>> Asharq al-Awsat
A CONVERSATION WITH PRESIDENT MAHMUD ABBAS
Asharq al-Awsat - December 23, 2009
Interview by Ali El-Saleh and Nazer Majli
As it has been the custom for years, there was no specific date, not to mention hour, for the interview with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas (Abu-Mazin), which has been conducted every year since the time of late President Yasser Arafat. When you ask for an interview with the president, you cannot hope for more than an agreement in principle, and they would ask you to come to the city in which the president is located, which normally is Ramallah.
When you arrive in Ramallah, you are asked to be ready, and to wait for a telephone call from the president's aides; when the waiting becomes long, you contact them to ask as you become worried, and you do not feel calm until you secure a date for the interview. They stress to you that the interview will take place within a day or two, and they ask you to be ready, because the interview will take place at any moment. When you hear this, you feel a bit reassured, but apprehensions continue to haunt you until you receive a telephone call that gives you the order to move immediately toward the presidency headquarters. This happens minutes before the hour of the meeting.
In this respect, this interview with Abu-Mazin was no different. We waited and waited, but not as long as we used to wait to meet the late President Yasser Arafat, which is a long story. We used to interview Arafat since 2001 until one month before his "death" in 2004, as Asharq Al-Awsat was the last newspaper to conduct a lengthy press interview with him. The waiting was not only longer, but more worrying and sometimes unnerving, because there was a possibility that the interview would not take place.
You stay in the hotel, and you wait for that telephone call, and when it comes - usually late at night - you take yourself to the presidency headquarters. You wait in an adjoining room. You wait, but your presence in that room which is only meters away from the president's office is no guarantee for conducting the expected interview. You might wait until after midnight, and then you go away disappointed, and hoping to conduct the interview the following day, or rather the following night. The attempt is repeated on the following day, and it might not succeed, but you might win dinner at the president's table, and meet a number of senior ministers and officials around the dinner table.
I do not remember ever conducting an interview with President Arafat before midnight. As for the era of Abu-Mazin, the situation is different, at least with regard to the hours in which the interview is conducted, which are the early hours of the evening, and the interviews are characterized by some kind of formality.
This interview, which might be the last conducted by Asharq Al-Awsat with him as a president if he insists on not becoming a candidate, and if the elections are held, of if he adopts a sudden decision to resign, was no different from the previous ones.
After waiting for days, the expected telephone call came, and the day was fixed, and the decisive call came to say that the president is waiting for you, and you should move immediately.
The security measures around the presidential headquarters are strict as usual, but not as strict as the Israeli measures. You confront the new refurbishment of the headquarters, starting with the entrance, which now is managed by electric barriers operated by a young man in a uniform, naturally in addition to the military guards. The entrance will take you to a wide courtyard from which you see the courtyard of President Arafat's mausoleum, which is lit by searchlights.
The courtyard is packed with motorcars, motorcars of the PLO officials, who were meeting at a session of the PLO Central Council in the principal meeting hall at the presidency headquarters. The cars are parked even on the heliport in the courtyard.
One of the aides accompanies us to the place of the interview across a big hall to the right of the main presidential office in which Abu-Mazin usually meets his guests. The door of the hall opened, and we found ourselves in the middle of the Central Council session; from there we went through a door to the left of the rostrum of session chairmanship into a small hall that took us to a room in which Abu-Mazin was sitting down behind a small desk. In front of the desk there were two chairs and a small table. Abu-Mazin uses this office to rest, and to receive his guests during his attendance of the meetings held in that hall, which was modernized after it was destroyed by the Israeli Army during the siege (2002-2004).
As usual Abu-Mazin welcomed us, and stressed jokingly that we have three minutes for the interview. We did not waste time, and started the interview that continued for 56 minutes of continuous questions, and spontaneous answers in Palestinian colloquial devoid of formalities. The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You reached an agreement with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as (former US Ambassador to Israel) Martin Indyk said at a lecture in Israel, convinced the former Palestinian Chief negotiator Ahmad Quray (Abu-Ala) not to sign with Olmert because he was accused in corruption cases?
