Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Amr Musa, secretary-general of the League of Arab States, discusses the League’s positions on a series of conferences and meetings concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict. These include the recent Palestinian security conference in Berlin, which signified international support for a Palestinian state, as well as Russia’s proposed Middle East conference to take place in Moscow. He elaborates on French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s launch of the Union for the Mediterranean, and the significance of Israel’s membership in the Union. Additionally, the Secretary-General discusses the “veto” power of the US and Israel over inter-Palestinian reconciliation, regarding Israel’s threat to terminate peace negotiations in the case of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. Musa also touches on his public dispute with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Amman in mid-June, the consequences of landmines to Lebanese security and the Arab League’s position on the ongoing violence in Darfur.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your policy concerning the landmines that are impeding political stability in Lebanon?
[Musa] I believe that these mines are still being planted in Lebanon. At this stage, the solution should come from inside Lebanon. We are waiting to see how the political leaders of Lebanon will deal with the formation of the government under extremely dangerous circumstances. They know the extent of their repercussions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] At what point can we say that the lack government formation in Lebanon has reached a red line?
[Musa] We are indeed approaching the red lines.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you deviate from the text during your discussion with Peres in Amman, as has been reported?
[Musa] What text are you talking about? I did not deviate from the text for there was no text in the first place. Why do we abide by diplomatic methods? This policy should be clear to everyone. Is the talk about peace mere ‘words and noise’? Come; tell me what has Israel done? It always talks about what it does not do. In reality, it commits many violations of the law.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Which of the Palestinian Authority’s concerns were raised at the Berlin conference?
[Musa] We presented the Arab League’s viewpoint, which consists of four points: First, there can be no concessions on settlement building activities. We cannot talk about the rule of law and security in the occupied lands if the law is broken every day. Therefore, the intelligence of the Arabs should be respected. Second, the negotiations should be serious because the reports we have indicate the opposite. The Israeli Foreign Minister has been selling the idea that negotiations are moving forward. That is why I told her that based on what I was told personally by the highest Palestinian sources, the negotiations did not bring anything new. Third, I requested that certain countries and specific forces do not oppose and obstruct the Palestinian reconciliation process. Fourth, regarding the rule of law and security, I analyzed every point and I said that if you want rule of law, settlement building activities are the biggest violators of the law. I also asked: Is the rule of law enforced only on the Palestinians while Israel is left to do as it wishes? My words were addressed to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I also asked whether any peace progress has been made. I asked them to present proof and give me examples, not just nice words about negotiations and peace. I asked that the veto imposed on Palestinian-Palestinian reconciliation be lifted. I also said that we are ready to implement the rule of law and security. But I also added that as long as the Palestinian land is occupied, there will be no stable security.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did the Western parties promise to lift the veto on Palestinian national reconciliation?
[Musa] What took place in Berlin is the start of a clear Arab presentation of the Arab positions on major international forums that are attended by all those that influence the decision-making process in the world. I had previously spoken in the same way at the meeting of the international quartet in December 2007 but this was during a closed session. I repeated the same position at the Annapolis meeting and that too was during a closed session. What I proposed recently and insisted upon was at an open session. Things cannot go on like this. Settlement building activities should stop and the success of the negotiations should be ensured. Palestinian reconciliation should not be opposed or interfered with so as to obstruct it. Obstacles should not be created on the road to Palestinian reconciliation. I also said that I am not here for the sake of Israel’s security, since Israeli security protection is not the responsibility of the Arabs. Security should be achieved for everyone. In regard to rule of law, I also asked how a litigant is expected to be able to go to court to present his case when there are barricades and sandbags blocking his path.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the status of Russia’s proposed international Middle East conference to be held in Moscow in June?
[Musa] I talked to the Russian Foreign Minister about this conference two days ago. I believe that the Russian position is that it will still be held but the date may be pushed forward from this summer to the fall.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is the United States pressuring Russia not to convene the conference?
[Musa] Israel is rejecting the conference and there is enthusiastic support for it and less enthusiastic support for it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you mean to say that Russia and the Arabs are eager to hold the conference, Israel rejects it, and the United States has a negative stand on it?
[Musa] In fact, the Europeans support it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are all outstanding Arab issues being deferred until after the end of President Bush’s term in office?
[Musa] President Bush has promised and he should be committed to a Palestinian state by the end of 2008.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are scheduled to participate in the summit of the Union for the Mediterranean that will be held in Paris on July17. What is the position of the Arab League on this initiative?
[Musa] The Arab League is an observer of the Barcelona Process and its three concerns: political dialogue and security, economic development and cultural rapprochement. he new proposal presented by France regarding a union for the Mediterranean has not yet crystallized or been specifically defined. The positions I have been following during meetings I held in Egypt, Algeria, and Libya are all important. Also important are Libyan leader M’ammar Al-Qadhafi’s remarks about not dividing the Arab world from Africa. He raises several questions that are being raised by many others. Perhaps the Paris meeting is the place to pinpoint all these matters regarding the future of this track and its relationship with the Barcelona [Process] and the future of the Mediterranean. I have sent a paper outlining the Arab position to the European Union, France, and several European countries that are interested in this subject. I said that it is not right to invite only a part of the Arab world to the Union for the Mediterranean. I also said that there is a symposium based on the Barcelona [Process] and the new French project should invite all Arab countries for a meeting that should be held at the same time as the meeting of the European Union. My proposal was clear: the participation of all the member states of the Arab League with all the member states of the European Union in a symposium to be held parallel to the Barcelona and the Mediterranean meetings. The presidency of the European Union and the presidency of the Arab League would also participate in this meeting.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In regard to Sarkozy’s proposal, some Arab countries have protested that Israel will become a member of the Union in spite of its continued occupation of Arab land. What is your reaction to this?
[Musa] Israel is a member in the Barcelona Process. Its membership in any symposium does not mean that we give in to it or that we deal with it directly as a group. The second point is that we, as sovereign states, chose a project and its participants. No participant is imposed upon us. We are not weak as to submit to a project, its agenda and the countries participating in it. The fact is that Arab countries make their own decisions and set their stances by announcing their readiness to either participate or not, for reasons of their own.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would Israel’s membership in the Union impede signing a peace agreement with these countries?
[Musa] No, this is one thing and that is another. What is preventing Israel from signing a peace agreement is that it does not want to make peace. It is a state that enjoys unprecedented international immunity. Thus, it suffers from the arrogance of power and the arrogance of invincibility. Israel does not want to leave the lands that it has occupied. Israel has nothing to do with the Mediterranean or the United Nations or Barcelona or anything else. The will for peace has not yet crystallized in Israel.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a call to hold a summit on Darfur?
[Musa] Peace in Darfur requires a lot of international effort. An objective approach should be used. Instead of a mindset that blames one side, the side that is obstructing a solution in Darfur should be punished.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is the crisis between Chad and the Sudanese government obstructing a solution in Darfur?
[Musa] The neighboring countries are playing a role and the rebellious organizations, the government, and conditions in Darfur itself are also playing a role. Nevertheless, the Arab League encourages reconciliation and dialogue. There are several Arab countries that are playing a major role toward reaching a solution and we support these efforts.