Asharq Al-Awsat- This interview- the sixth of its kind with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas (Abu-Mazin) since he assumed the presidency in 2005- took place away from the presidential headquarters, or what is called Al-Maqataah in Ramallah, which witnesses most of the interviews conducted by Asharq Al-Awsat whether with Abu-Mazin or his predecessor the late Yasser Arafat.
Abu-Mazin was relaxing in his private wing at the Emirates Palace (hospitality palace) in the UAE after a long day of work during which he met UAE Head of State Sheikh Khalifa Bin-Zayid, and opened the new headquarters of the Palestinian embassy, and after a long journey from China that lasted for some 10 hours the previous night. After that he called Asharq Al-Awsat for which he has special respect to conduct the interview away from formalities and from the entourage.
It was nearly 2300 hours, and Abu-Mazin was wearing bedtime clothes, or rather the clothes he wears at home when he returns from work, namely a snow-white gown. When we pressed the record button to start the interview, the first part continued for some 40 minutes, and we continued it the following day aboard the Boeing 737 of Royal Jet, which was rented by the Palestinian Authority [PA] for this presidential tour that started from Jordan to China via the UAE and back.
The interview was conducted as usual without interjections, and away from the entourage and aides, apart from Mustafa Abu-al-Rabb (Abu-Nabil), Abu-Mazin’s economic adviser, who did not intervene or interrupt, but he sat down listening. The interview was very frank, and apart from the political issues, such as the visit by George Mitchell about the indirect talks, the reconciliation, Hamas Movement, Fatah Movement and the conflicts within it, the disputes between a number of the first rank leaders in Fatah and the Salam Fayyad Government over the project of the state within two years, and other disputes, the interview included the rumors about Abu-Mazin’s illness, and his “costly” travels that are even more numerous than those of Arafat and even those of the US president and European leaders. Abu-Mazin answered all these questions, particularly on the last issue, with all frankness and clarity, and without annoyance, detestation, or protest.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] First of all, let us talk about the issue of the hour, namely the return of US Special Envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell. When will you meet him, and when will the indirect negotiations with the Israeli side commence?
[Abbas] It is scheduled that I will meet him immediately on my return to the Palestinian territories next Friday.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean the commencement of the indirect negotiations?
[Abbas] I will convey to Mitchell what we have agreed at the meetings of the Fatah Central Committee and the PLO Executive Committee (Abbas does not say their agreement, but naturally this is more-or-less certain). We will convey to these two committees the resolution adopted by the Arab Follow-Up Committee, which met in Cairo on 1 May, and which stipulates giving the negotiations another chance. In the light of this, we will take our decision. I will convey this decision to the US Administration represented by George Mitchell.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But on what basis did you invite the Follow-Up Committee to meet, which I think is the same basis on which the committee’s decision was taken? Have the United States offered any encouraging new ideas?
[Abbas] It is on the basis of US guarantees that there will be no provocative actions of any kind by any side that could affect the other side. The United States emphasizes that it is inadmissible for any side to adopt any measures or provocations that can harm the negotiations. If this were to occur, the United States would make a stand. We have conveyed these words as they are to the meeting of the Arab Follow-Up Committee, and in the light of this, the Arab brethren gave us their approval to launch the indirect negotiations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that the US guarantees pledged to halt the settlement activities in occupied Jerusalem for four months?
[Abbas] No, no, the guarantees pledge to halt any sensitive provocative actions to the other side. What is more sensitive to us are the settlement activities, and what is sensitive to them is what they call the incitement. They asked us to observe the issue of incitement, which might come from some well-known personalities from our side. The United States has said that if such incitement occurs, it will adopt a stance toward us. The United States adds that if they (the Israelis) adopt measures that are sensitive to you, we will adopt a stance toward them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Israeli reports say that the Binyamin Netanyahu Government agrees to halt the settlement activities in the Arab districts of occupied Jerusalem for four months, provided that these activities continue in the Jewish districts of East Jerusalem. Is this what you have been offered?
