Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
6 - 12 July 2000
Issue No. 489
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

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Back to the future

By Dina Ezzat

It was almost a year ago that Foreign Minister Amr Moussa suggested the Middle East peace process could be resolved within one to five years and that the time had come for regional policy-makers and experts to consider post-peace regional scenarios.

The regional situation has not changed much during that year, so it was no surprise that when Moussa addressed a gathering celebrating the first anniversary of the establishment of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs on Tuesday, his talk centred on a post-peace Middle East. Moussa offered a formula for stability, stressing the conditions that need to be met in order to maintain peace in the Middle East. All this, of course, on the premise that "the suggestion that peace can be reached within a period of around five years proves correct. If it does not, then that is another story altogether."

The key factors considered necessary by the foreign minister for the Middle East to enjoy stability were a fair settlement under which all Arab territories are restored and a viable Palestinian state is established, strong ties between Arabs states on the one hand and Iran and Turkey on the other and the lifting of sanctions on Iraq as a prerequisite for its regional reintegration. If any of these is missing, said Moussa, then problems will arise.

However, should all these pre-requisites be met, argued Moussa, it would be a gross waste of a singular opportunity if the region were to then allow new problems to arise. Letting the Arab-Israeli conflict evolve into a conflict over regional hegemony was one example, he stated.

"Considering the [potential] status of the region in a state of peace, proposes, among other things, questions related to the role and status of Israel in the [coming] new Middle East," Moussa said. It would be natural for Israel to seek integration in the region as an equal power, but not to seek the exceptional status of being a country of regional superiority. If this is Israel's objective, Moussa warned, then Israel will have to be prepared for disappointment. "Arab countries, no matter how much pressure they are subjected to, will not submit to living under an Israeli umbrella," Moussa maintained -- a clear reference to Israel's undeclared nuclear arsenal.

"If there is a state of peace, open borders and economic cooperation [what pretext would Israel still have] to maintain the threat of nuclear weapons?" he asked.

On the other hand, Moussa suggested it would be a mistake if close relations between the Arab countries and both Iran and Turkey were left void of the necessary cooperation on regional arrangements in a post-peace scenario.

"There are certainly a number of issues of a strategic nature that are related to the new state of the Middle East, and that should be discussed with Iran and Turkey," Moussa affirmed. He added that Egypt has launched a "soft process" of exchanging views on regional matters with both Iran and Turkey.

On Iraq, Moussa argued that -- important as it may be -- the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions is not enough to solve the Iraqi problem. "Security and stability in the region cannot be secured if Iraq comes out of its current crisis as a divided nation," Moussa said. "This will not at all be in the interest of the Middle East; rather, it would be a sure recipe for entering a new phase of conflicts," he said, asserting that sanctions on Iraq will have to be lifted.

Among the crucial post-settlement issues stipulated by Moussa were the preservation of Arab identity and the indispensable role of the Arab League as a representative of Arab interests. Moussa also stipulated in his lecture that it would be impossible to allow the establishment of any new regional organisation if the views of all the Middle East countries are not taken into consideration.

Along these lines, two possible scenarios arise, neither of which Moussa completely excluded: The Arab League could create "observer status" for non-Arab members in the region, or the countries of the region could agree to establish a new organisation, something similar to Europe's Organisation of Security and Cooperation (OSCE).

But Moussa would not allow futuristic speculation to get the best of him. In the opening lines of his address on Tuesday, he made sure to remind his audience that the situation in the Middle East "is still fluid." Later, while talking with reporters after the lecture, Moussa noted that pessimism over the future of the Arab-Israeli peace process increases as time passes and progress remains stunted.


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