation that has been postponed because of the circumstances surrounding the PA’s position, and whether he regards Goldstone’s report as the real reason, or whether the real reason is that the two parties, Fatah and Hamas are difficult to reconcile, Musa said with surprise: “Strange … Why is it difficult for them to reconcile – because they are ideologically different?
He replied by saying: Differences take place in a sovereign country, but the State of Palestine itself does not exist and the issue is not solved yet. And instead of uniting to achieve sovereignty in their country, we find this one claiming to be right wing and that one left wing and another having an ideology different from the other. We, and most of the Arab world, are not convinced by all this. The rest of the world is not convinced either and sees it as the ‘silliest’ thing that happened to the Palestinian people throughout their long struggle.” He said that he is deliberately using the description ‘silliest’.
Regarding the talk about external interventions and regional agendas preventing Palestinian reconciliation and that Hamas’ decision is not in its hands, the Secretary General said: “I do not wish to go into this kind of talk. What I want Hamas and Fatah to do, is to bear the responsibility for damaging the Palestinian situation as long as they continue with their dispute, animosity and battling against each other.” He stressed that “the two parties are responsible, and they should sign the reconciliation soon, because the Palestinian cause does not bear such talk,” which he described as “empty gestures.”
The Arab League Secretary General has his own view [regarding the peace process with Israel] which he expressed on many occasions, the latest of which was at his meeting with representatives of British Arab societies and reiterated again in this interview with Asharq Al-Awsat. He says: “Yes, there is no peace process, but there are efforts to resurrect the peace process.”
He added: There is a kind of dissatisfaction regarding the way the general situation of the Palestinian issue is moving as a whole.” He pointed out the efforts of the present US administration, stressing that “we still believe that President Obama has expressed good intentions and we should help him and he help us at the same time. But it is not right that the elements of helping him should include gratuitous concessions to Israel. We are ready, and should be ready to help President Obama to resurrect the peace process on clear and understandable conditions, but it is not right to include among the elements of this resurrection gratuitous concessions to Israel, because Israel does not deserve that. We have taken many steps from our side, most important of which was the Arab Peace initiative, but we had nothing in return. Therefore, the door for gratuitous concessions to Israel should be closed.”
With regard to what has been said about the Arab peace initiative – that it contains general slogans but no details, the Secretary General said: “No, No, It does not have general slogans, it has general guidelines for dealing with the issues of the refugees, Jerusalem, the occupied territories, the Israeli settlements and so forth, as well as a pledge to recognize Israel and have normal relations in exchange for such and such.”
Musa stressed that the Arab States are prepared to help the Obama administration, in exchange for clear, major steps. He stressed the necessity for a permanent freeze on settlement construction in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank with continuous international observation. “And when this happens, and we receive from the US administration assurances that this was possible, we – the signatories of the Arab peace initiative, will meet and decide what we can do. But to be asked for gratuitous concessions, without any returns, sorry, I can’t do that, especially in the light of past experience with Israel.”
Musa strongly rejected the view that negotiations for a solution and a final map should continue without raising the obstacle of Israeli settlements. The assumption here is that if the settlements came within the map they will be dealt with accordingly, as happened when Egypt was negotiating for the return of the entire Sinai desert. He explained his rejection by saying: “These are two different issues. In Egypt there was only one settlement called Yamit, it was at the edge of Sinai and was removed. The situation is different when you are looking at hundreds of thousands of settlers, and a map full of holes – continuous red spots like someone with measles, that make it useless to talk about a Palestinian state. Then you come and say let us negotiate? Is it possible to negotiate today on one map, then next week we negotiate on another map because they have removed certain villages from the map and built new settlements instead? If you are negotiating to establish a Palestinian state, why are you building today and tomorrow? If you are serious, then you should not build new settlements. And if it is said that this will be solved when we reach agreement on final borders, the answer is this: “The Americans have failed to bring about a freeze in settlement construction in 9 months, are they going to achieve an agreement on final borders in 9 months? And when we finish with the borders they come and say this is a de facto situation – new settlements? President Bush wrote to [former Israeli Prime Minister] Sharon recognizing the de facto situation in 2004. The reality is that anyone wishing to negotiate with precision, honesty and objectivity should not negotiate while settlements are being built.”
Replying to a question as to whether he believed it possible to reach a final solution in the lifetime of this generation, the Secretary General said: “Maybe not, but do not give legitimacy to any situation other than that of a Palestinian State. Do not give legitimacy to the settlements or the occupation and do not surrender. Of course it is better to reach a fair solution, but to reach a crooked solution at the expense of the Arabs and the Palestinians – what for? Moreover, if you surrender the Palestinian cause, it does not follow that there will be peace and stability. The opposite is true. The people and public opinion attached to the Palestinian cause will not say thank God it is over. A group of [government] employees may say that, but the people will never say it.”
With regard to the sensitivity which some feel toward the Arab League and its role and no longer keep as a secret, and their preference of international to Arab solutions, as happened in the latest dispute between Syria and Iraq which refused to ‘arabize’ the dispute, the Secretary General said: “The Arab League has been more involved with Iraq than any other party. The only conference that involved all the parties that are now present in the political arena was held in Cairo, in November 2005. It was a reconciliation conference, and we said that without reconciliation there would be no Iraq. But foreign hands spoilt that. Why? It is because they do not want the Iraqi problem to be solved by Arab hands. We are now cooperating with Iraq and relations between us are good.
In Sudan, the Arab League was the most active international and regional organization from the very beginning, and as for Palestine, it was the Arab League that laid down the lowest [acceptable] minimum.
With regard to Darfur and the alleged bias of the Arab League towards one party against another, Musa said: “This talk was in the early days of the Darfur problem and its aim was to arouse animosity between the Arabs and Africans. We succeeded in killing this project in the early months of the Darfur problem. We were helped in this by the President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, whom we highly respect. He was the head of the African Union at the time and we absolutely killed this issue [of African-Arab animosity]. In Darfur tension has been reduced considerably, and all that remains are some thuggish bands and highway robbers, but no tribes are fighting each other. The talks that take place in Doha are important and will continue. The talks with Chad are continuing and we are taking part in them.” He stressed that there is light at the end of the tunnel, as far as Darfur is concerned, and that the change started with the change in US policy brought about by the Obama administration.
The Secretary General also spoke of the issue of southern Sudan, saying: “There are problematic presidential and parliamentary issues.” Pointing to his meeting with the Sudanese Vice-President Salva Kiir, in Cairo, before arriving in London, he enumerated the problems involved in the attacks and the unification of the army, stressing that they could be overcome, and that the Darfur issue should be solved quickly, in order to overcome the problems of the south. He appeared optimistic regarding the issues of southern Sudan, stressing that he does not consider the issue of secession a bygone conclusion.
With respect to his latest visit to Yemen and the sensitivity of the issue of the Arab League intervention in internal conflicts, the Secretary General stressed that sovereignty should, and must be respected and the unity of Yemen should be preserved. He added: “We want to help in the issue of stability. Therefore, national dialogue in which all take part is the best way out. I have talked with President Ali Abdullah Saleh on this issue and he did not object to it. On the contrary, he is now calling for a conference of national reconciliation, provided all parties take part.”
Finally, it was not possible to end the interview without posing a question that the Egyptian media raised, as to whether he has internal political ambitions in Egypt, but he refused to be drawn into talking about it, saying that, “I would not talk about Egyptian affairs outside Egypt.”