INTERVIEW: Palestinian cause will not fade into oblivion, insists Amr Moussa

Amira Doss, Wednesday 17 Apr 2024

Renowned diplomat Amr Moussa, Egypt’s former foreign minister and former secretary-general of the Arab League, charts the current global political landscape with the Palestinian cause at its core.

Amr Moussa
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa. Photo: Mohamad Maher

 

Reflecting on the Israeli war on Gaza, Moussa navigates through the history of Egypt’s support of the Palestinian cause and people, the role of major powers in the conflict, and the lessons learned from previous mistakes.

Al-Ahram Hebdo: What is your perspective on the current international political scene and the balance of power?

Amr Moussa: To describe the current international political scene, one must first understand the interconnected elements that constitute it. Today, certain issues have emerged and formed a new global agenda. An important element characterizing the international political scene at the moment is this unprecedented competition for the status of global superpower. 

The United States has done everything to preserve this status, but there is also China, a very powerful competitor that is shaking the power of the United States. Then there are countries trying to maintain their significant position on the world stage, such as Russia and veto-wielding countries like Britain and France. 

The Global South refers to this heterogeneous set of non-aligned countries, formerly known as third-world countries. The notion encompasses the Southern states, the main victims of the adverse effects of globalization, who refuse to align with either of the powers of the Global North, namely the West. Among the forces forming this Global South are the BRICS, emerging countries, and new alliances between states, especially in Asia. 

All these powers obviously have a say in the ongoing conflicts in the world, notably the war in Ukraine, the alarming situation and escalation in Africa, and, above all, the Palestinian cause which is once again in the spotlight in the Middle East.

AH: Based on your portrayal of the global political landscape, it's clear that instability is a predominant factor. Do you believe that reforming international organizations tasked with conflict management is imperative?

AM: Despite the apparent shortcomings, we cannot deny that the United Nations has succeeded in managing the world, as this organization has played a major role, that of formulating agreements and conventions related to international law and development. 

Contrary to the views put forward by many analysts, this institution has established a system: its agencies, programmes, and funds have achieved undeniable feats. The FAO, WHO, ILO, UNICEF, World Food Programme, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund are, in my opinion, success stories. They may need new energy, a new impetus. What has truly failed is the Security Council, and to a large extent, the General Assembly. 

Indeed, the veto power and the interests of the major powers have limited the role of the Security Council. There is an obvious conflict of interest, and resolutions that need to be taken are hindered at the last minute because of the veto power, thus it is a permanent vicious circle. The inability of this council to impose a ceasefire in Gaza is proof of this failure. 

AH: Who should be held accountable for this inexplicable impotence? It is a dilemma that seems to have no imminent solution. Israel is doing everything to deport Palestinians to neighbouring countries, including Egypt. What are your thoughts on this?

AM: The Palestinian cause is undeniably an integral part of Egypt's policy. First and foremost, Palestine is a direct neighbour and very close geographically. The Palestinian cause, since its inception, has been a paramount issue for Egypt. We have supported it since the 1920s. 

Egypt is not only connected to this cause but is also committed to it. It is a strategic issue for Egypt and for its role and weight in the region. Egypt is aware of this fact and is doing everything to achieve a just settlement of this issue, a settlement that inaugurates a new phase of stability in the region. After 7 October, we have a new situation. The Palestinian cause is once again in the spotlight. 

In recent years, Israel and some Western countries have done everything to reduce this issue to gratuitous normalization with Israel, implying forgetting the real cause and marginalizing it. The speeches advanced focused more on common interests at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people. This was an ideological manoeuvre aimed at diverting attention away from the real cause. 

At dawn on 7 October, and in less than half an hour, all these hypotheses and allegations fell apart. And the Palestinian cause is once again in the spotlight. Questions are once again being raised about the legitimacy of this military occupation, about what Israel considers "legitimate defence." 

Egypt has repeatedly rejected Israel's sought-after deportation of the Palestinian people. We are well aware that this is a means to liquidate the Palestinian cause and to forget about the occupation, to impose normalization with Israel and to erase everything that remains of the Palestinian cause, whether it be the people, the land, or even the stones that have become ruins. 

