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Asharq Al-Awsat Interviews Mahmud Abbas - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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[Asharq Al-Awsat] Following your meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, you spoke with a sign of optimism. Was there a breakthrough that you did not disclose?

[Abbas] Certainly, there was a partially positive atmosphere, but we have more than one issue and more than one topic. The international conference needs different headings. First, one should know who will attend the conference. Second, it needs a document that will be issued by it. Third, it needs applications before the document, besides measures after the document. All these things should be discussed. We have not solved all the problems in the last meeting. We have started talking about the subject, but we cannot say that everything has been resolved. Let me give you an example. We agreed to form two committees, one of them a trilateral committee and the other a bilateral committee. The trilateral one (Palestine, Israel, America) will discuss the requirements contained in the first article of the road map plan. The committee has been formed, and what remains is to sit down and see what the issues are and how to implement them. For us, things are clear. The plan specifies what both sides must do in parallel. This thing has not happened since the road map plan was announced around four years ago. But since we are going to a conference now, we have to leave it behind us (implementing it) because such issues should not be discussed after the conference. However, there are issues that we start with today and that need time to finish them. These issues include controlling security. Such a process cannot be completed in one hour or two hours or in one day or one month. Controlling security is an endless process, but we have to start. Another example is the makeshift colonies. Their removal takes time, but a decision must be made on them and we must start removing them. This is the idea. The committee will start its work. As for the bilateral committee, its task is to examine the document. What is this document? It consists of two parts. The first has to do with the terms of reference, and this is clear and known (the road map plan and its subsidiaries and others, etcetera). The second part has to do with the issues that will be discussed. We will determine the issues that must be discussed later. There will be negotiations after Annapolis, and we have to specify their timeframe. It has been known now, that is before the end of the term of President Bush. There are stations for review, and they are now known. These issues must be defined. We have to start working because not much time is left (for the start of the conference).

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has a date been set for the conference?

[Abbas] They have not set a date yet, but they said that it will be held in November. No one knows when. The date has not been set and no invitations have been sent to anyone.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the minimum Palestinian demands from Annapolis? In other words, what are the results that make the Palestinians come out happy from the conference?

[Abbas] To come out of Annapolis happy, there are three things that must be fulfilled. First, we have to get the previous obligations over with. Second, clarifying the foundations of the six issues (issues of the last solution, which are Jerusalem, the refugees, the settlements, the borders, water, and security). It is true that these issues are clear in the road map and in the Arab initiative, but we have to clarify them in the document so as to move to the third issue, which includes dates, starting the negotiations, and others.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Oslo negotiations and their results are still fresh in people’s minds. How is it that the same faces are chosen, with all due respect to them, to continue the negotiations? Does this indicate that there is shortage of Palestinian figures who are capable of negotiating?

[Abbas] Experience. You need someone who does not need to learn the ABCs of negotiations. But when will a large number of people take part in the negotiations? After the conference; that is, when we go into the details. Take, for example, the water issue. We will need a number of water experts to take part in discussing this issue. This applies to the rest of the files, such as Jerusalem, the refugees, etcetera. This means that we will need 40-50 personalities other than the negotiators, whose job will be to lead the negotiations.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You said at a certain time, especially after you met Dr. Rice during her visit before last, that participation in Annapolis will not be at any price. Do you still hold this view?

[Abbas] I have to go while knowing what I want. We are in agreement on what we want at least. When we say not at any price, I mean by this that we and the Israelis and Americans should know what we want and should write it down and establish it firmly. Let me give you an example. We held talks with (former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel)Sharon before the Sharm al-Sheikh conference, and we said then that there are issues that must be raised. How can these issues be solved? What are you going to say in your speech, and what am I going to say in my speech? Everything was agreed on, and the result was that we made no mistakes. He said what we agreed on, and we spoke about what we agreed on, and implementation started. This is the meaning of not going at any price.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Regarding your meetings with Olmert (seven meetings), are there aspects that were discussed and that remained secret. There were rumors about initial understandings on Jerusalem.

