CAIRO, (AP) – Progress in peace negotiations must come before Arab recognition of Israel, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in an interview with Israel TV broadcast late Tuesday.
Mubarak also addressed American suggestions that the 2002 Arab initiative, offering Israel normal relations with the Arab world if Israel withdraws from all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and Golan Heights, could be amended. He categorically rejected that idea and said the only road to peace is the creation of a Palestinian state.
Mubarak met Israel’s new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheik. Netanyahu has not endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state, preferring economic development first.
In the TV interview, Mubarak said he believes the Israeli leader wants peace, but stressed that he must accept the idea of a Palestinian state or terrorism and violence would take hold. The interview was aired on Israel TV’s main evening newscast while Egypt’s official MENA news agency carried a transcript.
Netanyahu, Mubarak and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are heading to Washington later this month for separate meetings with President Barack Obama.
Arab diplomats have said that Washington asked Arab countries to amend the Arab initiative to make it more palatable to Israel. The plan offers Israel collective Arab recognition, peace and normal relations in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from territory it occupied in the 1967 Mideast war, the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees.
“Obama is very precise in all what he does. He acts rationally and logically, after he listens to his advisers well, and listens to the opinions of the countries he deals with,” Mubarak said.
Mubarak said Arab countries will not normalize relations with Israel until there is progress toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“You shouldn’t say normalization (with Arab countries) and then we make progress (on peace). No. You make some great progress and encourage Arab countries,” he said. “If we reach a solution on the peace question, the Arab countries will be ready to have relations with Israel.”
Israel has said that since it was not a party to drawing up the initiative, it does not have to endorse it and instead proposes negotiations based on the initiative. Among other problems, Israelis are concerned that the Arab proposal can be interpreted to endorse the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants to Israel — a prospect Israel has always rejected.
Several diplomats have said that the Americans are asking Arab nations to drop demands for a right of return for Palestinian refugees and agree to either resettle them in the host countries or in the Palestinian territories.
Mubarak ruled out amending the initiative.
“Don’t keep asking for an amendment. It will not be amended so long as you ask for it. All the countries are not approving the amendment,” he said.
In Sharm el Sheik, Netanyahu sought Egypt’s help in building a coalition of Arab nations against Iran, according to Israeli officials. He has sought to redirect the Middle East agenda by focusing on Iran as the key threat to stability, framing the Middle East conflict as one between moderates and extremists.
Mubarak said in the interview that Egypt’s views on the threat Iran poses are different from those of Israel.
He also said Egypt favors a Middle East without nuclear weapons, broadly hinting that he meant eliminating Israel’s stockpile of nuclear bombs. Israel does not confirm or deny possessing nuclear weapons.