[President Abbas] This did not happen. No intervention by Tzipi Livni took place. It is true that there is some sensitivity between them, and that they do not like each other, but I had nothing to do with this issue, and I did not intervene (in their disagreements). I used to see hints and insinuations, but I had nothing to do with this. I used to negotiate with Olmert, and there was no back channel. We used to sit down all together, and then I would sit with Olmert alone, and talk about the details.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would it have been possible to reach an agreement with Olmert alone?
[President Abbas] I believe it would have been possible that I go up a little, and he comes down a little. It was possible to find a solution. He said that he would give me 100 percent.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This is important and fundamental?
[President Abbas] He said 100 percent. He would take from this side, and I would take from that side. He presented maps to me. The maps included that he would take the settlements blocs (in the West Bank) in exchange for territories in the north, west, and south of the West Bank, in addition to territories to the east of Gaza.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] To the north and west of the West Bank?
[President Abbas] Yes.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In which region in the west?
[President Abbas] In a distant region (from the triangle region), because I explained from the beginning that I would not accept anyone (from the Palestinians of Israel). We were doing well. God is my witness, he was all right; he said to me: You will not find anyone other than me; and I said to him: But you will find someone other than me.
(The triangle region is at the border strip of the West Bank; it is a region that is populated by a majority of Palestinians within the green line.)
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Therefore, not reaching the agreement, and after that the stumbling of the negotiations, or rather their failure, were the main reason for your decision not to be a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections?
[President Abbas] A collection of events occurred during two months; these events made me feel that the situation is in an impasse. The first event is that the negotiations have stopped; they have stopped since the departure of Olmert. Here I remember that (US President George) Bush said to me: You have done everything you should have done, and I have done everything I should have done, but the problem is what has happened to Olmert, which has led to this setback. This took place in the White House in December 2008. (Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice said: I have a suggestion; why do we not make a last attempt, namely you send a representative to Washington on 3 January, and they send a representative to continue. We agreed to do so.
(It is worth noting that President Abbas's visit to Washington at that time was interpreted as a farewell visit to President Bush in his last days in the White House).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What was the reason for going to Washington? Was it to put the final touches?
[President Abbas] A last attempt to complete the negotiations. This means that we did not stop the negotiations, we did not reject the negotiations, and they did not reject them. We went back to Washington, but the aggression on Gaza exploded. Nevertheless, Saeb Erekat (head of the PLO Negotiations Department) (Abu-Mazin interrupted his sentence and said: Call Saeb). Saeb contacted Shalom Turgeman (the Israeli negotiator) six or seven times, and said to him: Shalom, we agreed with Rice to go to Washington on 3 January. Shalom's answer was: The situation is as you can see. Saeb said to him: What can we do then? Turgeman answered: Wait a little. Saeb himself will tell you the details. Nothing happened, 3 January came, Bush left the White House, and the story ended. Therefore, until 3 January we were ready to continue the negotiations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Despite the war?
[President Abbas] Yes, until the day of the war. As I said (in the opening address to the PLO Central Council) I am against aggression, violence, and terrorism, on your side (he said it jokingly). Naturally our stance toward the aggression against Gaza was clear from the beginning, and we went to the UN Security Council to stop it. However, this is not our subject now. Let me go back to answer your question. Thus the negotiations were not resumed. President Obama came, and said that the settlements have to stop completely, and the negotiations started immediately.
(Saeb Erekat entered the office, and Abu-Mazin asked him to sit down) The negotiations (indirect negotiations through the US Peace Envoy George Mitchell) started since Obama came to office until we went to the United Nations in New York in September, and we met Obama (a tripartite meeting was held on the sidelines of the meetings of the UN General Assembly in which Abu-Mazin, Obama, and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took part, despite Abu-Mazin's previous objection to such meetings, and the fact that the conditions of the meeting, including the halt of settlements, were not satisfied).