[Abbas] We discussed everything related to the negotiation issues. I did not commit him to anything, and he did not commit me to anything. The talks with Olmert were an overview of all the issues. He said in statements (last Tuesday) that all the major issues should be discussed or resolved. We sat together and spoke about these issues. We spoke about the borders, and there is a guideline for these borders, which is the 1967 border, like the speech of President Bush and UN Resolution 242, which speaks about ending the occupation of 1967. The question is: Can this border be amended? We say that this is possible.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You spoke about 6,000 [km] and…

[Abbas] We say that the (area) of the West Bank is 6,255 km, and we demand this. As for Gaza, it is over, and we have no problem. Despite this, we will go back to the previous truce agreements because this issue has not been discussed for a longtime. When we discuss it, we will go back to the maps and details that took place at that time, and we will know the reasons for the border amendments here and there. As for the West Bank, this area is for us, and we must have it. There could be slight amendments here and there. This is possible, but it should be of the same value and equal. We are willing to amend, but within narrow limits. This will not be discussed today, but will be discussed when we tackle the file of the borders.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Israeli media have reported that Abu-Mazin [Mahmud Abbas] accepts the idea of exchange with regard to the Triangle, which is inhabited by an Arab majority and which is adjacent to the northern part of the West Bank. How true is this?

[Abbas] We have not discussed this idea, and we will not discuss it.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you taken into consideration the possibilities of failure in Annapolis? If the conference fails to reach the agreement that you want, what is the clear strategic Palestinian view of what will happen next?

[Abbas] Failure is a disaster, and we will lose our way for many years, and they will lose their way. Peace is not only for us, or for us and them. It is for the region and for Americans and Europeans. You can call what will happen in Annapolis a meeting or a gathering, but at least 30-40 countries will take part in it.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Which countries?

[Abbas] In principle, no one has been invited so far, and we cannot quote the Americans in this regard. But we say that most likely, invitations will be sent to the Quartet, the G-8, the permanent Security Council member states, the 12 Arab countries (members of the Arab initiative follow-up committee), and three Islamic countries. If these countries take part, the conference will not be insignificant, and they will not talk nonsense. I tell you frankly that I have confirmation that all world countries want to participate in this conference.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will Syria and Lebanon be invited to participate and in what context?

[Abbas] Yes, yes, as Syria and Lebanon, and not within the context of the Arab follow-up committee. Syria and Lebanon will be invited, just like other Arab countries will be invited, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Algeria, etcetera.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the conference be for several days or for one week?

[Abbas] I do not think so. Most likely, it will be two days (a Palestinian source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the conference will be for one day).

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How can all these issues be discussed in two days?

[Abbas] On the first day, the conferees will discuss the substance or the document or statement, and on the next day, negotiations will begin. This is how we understand things.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Egypt have adopted a clear and firm position with regard to the content of what will be issued at Annapolis and also the timetable. What is the extent of Palestinian coordination with the Arab brothers?

[Abbas] There is Palestinian-Arab coordination. The evidence is the call from President Mubarak. We will not coordinate with all of the 12 countries, but there is an agreement to coordinate with three or four countries.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is a clear Arab position concerning the results of the conference and emphasis on the timetable. So will the Palestinian position be consistent with and agree with this position?

[Abbas] Of course, we are in full agreement with the Arab position.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the issue of the other occupied Arab territories be discussed or will the discussion be confined to the Palestine question?

[Abbas] It is supposed to be discussed, or at least a time or date should be set for this.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was this issue discussed with the Americans?

[Abbas] This issue should be discussed by those concerned, and not by us.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You said that any agreement will be put to a public referendum. In this context, how will the dilemma of the West Bank and Gaza be resolved?

[Abbas] I have told all parties that talk to us about this issue–and I announced this in my speeches–that if Hamas goes back on its coup, we are ready for dialogue.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] This has been said a lot. What do you mean by going back?

