[Wanting peace & security for Israel may be contradictory,require right of
return ]Abu Mazen analyzes current stage of the struggle
The Jerusalem Times (independent Palestinian weekly) 26 December 2002
The following interview with Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen,
secretary of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation
Organization and one of he engineers of the Oslo Accord, examines the
Palestinian struggle from the national, regional and international
During his latest visit to Abu Dhabi, Abu Mazen was interviewed
by 'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat' (Middle East) newspaper. He was asked about his
criticism of the militarizing of the Intifada, the avenues open to the
Palestinians in light of the possible reelection of Ariel Sharon, and the
world's focus on the Iraqi issue. Abu Mazen also answered questions about
the possible followers of Arafat and his contacts with the Israelis, in
addition to the statements of the Israeli chief of staff about Abu Mazen's
alleged role in coining an agreement between the PNA and Hamas. Abbas spoke
as well about Palestinian elections, corruption, and Palestinian-American
Could you tell us were we are headed after everything that has
happened in the Palestinian arena?
We have no escape but to return to the path of peace through the
Palestinian initiative, which began with the Madrid Peace Conference in
1991, ultimately reaching the Oslo Accord, after which we entered Palestine
in an atmosphere of peace and negotiation. The question is, can we reach
peace with the current Israeli government? I doubt that very much. The
current Israeli government and the one that may be formed after elections
are not governments of peace. Nonetheless, the Palestinian people cling to
peace and are willing to endure the difficulties leading to it.
Sharon wants war, and the march toward peace is bound to remove
him as it removed [Binyamin] Netanyahu before him.
But the Israelis elected Sharon.
This is what makes the equation so difficult. A large percentage
of Israelis want peace, but they also want security. This may be
contradictory, but that is the nature of the Israeli people.
Regarding your recent statements concerning the Intifada and the
use of weapons, did they express a personal opinion or were they part of a
direction inside the PNA?
Let us first examine the opinion of President Arafat. Arafat
issued close to 20 statements that called on the Palestinians and the
Israelis to stop military missions. President Arafat is against military
attacks, inside and outside Israel, and this expresses the official
Regarding the militarizing of the Intifada, I am concerned with
the suffering of the Palestinian people. My statements were made at one of
my lectures in Gaza, which was attended by political leaders, security
leaders, journalists, faction members and members of the Legislative
Council, and in the end we all agreed that we must resume political efforts.
Criticizing the militarizing of the Intifada suggests that it
was militarized by an official decision that could be reversed.
I never said there was a decision to militarize the Intifada.
The events that unfolded after 28 September 2000 led to the militarizing of
the battle. The Israelis were the ones that started military confrontations;
they killed and assassinated limitlessly and finally the Palestinians
You said it is difficult to deal with Sharon. Being familiar
with the Israeli structure, do you not think that replacing prime ministers
is considered part of a process of role distribution considered necessary by
I said that the Israeli people want security and peace at the
same time. Talk about security brings forth the likes of Sharon, who
convinced them that he could stop attacks against them.
We must remember that the Israeli people removed Netanyahu and
replaced him with Barak. The focus is now on security, and the Likud Party
does not have a clear plan regarding the Palestinian issue. Sharon is unfit
for political work, but we must not allow him to lure us into his
battlefield. We must lure him into the political arena.
The experience of the past two years has shown us that Sharon is
incapable of guaranteeing the security of the Israelis, but they are about
to reelect him.
That is true and it reflects the contradiction of Israeli
thinking. Many of them want security and many want peace. In fact, most of
the Israelis approve of the idea of a Palestinian state. The natural result
of this is peace, and we must attract Sharon to the peace process and the
negotiation table, at which time his lack of interest in peace will be
There are indicators that you are the closest to an agreement
The issue is much deeper than close and far. We have demands
that will not be surrendered. When we went to Camp David, we had a vision
and we still cling to it. We want the land occupied in 1967 in accordance
with UN Resolutions 242 and 338. We want Arab Jerusalem and want Israel to
acknowledge its responsibility for the plight of refugees and guarantee them
the right of return.
But we wanted [Israel] to recognize Resolution 181.
We never discussed Resolution 181. The Arab initiative announced
in Beirut about 18 months ago demanded the resolving of the issue of
refugees based on Resolution 194. This initiative was favored in Europe, the
United States and in Israel because it granted Israel some of its demands
regarding Arab-Israeli relations. Our stance has not changed since Camp
But a failure to achieve those demands led to the division of
the Palestinian structure and the appearance of multiple decision-making
authorities, including the return to military resistance.