[Abbas] No, this has not been presented to us at all.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does not your acceptance to return to the negotiations according to these conditions represent a retreat from your stance, which has been adopted and reiterated by more than one official, a stance that calls for rescinding the Interior Ministry’s decision to build 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem?
[Abbas] No, it is not a retreat. The United States has pledged that Israel will not commit any provocative actions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] After the ratification of the acceptance by the Executive Committee and the Central Committee, when will the negotiations commence?
[Abbas] If the two committees ratify the Arab stance, the two sides (the Israelis and the Palestinians together with the US envoy) will meet and decide a date for commencement.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the issues of the final settlement be presented at the table of negotiations or is this no longer a Palestinian condition to resume the negotiations?
[Abbas] They have said that the sides have the right to present what they like of the issues of the final settlement. In the past there was talk about presenting exactly two issues, namely the borders and security. We have said as far as the borders are concerned, we do not have a problem. This is because we can discuss them, finish them, and close the page as far as they are concerned. As for the issue of security, as far as we are concerned this is finished since the time of James Jones (security coordinator at the time of former President George Bush, and currently President Barack Obama’s national security adviser). If they want to reopen this issue, then I do not know.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With regard to the issue of releasing Palestinian prisoners, are there US and Israeli promises to release a large number of them?
[Abbas] No, there is talk by President Obama that there are trust-building measures including the release of the prisoners, which Israel should undertake.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us assume that the negotiations start, do you not expect Israeli prevarications?
[Abbas] Everything is possible.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What will happen then?
[Abbas] At that time we will demand to know the US role.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] And then we start from the beginning again. Has the United States promised to punish the obstructing side, whether it is the Palestinian or the Israeli side?
[Abbas] We have not talked about this issue. We have talked only about the commencement of the negotiations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Were not the US moves preceded, or even accompanied by secret contacts with the Israelis in order to achieve a breakthrough and get out of the crisis?
[Abbas] No, no, there were no contacts between us and the Israelis, whether secret or non-secret.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When was the last contact between you and the Israelis?
[Abbas] It was during the era of Ehud Olmert (the last negotiations between Abbas and Olmert were in December).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] I mean contacts such as the telephone contact that took place between you and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Baraq last December in which you conveyed to him your preparedness to resume the negotiations if Netanyahu were to halt the settlement activities without announcing it?
[Abbas] We talked to Baraq by telephone. I talked to him more than once, Prime Minister (Salam Fayyad) saw him more than once, and I think Saeb Erekat met him more than once.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you contacted him after the December contacts about which you talked to Asharq Al-Awsat?
[Abbas] No, no such contacts between him and me have taken place.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have any contacts taken place between him and ministers?
[Abbas] The prime minister and the ministers can meet him.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the story between Fatah Movement, or rather between some Fatah leaders and Salam Fayyad? There are many voices that criticize Fayyad, and now use the government plan to announce the state within two years as a springboard to attack him, as if there is a contradiction between this plan, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders with occupied East Jerusalem as its capital, and the stances of Fatah Movement?
[Abbas] The project of the state, which was presented by the government, took place with our approval. What the plan says is that from now and within two years we have to be ready for the independent Palestinian State. The plan is not to declare the state, because the declaration has to be by agreement. We ought to work, and the government ought to build the institutions, the economy, the schools, and the hospitals. This – in general – is the work of the government; it has to follow this up, to implement it, and to work for it. Consequently, the government is ours, and it cannot take any decision or stance away from the presidency.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the problem is that there are voices in the Central Committee or in the Revolutionary Council of Fatah that oppose the government and its project?
[Abbas] No one can oppose the project of building the state. We are building the state. What is it to which there are objections? What is there is talk about a cabinet reshuffle, or rather there are those who call for a cabinet reshuffle. Perhaps some ministers are not liked by this-or-that person, and perhaps I and the prime minister are thinking of conducting a cabinet reshuffle. However this reshuffle will not take place these days, i.e. the reshuffle will not take place before a month from now.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But there are voices in Fatah that reject the project, and consider it to be an overstepping by the government of its powers?
