New York, Asharq Al-Awsat- Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Nasser Al-Kidwa has stated that if Israel manages to undermine the two-state solution, the Palestinian people will be forced to look for other solutions that might be more radical and blamed Israel in this respect. Al-Kidwa said that radical solutions might call for a different political program and most probably different faces. Al-Kidwa added in an interview with Asharq al-Awsat that contrary to what many believe, he sees that there is an improvement in the US stands on some of the outstanding problems with Israel. He believes there is an improvement in the US stand on the wall and the settlements and the statement of the Quartet clearly shows this, as he said. Al-Kidwa said, "I believe there is an increasing understanding by the US and the European side of the threat of maintaining the wall and the settlements, particularly in and around Jerusalem, especially the issue of the new E-one settlement that seeks to link Jerusalem to Ma”ale Adumim. There is an increasing awareness that allowing this to continue means the destruction of the two-state solution. Therefore, there is more readiness to confront the Israeli side. What is important is that we must act and bring pressure to bear in the right direction. Al-Kidwa spoke about an Arab and Palestinian reluctance to follow up on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on the wall of segregation in the West Bank. He said, The ICJ ruling is unprecedented, clear, is not subject to interpretation, meaningful, and decisive in outlining the relevant international law provisions. I believe that Israel cannot ignore this legal ruling no matter how overconfident it appears to be. Al-Kidwa said that the problem lies in the fact that the Palestinians and the Arabs have somewhat neglected to follow up on this ruling and this made many try to evade the issue.
(Q) How do you assess the results of the Quartet meeting and is the joint statement it issued in line with your aspirations or disappointing?
(A) This statement contained many elements. The first element reflected the traditional language that the Quartet usually uses. I believe that this language is neither useful nor harmful. The second element has to do with the language used on the Gaza issue and the disengagement. I believe that they praised Sharon and the Israeli side more than they deserved. The third element is that they used a stronger language than usual on the settlements, stressing the need to stop settlement expansion and saying that Israel must stop this and that Israel has to remove settlement outposts. In addition to all this, one must note that the joint statement did not mention the UN secretary general”s statements on the armed organizations and the elections. Therefore, these statements must not be taken into consideration when one assesses the statement that the Quartet had issued.
(Q) It appears that the Quartet tried to determine the parties that can participate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections and those who do not have such a right?
(A) This is not true and the Quartet did not interfere in this respect. Actually, and as I already mentioned, the entire paragraph was not included in the official statement. It seems that when the Quartet members realized that the media had focused on this aspect, though it was not mentioned in the official statement, other stands were elaborated to refute this understanding that has become widely reported by the media. The official statement of the Quartet did not tackle this issue. On the contrary, one understands from the language used in the statement that elections must take place without interference or obstructions.
(Q) Can one say that the Quartet espoused some of the Israeli stands in its statement, particularly the emphasis it placed on the need to dismantle what it called "terrorist capabilities" that the Palestinians might have?
(A) The same thing has been said in all the previous statements of the Quartet and this is also mentioned in the road map. Therefore, there is nothing new in this respect. The only thing that changed was the language the Quartet used when it spoke about the settlements.
(Q) In your opinion, to what extent has Israeli Prime Minister Ari”el Sharon succeeded in scoring a diplomatic victory in the international arena as a result of the withdrawal of the occupation forces and the settlers from Gaza, taking note that he has only partially terminated his occupation?
(A) First of all, the Israelis withdrew from the entire Gaza Strip, including the so-called Philadelphia axis. In spite of this, we have said and continue to say that this is not the end of the occupation and that the legal status of Gaza Strip has not changed and will remain as part of the Palestinian territories that were occupied in 1967, including east Jerusalem. With respect to the issue of the disengagement in the Gaza strip and areas in the northern part of the West Bank and having Israel exploit it to score a diplomatic victory, I personally believe that Israel achieved less than what it aspired to achieve. Israel exaggerated a lot about what it expected to achieve at the United Nations. What happened at the United Nations ran counter to these expectations for minor diplomatic gains were realized. I believe that the countries in the world have come to realize that there are still serious perils and placed the issue of the withdrawal from Gaza within its proper context though it is an important step that might lead to other steps in the future.
(Q) In view of the security chaos in Gaza, many wonder whether you can control the situation there. How confident are you that you can administer Gaza, especially since the foreign aid you receive is conditional and depends on the security reform?
(A) The security chaos existed even before the departure of the Israeli forces. A specific state of affairs has been prevailing in Gaza for years. There are large quantities of weapons, including the weapons of the resistance and weapons owned by other parties than the resistance. Undoubtedly, there are many challenges. We have exerted and we will continue to exert efforts to carry out our duties and responsibilities to our people. The need to enforce law and order is one of these duties. We realize that there are major challenges ahead and we realize too that what is more important is that our success hinges on the political climate that will be created by the future Israeli political moves and stands. If there is a positive political climate and the Palestinian people are convinced that there are serious peace dimensions, this will greatly facilitate the official Palestinian actions and performance. If things go in the opposite direction, it would become more difficult. In short, one cannot separate the Gaza Strip from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories politically or economically. Success in Gaza dictates an economic link with the West Bank, freedom of movement in the West Bank, and the existence of a political dimension and links between the two areas.
(Q) It goes without saying that the US Administration is exercising great pressure on you for it is asking you to collect HAMAS” weapons while the Israeli Government affirms that it will not allow the movement to participate in the forthcoming elections. How will you deal with this issue?
