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Asharq Al-Awsat interview: The PLO’s Ahmad Quray | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Jerusalem, Asharq Al-Awsat – Ahmad Quray, member of the PLO Executive Committee and former chief negotiator, describes the Palestinian mentality as experimental, and says that the mechanism that the Palestinians have tried for many years at the negotiations has failed, and he calls for changing it by including Arab and international sides in negotiating the most important dossiers, such as Jerusalem, the refugees, and security.

The following is the full text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] I would like to start with the two-state solution, which you said this week is dead. Can it be resurrected?

[Quray] I have said that the two-state solution has been exposed to lethal blows. I am convinced that Israel talks about the two-state project, while it is carrying out its assassination. There can never be a Palestinian State without Jerusalem. If the state project is a living body, then Jerusalem is its head, and if the head is severed, the body cannot live.

Secondly, pay attention to the settlement blocs. Everybody ought to know where their borders are. I will start from the north, Ariel Settlement (near Nabulus) extends for 24 km from west to east into the belly of the West Bank, and they will add to it Shilo Settlement, which will expand by some 500 housing units; all of it will be transformed into a single bloc that will reach the Jordan River Ghawr, and splits the West Bank. In the middle there is Givat Zeev, which puts an end to the connectivity of Ramallah, and extends to South Jerusalem and to the west until Bayt Sira, and then Maale Adumim is added to it in the east, and hence it will reach Al-Khan al-Ahmar (on the road to Jericho). This is without even mentioning the “E1 plan,” which if built would seal Jerusalem from the east, and there would be no scope for visiting it except from the west, or by permission from the Israeli controller. As for the Jerusalem settlements, there is no need to talk about them.

I do not believe that it is possible to deal with such blocs in the project of a solution for a Palestinian State. Israel has built the wall, and drawn up the settlement blocs, and I am afraid that it might say: This is your state until God changes the situation. This will be the end of it, without Jerusalem, without refugees, and with the Jordan River Ghawr staying as a security space.

We want the two-state solution. However, if Israel is not committed to the two-state solution on the basis of international legitimacy, international law, and the authority related to the peace process, the talk about the two-state solution will become mere intellectual exercise, and will not lead to any results.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you think is a satisfactory solution?

[Quray] A two-state solution that is based on a Palestinian State on the lines of 4 June 1967 with exchanges in borders equivalent in value and similar to each other, but not in the settlements.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is what the Israelis doing today going to be fate?

[Quray] I do not say that what the occupation plans is going to be fate, but what the occupation plans if the situation stays as it is, the occupation will have the opportunity to impose on the ground. The Palestinian internal state is not healthy, and the Arab state is not healthy, as it has become neutral. I do not want a statement from the Arab summit, I want real Arab participation. This is Palestine, and it is the center of the region that separates the octopus from the Arab world. The Palestinian cause needs a different Arab stance. What are they offering to Jerusalem? What the Arabs offer is nothing worth mentioning. [Jerusalem Mayor] Nir Barkat (chairman of the Jerusalem Jewish Municipal Council) has a budget bigger than all the Arab countries offer.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But they have allocated large funds to Jerusalem, the last of which at the Baghdad summit. Have these funds arrived?

[Quray] No, no they have not. None of the countries has paid, except Saudi Arabia.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Then, in the light of this diagnosis, what is the necessary next step at the Palestinian level?

[Quray] In order to be objective, we should know clearly the magnitude of our strength, and our stance now. The Palestinian stance to some extent is not bad. Second, we need an Arab stance. If the Arab stance is not serious about making the Palestinian cause one of its priorities, this will be a point of weakness. Unfortunately, we no longer are one of the priorities of the Arab stance, neither are we one of the priorities of the international stance. The United States is turning toward East Asia; this is not a secret; Hillary Clinton wrote about that. There is a transformation that might create a vacuum.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have said that the Palestinian stance toward the negotiations is not bad. Are you really satisfied with it?