Despite intense pressure, history will remember that Egypt was the first country to support and defend the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and a homeland. Let us not forget Egypt's political role as a mediator. Cairo also plays a humanitarian role by delivering aid and hosting the wounded in Egyptian hospitals to provide them with the necessary treatment.

AH: Various countries, including Egypt, are spearheading mediation efforts to end the war in Gaza. What scenarios do you anticipate unfolding as a result of these efforts?

AM: First, it must be clarified that the current conflict has once again become a matter of global concern. Egypt is not the only concerned country; there is a new situation. This past week alone witnessed four initiatives proposed by the European Union, Britain, France, and the United States. 

All four initiatives emphasize the need for a Palestinian state. What is new is that this slogan is no longer uttered half-heartedly. This expression, repeated ad nauseam, served as a sedative to appease the consciences of heads of state. Today, we have moved on to a different reality that no one can deny anymore, that of the necessity to recognize an independent Palestinian state.

The statements of British Foreign Minister David Cameron, those of the EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell, and lately the statements of US President Joe Biden, have all adopted a new tone. I am making a realistic analysis of the data. We must learn from history's lesson. 

We all made big mistakes in previous negotiations on the Palestinian cause, in the 1990s. The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 marking the beginning of negotiations, envisaged three phases. We rushed to take measures to calm the situation and naively believed that negotiations on the Palestinian state could be postponed. This phase, called the final status, was pure illusion, we were disoriented. It is even treason. Because this phase never took place. Everything was done to ensure that we never reached this phase. 

Today, we are back to square one. Another dilemma: how to engage in negotiations with the current Israeli government members who lack both reliability and credibility to undertake such a mission? Moreover, there is an undeniable weakness in the Palestinian negotiator. Who, then, can represent both sides in potential negotiations?

AH: What do you think are Egypt's strengths that it can leverage to exert pressure in this matter?

AM: Egypt is a very influential country in the region; it represents the heart and centre of the Arab world. It has a significant young population that has a say in the Middle East. The weight and history of Egypt, and its commitment to the Palestinian cause, are undeniable facts. It is impossible to achieve consensus in the Arab world in the absence of Egypt. 

The policy of creative chaos advocated by the neoconservatives in 2011 targeted the Arab world, especially the republics in this region. The aim of this policy was to replace the regimes in power at that time with others representing what they call moderate Islam represented by the Muslim Brotherhood. Some countries in the region adopted this ideology, such as Turkey. 

This "creative chaos" was supposed to create a new Middle East. The idea was on the verge of succeeding. Without Egypt's firm stance and President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, this plan could have succeeded. Only Egypt can thwart a global plan envisaged by the major powers. And if today other doctrines reappear, threatening the stability of the region, it will be Egypt once again that will curb them. Thus, Egypt is the guardian of this region against any threat.

AH: How can the current international mobilization be utilized to reach an agreement or restart negotiations?

AM: In my opinion, the Palestinian cause must be managed with reference to the Arab Peace Initiative launched in 2002 in Beirut, which adopted comprehensive peace as a strategic choice and demanded that Israel completely withdraw from the Arab territories it occupies.

History will not forgive such a concession. Our land is untouchable. Any concession related to our rights or sovereignty cannot be up for discussion. 

Today, Western countries have been forced to rethink their calculations. The heads of state of these countries are facing significant opposition from their populations. Arabs in the United States are threatening to play the electoral card in the next presidential election if Biden continues to adopt the same policy.

Young Jews are at the forefront of protests outside the White House. The next American presidential election will have a major impact on the developments of the Palestinian cause. Today, efforts must be made and this international mobilization must be utilized to achieve a formula guaranteeing the creation of a viable Palestinian state. 

Only history will have the final say; even if it is not today, it will certainly happen. I hope that we can reach a framework agreement, define the foundations of this state, and take all necessary steps before the American election in November. Otherwise, another 7 October is inevitable.

* A version of this interview appears in print in the 17 April 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Hebdo.

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