Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat-In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem said: “By God we are sorry, because we must not put the cart before the horse, and Israel must first announce withdrawal from the Golan to the line that existed on 4 June 1967.”
Al-Muallem was responding to a statement, made by the office of Netanyahu to Asharq Al-Awsat (Wednesday’s edition), indicating that Netanyahu is “ready to meet with the Syrians immediately without conditions and ready to immediately travel to Damascus to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to invite him to Jerusalem, or meet with him in a third country for this purpose.”
Netanyahu’s office was answering Asharq Al-Awsat’s questions regarding British researcher Gabrielle Rifkind’s statement that Al-Muallem told her at a closed symposium in December that Syria was ready to accept a phased Israeli withdrawal from the Golan in exchange for declaring an end to the hostility era between them and opening representation offices for the two sides.
In his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Cairo, Al-Muallem spoke about the vision of a just and comprehensive peace on all tracks. He said that Syria stands at the same distance from the Fatah and Hamas Movements and expressed Damascus’s optimism about the possibility of achieving inter-Palestinian reconciliation. In addition, Al-Muallem disclosed that Syria will present to the Arab summit a working paper on ways to resolve inter-Arab disagreements.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is being done concerning inter-Arab relations and disagreements and ways to resolve these disagreements before holding the next Arab summit in Serte [in Libya]?
[Al-Muallem] We hope that there will be an ease in the inter-Arab relations and that it will have an effect on cooperation. We also hope that views on all issues that concern all of us will be brought closer.
Syria presented to the Arab summit, which will be held on the 27th and 28th of March in Libya, a working paper to resolve inter-Arab disagreements. The paper contains a clear working mechanism to build on the common denominators between the Arab countries and a mechanism to resolve disagreements.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mechanism deal with all relations, and what is the outline of this paper?
[Al-Muallem] Yes, it covers all relations, and we will discuss it in Libya at the Arab summit.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will we see an Egyptian-Syrian meeting to restore relations to their good status at all levels?
[Al-Muallem] Undoubtedly, all parties will meet. There is no reason for the continuation of inter-Arab disagreements.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You made statements indicating that Syria accepts a phased restoration of the Golan.
[Al-Muallem] This is not true.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you not make such a statement at all?
[Al-Muallem] We are interested in restoring every inch of the Golan up to the line that existed on 4 June 1967, because, as far as we are concerned, land is a matter of dignity and honor.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you respond to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s statement in which he announced his readiness to visit Syria and give back the Golan in stages? He was responding to your statement.
[Al-Muallem] Is he ready to withdraw beyond the line that existed on 4 June 1967?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In the past, you mentioned a phased withdrawal and said Israel agrees on it.
[Al-Muallem] One must begin with the target, and the target is the line of 4 June 1967. The question is: Is he (Netanyahu) ready to withdraw to this line? As for the details, they will be discussed at a later stage.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] And what about the Israeli prime minister’s announcement that he is ready to go to Syria immediately?
[Al-Muallem] By God, we are sorry. No one puts the cart before the horse, and he must consider the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinians’ situation. In addition, he must lift the blockade of Gaza, rebuild bridges, create a favorable climate to resume negotiations, and comply with the established requirements of peace both at the Arab and world levels. There is a consensus in the world on these requirements.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the outlook for the Palestinian-Syrian and inter-Palestinian relations?
[Al-Muallem] We are optimistic about the possibility of achieving inter-Palestinian reconciliation. Syria stands at the same distance from both the Fatah and Hamas movements. In the end, however, this is a Palestinian decision. If they seek reconciliation, we will encourage them. The decision is up to them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Syrian-Palestinian relations?
[Al-Muallem] These relations are good. As I said, we look at the two quarreling parties from the same distance.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, alias Abu-Mazin, asked at the meeting of the committee on the Arab peace initiative for Arab help to propose new options after the failure of all peace efforts, and the head of the Syrian delegation responded by telling him to continue what he is doing.
[Al-Muallem] There is a difference between the discussion of options and a decision taken in advance to go to indirect negotiations [with Israel]. However, if the Palestinians wish to propose other options, we will sit and discuss them, and the Arabs have a lot of cards and options.