14 - 20 September 2000
Issue No. 499
|Published in Cairo by Al-Ahram established in 1875|
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'A bad deal is the worst scenario'
While an Israeli-Palestinian deal on final status issues is unlikely to emerge in the coming few weeks, Foreign Minister Amr Moussa tells Hani Shukrallah in New York, a rushed "bad deal" would, he believes, be more problematic than no deal at all
While we can assume that the declaration of a Palestinian state will have been postponed by the time this interview appears, yet there still does not appear to have been any narrowing in the gap between the parties on major final status issues. Barak, for instance, still insists there will be no conceding Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. What then are the bases upon which various parties continue to assert that it remains possible to conclude a Palestinian-Israeli agreement within a few weeks?
Wishful thinking. Mere wishful thinking. And you can quote me.
What of all the talk of a window of opportunity, of the "fleeting chance" which President Clinton, in his address to the Summit, called upon the parties to seize?
This kind of talk is perfectly right and proper in its vernacular sense. Naturally no one would want to waste this opportunity. That we should seize this chance and try and reach an agreement, this too is quite right. It is also true that there are potential building blocks that the parties have reached here and there.
But none of this should be understood as our having arrived at the last stop, or even come close to it. To reach this position requires intensive effort and a mindset that allows the wrapping up of outstanding matters. And this is lacking. Efforts continually end up in a cul-de-sac of intractable assumptions and unreasonable or illogical demands. Nor has American brokerage been able to steer such questions to a conclusion by presenting positive suggestions.
Yet the general impression -- discernible during the past few days in New York -- is that Barak has offered all he can, and that the ball is now in Arafat's court. And at his press conference during the summit Barak boasted several times (in English and in Hebrew) that Israel has won wide international understanding for its position.
This is a very misleading statement. The ball is not in Arafat's court. To put the matter in such terms is to falsify reality and can lead us nowhere. The idea behind this reiteration that the ball is in Arafat's court is to place Arafat on the defensive, to create the impression that it is Arafat who has to come up with new concessions. This kind of tactic must be exposed for what it is.
The ball remains in Barak's court or, at least, remains somewhere in the middle, between the two sides. Yet the kind of talk you mention is clearly intended to put pressure on just one side. This may have been possible at one point, but the campaign to explain the reality of the situation, which took place during the past week or two, has restored some balance to prevalent perceptions.
This is especially true when you address the detail of what is on offer. The problem, in a nutshell, is this: to place Arafat in a position from which he has to choose between a bad deal or no deal is bad policy, and it cannot produce a settlement. Yet, in all frankness, this is the situation as it now stands. The Israelis say they have moved [forward]. Well, they have not moved enough.
But what of the talk of the dangers in store if the current opportunity is wasted? The implication is that unless an agreement is reached within the coming few weeks the region will face a disastrous situation.
Feelings of frustration will be very intense if the parties fail to reach a deal. Sentiment hostile to the status quo will escalate. Let me put this way: if there is no deal the fall out will be bad; in the case of a bad deal, the ramifications will be equally bad, if not worse. No, in fact they will be worse. Only a good deal, a fair and just deal, is capable of avoiding such negative ramifications. The worst case scenario is that of a bad deal, for such a deal will have extremely grave repercussions for all those who were party to it, or lent it support.
What of Egyptian ideas on Jerusalem; did they meet with a positive response from the Americans and Israelis?
Egyptian ideas on Jerusalem are based first and foremost on international legitimacy. The Americans listened very carefully, and with great interest, to our ideas. The Israelis also are fully aware of our position as, of course, are the Palestinians. But irrespective of how the parties responded to our ideas, we will continue to stand by them. We will not shift our position... Otherwise we will arrive at a bad deal, with all the repercussions I've mentioned before.
Following Camp David II Egypt was accused of having acted to spoil the chances of a deal, and of not encouraging Arafat to accept the notion of a framework agreement. There appeared to be a stand-off in Egyptian-US relations. Yet soon after Egypt is back centre stage in the negotiating process, Clinton makes a stopover in Cairo and Egypt comes out publicly in support of the idea of a framework agreement. This series of events created the impression that Egypt had been subjected to American pressure to accept ideas that it had rejected during Camp David II.
There is confusion in this whole matter. First, we were not at Camp David, so we were in no position to accept or reject anything. Second, the framework idea was not the subject of any difference of opinion. Third, the idea of a framework agreement is an Israeli and not an Egyptian idea. Fourth, were anyone in a position to reach a framework agreement, then all well and good. But even this is difficult to conceive during the coming few weeks.
The divergence was not around the framework idea, it was around the role Egypt was being called upon to play, which was to convince Arafat to accept the substantial concessions demanded of him. Egypt was actually amazed at being asked to convince Arafat to be more "flexible". We had not been at Camp David, had no knowledge of the details of what was going on there. As such we were in no position to advise Arafat to show flexibility or inflexibility over subjects of which we had no knowledge.
It was for this reason that President Mubarak would not agree to President Clinton's request in this regard. This was only reasonable. When [Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright discussed this same subject with me, I asked her, what do you mean by the word flexibility; give me a concrete definition of "flexibility" in the light of the particular suggestion on which you ask for such flexibility. None of this, however, was connected to a framework agreement, but concerned specific suggestions on particular subjects to which, first of all, we had not been party. Once we did learn of them we quickly realised that they were matters over which was impossible to show flexibility.