[Abbas] Fatah members have the right to say what they like. They have the right to love or hate Salam Fayyad; they are free to do so. This is a wide movement, and it includes various ideas and various stances. However, the final say is that this government is our government, it is my government, I am the one who chose it, and it is implementing my policy. Salam Fayyad Government or any other government is the government of the president according to the basic law. It is a government that helps me to implement my policy in governing. The government does not initiate a policy, it does not build a policy, and it does not invent a policy; the government implements a policy.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This policy is the policy of the PLO?
[Abbas] It is the policy of the PLO and the policy of the PA.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Nevertheless, Fatah Movement is apprehensive that the government is pulling the carpet from under its feet?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Fatah is apprehensive perhaps because of the government’s activities, achievements, or movements within the Palestinian society?
[Abbas] If the government is active, then Fatah Movement also has to be active. Each works in his own field. Fatah ought to work in the field of the masses. Also the government is working in its field, but it is not a competitor of Fatah, because the government consists of independent persons, members of Fatah, and members of independent organizations, such as the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Struggle Front, the People’s Party, and others. In this government, which consists of 24 ministers, there are 12 ministers from Fatah.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are prominent leaders in Fatah who say that the Fayyad Government is active on the ground, and ultimately it will exclude Fatah from the government.
[Abbas] Fatah ought to work and prepare itself for the elections, and if it wins, it will form the government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Fayyad Government is active in the villages and towns, and it opens projects?
[Abbas] Is there anything wrong with this?!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This is not what I mean. My point is that Fatah leaders restrict themselves to words, and there is no daily communication between them and the masses, which might increase the distance between them and the masses?
[Abbas] Fatah ought to communicate with the masses and with the people, especially as there are elections coming (the municipal elections in the West Bank towns scheduled for July 2010). Its duty is to work to win these elections. The point is if Fatah is not in the government, does this mean that it cannot work?! Moreover, is all Fatah going to be in the government?! At the end of the day some will be in the government, and others will be outside the government. Does the person work only if he is a minister, and does not work if he is not in the government?! The minister ought to work, and the one who is not a minister also ought to work. In Fatah there are many duties; there is the one who is responsible for the organization, there is the one who is responsible for the national relations, and there are others.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The sixth congress of the movement (held in August 2009 in Bethlehem in the West Bank) was expected to put an end to the internal conflicts, or rather between some of the members of the new Central Committee?
[Abbas] I do not say that they are conflicts, but I say that they are differences. These members are not carbon copies of each other (Abbas said it in English); therefore they have opinions of each other and of the others. This is natural. However, the conclusion is the resultant of their stances, and not their individual opinions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But there are contradictory and conflicting statements that stem from members of the Central Committee, while it was supposed that there is some kind of harmony and agreement on a united stance announced by one and not many sides. This will reflect in a negative way on the movement within the Palestinian arena?
[Abbas] It is supposed that there is an Information Department (headed by Muhammad Dahlan).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there accountability within the movement?
[Abbas] So far, there is no accountability; or rather there is slight accountability. However, in the future there will be real accountability for many things.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are these many things?
[Abbas] (Laughing) I will not tell you about them now. I will tell you later.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Give me a simple example?
[Abbas] What any member of the Central Committee or the Revolutionary Council possesses ought to be known, and he will be held to account for his behavior, and for everything he does.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Now there is complacency within Fatah. In the past every member of the movement paid membership fees, but now the member expects to get a return for his membership?
[Abbas] This is one of the issues on which the Central Committee has become complacent. This is one of the issues about which I have talked a great deal, especially at the meetings of the Revolutionary Council (last month). I asked them to start to collect subscriptions from themselves first, and then from all the members of Fatah Movement. So far, they have not done so. In my opinion, this is negligence. I have confronted them with this at the meetings, and I have said that it is inadmissible to have membership without subscriptions and commitments; is the membership of the movement an honorary one?! (Asharq Al-Awsat has learned that Abu-Mazin borrowed for the movement in his personal name 15 million dollars from the Palestinian Investment Fund and this sum has to be repaid.)
