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Ex-presidential aide critical of Obama’s speech | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat- Gamal Helal, former adviser to US presidents for Middle East affairs, has pointed out that president Obama’s statement concerning the pre-1967 borders being the basis of negotiations is not in practice a surprise to the Palestinian side.

This is because since the start of the peace process, the Arab stance toward negotiations – including the Egyptian-Israeli and the Jordanian-Israeli negotiations – always started and ended on the consideration that the 1967 borders are the basis of negotiations. However, the surprise is that Obama has considered this principle from now on to be the basis of US policy in the issue of the Middle East peace process.

In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat Helal said that President Barack Obama’s statement is the first time that the United States adopts an interpretation of the UN Resolution 242, which is considered the “cornerstone” in the Arab-Israeli negotiations. This resolution was issued in English and French; the English text stipulates the return of “territories” occupied in 1967, while the French text stipulates the return of “the territories” occupied in 1967. The Arab side always demanded the return of all the Arab territories occupied in 1967, as it happened in the cases of Egypt and Jordan, while the Israeli side says that it is prepared to return occupied territories, but not “all the territories.” Helal adds: “Actually and practically, what Obama has said about the 1967 being the basis of the negotiations is completely different from the Arab and Palestinian stance, which says that the 1967 borders is what should be the conclusion of the negotiations.”

The former adviser to US presidents, who participated in all the peace talks since 1993, explains: “The US stance in all the past years has been to agree to the solutions agreed by the sides through the negotiations without the United States stipulating anything so that this stipulation would not be an obstacle at the negotiations.”

He added that: “This new thesis, which President Obama presented in his Thursday’s speech, supports the Arab viewpoint, and is a basic hindrance for the Israeli side, which links the size of Israel before 1967 to the ability to defend it, as the Israelis say that if Israel is of small area, it will be difficult to defend it.”

Helal doubts the possibility of resuming the peace talks between the Israeli and Palestinian sides at the current time. He says: “I believe that the circumstances are suitable for conducting any negotiations, because the climate in the Arab region does not allow this. The absence of governments in Arab side that are prepared to put their weight behind the peace process makes it more difficult to find regional support for the peace efforts. The climate in the Arab countries in general is hostile to the United States and Israel. I believe that the mistake is not in what President Obama has said, but it is in its timing, because had he adopted this stance immediately when he assumed the presidency, this would have been better than his insistence of halting the settlement activities. This is because halting the settlement activities during a transitional period in which peace has not yet been achieved is something that no Israeli prime minister has agreed to as a result of the domestic pressure. Moreover, this has not been a demand or a condition stipulated by the Palestinian side, even during the period of signing the Oslo Accord.”

Helal stresses that the loser in this battle will not be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the loser will be the US President. This is because of many reasons, the first of which is that the US Congress is not in the hands of the Democrats, but it is in the hands of the Republican Party, which is prepared to understand the Israeli situation, and to support the Israeli prime minister. The second reason is that, so far, there is no Arab country that is prepared to support the United States publicly, and engage as a fundamental partner in pushing forward the peace process.

The third reason is that the peace process has stopped for more than a year, and hence there is nothing to which the negotiators can return. The fourth reason is that the Palestinian national unity between Hamas and Fatah will be exploited by Netanyahu to promote the concept of the hostility of the Palestinians to the State of Israel, especially as Hamas is classified according the US law as a terrorist organization.

With regard to the Palestinians’ intention to get a resolution to establish the Palestinian State through the UN General Assembly in September 2011, Helal says: “There is a difference between the UN Security Council resolutions, and those of the UN General Assembly, as the resolutions of the latter are semi-honorary, and are not binding to any side. The United States’ acceptance of rejection of this resolution will depend on the language of the draft resolution presented for voting, i.e. if the Palestinian demand at the UN General Assembly is compatible in all its articles with the stances and policies of the United States (especially after Obama’s announcement specifying the pre-1967 borders as a basis for the negotiations) this will make it difficult for the United States to reject such a resolution. Nevertheless, generally speaking, a vote in the UN General Assembly in favor of the Palestinians will not lead to the establishment of the State of Palestine.”