That is not the reason for the Intifada. The Intifada erupted
for three reasons, the first of which is the state of frustration dominating
the Palestinians, especially after the pressure exerted on President Arafat
by the Americans at Camp David and the failure of talks in Taba. The second
reason meanwhile is the continuation of settlement, which drove the
Palestinians to wonder how long Israeli provocation would last. As for the
third, it is Sharon's visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Intifada is not an expression of the rejection of the peace
process. It is the result of failure and continuing Israeli aggravation.
Some believe that had the events of 11 September not taken
place, the Intifada would have achieved political feats that negotiations
failed to achieve.
The events of 11 September paved the way for a US presence all
over the world and the positing of the Arab and Islamic worlds, particularly
the Palestinians, on the top of the list of those accused.
As for the Intifada, I have said before that it is meant to tell
the world that the Palestinians are oppressed and that they have rights and
want peace. I also said that the Intifada could not achieve victory over the
Where do the honest voices in Palestine, such as Haidar
Abdul-Shafi, Daoud Saeed and Hisham Sharabi, stand as far as decision-making
There are voices that reject the Oslo Accord and what followed
And what preceded it?
No! Abdul-Shafi did not reject the peace process. He headed the
negotiation team dispatched to Madrid and was keen to implement Resolution
But he objected to many things, did he not?
He did not object. He wanted recognition of Resolution 242 and
of the Palestinian people, but neither was recognized at negotiations in
At the talks in Oslo, it was granted that the objective was to
recognize Resolutions 242 and 338 and that the Palestinian people have
rights, and that some matters were better left for permanent status
negotiations, such as the issues of Jerusalem, refugees, settlement, borders
There was no disagreement on the objectives, although there were
differences concerning the tactics to be used to achieve them. Disagreement
on tactics is not new to the Palestinians, which have always advocated
The Israelis said that the Oslo Accord has been canceled. What
is the Palestinian stance toward the Oslo Accord?
The Oslo Accord has not been canceled, even if the Israelis say
it has. The Oslo Accord is an international agreement recognized and
protected by the United Nations. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians
can cancel it.
So what the Israelis are saying is just empty talk?
I believe so. The Israelis wish to cancel the agreement, and
Sharon was against it from the beginning. Nonetheless, we negotiated with
Sharon at Wye Plantation, when he was the Foreign Minister. He personally
agreed to the construction of the Gaza Port, which is one of the results of
the Oslo Accord. When we sit again around the negotiation table, it will be
based on the Oslo Accord.
There is some vagueness in the Palestinian stance regarding the
'Road Map' proposed by the US administration. What is the Palestinian
official evaluation of the proposal and are the Palestinians secretly
The Road Map is made up of three stages. The first involves
maintaining security and an Israeli withdrawal to the border of 28 September
2000. The second stage concerns holding Palestinian elections and an
international peace conference, and the third calls for beginning permanent
status negotiations, which would be finished in three years.
The Palestinians found unacceptable provisions in the proposal
and interference in Palestinian internal matters, such as the appointment of
a prime minister and the election of President Arafat by the Legislative
Council. Nonetheless, we agreed to the proposal, albeit with some
As for secret negotiations, they do not exist. All negotiations
are held with the knowledge and approval of the PNA and President Arafat.
Do you personally contact Israelis?
No, I do not.
When was your last contact with the Israelis?
I met with Sharon eight months ago to discuss some security
issues. Qrea and another person participated in the meeting, as did Sharon's
security adviser and his son. We made some decisions, but the development of
events prevented them from being implemented.
How do you see upcoming Israeli factional elections, and can the
Palestinians influence the Israeli parliamentary elections?
We do not interfere in Israeli elections and do not express
opinions about candidates. I wish that Arab voters in Israel would organize
themselves to avoid wasting their votes. Otherwise, I do not think we can
influence the Israeli elections.
What do you make of choosing Mitznaa to head the Labor Party? Do
you know him personally?
Yes, I do know him. He received me when I returned to Palestine
after the Safad Mayor refused to welcome me. He is considered a left-winger.
Has he ever met with President Arafat?
No, he has not, and I do not expect such a meeting to take
Why do the Palestinians insist on clinging to agreements while
the Israelis violate them and violate International Law?
Before the events of the past two years we held 42 percent of
the land of the West Bank and 85 percent of Gaza, and 250,000 Palestinians
had returned to their home according to agreements with the Israelis. Once
on home soil, we dreamed of the goal for which we had returned. We are now
on our land and enjoy the recognition of existence and rights, even from the
Israelis. This situation is developing despite everything.
