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

10 May 2007

Arab States were ready to recognize the State of Israel and to consider the whole Arab-Israeli dispute as having ended, provided that Israel committed itself to the principles of peace and coexistence, said Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, at a Headquarters press conference today.

“We have a unanimous position taken by the Arab Group, as expressed in the Arab [peace] initiative,” added Mr. Moussa, who was at Headquarters to attend the General Assembly’s third informal thematic debate, which began today, with the theme “Civilizations and the challenge for peace: Obstacles and opportunities”.

The Arab Peace Initiative was an outcome of the Beirut Summit of 2002 and had been revived at the recent Riyadh Summit. It should be seen as a “unified package” as presented by Arab States, said Mr. Moussa, containing provisions relating to the withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian Occupied Territories, the return of Palestinian refugees and the question of Jerusalem. Although recent talks between representatives of the Arab League with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had raised speculations of possible additions and deletions to the Arab proposal, he said no amendments would be made to it.

For the peace process to be successful, he stressed that Israel must demonstrate the same readiness to reach a just peace, which would entail a change in its position regarding territory, refugees and the establishment of a viable Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Even as the General Assembly thematic debate was occurring, the Foreign Ministers of Egypt and Jordan were meeting with Ms. Livni in Cairo, to discuss the Arab Peace Initiatve, said Mr. Moussa. He had not received any news of the meeting, but expressed hope that its outcome would provide a basis for Israel to move forward. The Arab League would hold another meeting in mid-June to assess the result of current efforts.

Mr. Moussa stressed the importance of moving quickly on the peace process, saying, “we don’t want to waste time or just wait until one or two or three other years”, during which further changes could be made to the territorial and demographic make-up of the Occupied Territories.

Asked to explain the turnaround in thinking since Mr. Moussa’s declaration some months ago that the peace process was “dead”, the Secretary-General said it had been necessary, at the time, to explain to the Arab public that there was “no hope” in pursuing peace with Israel, as long as that country was allowed to invade an Arab country “with immunity”. His comment was a reference to the clash between Israeli and Lebanon in June 2006.

One correspondent asked whether the process could truly move forward amid the leadership crises presently being faced by both the Palestinian and Israelis -- with the Palestinians struggling to maintain a national unity government, and the Israelis experiencing unrest due to dissatisfaction with last summer’s conflict with Lebanon. Mr. Moussa responded: “We cannot wait until we see a strong leader in Israel who says he will make no concessions, and a weak leader who is unable to make any concessions. This has become a gimmick, and something that we are not going to buy again.”

Despite the war in Iraq, and new developments involving Iran, Mr. Moussa stressed that “the heart of the conflict, and the most influential problem in the Middle East is the Palestinian question and the Arab-Israeli conflict”.

He said the peace process had moved a long way from the time of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, with territories being returned by Israel to Egypt and Jordan. Yet, 40 years later, a comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian question had not yet been reached. “[The 40-year anniversary] is an anniversary that should behove all of us to move quickly towards the achievement of peace,” said Mr. Moussa, adding that all forces “wreaking havoc” in the Middle East should be advised to change their policies and move towards a settlement that will provide for withdrawal to pre-1967 boundaries, the establishment of a Palestinian State and a guarantee of security for all States in the area.

During the briefing, Mr. Moussa also fielded questions on Darfur and the Arab League’s pledge of $115 million to that region, of which only 10 per cent had been paid. The Arab League had been working in coordination with the African Union and United Nations in Darfur, he said, which precipitated the signing of a peace agreement in Abuja. He added that the Arab League would work towards fulfilling its monetary pledge, but declined to state when the next payment would be made.

Asked about the talks in support of Iraq at Sharm El-Sheikh, which Mr. Moussa attended, he said he believed the conflict in Iraq was due to religious and ethnic differences, and required a political solution. Similarly, the “challenge for peace”, which was the topic of the General Assembly’s thematic debate, was a matter of politics and not simply an issue of culture.

Mr. Moussa said he saw “Islamophobia” as a problem. For instance, commenting on the debate over the inclusion of Turkey into the European Union, he said: “Talking about a ‘Christian club’ and a ‘Muslim request’ is not the right way to tackle that question.”

While at Headquarters, Mr. Moussa said he planned to meet the representatives of the five permanent Security Council Members, the Secretary-General and others involved in the work of the Middle East peace process. Meetings had also been planned with the European Union Council of Ministers in Brussels, on 14 May, as well as with members of the European Parliament.

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For information media • not an official record

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