Press Conference

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


Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, at a Headquarters press conference this morning, outlined his views on the situation in the Middle East and the prospects for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Responding to a question, Mr. Moussa gave a positive evaluation of United States President Barack Obama’s statement to the General Assembly this week, saying he had presented a clear framework of United States policy in the four main areas of peace, development, environment and disarmament.  In connection with the Middle East, a viable and sovereign State of Palestine -– as mentioned by the President -– was the right goal to pursue.

In response to another question, he said he believed the Obama Administration was serious about peace in the Middle East, but while there was still hope insofar as the position of the United States was concerned, Israel had taken a “totally negative, rejectionist position” which would make things very difficult in the future.  From what he had heard, Israel was not serious about peace.

Responding to numerous questions about the prospects for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli question, he stressed that the main issues — the status of Jerusalem, borders, and refugees — should form the agenda of any future talks.  Another crucial question was that of illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  To negotiate while Israel continued to build settlements  thereby changing the demographic and geographic character of the Occupied Palestinian Territory –- meant such negotiations would end in failure.

Expressing regret that the Israelis had chosen to challenge the international community, including the United States, the European Union and the Arab States, over the settlement question, he said United States Special Envoy George Mitchell had done what he could, but it was clear that settlement activities would continue.  Calls for restraint did not work with the Israelis, he said, adding that he was heartened by the insistence on the part of the European Union and the Quartet that Israel freeze settlement activities.

He went on to say that the Arab Peace Initiative contained an important provision stipulating that normalization and recognition must be accompanied by steps by the two parties to fulfil their obligations.  However, Israel had decided not to stop building settlements and to take Jerusalem out of the equation.  Faced with those extremely negative policies and practices, the Arabs could not be asked or expected to make any concessions.

On whether the Arab League would withdraw its initiative, he said that if the Israelis were not prepared to respond, the Arab offer would “stand for history’s sake”.  It was a comprehensive proposal for peace, and the other side had never come up with any initiatives of the same magnitude.

Asked if the Arab countries were ready to return to the negotiations without preconditions, in accordance with President Obama’s call, Mr. Moussa asked:  “Is respecting law a precondition?  Is the demand to stop building settlements a precondition?  Is asking to put the question of Jerusalem on the negotiation table a precondition?  Is dealing with the question of refugees –- this humanitarian question -– a precondition for negotiations?”  That was the agenda of the negotiations, so for Mr. Netanyahu to consider that agenda as preconditions was unheard of, and no reasonable man or woman would accept such a definition.

Regarding the Goldstone report, he said the investigation had been authorized by the Human Rights Council and would be formally presented to it next week.  Prepared by a well-respected jurist from South Africa, the report contained facts and referred, among other things, to the use of prohibited weapons and a disproportionate military response.  Now, it was up to the Human Rights Council to decide on the recommendations.

To a question about the prospects for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, Mr. Moussa said that, while he was not prepared to comment on the latest news stories about Iran without reading a full report on the matter, he could say that the region did not need any military nuclear programme, be it Iranian, Israeli or anybody else’s.  The concept of a nuclear-weapons-free zone should apply equally to all countries of the region.  At the same time, one could not and should not stop any member of Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) from benefiting from peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  Iran should not be deprived of that right.

Turning to Iraq, he said that, following the withdrawal of United States troops, the countries of the region wanted to see the country move towards stability, but for that to happen, Iraq must undergo a serious reconciliation process, without which there could be no progress whatsoever.

In response to a question about recent efforts to reduce tensions between Syria and Iraq, he said the role of Turkey and the Arab League was not to mediate, but to facilitate the process.  The Secretary-General of the United Nations had recently appointed an envoy to the region, and the world body’s work should not oppose or contradict regional efforts, which would continue.

Asked whether it was accurate to describe the fighting in Yemen as “a proxy war” between forces backed respectively by Iran and Saudi Arabia, he said the phrase “proxy war” was very strong and perhaps inaccurate.  The League was in contact with the Government of Yemen and was trying to contain the conflict.  “We do not need to have another regional conflict, and we need to react and tend to what is going on in Yemen.”

Asked whether the Israeli Government had a right to tell its citizens in the settlements that they could not expand or enlarge “your house which you already own, on land which you already own”, he said a serious and respectable Government could say so, particularly considering that those houses had been built on land that did not belong to Israel.  It was occupied land on which settlement construction was prohibited by international law.

“So don’t talk to me about one additional room and play on this tune, ‘But what about that poor family?’  Why do they build on Palestinian territory?”  he demanded.  The settlers were building on land that did not belong to them, which was why a freeze was needed in order for talks to resume.

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For information media • not an official record