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Sunday, November 28, 2004
Text - Newsweek interviews - Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas

No Guts, No Glory, No Peace
In exclusive interviews, Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas survey the future
By Lally Weymouth
Newsweek Dec. 6, 2004 issue
www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6595161/site/newsweek/

Yasir Arafat's death has opened an unexplored landscape of hopes and hazards
for Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, having
just quelled a revolt within his own Likud Party over plans for a unilateral
withdrawal from Gaza, is trying to ignore assassination threats. And the
going is no less risky for the new Palestine Liberation Organization leader,
Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen), who narrowly escaped death in a Gaza
gunfight only three days after Arafat died. Last week NEWSWEEK's Lally
Weymouth talked with Sharon at his Shikmim Farm outside Tel Aviv and with
Abbas at his Ramallah office. Both leaders spoke about the need to steer
history on a new course. Excerpts:

ARIEL SHARON

WEYMOUTH: What made you decide that you would lead this country in a new
direction and disengage from Gaza?

SHARON: I believe we have to find a solution to the situation here. The left
cannot do it. The right is against it. I felt that it was my responsibility
to bring an answer to the problem. In the past we did not have any partners,
so I came up with this unilateral disengagement plan.

By doing this, you have opponents threatening not only your political career
but your life.

I don't worry about my life. Arabs always wanted to act [against me] but now
the Jews are doing this. So for me, it is a strange situation. As one who
defended Jews all his life, I now have to be secured against Jews. But I am
fully committed to the plan.

After Arafat's death, do you think you might have a Palestinian partner?

I have met Abu Mazen many times and he was against terror, because he did
not think it would bring a solution to the Palestinians. Now it depends on
whether the [new Palestinian leadership] can bring an end to terror and
incitement. Then there might be a window of opportunity.

Will you coordinate your disengagement plan with the new Palestinian
leadership?

I am going to make every effort to coordinate our disengagement plan with
the new Palestinian government-one that can assume control over areas we
evacuate.

You recently asked the Palestinian Authority to end incitement in
broadcasting. Have you moderated your demands?

There are things they can do immediately-stopping incitement in the
Palestinian broadcasting and the press. But that did not replace my demand
for a cessation of terror.

Your chief of staff said publicly that Israel missed an opportunity to
bolster moderate Palestinians when Abu Mazen was prime minister. He wants
prisoner releases.

We are not going to release any murderers.

What will Israel do to facilitate the Palestinian elections?

We will take all the necessary steps to enable them to conduct their
elections with as little interference as possible - by opening the roads and
taking our forces out of their towns.

Are you ready to meet with Abu Mazen?

When they would like to meet, we will meet.

Do you worry about Iran's getting a nuclear weapon?

Iran is making every effort to possess a nuclear weapon. It seems that the
steps taken by the IAEA and the Europeans are insufficient to stop Iran's
nuclear program. The only real solution is a major international effort to
exert economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran and to bring the issue to the
U.N. Security Council, where sanctions can be imposed.

How big is Iran's role in instigating and financing terror on the West Bank
and in Gaza?

Close to 80 percent of all terrorist activity in Samaria [the northern West
Bank] was directed and financed either by Hizbullah or the Iranians. Iran
continues to increase its involvement in terror attacks inside Israel,
particularly through a small but radical
minority of Israeli Arabs which Iran supports and directs.

What is Syria's role?

Syria continues to provide shelter, sanctuary, operational bases and
logistical support to terrorist organizations.

Reportedly, you gave Secretary Powell some secret information about the
Iranian nuclear program.

We had a very good meeting with Secretary Powell. It's a very friendly
administration. Maybe we've never had such a friendly administration.

Do you think there will be a lot of resistance [to a Gaza withdrawal] from
the settlers?

There might be. We will make every effort that it be done quietly.

The Palestinians and Americans are saying the Israelis have got to stop
targeted killings in the West Bank if the new
Palestinian government is going to succeed.

It's our responsibility to secure Israeli lives.

In 1988 you started talking about separation from the Palestinians.

I suggested in 1988 during the government of Shamir that in order not to be
pushed back to the '67 borders, which is something Israel cannot accept, it
would be a good idea to divide the area-that Israel would hold those areas
which are strategically important for its defense.

Are you going to hand the [ settlers'] houses to the Palestinians?

We will discuss that. There will be no political initiatives other than the
Roadmap to peace. And Israel will not evacuate under fire. We prefer a
coordinated evacuation but we will not tolerate any attacks during our
withdrawal. We are speaking about
thousands of people-children, babies, women, old people, animals.