During this period George Mitchell used to come to us and say that he had not yet finished. He would come again and say that no progress had been achieved, and so on. (Mitchell visited the region no less than eight times in nine months). One time I asked him to talk to us, and he replied by saying: What can I say to you; you agree, and you do not have a problem.
(Erekat intervened, and said that Mitchell said to us: You have implemented all your commitments according to the Road Map. We went to the United Nations, and they said to me: We are unable to convince the Israelis, come and let us find a solution. I said: How do you want me to find a solution for you. Erekat said that with some kind of hysteria).
As Saeb said, you put me on top of a tree, and now you ask me for a solution, and to climb down.
(Abu-Mazin asked Saeb to talk about his last meeting with Bush. Saeb said: I agreed with Turgeman to meet in Washington on 3 January; however, on the morning of 28 December, i.e. the morning of the war, while we were in Riyadh Airport in Saudi Arabia, I telephoned him, and he said: We have started to strike at Gaza, and we will not go to Washington).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It was they who rejected the meeting in Washington?
[President Abbas] Yes.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us go back to the subject of the tree. How did you climb to the top?
[President Abbas] Obama laid down the condition of halting the settlements completely. What could I say to him? Should I say this is too much? Moreover, halting the settlements is the second article of the Road Map, and it is something I want. At the end they blame me, and they say that the condition of halting the settlements was not on offer during the negotiations with Olmert. Bear in mind that at every meeting with Olmert the issue of the settlements was discussed.
(Erekat: President Abu-Mazin refused to sign to the Annapolis understanding in November 2007 except after the formation of a tripartite committee led by US Gen (John) Frazier for the implementation of the Road Map including the settlements. The president said to Obama that the negotiations are over, and there is no need for negotiations, but we need resolutions. The Egyptians spoke in the same direction, so did the Jordanians and the Saudis).
(President Abbas continues :) We all (the Arabs) were there, and we coordinated our stances. Let us go back to the question about not becoming a candidate. In addition to the above, there was the issue of the Richard Goldstone report (the South African judge who investigated the Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip, and prepared a report; there was a major commotion about the agreement of the Palestinian Authority to postpone the voting on the report at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva), in addition to the stumbling of the reconciliation and other issues. I found all the roads closed, and hence I decided not to become a presidential candidate again.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is not this decision tantamount to running away from the battle?
[President Abbas] Is the issue merely one of clinging to the chair? The chair does not matter to me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This is despite the fact that there is no alternative to you at this stage?
[President Abbas] It is wrong to say that there is no alternative. How can you say that there are 8 million Palestinians, but there is no alternative?
(Erekat: I believe that the president did not say I do not want to be a candidate because he was scheming, maneuvering, or fed up).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Or he might be sulking as he used to sulk in the past?
[President Abbas] No it is not sulking.
(Erekat: The president is the owner of the negotiations with Israel, the owner of the Oslo Accord, and the owner of the peace camp in Romania and other issues. He is the one who educated us in the principle of the two states. Now there is Palestinian Authority, a government, and a Legislative Council. These have been established as institutions for the state. The president has reached the stage that says that Israel has imposed itself as a source of authority, and that he needs permission from it if he wanted to travel to Amman. This can continue for a hundred years. This is in addition to the continuation in Judaizing Jerusalem. All this has made him say that he does not want the presidency).
I said to Netanyahu at the tripartite meeting: I thought that what I achieved on the ground gives me the right to declare the state, because I have created the institutions, and achieved security and other things. The country is ready for the state, and he should not come back now to say I want this and I do not want that.
(Erekat: Brother, moreover Abu-Mazin out of modesty and politeness says that there are 8 million Palestinians. What do you mean by alternative? The man says that he is not capable of achieving a state. Do you want Saeb Erekat to come and say that he accepts less than a state? The use of the word alternative is a political mistake).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is this an official recognition of the failure of the negotiations, or of the failure of the peace process as a whole?