[Abbas] Hamas staged a coup. Palestinian institutions should return to the authority and its illegitimate government should end. After that, we will sit down and discuss our future together.

(Azzam al-Ahmad intervened: There is a decision by the Arab foreign ministers)

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has Hamas expressed willingness, through different channels, for that?

[Abbas] I have not heard anything from them so far.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There was a proposal that the headquarters and institutions be handed over to Egypt, which, in turn, will hand them over to the authority after completing the discussion of outstanding issues.

[Abbas] We will accept nothing short of their going back on their coup, and that the authority itself should take delivery of its headquarters and institutions.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] If Hamas comes to you and says: Abu-Mazin, here are the headquarters. Take them, please.

[Abbas] If they return everything, I do not mind.

(Azzam al-Ahmad: Dialogue will begin five minutes afterward)

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the dialogue be on new foundations or will you build on what was agreed upon previously?

[Abbas] There are previous agreements. There is the Mecca agreement, the national accord document, and the Cairo agreement.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In his recent speech, Ismail Haniyeh warned against the authority persecuting Hamas in the West Bank?

[Abbas] What do you mean by this? (Speaking in a sharp tone) The authority in the West Bank is carrying out its duties to have one authority, one legitimate weapon, and one law. Therefore, what is happening in Nabulus today is part of these practices.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Speaking of Nabulus, is it true that the security agreement that was concluded under the sponsorship of the American coordinator Keith Dayton speaks about Israeli control over the city from 11 pm until 5 am and Palestinian control from5 am until 11 pm?

[Abbas] There is no such agreement. It exists only in your head.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] We go back to the question of persecution. Some people say that the authority played the role of one faction in the West Bank, and not that of an authority for all factions of the people.

[Abbas] The authority carried out the practices of the authority. It started with the Fatah Movement. The problem that occurred at Balatah camp (in Nabulus) was with Fatah. The one who starts with Fatah has the right to continue with the others. I told those from them who came to pray with me at Al-Muqataah that there are no issues to cooperate on. As for personal issues, you are here; has anyone attacked you? We do not act like you and arrest the biggest head in Fatah (in Gaza) and throw him in jail. Here, I am talking about Zakariya al-Agha. We do not act like gangs; we act like a government and a state. It is acceptable to work in an organization like Hamas, but if you get involved in security matters, then you will be arrested. There is no argument about that.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that this issue is not open to discussion?

[Abbas] Never. No exception. This includes Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front, and Fatah, with which we have started.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us assume that there is reconciliation with Hamas. Is it possible to return to the previous formulas?

[Abbas] There are understandings. In principle, we do not deny the existence of Hamas, and we will deal with it like any other faction. It is an important faction, but it committed a folly and a crime that is called coup. If it goes back on it, we will talk to it again.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You said that Hamas meets with the Israelis.

[Abbas] We have information that they are meeting with Israel.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are these contacts political or procedural?

[Abbas] I will not talk about this; they have to say. But I know that there are people from Hamas who meet with Israelis.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you referring to leaders in Hamas?

[Abbas] Yes, leaders in Hamas.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is some sort of consensus within the Fatah Movement that its situation is weak. What is the way to end the state of weakness that is being experienced by the movement?

[Abbas] The Fatah Movement had indeed experienced a state of disorder, and this made it lose the elections. There is currently a revival of the movement, and this revival has many aspects. In the heart of Gaza, there are elections to complete the internal elections in Fatah in more than one place in Gaza.

(Azzam al-Ahmad: For the first time, there is accountability within the Fatah Movement, and as a result of this six members of the Revolutionary Council were dismissed, besides 75 of the cadres because they failed to commit to the Fatah lists in the elections)

(Abbas: Everyone who did not commit himself was dismissed)

[Asharq Al-Awsat] As long as we are talking about accountability and punishment, I heard comments from within Fatah about the trials that took place in the city of Jericho for a number of officers and elements on charges of failure to carry out their proper duty during the clashes with Hamas. The comments said that you cut off the tail and left the head.