Are you going to run again for prime minister?

Yes, the answer is yes. [The disengagement] is complicated and one should
not do anything but help the disengagement plan go forward. I don't think
that any-body will be able to do it except me.

MAHMOUD ABBAS

WEYMOUTH: Many say that Arafat's death is a turning point. Do you see it
that way?

ABBAS: Arafat was a symbolic leader for the Palestinian people. I did the
negotiations [for the Oslo peace agreement], but without Arafat, it would
not have passed.

How do you envision the upcoming Palestinian elections?

The elections will take place for the presidency on Jan. 9.

Do you think you will be elected?

Supposedly. Hopefully.

In the United States, Prime Minister Sharon is perceived to be a man who has
changed and is now willing to abandon Gaza. How do you see him?

I received many signs from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and from the
Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, that Sharon will help us in the
elections.

He's going to let East Jerusalemites vote?

Yes, and he will [ease] checkpoints here and there.

Do you like Sharon's idea of unilateral disengagement from Gaza?

We are ready to take [Gaza] when we rebuild our security apparatus. If you
tell me [do it] now, I'll say I cannot, but I'm working very hard to rebuild
the security apparatus.

Disengagement must wait for you to rebuild your security apparatus?

Now we have some sort of chaos, especially in Gaza.

Reportedly, your security services and your jails have been destroyed.

We have to rebuild and rehabilitate. It will take some time. The Europeans
are ready to help us. The Egyptians are ready to help us with training and
with equipment. We are in need of many things.

I understand people are afraid to go out of their houses[in the West Bank].

Now, we are not controlling anything in the West Bank. Until now we are
under full occupation and we're asking the Israelis to withdraw from the
cities and the villages.

What will you do about Hamas?

I started a dialogue with Hamas, PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] and the Al
Aqsa Brigades. I cannot say that we have reached an agreement. Our goal is
to cool down the whole situation, to stop all kinds of violence and terror.
We will ask the Israelis to stop their assassinations and house demolitions.

Reportedly, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are backed by Iran.

I cannot say that I have evidence that they are backed by Iran.

They almost killed you when you went to Gaza.

No, it was random shooting. Two [people] were killed. But they didn't intend
to kill me.

There was widespread disappointment after Oslo when the Palestinian
Authority failed to fight Hamas.

We fought Hamas in 1996. Now things have changed. We have to deal with them
delicately. We have to ask them to stop everything - to have law and order.

What will they ask of you in return?

They want to participate in the parliamentary elections. I said yes, why
not? They want to participate in the leadership. I said OK. They want - and
we want them - to be inside the civil society, not outside. Once they become
parties inside the civil society, I believe it will be a major change in our
lives.

Sharon, reportedly, is under threat of assassination because of his plan to
disengage.

I think he has received some warnings. [But] he is a strong man. He's strong
in his government. I am still in the beginning.

Do you think Sharon is getting out of Gaza to keep the West Bank?

I don't know the way he thinks. I don't know if he wants Gaza to be first
and last.

When are you going to meet with him?

After the elections, I'm ready to meet at any time with Sharon.

Why did you start talking about how you would never give up the right of
return?

I didn't say that. I'm not talking about anything beyond the Roadmap.
According to the Roadmap, there should be a just and agreed-upon solution
for the refugees according to [U.N. Resolution] 194. President Bush said
that there should be a two-state solution; the Palestinian state should be
independent, viable and contiguous.

Israel's chief of staff has said Israel missed a chance in your first term.

They missed many chances. They didn't help me. I concluded a ceasefire for
52 days. They didn't give me anything - lift any roadblocks, release any
prisoners, nothing at all. After that they said, 'We're sorry that we didn't
help Abu Mazen.' The Americans said the same, but what was the use? The
government collapsed. Now if they repeat the same experience with us, it
will be disastrous.

This time, what would you like to see Israel do?

They should... stop the wall. I believe it is uncivilized to build this
separation. They should stop all kinds of settlement activities, even what
they call natural growth, and they should remove the outposts and release
prisoners.

On the Israeli side it will always be the same question: can you curb
terror?

This is one of our objectives - to cool down the whole situation, to stop
everything.

Do you see this as a second chance for the Palestinians?

Of course. For the region and the international community as well. But if we
miss this opportunity, there is no one to be blamed but ourselves.

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