[President Abbas] This is not correct. This is an official declaration that Israel refuses to be a partner in the process of negotiations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The process of negotiations includes two partners. If one of the two sides refuses this means that there are no negotiations, and it means that the process has failed?
[President Abbas] Yesterday I read a report written by an Israeli journalist (Gidon Levy of Ha'aretz) in which he said the equivalent of: It would be better for you, Netanyahu, to say that you do not want peace. Thus, rather than us talking about this, here is one from Israel saying it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But this has not been said by Netanyahu or any other Israeli Government?
[President Abbas] For this reason I said to him when I met him in New York: you have abolished the first part of the Road Map, and also the third part; what remains is the second part, which is related to a state of interim borders, and I will not accept it. Where do you want to take us? I will not go to violence again. Where are you taking us?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you said this to the United States?
[President Abbas] I said this today (in his address to the Central Council).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is this addressed to the United States?
[President Abbas] It is addressed to the United States and to the Israelis.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What was the reply?
[President Abbas] The reply was the negotiations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This means that you acquiesce to the Israeli refusal by announcing that you will not be a candidate again?
[President Abbas] No, this is not correct. This is our stance, and the fact that I cannot continue, and that I cannot achieve my aspiration is the reason that I say I am withdrawing.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the way out of this situation in order to resume the negotiations?
[President Abbas] Settlements should be halted for six months without making this decision public. The United States or others should be informed about this matter, and we have the means to monitor the situation on the ground. Also it should be announced that the borders of 1967 are the basis of the negotiations (i.e. accepting the reference point).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this proposal have any relation to the expected visit by the US envoy to the region at the beginning of the year? It is said that Mitchell's visit aims at achieving this, and launching the negotiations?
[President Abbas] I presented this idea to the United States and to (Israeli Defense Minister Ehud) Baraq twice. I said to him: I propose to you to halt the settlements without announcement, i.e. practical halt on the ground; if you accept this, you can tell the United States alone.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was there a response from Baraq?
[President Abbas] He did not give me an answer.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has Baraq presented the idea to Netanyahu?
[President Abbas] We spoke two weeks ago. Definitely (he presented it).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you met Baraq?
[President Abbas] No, we spoke over the telephone. I have not met him. However, this does not mean that I do not meet Israelis.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that Mitchell will come to the region?
[President Abbas] He said that he would come.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will this make you change your stance?
[President Abbas] Forget about the issue of whether or not I change. This makes the Palestinian situation open to the negotiations. I have said what I said, and this is not the important issue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you optimistic?
[President Abbas] No, I am not optimistic.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is this because of the extremist government in Israel, or is it because you are not hopeful that the Obama Administration will take serious steps?
[President Abbas] I do not know, because I do not want to say that I hope or do not hope so that I do not build unfounded dreams. However, so far I still have hopes in Obama, who started well, that is if he continues with what he started. I do not want to say that because of a certain stance we have lost hope in him. Our hope remains that something might stem from him. I do not know.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is this stance acceptable to the Arabs?
[President Abbas] All the Arabs support our stance.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] By announcing that you will not be a candidate, you are throwing the burden on the shoulders of your possible alternative?
[President Abbas] I am not throwing the burden on anybody's shoulders. I say that this person - me - who has dedicated his life to peace considers that the road is blocked. I have sat in this chair as president of the Palestinian Authority in order to bring about the Palestinian State, and now I see that I cannot achieve this state; what can I do? Should I remain in the chair? Politics is my hobby, but this does not mean that I am immature in politics. It is my hobby because I work in politics because I want to do so. I do not want to be a political leader, and to scheme and maneuver; I say what is in my mind, and you know that many people have been upset because of what I say.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the options, or the way out?
[President Abbas] The people are the ones to decide, and not me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the other alternatives you talked about?
[President Abbas] I will not tell you.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why not?
[President Abbas] These are alternatives that I will not squander. It is up to me to decide when I want. I have said that I will not be a candidate; however, I have options or measures - not alternatives - which I will adopt when the time is right?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When is the right time?