[Quray] The Palestinian stance still is experimenting, and the policy of experimenting sometimes leads to mistakes. I am not against the negotiations, but the negotiations with the mechanisms to which we are used no longer lead to any results, and will not lead to any result. The mechanism of the bilateral meetings that are published in the newspapers before they start is no longer beneficial; this is first.

Second, there are issues that the Palestinian side cannot decide alone. Let me give you an example; the issue of the refugees, you cannot decide this issue without Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. These are the rights of citizens, the rights of peoples, and the right of the host country. Therefore, you need these sides. Also some international sides ought to be informed step by step as we proceed.

This also applies to the issue of Jerusalem in which we need indirect participation by the Arab and Muslim countries.

The same applies to security. Israel talks everyday about security, and has transformed it into a condition for negotiations. There ought to be an understanding of the issue of security at the regional level.

I do not call for partnership at the negotiations table, but there has to be participation and a change of mechanism.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But you are talking about the most important sovereignty issues in the negotiations?

[Quray] Yes, (the decision) is ours, but we cannot contract it on our own. We want Arab, regional, and international sides to be present with us. We ought to depart from the logic of bilateral negotiations. This is no longer beneficial, and for this reason these bilateral negotiations one time are transformed into overview negotiations, and another time are exploratory negotiations. If there are negotiations, let them be through the new mechanisms.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Had you been still the chairman of the negotiating team or had you had the power to decide, how would you act now?

[Quray] I am not saying that our stance is correct. The condition of halting the settlement activities is right and correct. However, it is important to say that I will not under any circumstances recognize any settlement bloc that has been built on the 1967 territories, and I will never accept it. Syria has not said stop the settlement activities, but it said no settlements after the agreement. Egypt did not say, for instance, stop the building activities in Yamit (settlement in Sinai), but when the situation was resolved the settlement was demolished. In Gaza, have they [the Israelis] not left it? Therefore, our stance ought to be clear, but without making it understood that the required amendments are in exchange for the settlements.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the Israelis say that you have agreed that the settlements can stay in exchange for land?

[Quray] The PA has not agreed to this not even once.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have they not agreed even that principal settlements can stay?

[Quray] No, no, in Camp David we said there can be amendments to the borders. Let me be frank, neither Abu-Ammar (Yasser Arafat), nor Abu-Mazin (Mahmud Abbas) agreed that settlements could stay.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Then, you are in favor of announcing a categorical stance toward the settlements and going to the negotiations?

[Quray] Of course, if there are clear mechanisms I am not against the negotiations.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But is this not a new experiment?

[Quray] No, no, the international community will be present, the International Quartet and Arab and regional sides, and also there will be a time limit.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But rather than doing this, the PA has addressed a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu. Have you seen it?

[Quray] Not at all, I heard about it the same as you have.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you in favor of sending it?

[Quray] God willing, it will lead to a result. Our stance is known, and Netanyahu’s stance has become known.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Netanyahu has said that he will reply with a letter. In your opinion, will this lead to negotiations through letters?

[Quray] I do not know how that will be. However, he answered in advance saying no to the return of the refugees, no to Jerusalem, and that the settlement blocs will stay. Therefore, he has answered.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you mean that the step is futile?

[Quray] God willing, it will be useful.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you have other options that could have been activated rather than, for instance, the letter?

[Quray] Of course we have options. We have a cause and we do not lack options.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the options that you consider that they have not been used?

[Quray] Popular resistance, for instance, is an important option. Consolidating the Palestinian presence, providing its requirements, and strengthening it, is also an important option. Also the option of a state for two peoples, a single democratic state is also an option. Our options exist as long as our national rights are not fulfilled.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You talk about the one-state solution; do you consider it possible to apply?

[Quray] This has been a Fatah project since 1967, a secular democratic state in which the Muslim, the Christian, and the Jew coexist. This originally is a Fatah option, but it was amended in 1974 when it started to talk about the establishment of a state on any part from which the occupation withdraws, and hence the National Council adopted its resolution in 1988 to establish a Palestinian St ate. Later on, the negotiations started on the basis of the National Council resolution. However, I say if this vision is not achieved, what can we do? We can activate our other options, including the one-state option. We – this generation – might not be able to fulfil the aspirations of the people, but we should not squander them. The options ought to remain open to the people.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But these options have been proposed by the PA every now and then, which has made them lose their seriousness?