[Abbas]Everyone who failed to carry out his proper duty was punished, one way or another, without going into details. The committees are still working.

(Azzam al-Ahmad: There is another committee that will complete the investigations)

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can we say that Muhammad Dahlan was held largely responsible for this failure, according to the results reached by the inquiry committee?

[Abbas] I do not want to go into the details. You are trying to make us go into the details. I said that everybody was punished. I do not want to mention names.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] I understand from what you are saying that other people, and more specifically key leaders, will be held accountable for the failure in Gaza.

[Abbas] The trials are under way.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] It was rumored in Israel that you turned down an American request to appoint Muhammad Dahlan, member of the Revolutionary Council who was blamed for failure in the Gaza incidents by the inquiry committee, as your vice president.

[Abbas] This is not true. This issue was not proposed to me, and the man has not asked me for this.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are rumors circulated by many people about the imminent change of the Salam Fayyad government. Is there any credibility to these rumors?

[Abbas] At present, there is nothing of this sort. We are studying the legal status of the caretaker government, but we are not thinking of change now. However, we look for ways to make the government better than what it is now.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it possible to add some Fatah people to the government?

[Abbas] There is no discussion of this issue.

(Azzam al-Ahmad: It is not possible to continue with the caretaker government forever)

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Salam Fayyad was quoted as saying at a meeting that I owe nothing to any Palestinian because I came by a US ticket. How true are these rumors?

[Abbas] These are tendentious rumors, and I will not comment on them.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the presidency?

[Abbas] What about it?

[Asharq Al-Awsat] A year ago and at this same office, I asked you a question, which I will repeat now: Will Abu-Mazin run in the presidential elections again despite the fact that he has announced more than once that he will not do so?

[Abbas] How did I run the first time? Fatah and the PLO approved my nomination, so I ran. Six people ran against me. So Fatah is the one that will determine its candidate.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that Abu-Mazin will accept Fatah’s decision?

[Abbas] 100 percent.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] This means that Abu-Mazin will run again?

[Abbas, smiling] It is too early to speak about these issues. As I said, the decision is in the hand of Fatah, and it is the one that names a certain person. At that time, we will agree.

(Azzam al-Ahmad: And in coordination with the PLO factions)

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the statements of Hani al-Hasan (member of the Fatah Central Committee)?

[Abbas] On the Dayton plan in the Gaza Strip. These statements are absolutely baseless.

(He asked Al-Ahmad to complete the story)

(Al-Ahmad: Hani apologized for his statements and admitted that he was mistaken. For your information, the national unity government, led by Ismail Haniyeh, approved the Dayton plan. Haniyeh personally signed it)

(Abbas, interrupting: More than that, he assigned it to somebody for implementation)

(Al-Ahmad: Myself, (since he was deputy prime minister in the unity government) Haniyeh asked us, with the agencies, to implement the plan. This plan exists, and you can get a copy of it.)

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The talk of the town now is high prices and the rise of the prices of basic commodities.

[Abbas] The problem of high prices exists everywhere. The price of a barrel of oil is $96.Our economic situation is much better than other places. We have some economic progress and a number of projects. As for Gaza, the situation is bad for reasons that you know. Despite this, for Gaza, we are committed to supplying our people with all the basic needs, including food and medical supplies and others. We always put pressure on the Israeli side to open the crossings. This is our duty.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] I visited Jerusalem, especially the Old Town, and I found the situation to be sorrowful in view of the conditions there, particularly the Israeli settlement infiltration and the economic conditions, which have sometimes led to handing lands over to settlement organizations. What are you doing to end this suffering?

[Abbas] As for Jerusalem, there are committees. Our brother Rafik al-Husayni (who attended part of the meeting) chairs one of them to improve the social, economic, and humanitarian conditions in Jerusalem. But Jerusalem as a whole, that is East Jerusalem, is our capital. This is final. I am talking about East Jerusalem, which was occupied in 1967; it is for us. As for the issue of settlements, it will be discussed as part of the file of the borders.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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