Egypt's Vision and Role in Middle East Peace Process
Ayman Al-Kaffas (Head of the Press and Information Office, Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt in London and a former Egyptian Foreign Ministry Cabinet Member)
and J. Sean Curtin (GLOCOM, Fellow and Asia Times)
The Israel-Palestine conflict is a much discussed subject in European capitals as the Middle East is geographically on Europe's door step. Ayman Al-Kaffas, Head of the Press and Information Office at the Egyptian Embassy in London, explains Egypt's pivotal role in helping to mediate a resolution to this most intractable of international issues. He also reminds us that despite the current gloom about the stalled peace-process, there remains hope for progress.
Sean Curtin: What is Egypt's stance on regional peace?
Ayman Al-Kaffas: We are actively participating in the peace process. Not only because we are there, but because we have been through this whole thing before. We have been there, done that. We know it all inside out. What we learnt from this are two things.
Firstly, a very important thing, statesmanship demands being able to take painful decisions to really make positive steps regardless of the so called restrains of public opinion. Secondly, if you are a peacemaker then you have to really slip off the restrains of a democracy. This is exactly what both [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat and [Israeli prime minister menachem] Begin did when they really wanted to have peace.
When Sadat wanted peace with Israel he went to the Knesset. He went to Jerusalem and he addressed the Knesset. Begin had to evacuate all settlements from the Sinai [Desert], which was something he promised, something he swore, that he would never do, but he did it. He did it for a bigger and nobler cause, which is peace.
As for the Arab position, I will say again that there is no shred of doubt about the Arab support for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. For peace with Israel, if they reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, this has [already] been reflected [in the 2002 Saudi Peace Initiative. I don't need to mention [this]. It may not be a resolution, but it has been a strategic choice and has been pasted through the summit in Beirut. It is a very clear position that we want to be at peace with Israel.
Egyptian people have been at peace with Israel for over 25 years [since the 1979 peace treaty]. Now, I am talking about the rest of the Arab world. As for the Egyptian position and Egyptian support, I think everyone knows that we are fully engaged in this process. The shuttle diplomacy of [Henry] Kissinger is being repeated all over again by Suleman and he is actively engaged with both parties.
Yet, I have to make one thing clear, this is what we said to [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and the Palestinians, our support for [the removal of Israeli settlements from] Gaza, our support for the Sharon peace plan project is that it is fully and totally integrated into the Road Map [peace plan]. This is so it is not like Israel is leaving Gaza and we are taking over the security and that is that.
We believe Gaza is a starting point, not first and last. I think we should all talk about responsibility. What everybody deserves is something we have been dwelling over for the past 30 years. I think the right of return, the right for a viable state, the right for boarders is something that has been established over and over again. So, we don't need to reinvent the wheel because we are passed this.
What we need to do is make a true and clear commitment. Form Israel, from the Palestinians which is there, from the Arabs which is there, from the American and from the Europeans.
The above comments were made at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on 7 June 2004
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