[President Abbas] Perhaps in a month or two. It might occur to me suddenly, and I announce them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Such measures, will they be a source of apprehension or of comfort for the Palestinians?
[President Abbas] I do not know. I do not know; perhaps the Palestinian people do not want me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This means that you are practically hinting at resignation?
[President Abbas] I am not hinting at anything.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can we say that someone like Erekat will be comfortable with these measures?
[President Abbas] Yes. Yes.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that you, as it is rumored, will propose him as alternative?
[President Abbas] I am not saying this. The fact that I propose an alternative does not mean that the people will accept it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the story of the message, which the Israeli Radio said that you sent to Netanyahu about the prisoner Marwan al-Barghuthi?
(Azzam al-Ahmad, member of Fatah Central Committee: Perhaps what was conveyed on your behalf about the issue of the captured Soldier Gilad Shalit).
[President Abbas] People asked me about this issue. I have said to the Israelis that I wish that the deal about the captured soldier will be completed, and I wish that all our prisoners - including Marwan al-Barghuthi and Ahmad Saadat, secretary general of the Popular Front - will be released. This is because the release of any of them, and of the rest of the prisoners is a gain for me, as they did when they released 20 girls from Hamas Movement, but they did not release any prisoner of mine. It is not important that the released prisoner belongs to me (From the PLO, specifically from Fatah). For this reason I am in favor of the Shalit deal in chapter and verse.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not think that the success of Hamas in releasing dozens of Palestinian prisoners, whose hands Israel claims to be "tarnished with Jewish blood," will be a victory for the resistance, because 16 years of peace negotiations, i.e. since the Oslo Accord in 1993, have failed in releasing any of them?
[President Abbas] You should ask Israel about this. Moreover, we have paid the price of Shalit: 2,500 martyrs, houses destroyed, and more and more. We have not finished paying yet. I hold Hamas as the main responsible for this, and then Israel. For this reason, brother, let us put an end to this affair.
(Erekat: We have said to all - including the United States - that this deal is a national issue and not a factional one).
They say that Abu-Mazin opposes the deal because he is afraid of Al-Barghuthi competing with him. All right, honorable people, I do not want to be a candidate; therefore, what will I fear?
(Erekat: By God, no meeting with Olmert passed without the president asking for the release of Al-Barghuthi, Saadat, and Aziz al-Duwayk, the released speaker of the Legislative Council who belongs to Hamas).
The issue is a logical one. I do not want to be a candidate; therefore, how can I be upset because of the release of someone who wants to be a candidate, and whom they might or might not accept. Why should I be upset? What is the logic in this? Unless I have a specific candidate in mind; I (jokingly) will not nominate these two (Azzam al-Ahmad and Saeb Erekat).
(Al-Ahmad jokingly: I know that brother Abu-Mazin is against my nomination, but he is in favor of me staging a coup d'etat).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not fear the impact of the prisoners' deal on the popularity of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and that it might consolidate the popularity of Hamas?
[President Abbas] Nevertheless, I agree to it. Let them win, but let the prisoners be released. With every released prisoner entire families are rescued. Within the families of the prisoners the prisoner himself is the most important issue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people consider that the Salam Fayyad Government is exceeding its authority by announcing its project or program that includes declaring the Palestinian State within two years, i.e. by the middle of 2011. This is a program that is supposed to be the responsibility of the PLO, which is the political reference point of the Palestinian Authority and its government. Was this announcement made, as it is said, in coordination with you? What is the aim of this announcement at a time when you are trying to reach the UN Security Council in order to determine the borders of the Palestinian State?
[President Abbas] The government is the executive authority that works to build the institutions under our guidance in order that we become prepared for statehood. My executive authority is the government; it is the government that builds and brings in the money. This is the government program.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But its project has a political aspect, and it talks about the establishment of the state within two years or a year and a half?
(Al-Ahmad: There is no political aspect for the government work).
