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"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
The Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, urged Israel on Wednesday to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians on the basis of the Arab League's peace plan. He was speaking to members of the EP Foreign Affairs Committee and the EP Delegation for relations with the Mashreq countries. An accord could be reached in 2009, he believed.
"If the Israelis are willing to negotiate on the basis of the Arab League peace initiative, that will be enough" to reach an agreement, maintained Ahmed Aboul Gheit. "This initiative has existed since 2002 and it needs to be promoted", he added, in reply to José Ignacio Salafranca (EPP-ED, ES), who mentioned the words spoken to MEPs the previous day on this subject by Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. The peace plan calls for Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem and for a solution to be found to the problem of the Palestinian refugees. In exchange for this, around 50 Arab and Muslim countries would recognise Israel and establish full diplomatic relations with it.
The Egyptian foreign minister also called for the new US administration to relaunch the peace initiative. "We have made efforts in a year but we have not reached agreement", he said.
Reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and elections in January
Turning to the question of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, Ahmed Aboul Gheit explained that Egypt was continuing to play a mediating role despite the postponement of the meeting on inter-Palestinian dialogue in early November.
He described the complexity of the situation, in the light of the fact that "the mandate of President Mahmoud Abbas expires on 8 January". Hamas is insisting that the mandate of the President of the Palestinian Authority was set for four years, that is until 8 January 2009 only, "Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah argues that, under the Palestinian basic law, presidential and legislative elections must take place at the same time, namely by January 2010. This is the position of Egypt and the Arab League", said Ahmed Aboul Gheit. "9 January 2009 is thus simply a date after which President Abbas can continue exercising his responsibilities, until the two sides agree on a date so that the elections take place at the same time", said the Egyptian minister in reply to a question by Véronique de Keyser (PES, BE).
"We have received in Egypt thirteen organisations representing Palestinian society and they all agreed on this point", said Ahmed Aboul Gheit in reply to Pasqualina Napoletano (PES, IT). "Everyone wants simultaneous elections, a government of national unity and an end to the Hamas and Fatah militia".
The Egyptian minister criticised the international community, the European Union and the United States for not recognising the democratic validity of the elections from which Hamas emerged victorious. "You should have supported this organisation, to make it change its outlook. This would have prevented the Hamas coup d'état", he said.
Check points and blockade of Gaza
Ahmed Aboul Gheit also condemned the "collective punishments" meted out in the Gaza Strip. "The scenario is always the same", said the minister. "Generally Israel provokes the Palestinians, they respond with missiles and the Israelis close the borders".