President Arafat has reached an advanced age that requires that
his role be evaluated.
The Palestinian people elect their leader, and as long as they
are satisfied with his leadership, he will continue to hold the reins.
But there are question marks regarding his health.
He is in a good condition and he has not lost his political
savvy. Again, the Palestinians elect their leader.
Are you an alternate candidate should President Arafat decides
I do not wish to run for elections. As for being a candidate,
that was a rumor advertised by the media.
The Israeli army Chief of Staff said that you convinced Hamas to
stop military missions against Israel and that President Arafat nullified
the agreement when he learned about it.
This story is untrue. I did not hold meetings with Hamas. My
last meeting with Hamas officials was two years ago. I don't know where the
Israeli Chief of Staff got this story from, although I do wish we could
reach agreement with Hamas.
How do you explain the statement made by Yasser Abed Rabbo,
Minister of Information, when he said that your statements represent your
He is right. What I said about the Intifada was my personal
opinion, not the official Palestinian stance.
Is there a real chance to hold Palestinian elections at the end
of next month?
No, there is not. In order to hold elections in January, several
factors must be in place, including an Israeli withdrawal to the borders of
28 September 2000. In addition, elections must be held in Jerusalem
according to the Oslo Accord.
Do you not see that President Bush is more malicious toward the
Palestinian struggle than his predecessor was?
Since his first day in office, Bush has described the PNA as a
terrorist group and waged a continuing unjustified attack against it. I
believe this is the result of the reports forwarded to him.
In addition, the Zionist groups in the United States influenced
him to resent the PNA. Undoubtedly, his stance is different from the stance
of [former President] Bill Clinton.
I met [Colin] Powell, the US Secretary of State, in May 2001,
five months after the election of Bush, and asked him why the leaders of the
region were invited to the White House but not Arafat. He responded that
they have many accusations against Arafat that prevent the White House from
US relations with President Arafat are constantly regressing. Do
you see any hope that relations could be revived?
I believe that if we return to negotiations, the US stance
toward President Arafat would change.
Do you have any hope that negotiations could be resumed?
There is some hope, but it is weak. It is up to the Israelis
Are the Arab states making efforts to mend US-Palestinian
Arab leaders are indeed making enormous efforts to revive the
relationship between the United States and the PNA. One example is the
three-way meeting that followed the visit of the Saudi king to Washington.
The meeting pressured the US administration into reconsidering its
relationship with the PNA.
Do you think the US administration succeeded in separating the
Palestinian issue from the Iraqi one?
The United States has succeeded, to some extent, in attracting
international attention to the Iraqi issue while the issue of Palestine was
Does the PNA intend to punish those that made mistakes, such as
Jibreel Rujoub, who was accused of handing Palestinians over to the
Rujoub did not hand anyone over. He was at his home when the
Preventive Security building was surrounded and then shelled. The
Palestinian fighters left the building on their own and were arrested.
You said that you did not meet with Hamas. Is that a reflection
of the stance of the faction?
There are some people contacting Hamas and I approve of such
contact and approve of the idea of reaching an agreement with Hamas. I said
I did not meet with Hamas officials because I really did not.
After everything that has happened, what do you think is the way
to resume negotiations?
All Palestinian institutions in the West Bank no longer exist,
and only 50-60 percent of those in Gaza are still standing. I suggest that
the PNA begin in Gaza, working with Hamas, not against it, to set an
example, and then move to the West Bank, on the condition that Israel stops
Who could guarantee that Israel would stop its attacks?
President Arafat has issued statements calling on the
Palestinians to stop attacks, even if Israel does not. The scenario is for
us to stop attacks and for Israel to continue them until it comes to bear
But the world is concerned with Iraq and would not blame Israel.
There are several parties still monitoring Palestine, such as
the four-prong international committee, Human Rights Watch, and the European
Union. We must persevere for some time, because Sharon wants to drag us into
a military fight, in which he is well versed.
It was said that you met with Israeli officials in Qatar two
months ago. Is that true, and is Qatar a connection with the Israelis?
I did not meet with Israeli officials in Qatar and we do not
need a connection to contact Israelis. I can meet Israelis in Israel.
Does Sharon have the chemistry to become a man of peace?
This is not a matter of chemistry, but of politics. Begin
achieved peace with Egypt and he was much fiercer than Sharon is. Rabin, the
one who ordered his troops to smash the arms of Palestinian rock-throwers,
signed a peace agreement with us. In the end, it is a matter of abilities,
and we are able to say yes to whatever benefits our people and no to
whatever harms them.