[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the Annapolis conference expected to give to the stalled peace process and how optimistic are you about its outcome?
[Al-Faisal] It is not our affair to be optimistic or pessimistic as much as about dealing with any serious effort to establish peace in the Middle East. The Arab decision to participate in this conference was based on several fundamental elements, most importantly the comprehensiveness in dealing with the conflict in the Middle East on all its tracks and the focus on its major issues within the framework of the terms of reference as represented by the principles of international legitimacy, its resolutions, the roadmap, and the Arab peace initiative. This is what we are seeking to achieve through our participation in the conference.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What was the reason for Saudi Arabia’s hesitation at first before it announced it would participate in the conference? What can the conference offer in one day amid the massive international participation in it?
[Al-Faisal] Indeed, the kingdom did not decide to participate in the conference until the meeting of the Arab peace initiative committee in Cairo. We decided to accept the invitation in light of the Arab consensus we felt about participation in it after discussing the US invitation from all its angles and sensing that there is seriousness about dealing with the fundamental issues of the conflict within a comprehensive framework on all tracks. This stand also stems from the desire to support the Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese stands in the conference. It is probably important to point out that the conference is for one day only and its aim is not negotiations but launching them between the parties directly involved in the conflict on clear and serious bases.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you received assurances or guarantees from the US administration about following up the post-Annapolis stage and entering into a discussion of the final solution issues, like Jerusalem, the settlements, the borders, and the Golan?
[Al-Faisal] The final solution issues in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations constitute the pivot of the conference proceedings. The Syrian-Israeli and Lebanese-Israeli tracks also constitute part of the comprehensive solution. These are the main bases on which the Arab consensus to participate was based. As to the post-conference stage, we sensed from the United States and the Quartet encouraging assurances about following up the negotiations proceedings through specific mechanisms and mutual obligations between all the active parties.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view the hard-line Israeli stands, the last of which was the statement by former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom that the Annapolis peace conference was premature, that the obstacles and differences between the two sides remain big, and that no Israeli would agree to return to the 1967 borders, the refugees’ return, or concede Jerusalem? How consistent are these stands with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s positive talk about the Arab peace initiative?
[Al-Faisal] These extremist stands are not new. But the new development which we have started to feel for the first time is that there is a large public opinion in Israel, the world, and the United States pushing their governments toward peace while we saw in the past that this public opinion was an obstacle to any attempt by the governments to achieve peace. This imposes on these governments great responsibilities toward their peoples’ aspirations, especially as the Arabs demonstrated their acceptance of peace as a strategic choice through the Arab peace initiative whose results are not confined to the direct parties in the conflict but also includes all the Arab countries and even the Islamic ones after the Organization of the Islamic Conference countries adopted it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It is known that the present US administration has one year left. Are there any indications which reflect its ability to achieve progress in the Middle East peace process?
[Al-Faisal] We view the conference as a pivotal stage in the history of the Middle East conflict, particularly from the aspect of its dealing with the roots of the conflict and its major issues. What will be agreed upon is going to be binding on all the parties regardless of the changes in persons. The most important factor is setting a timetable for the negotiations so that they will not be endless. The US Government, which is sponsoring the conference, promised that the timetable will not exceed one year.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some are saying the conference is just a front for normalization with Israel. How do you reply to these remarks?
[Al-Faisal] The conference is not a propaganda or theatrical platform and should not be so. Moreover, we will not allow ourselves be used as a tool for normalization. The Arab participation in the conference stems from the aim of launching direct negotiations between the principal parties in the conflict on serious and clear bases. As to normalization, it is the natural outcome of achieving the just and comprehensive peace, as stipulated in the Arab peace initiative, and not before then. We will honor our pledges as stipulated in the initiative if Israel fulfills its obligations and commitments by returning the legitimate Arab rights.