(A) First of all, with respect to the second part of the question, this is nonsense for we do not accept any interference by Israel or any other party in the elections. We either hold genuine, free, and serious elections in which all will participate without interference or conditions by any foreign party or we do not hold the elections. Consequently, such talk is unacceptable. With respect to the issue of weapons, we have repeatedly said in the past that the Palestinian people in principle have the right to resist the occupation and defend themselves. Therefore, we did not discuss the issue of collecting weapons. However, when Israel leaves parts of our territories, it will be logical and necessary for the Palestinian people and the Palestinian political forces to undertake the necessary changes and steps to establish institutions that are effective and enforce law and order, including the possibility of ending any overt presence of weapons or even collecting them. This, I believe depends on the Israeli withdrawal and the democratic process and could be attained and the Palestinian people might support it. The other organizations should accept it. Therefore, we link this issue to a serious dialogue with all the factions and with the Palestinian situation in general. This is our people”s stand on the issue, for they are the decisive element in these matters.
(Q) How do you view HAMAS, is it an ally or an adversary?
(A) It is both. It is an ally in confronting the occupation, attaining national independence and the right to self-determination. It is also certainly an adversary for it is a political organization that seeks to get as many seats as possible through the elections while we also want to get as many seats as possible. The important thing is to find the language that highlights the common points and minimize the disagreements and allow us to participate jointly in building our institutions while enforcing the rule of law at the same time. This is an essential point.
(Q) HAMAS says that it refuses to be disarmed before the elections in spite of the foreign pressure that is being brought to bear against it. Will you support its stand or will you seek to make it give up its weapons?
(A) The important thing is to agree on the general policies, the principle and course of action that we must adopt to achieve the Palestinian national interests. I believe that this necessitates the discussion of the issue of weapons at some time. If the question is a question of time, then we can reach agreement on the time, meaning before, during, or after the elections. This is not the basic issue.
(Q) It appears that the stand of the United Nations and its secretary general on the issue of the separation wall is still shy though more than one year has passed on the call by the UN General Assembly to stop the construction of the wall. What has Kofi Annan told you in this respect?
(A) The ICJ ruling is unprecedented, clear, is not subject to interpretation, meaningful, and decisive in outlining the relevant international law provisions. I believe that Israel cannot ignore this legal ruling no matter how overconfident Israel appears to be. The problem lies in the fact that the Palestinians and the Arabs have somewhat neglected to follow up on this ruling and this made many try to evade the issue. For example, the UN general secretariat did not implement the UN General Assembly request to open a damages register. This is what we proposed many times, particularly in our recent meeting with the UN secretary general over the past days. He affirmed that he is committed to this request and will implement it expeditiously. In any case, we must always keep this issue on the table and must continue to work to have this legal step implemented in all its forms.
(Q) But with the eyes of the world now focused on Gaza, it is obvious that Sharon proceeds to achieve progress in the implementation of his plans in the West Bank by continuing to build the wall, expanding the settlements, and controlling the water sources. Do you believe he is doing this with US blessings?
(A) I do not believe he is doing this with the blessings of the US Administration. We, on the contrary, frankly see an improvement in the US stands on the wall and the settlements and the statement of the Quartet in this field is clear. I believe there is an increasing understanding by the US and European side of the threat of maintaining the wall and the settlements, particularly in and around Jerusalem, especially the issue of the new E-one settlement that seeks to link Jerusalem to Ma”ale Adumim. There is an increasing awareness that allowing this to continue means the destruction of the two-state solution. Therefore, there is more readiness to confront the Israeli side. What is important is that we must move and bring pressure to bear in the right direction.
(Q) You played a decisive role in following up the medical investigation into the death of late President Yasir Arafat. It appears that this investigation was not decisive. What is your stand on this nowadays?
(A) The investigation was not decisive and we have repeatedly said so. In our opinion, the French did not lie but did not offer conclusive results. They explicitly said that they were unable to diagnose the illness. The case was one of the destruction of the platelets. The French said clearly that this can take place either as a result of acute inflammation, cancer, or poisoning. In all their medical reports, they said that there were no traces of acute inflammation or cancer and that as for poisoning, they found no poison that they know about. This was clear talk to those who want to understand. Poisoning was the only remaining possibility. There were no conclusive results but a big question mark continues to be raised from which we can make deductions though we do not have proof. The French have been saying this from the beginning and they will not change this version.
(Q) Then you opt for the possibility of assassination by poisoning?
(A) This is the most likely possibility and is in line with the medical report. The problem is that we do not have any proof.
(Q) What is the next step and has the file been closed?
(A) The issue is not over. We said that the file should remain open and we must reach clear conclusions. The Palestinian people have the right to know the truth and they will actually know it, not today but perhaps later but we will certainly get to know the truth in the future. This is our right and our duty
(Q) Do you believe a Palestinian state will be established soon?
(A) I believe that we are close to the decisive moment. We either establish two states in the real sense on the basis of the 1949 armistice line or we do not settle this issue expeditiously. Israel has started to succeed in undermining this solution. The Palestinian people will then be forced to look for other solutions that might be more radical and Israel will be held responsible for this.
(Q) What are these other possibilities?
(A) If the situation reaches a point where one should start looking for other solutions, then this requires a different political program and might need new faces.