Interview with Ambassador Andreas Reinicke
(see the Arabic article published in al-Hayat. This text is the English version of the interview)
By Camille Tawil
The EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, Ambassador Andreas Reinicke said the Palestinian Authority is facing the danger of financial bankruptcy and this causes major concern for the Europeans, but he added that this should be a further motive to exert efforts towards launching the peace negotiations. Reinicke said the Palestinians and Israelis have their own reasons for deciding to halt these peace negotiations. He is concerned about elements on the ground threatening the viability of a two-state solution. Therefore Reinicke believes that 2013, twenty years after the Oslo agreement, may be the last chance for a two state solution.
Reinicke hoped in an interview with London al-Hayat Newspaper that the expected change in Palestinian Hamas Leadership after Khaled Mash'al stepped down might lead to changes in the policies of Hamas and this can allow for dialogue between the latter and the Europeans. However, Reinicke said the EU continues to insist on Hamas to meets the three condition of the Quartet (to recognize the right of existence for the state of Israel, to denounce violence and to recognize the previous agreements between the Palestinians and Israelis). Reinicke said he had visited Gaza but he did not have any contact with Hamas.
Reinicke is a veteran diplomat who occupied in the past the post of Head of the Middle East Department in the German Foreign Ministry and later he assumed the post of German Ambassador in Damascus. Reinicke has been appointed as EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process sinceFebruary 1, 2012.
The following is the text of the interview with Ambassador Reinicke:
* You say that the PA might reach a level where it won't be able to pay the salaries of its employees, does this matter concern you?
Reinicke: I believe that this matter must be a major source of concern. When a country does not have funds to pay the salaries of its soldiers, policemen, employees and citizens, then it is facing a serious problem and this applies to the Palestinians today. It is a matter that concerns us a lot and it should be a major source of concern for Israel, Jordan and other countries, but I believe that the PA losing its financial capacity must push us to work harder in order to reach to a peaceful solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict.
* The Palestinians insist on going to the UN General Assembly for voting on getting a non-member state at the UN, what is the position of the EU regarding this?
Reinicke: A Palestinian bid at Unga for non member state status may have serious financial and political repercussions. I am sure that President Abbas is carefully considering all options. the EU does not have a position on this matter because the EU does not really know what the Palestinians want exactly. We have to know their real intention. We discussed the matter with the Palestinians, but since we have not seen their specific proposal, the EU has not decided on this matter yet. But, if we take into consideration what happened last year when there was a specific proposal by the Palestinians (regarding UNESCO membership voting) I am not very optimistic now to see the EU reaching a unified position on this matter. Of course, this depends on the specific ideas and proposals that the Palestinians will present.
* The Americans are threatening that they will halt paying financial support to the PA if President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) submits his request to the UN regarding the state. Does the EU intend to take a similar step like the Americans and stop paying funds to the Palestinians if they take such a step?
Reinicke: The EU is committed to pay financial allocations that were promised in the past. There is no doubt about that. Beside, the EU member states provided financial assistance to the Palestinians in the past 19 years since Oslo Accords and there are no signs that any of the member states are going to stop such support. However, the global financial crisis affects the EU budget and also its capacity to pay additional funds. We will honour our pledges and I am optimistic that we will continue to do that for the years to come. But we will not be able to pay additional funds (to cover the deficit of the Palestinian budget).
* You are the representative of the EU in the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians, but some people wonder is there really a peace process for you to be part of?
Reinicke: We had a peace process until last year. The Quartet facilitated peace negotiations in September 2011 and this process ends by the end of 2012, which means in two months. But if we talk realistically, we have to say that the Palestinian and Israeli sides for their different reasons were not able to reach an agreement.
* So, you consider the peace process as frozen but not dead?
Reinicke: The peace process has not died yet. Israeli Prime Minister Nethanyahu announced on many occasions that he is open to negotiations. President Abbas announced several times the same position. He said that he is ready for negotiations when the Israelis halt their settlement activities and this has been a problematic issue between both sides. President Abbas recently pointed out that he is ready for non-conditional negotiations after the UN General Assembly votes on the "non-member state" status. Therefore, we believe that the options of negotiations started to show up again but we still don’t know what are the choices that will be adopted.
2013 will mark twenty years since Oslo. A comprehensive peace agreement is long overdue for the parties themselves and the wider world. Given the facts on the ground, the two state solution is in danger. Yet this remains the best option for both parties. We may have one last opportunity for closing a deal.
* In your capacity as the representative of the EU between the Palestinians and Israelis, do you visitGaza Strip to look closer at the suffering of the people there?
Reinicke: I visit the Palestinian territories and Israel once every four or five weeks. Of course, I go toGaza when I am there. I believe that Gaza is an inseparable part of the Palestinian territory even though the political situation there is completely different from the situation in the West Bank, but the West Bank and Gaza are one territory and I don’t see any solution (for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict) if they are not one unified territory in that solution.
* Since you visit Gaza as representative of the EU, do you meet with the ruling Hamas Movement there although the EU boycotts Hamas because it didn’t meet the Quartet conditions (denouncing violence, giving up the option of destroying Israel and abiding by the previous agreements)?
Reinicke: I do not have contacts with them when I go to Gaza. I talk to Palestinians from Gaza but not with Hamas representatives. The EU decision is still the same. No talks with Hamas and this matter is left to Hamas to develop its position in a manner that allows us to hold talks with each other.
* Do you admit that your policy has failed? Hamas not changed its position and has not met your conditions
Reinicke: I don’t believe this is a failure. This is a matter of principle for the EU. We talk with governments that respect the international law and the three conditions that has been set up by the Quartet . If Hamas agrees to these principles, we will be open to discussions with the movement but Hamas has to be clear on this matter.
* Do you see any indicator that Hamas might change its position in light of Mash'al stepping down from its leadership?
Reinicke: We have to wait and see if Mash'al stepping down will lead to any change. We hope to see change in Hamas position but we have to see how the new leadership will act.
* The Arab Spring brought the Muslim Brotherhood or movements that belong to its school to the countries in the region, Egypt, Tunis, and Morocco, do you think that this will facilitate or complicate activating the peace process. Especially that Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood School?
Reinicke: We should not rule out that the Arab spring may open a new window of opportunity for the peace process. We must not forget that the Arab Peace Initiative that was launched at the Beirut Summit in 2002 is still on the table. It may be the time to exploit the opportunity offered by it. The Egyptian government is very busy now with its local conditions and we can understand this, but on the long run, we have to continue to engage the international community Arab and non Arabs in reaching a comprehensive peace agreement.
* As far as you know, does Egypt still support the Arab Peace Initiative?
Reinicke: I have not heard anything that would indicate the contrary.