[President Abbas] The government work has no political aspect. Politics and the negotiations, which are part of the political issue, are one of my responsibilities, together with the Negotiations Department and the PLO. From the day we started signing (agreements), I am the one who signed most of them in the name of the PLO.
(Al-Ahmad: Abu-Mazin is the one who brought Saeb to the Negotiations Department, and made us elect him to the PLO Executive Committee).
I am the one who brought Saeb to the Negotiations Department to replace me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Fayyad's project is aimed at building institutions so that the Palestinians will be ready for the declaration of the state?
[President Abbas] At the tripartite meeting I said to Netanyahu that I consider myself ready to declare the state. This does not mean that I will stop building. Everyday we build and reconstruct. You know the West Bank well; it is witnessing changes every month, and even every day.
(Erekat: There is an opinion poll that shows that 67 percent of the Palestinian people in the West Bank consider that there is personal security and public security; this is compared to 34 percent a year ago).
Let us consider Bethlehem as an example. Last year we received 1,400,000 tourists, and this year there are 2 million tourists. There are no empty beds at any hotel in the city; therefore there are preparations to introduce one thousand, perhaps two or three thousand, beds. Yesterday, I opened the headquarters of the Monetary Authority, and before that the Central Bank project. There are projects in all cities.
(Al-Ahmad: All the projects have been initiated by the Palestinian authority a long time ago, including the housing projects. The PLO started to build the state ten years before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority).
PACDAR [Palestinian Council for Development and Reconstruction] (established before the Palestinian authority in order to build institutions) undertakes this work. It works in parallel and in coordination with the government, and its work includes building roads and other things.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How does the progress in the West Bank compare to that in the besieged Gaza Strip?
[President Abbas] The Gaza Strip is in ruins, while the West Bank is prospering. Gaza is our country, the same as the West Bank, and it grieves me to see one part of the country collapse, while the other prospers.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that the government program is compatible with your program?
[President Abbas] Naturally.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us move to the issue of Fatah. Is it possible to say that you feel reassured about the future of the movement after he achieved what he wanted at the movement's sixth congress in August 2009?
[President Abbas] After the congress I feel very reassured about the future of Fatah. Why? Because there were claims of illegitimacy because of 20 years (of absence of the general congress), and there were thousands who did not recognize the leadership for this reason, and also because of the chaos. The congress came after five years of preparations, and took place in an impartial and transparent way. I challenge anyone in the world to hold elections like the ones we held. We have an elected Central Committee, which is representative of all. I am from the old leadership; there are others from the middle generation, and others from the new generation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This means that you have no fears for the future of the movement after you relinquishes the leadership of the movement?
[President Abbas] What are you saying?! Abu-Ammar (Yasir Arafat) departed, and Fatah was not affected. Now, for the first time there is a vice president, Abu-Mahir (Muhammad Ghunaym). This means that there is no scope for any member of the Central Committee to say: I am the deputy, let me finish the work. Moreover, there is the Revolutionary Council, and 80 percent of its members are youths. Therefore, I am very reassured about the future of Fatah. As for the PLO, also there were loopholes there; we convened the National Council, and we closed these loopholes. The situation is proceeding well.
There have been four missions I wished to complete while in power. The first mission is Fatah; praise be to God, (we fulfilled it). The second mission is the PLO, and it has been fulfilled. The third mission is the reconciliation; we were on the verge of fulfilling it, but it has not been fulfilled. I have signed the reconciliation document; By God, I signed it despite the fact that there are 20 remarks on it, but I said: This is enough. I asked Azzam to go to Cairo to sign, he said to me that there are remarks, and I said to him to forget them and to go and sign; this was despite the fact that there was strong opposition to that.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Opposition by whom?
[President Abbas] Opposition by the United States and others. Nevertheless, we signed despite the threats. The fourth mission is the political solution. The last two missions I could not fulfill.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But you still are here, unless there is an intention to resign suddenly?
[President Abbas] As long as I am here I will continue with the two remaining missions; otherwise, the one who comes after me will follow them up.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you see any hope for reconciliation?