The intention, of course, was to force submission on Arafat... to make him surrender completely to a particular point of view. Had there been an attitude of give-and-take it would have been different. The Israelis have a right to enter negotiations with a perspective of their own and so do the Palestinians. It is, then, the responsibility of the peace broker to bring each of the two parties closer. But to demand that one of the parties should go all the way towards the other party's position -- this is no longer a negotiating process.
The framework idea was not at issue. We were asked to urge Arafat to show flexibility towards specific suggestions, the nature of which we did not know. When we did find out, we felt Arafat had been quite right in rejecting them.
With respect to the question of refugees Barak, in his press conference, seemed to imply that there was some sort of agreement as to compensation. He spoke of Congress going into recess in a few weeks, and of how this would prevent it from approving the substantial sums of money to be allocated in this respect.
Are we to conclude from this that some sort of agreement has been reached with respect to compensation, and what of the right of return?
The question of compensation is established by Resolution 194 [of 1948]. None of the parties object to this. It is the right of return, established by the same UN resolution, to which the Israelis object. They have offered some 'return' and presented certain figures in this respect. The parties have yet to reach any conclusive agreement on this however.
Barak was basically saying that we need to speed up an agreement so that we can catch Congress before it goes into recess. But again the question is what kind of deal are we supposed to be hurrying towards, is it a good deal or not? If it is a good deal, then fine. It might be possible for the Palestinians to agree to settle the question of compensation now, and keep negotiations on the right of return open. But no such agreement has been forthcoming, because the matter requires a whole package, one that takes into account all the final status issues -- Jerusalem, withdrawal, refugees etc... There must be a package... The policy of bits and pieces here and there is futile. This may have been possible during the interim stage, the time of partial agreements, but it is no longer possible.
Your view, then, is that the possibility of reaching a framework agreement during he next few weeks is very slight.
That is correct...
But if, in the event such an agreement is reached, would we not be reviving Oslo; that is, establishing yet another interim phase, yet another cycle of agreements to implement agreements with all the backtracking, all the stoppages that it involves?
The Palestinians are fully aware of this danger. No, we are now speaking in the framework of final status and final status requires a peace treaty. Such a treaty might be concluded in the form of a framework followed a full treaty, as took place between Egypt and Israel, but as you see time is very short so... what shall we say, let God's will be done.
Barak still puts the chances of an agreement in the coming few weeks at 50/50...
Regretfully, I would put it at less than 50/50.
You had many meetings on the summit's sidelines with, among others, Khatami, Tarek Aziz, and with your Sudanese and Iranian opposite numbers. What, in the light of these meetings, are your expectations concerning the Arab and regional order in the coming period?
I have held meetings, met and/or talked with everyone. I have talked with Clinton, Barak, Arafat, the Arab foreign ministers. I've also talked with Khatami, Indonesia's Wahid, and many others. The discussions focused, naturally, on the question of globalisation, and the new role being sought for the UN.
As for the Arab order, we are moving towards an Arab summit, about that there is no doubt. But no development can be contemplated for the regional system as a whole, however, so long as [Arab-Israeli] peace has not been established.
And what of Egyptian-Iranian relations?
Egyptian-Iranian relations are in a process of continuous progress and improvement.
What are the possibilities of...
That is all I'm going to say about this now.
How do you evaluate the results of the summit? Did the declaration that emerged take on board the concerns of the developing world, especially those questions, raised in your speech on behalf of President Mubarak, concerning the dangers of hegemony in international relations, the growing divide between North and South, and so forth?
It was very clear that the negative ramifications of globalisation, and not globalisation as such, were the focus of great attention during this summit. It was poverty, and not the Internet and the communications revolution, that took centre stage in discussions of globalisation. The North was called upon to face a reality in which half the world lives on less than $2 a day. More than one sixth of the world live on less than $1 with no health, no education... nothing. These are problems that the world community needs to address before we speak of the benefits of the communications revolution and how it has transformed the world into a global village etc. Sure, we need to address issues such as the digital divide, but there are much more basic questions at stake.
How seriously should one take commitments contained in the Declaration? Where is the money to fund them to come from? The North, after all, has consistently reneged on similar commitments since made in Rio?
The Declaration itself is excellent. The problem is implementation... And there is no doubt that here we face a very big question mark. Yet I feel that the focus on poverty and the negative aspects of globalisation during this summit sounded a very loud warning bell.
UN reform, emphasised in both Annan's report and the Declaration, is ultimately expressed in very vague and general terms. What are your expectations in terms both of content and time-scale and how far has the concept, underlined in your speech at the summit, of the General Assembly as a global parliament, as the main organ of democracy in international relations, been taken on board by the summit?
It met with an echo in the final Declaration. But UN reform remains doubtful, especially as regards the role of the Security Council and its expansion. There is no agreement in sight as yet regarding the fair division of additional seats, nor the necessity of bolstering the role of the developing countries. There is a long way to go before we see real reform at the UN.
While the Declaration affirms principles of state sovereignty, non-intervention in internal affairs, equity and equality between states and even-handedness in humanitarian intervention there is no clear commitment that this last will be strictly subject to the norms of international legitimacy...
This is very true. Which is why we have to be vigilant, very vigilant.
Eyeball to eyeball 7 - 13 September 2000
A 'creative' deal? 31 August - 6 September 2000
Camp David II 13 - 19 July 2000