Progress before recognition, Mubarak tells Israel

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 recognise Israel, is slated to visit the United States 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 on Tuesday with Israeli TV, said Arab countries will not normalise relations with Israel until there is progress toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“You shouldn’t say normalisation [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 Sheik. 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. — Sapa-AP

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