[President Abbas] There is no alternative to reconciliation. There is no alternative to it. The country has to be united.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But Hamas says that amendments have been introduced to the Egyptian reconciliation document?
[President Abbas] Brother, they saw the Egyptian document before we saw it, they agreed to it, and then we signed, but they refused to sign. Why, because there are regional sides that do not want this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are these sides?
[President Abbas] Iran is the first one. This is indisputable.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the second one? Perhaps it is Syria?
[President Abbas] I do not know.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would you say that there is internal dispute within Hamas over this issue?
[President Abbas] According to the information I have, Hamas leaders in Gaza want the reconciliation and want to sign, because they are suffering, but the leaders in Damascus do not want this. I do not know whether this information is correct or not. Those in Gaza want the reconciliation because they suffer daily.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you thought, just thought, of a direct and radical solution, away from mediation, through going directly to Gaza, and placing Hamas before a fait accompli?
[President Abbas] Direct negotiations have taken place. For two and half years we have been talking in bilateral meetings in Yemen, and in Cairo. Here is Azzam to testify on this. The Egyptians say that this document summarizes everything.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a feeling that the reconciliation will be achieved within a short period?
[President Abbas] I do not know.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was it not possible for you to put Hamas before a fait accompli by arriving in Gaza in defiance and hence throwing the ball into Hamas's court?
[President Abbas] What can I do then?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] For instance, you say to Hamas: I am the president of the Palestinian Authority, and I have come to perform my duties?
[President Abbas] Suppose I decide to go to Gaza, and I get into a car and go. Then what; tell me what can I do? To start with, there is no place for me to stay there.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have your house, and there are Al-Muntada [PA presidency headquarters in Gaza] and the hospitality palace?
[President Abbas] My house is occupied, Al-Muntada is occupied and destroyed, and the headquarters of the PLO Executive Committee also is occupied. Where can I go? My house has been turned into a prison.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why do you oppose a state with interim borders as long as this is what is available now? This means returning to the policy of "take and demand more?"
[President Abbas] The state with interim borders is the state with permanent borders. This is what Hamas accepted, and what it offered in Geneva once upon a time. Until today they are talking about it. It was offered to them by Shaul Mufaz (one of the leaders of Kadima Party). This will not be a state of take and demand more, but it will be a state on 40 or 50 percent of the West Bank, and they give us the rest 15 years later. What guarantees do I have about what will happen in 15 years? I demand a final solution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] A final solution that includes an end of the conflict?
[President Abbas] I will announce the end of the conflict. This exists in the Oslo Accord.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It is said that late President Yasser Arafat at Camp David refused to announce the end of the conflict?
[President Abbas] This is not true (he repeated it twice). I say: If we reach an agreement on a final solution for Jerusalem, the refugees, the borders, the security, the prisoners, the water, and other issues, we will announce the end of all historical claims.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The world, especially the west, considers Israel a democratic and civilized state that has equality?
[President Abbas] This is questionable.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What can a Palestinian State offer?
[President Abbas] It can offer a democratic state that has equality and transparency. I challenge anyone to say that there was a single case of corruption in the Palestinian Authority in the past two or three years. I mean a single case of corruption.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this include political detentions?
[President Abbas] Or a single political detention.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that all the detentions are not political?
[President Abbas] The detentions are carried out in cases of weapons, security, money smuggling, or money laundering. I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the issue of women?
[President Abbas] Women are equal to men. On every occasion we emphasize the need to advance women. The proof of this is that the Legislative Council has allocated a quota for women, whether the others like it or not; one of every three members of the Legislative Councils has to be a woman. This also applies to the local councils.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With regard to the UN Security Council, is there international readiness to recognize the borders of the state on the basis of 1967, i.e. do you have sides that are prepared to stand by you, bearing in mind that the United States opposes, so does the Soviet Union [Russia]?