[Quray] They should not be brandished for the sake of threatening; these are strategic options of a people and a cause.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you agree with those who say that the two-state solution is dead, and the option now is the one-state solution?

[Quray] No, I say that Israel is killing the two-state solution, and I look up to the international community to tell Israel to stop, and also to say that the requirements of the two-state solution are the following.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] And then we start waiting again?

[Quray] Our issue is not a picnic; it is an issue of a people, a homeland, and international and regional equations.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people consider that there is the option of dissolving the PA rather than all this?

[Quray] No, this is as if we are in the middle of a race an then we shoot ourselves in the foot. The PA is an achievement, and one of the signposts of the Palestinian national struggle. It was not achieved free of charge; it was achieved through long struggle and a great uprising. This is a temporary transitional authority for a transitional stage during which the Palestinians hold the reins of their affairs until the occupation ends. It is forbidden that a Palestinian should say that he wants to dissolve the PA; this is despite the fact that Israel indeed has taken away much of the powers of the PA when it returned to Ramallah and put Arafat under siege; nevertheless we ought to preserve the PA.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are those who call for thinking about the job of the PA and its relationship with Israel, and redrafting all this?

[Quray] I do not negotiate over the PA rather than negotiating over the permanent solution. For instance, some people say that the economic agreement is unfair; this is true, but I do not negotiate over the economic agreement. I do not want to improve the conditions of the transitional solution; this is not what we want. We want an agreement over the permanent solution; this is what will give us complete sovereignty.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The PA has tried to obtain sovereignty through going to the United Nations. In your opinion, was this step correct?

[Quray] This is a correct, good, and required step.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does it contradict the negotiations?

[Quray] No, no, this is our right. I am in favor of any step that brings us closer to our right.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you also in favor of going back again to the United Nations?

[Quray] I believe that obtaining the status of non-member state is an important achievement. This will enable us to participate in many organizations and bodies along the way to the UN Security Council.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But it has been raised that a non-member state might cancel the legitimate representation of the PLO?

[Quray] A non-member state means that the PLO exists as a sole legitimate representative until the independent state is established.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people link the failure of the UN Security Council step and the divisions. Do you think that there is a link?

[Quray] The divisions are one of the factors of the erosion of the Palestinian status. This is a small country, and we have a cause, and we are under occupation. This situation should not continue; cohesion must be restored to the people. These divisions most certainly weaken us in front of Israel, and in front of the world. The internal situation cannot continue like this, and I fear that the divisions could turn into a fait accompli with which everybody deals. The two sides, wittingly or unwittingly, are dividing the country; there are many examples on this that arouse concern. The divisions are a national issue that ought to end.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Then, what do you think is the way out after all the previous agreements have failed?

[Quray] I do not believe that the Doha agreement has failed. There is a possibility. We should not allow the divisions to remain. I went to China and Vietnam earlier, and they were saying to us: Comrades, make it your priority to consolidate your national unity, because it is the guarantee of your victory.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are a member of the PLO; are you satisfied with the work, role, and status of the PLO?

[Quray] I wish the work of the PLO to be institutionalized, and that the resolutions are adopted through a great deal of serious consultations, because this is a difficult stage. The PLO needs activation in all its departments, which need care, attention, and support. The PLO, with its departments, committee, two councils, and embassies ought to enjoy real care and support.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The PLO sometimes is accused of being absent, or of not participating seriously in decision making?

[Quray] I said that it needs activation (Quray smiles).

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You were a close friend of Arafat, and he always said that he could see a light at the end of the tunnel. Do you still see it?

[Quray] As long as our people are standing fast and firmly on their land, we will continue to see light at the end of the tunnel.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] As we are talking about Arafat, do you miss him today?

[Quray] Yes, of course, always.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you miss him on a personal or a national level?

[Quray] I miss him on both levels. On the national level, he was a leader and had special charisma, and he was always present. On the personal level he was loyal and committed to the cadres, and the people.