Foreign Troops Could Deploy in W. Bank After Peace Deal

BRUSSELS - After an Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories within the framework of an overall peace agreement, foreign forces could be stationed there for a specific period, the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, told Haaretz in an interview over the weekend in Brussels.

Moussa said this was acceptable to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He added that Israel could withdraw in stages from the Golan Heights and West Bank, so long as the withdrawal would adhere to a reasonable schedule, anchored in a UN Security Council decision. Moussa ruled out the possibility of the Arab League negotiating with Israel on the overall peace agreement, noting that the League supports serious bilateral negotiations.

A complete freeze on all settlement construction is a precondition for any progress in relations between Arab nations and Israel, the secretary-general said. If Israel freezes such construction and takes substantive measures against illegal outposts, the Arab League's door would be open for additional steps and gestures, beyond the 2002 peace initiative itself, Moussa said.

He also maintained that the League has now been waiting six years for an official Israeli response to the Arab peace initiative, and all the while the situation on the ground is changing. The settlements are affecting not only the demography, but also the character of the territories and are rendering ever more remote the possibility of establishing a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, Moussa explained.

The time is nearing when the Arabs will demand a decision: either Israel will dismantle the settlements or the Arab League will declare that there is no possibility of establishing a Palestinian state, he said. Moussa emphasized that it is impossible to have your cake and eat it, too.

The secretary-general agreed with what Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told President Shimon Peres at their most recent meeting: First Israel must accept the Arab peace initiative in principle, and only then will it be possible to talk about the details. Moussa said he was disappointed that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have not yet officially responded to the initiative. After Israel accepts its principles, he added, we will invite Israel to present its own proposal and explain its objection to specific sections.

Jerusalem must be united, with special arrangements that will allow passage between all parts of the city without the need to present a passport, he said. I am convinced that we can reach an agreement that includes transferring the mosques to Palestinian sovereignty, Moussa said.

He called on Israel to join the agreement for a nuclear-free Middle East, saying that the International Atomic Energy Agency never claimed to possess proof that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. I do not know if it is true or not, but the Middle East does not need nuclear weapons and that is as true for Israel as it is for every country in the region, he explained.

Moussa also expressed satisfaction with the election of Barack Obama, saying he expects him to apply his winning slogan, "We need change," to the Middle East, too. On a somewhat critical note of George W. Bush, he said the main change needs to come in the form of the U.S. returning to its role as unbiased mediator.