CAIRO: Amending a proposed Arab peace initiative to win Israeli support for the plan is not a viable option, Egypt s president said, stressing that Arab nations recognition of the Jewish state will only come after peace negotiations.
Hosni Mubarak s firm rejection of what some Arab diplomats have said is an American suggestion to amend the 2002 Arab initiative comes at an important time in the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The Egyptian leader, whose country was the first Arab state to recognize Israel, is slated to visit the US later this month in a trip aimed at discussing how to move the process forward. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are also scheduled to visit Washington this month.
Mubarak, in an interview broadcast late Tuesday with Israeli TV, 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.
The Arabs have insisted that the key to peace is the creation of an independent Palestinian state and that the Arab-proposed initiative is the best option. 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.
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, however, 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 the interview aired on Israel TV s main evening newscast. Egypt s official MENA news agency carried a transcript.
The remarks came a day after Mubarak met with Netanyahu in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. In the 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.
Netanyahu has not endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state, preferring economic development first.
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.
Mubarak also said that Avigdor Lieberman, Israel s firebrand foreign minister, is still not welcome in Egypt, according to the MENA transcript.
When asked whether Lieberman would visit Egypt after Netanyahu, Mubarak said: No.
I deal with Netanyahu, I don t deal with Lieberman, the president said.
I don t know if the foreign minister (Ahmed Aboul Gheit) invited him or not.
But public opinion will not accept Lieberman, that s the problem, he continued.
Public opinion will not accept him because he said I m going to attack the Sinai and he has attacked us. These words remain engraved in the public conscience. How could he say I m going to destroy the dam ? at Aswan, he asked.
Lieberman, an ultra-nationalist who has triggered controversy over his virulently anti-Arab stance, leads the far-right Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) party, and has been called a racist by critics.
He has suggested bombing Egypt s famed Aswan Dam in the event of war between the two countries, which signed a landmark peace deal in 1979.
Lieberman also said last year, before he became foreign minister after the February 2009 general election, that Mubarak could go to hell if he continued to refuse to visit the Jewish state.
Twice in recent weeks Cairo has denied reports from Israel that Lieberman had been formally invited to Egypt. Aboul Gheit also said earlier this month that he would not shake Lieberman s hand.
In his interview, Mubarak also took a dig at former US president George W. Bush, saying that in eight years in office his administration failed to move the Palestinian question forward by even one centimeter.
On May 26, in his first visit to the United States since 2004, Mubarak will meet Bush s successor Barack Obama in Washington amid a revived Middle East peace drive by the new US president.
Obama is undoubtedly different from Bush, MENA quoted Mubarak as saying. Obama is precise . and reasoned, he acts after hearing from his advisers and those countries with which he deals, he said.
In order to take a decision in a region such as ours, you have to listen to the countries here, to the Israelis and Palestinians, the Egyptians and Saudis, the Gulf states and all countries concerned, to have any idea of how to reach peace, he said.
He also said he had been surprised by the previous US administration s wish to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before Bush s presidential term expired in January this year.
Quite frankly, I was astounded. I said: what? They want to solve a 60-year-old problem in just three months? -Agencies