[President Abbas] We would like to ask the world. There are those who say that this is a unilateral step. No, we do not want to take a unilateral step. We say: We want the UN Security Council to specify the borders of the state on the basis of international legitimacy, and on the basis of the Road Map that specifies the two-state solution, and the end of the occupation on the basis of the 1967 borders.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But there is no international readiness to do so?
[President Abbas] This is not true. The EU countries have agreed that all the 1967 territories are occupied territories.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the European Union has amended the Swedish draft resolution?
[President Abbas] Yes they amended it, especially with regard to East Jerusalem, which is a negative point. However, as a whole I accept what has been issued by the European Union.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Peace is a strategic option; this is a phrase that is being repeated. However, are there any other options?
[President Abbas] Yes, the strategic option means a Palestinian State that coexists with the State of Israel in safety and stability. What do the Israelis want? They want security for their people within the borders of their state. What do the Palestinians want? They want an independent state within the 1967 borders. I have visited South Africa and met the leaders of the Jews there. I said to them: I want to speak to you in simple terms. I said: Put yourselves in my place, and let us exchange roles; now I am Israeli, and you are Palestinians; I want guarantees for my state and my people, is this correct? They said: This is correct. I said: Now you as Palestinians, what do you say? They kept silent. I continued: Shall I speak for you, and you either agree or disagree with what I say? They said: Yes. I said: The Palestinians have been dispersed for 60 years without a state, and without security; I demand a state to be established on 22 percent of Palestine, which will live side by side with Israel. They said: We agree. The meeting ended and we departed.
During my last visit to Brazil, we were having dinner in the house of President Lula; the president whispered to me: Would you like to meet the Jewish community? I said: Why do you whisper? He said: I do not want any embarrassment, on the basis that we are rejectionists (he said sarcastically). I said: yes, I would like to meet them. The leader of the Jewish community together with two senior members of the community and a mayor of Salvador da Bahia visited me at the hotel. I said the same thing to them, and they wept. I have not said anything different from what I say to you and at all meetings.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are those who call for a single state?
[President Abbas] We are not the ones calling for a single state. This is not our option. The Road Map includes three parts. The first part is commitments, and I have fulfilled all my commitments, but Israel has not fulfilled any of them. I am sure that they have not fulfilled anything at all. Therefore, the Israelis have abolished the first part of the Road Map. The third part talks about two states, and the end of occupation. They refuse. This means that the third part has disappeared. As for the second part, it talks about a state with interim borders as an option. I do not accept this. Therefore, what is the solution? Where do they want to take us? I will not take the road of violence. Drag us to where you want, but I will not return to violence.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What if violence imposes itself?
[President Abbas] It cannot impose itself on me. I do not accept. I do not accept violence, terrorism, shooting bullets, or military uprising. I will never accept them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But you are in favor of peaceful popular struggle?
[President Abbas] Of course, the masses have the right to stage demonstrations. They have the right to go to the street and to chant slogans against the wall. The people of Jerusalem have the right to protest against the occupation and destruction of their houses. However, I reiterate that I do not want military violence because it will destroy us. I am not prepared to see the country destroyed again after it has been reconstructed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there fears of a third intifadah?
[President Abbas] I hope this will not happen, and I will not accept it. However, at the same time I hope that they will not push the people to the wall, to an impasse.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But if the people see their president facing a wall, what will they do?
[President Abbas] When this happens it will be up to the people, and not up to me. As for me, I will not call on them to fire bullets; this will not happen.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] They do not necessarily have to resort to armed resistance, but they can stage an uprising similar to the first intifadah of 1987?
[President Abbas] Even the intifadah of 2000 was not like this. It started because of provocations by Ariel Sharon. People were killed, and the intifadah exploded for five years. Look what it did to us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Finally, what is new for Abu-Mazin?
[President Abbas] I do not have anything new. This is all I have.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] We are talking about other fields away from politics?
[President Abbas] I continue to write my memoirs with daily details (he extracted a paper from his pocket and read from it the events that took place on the day).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you write your autobiography?
[President Abbas] Everything is there.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will it be ready for publication?
[President Abbas] Yes, but not in my lifetime.
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