29 May 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY league of arab states secretary-general


The Palestinian question was the “number one” priority for the League of Arab States, which was hopeful that the new United States Administration of President Barack Obama would formulate a policy capable of breaking the deadlock in the peace process, Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa said at Headquarters today.


Responding to questions about President Obama’s upcoming trip to the Middle East and expectations for change, he said the Arab people were not yet tired of talk about change.  The fact that the new Administration had engaged immediately with the Middle East peace process was already a change from the previous one, which had only started engaging towards the end of its term.  President Obama had immediately appointed the well-respected George Mitchell as United States Special Envoy to help formulate a new policy.


Time was of the essence, he stressed, noting that Israel’s settlement policies were changing the demographic character of the Palestinian territories and rendering impossible the establishment of a Palestinian State.  The Arab world expected more than a speech from President Obama; it expected action towards the formulation of a new policy to break the deadlock.  Hopefully that would then lead to the establishment of a viable Palestinian State.


The first requirement for such a possibility, however, was an immediate freeze on all settlement activities and a start to the dismantling of existing settlements, he said.  The election of a new Israeli Government of the right did not matter because its attitude was the same as that of its predecessors.  It was just more blunt about its position.


Prior to taking questions, Mr. Moussa announced that he was in New York to inaugurate the New York Book Fair, which this year focused on Arab-world publications and the translation of publications from and into Arabic, a new project sponsored by the Arab League and the Arab Publishers’ Union.  It had started in 2004 with participation in the Frankfurt Book Fair to promote greater understanding of the Arab world.  Arab cultural aspects were as important as political and economic issues, and Arabic-language publishers had become more active, as illustrated by an increase in the number of publications translated into Arabic and vice versa.  Lately, books in Arabic had been translated into some 70 languages.


Regarding the issue of Iran, he said the Arab world did not see that country as more of a threat than Israel, as had been reported, reiterating that the Palestinian question was the key.  The Arab Peace Initiative called for recognition of Israel by the Arab States and the Arab world was indeed ready to recognize Israel provided that State did its part.


As for the nuclear question, he said he was not in favour of any Middle Eastern country having nuclear weapons.  The Arab League favoured the “zero option” which would include all States in the region, including Israel.  The League had called for a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the entire region, including Israel.  The presence of nuclear weapons was a security threat for the whole region.


Asked about democracy in the region, he said democracy was a long process that not only depended on the ballot box, but also included engagement with opposition groups and civil society, which had recently increased in the Arab world.  Civil society representatives had been heard at the last Arab League Summit.  The League would send observers to the upcoming elections in Lebanon.


In response to questions about Gaza, Mr. Moussa said several commissions had investigated the matter, including a United Nations Commission of Inquiry.  The League had sent its own report to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and others.


He went on to say that while Israel claimed to have withdrawn from Gaza it maintained its blockade of the enclave.  It had bombed Gaza without making any distinction between civilians and those who fired rockets into its territory.  The humanitarian situation in Gaza could not be normalized until the blockade was lifted, a step upon which the whole world should insist.  Vacillation and false information were not acceptable.  It was a responsibility of all.  If a State did not abide by Security Council resolutions, the international community had a responsibility to act.  The policy of double standards had to end.


It was not true that only people were allowed to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing on its border with Egypt, he said, adding that “lots of goods and humanitarian aid” passed through that crossing, which was operating at full capacity.  Many Arab organizations were in Gaza to assess reconstruction needs and the Arab League stood ready to assist.  The money was there but nothing could start until the blockade was lifted.


Asked for comments on efforts to separate the issue of indigenous Bedouins in the Negev from the Palestinian issue, he said he could not support that as all Arab people in Israel and the occupied territories must be treated as human beings, and had a right to choose their own destiny.


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For information media • not an official record