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the issue of the financial integrity of the members of the Central Committee, i.e. the accountability for what they possess?
[Abbas] Also all members of the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council are required to submit their financial details so that they would be held to account in the future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Naturally, these things did not exist in the past?
[Abbas] No they did not exist.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will this reflect in a positive way on the movement?
[Abbas] Yes, it ought to be known what they possess.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is another issue that faces Fatah Movement, which is that of the problems in its branch in Lebanon. What is the type of problems that required a visit by Central Committee Deputy Secretary Jibril al-Rujub, and after him two visits by Official in Charge of National Relations Azzam al-Ahmad? Is there some kind of rebellion against the decision of the transfers you adopted there?
[Abbas] The problem in Lebanon is that there are accumulations that go back some 30 years during which we were absent from the situation there. We departed from Lebanon (after the 1982 war) and a group of the military remained there (in the camps). This distance for some 30 years has led to accumulations. These accumulations required action in order to find solutions for many issues, including military, organizational, and financial issues, and the situation of the embassy. In the period during which Abbas Zaki was the ambassador in Beirut success has been achieved at the level of the relations with Lebanon, but the disputes remained at the Palestinian level. Abbas returned (he was re-elected as a member of Fatah Central Committee). Frankly, he did not fail at the Lebanese level, but it was imperative to settle these disputes in order to restore the situation to normalcy; the duty of the embassy is to deal with the official issues. There is the organization and the military issues within the camps; but we have no military presence outside the camps. By the way, we reject the military presence outside the camps, but within the camps this also is subject to any Lebanese decision. Therefore, the situation needed reorganization. Last week, I sent Azzam al-Ahmad with a collection of clear decisions. As you know, he contacted us to convey that he has implemented all the decisions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was not there a rebellion against the decision by some officers, such as Munir al-Maqdah?
[Abbas] There is no rebellion, no one can rebel, and no one is above the law. Anyone who tries to rebel will find himself outside the organization.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has Al-Maqdah been removed from his post as military official?
[Abbas] He has not been removed, but there was a reorganization of the posts. We have not dismissed anyone, we have not abandoned anyone, and we have not got rid of anyone.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us move to the issue of the Palestinian national reconciliation, which has been exhausted in discussion, and speaking about it has become repetitive, and rather tiring. Is there anything new? Is it possible that the implicit agreement on the stances toward calming down between Hamas and Fatah might give rise to the hope of reviving the reconciliation? Has there been a breakthrough in this issue that exhausts the Palestinian cause?
[Abbas] This is supposed to be a gateway; why? When Hamas in Gaza says that it is against firing rockets and other things, and when we talk about a state within the 1967 borders, what is the difference between us and them? There is no difference. The issue is no longer political, ideological, intellectual, or anything else. The question is: Why do they not accept the reconciliation, especially as the Gaza Strip is socially and economically in a state of even not monthly but daily deterioration. Unfortunately, what they do is to smuggle weapons and explosives, and stockpile them in the West Bank. Why do you punish whoever fires rockets from Gaza, while you stockpile weapons, explosives, and equipment in the West Bank?! Every day we seize weapons depots. (More than once during the tour Abu-Mazin received reports about seizing weapons depots in the West Bank.)
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there large quantities of explosives?
[Abbas] Yes, large quantities, every day we capture weapons; why? If you say that you are committed to calming down, and that you punish whoever fires rockets and accuse him of deviating from national unanimity, why should this stance be correct in Gaza and wrong in the West Bank?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Their answer is going to be simple, namely that Gaza is liberated, while the West Bank is still under the burden of occupation.
[Abbas] Where is the liberation of Gaza?! Gaza is under siege, and also a strip of Gaza is still occupied; there is some 300 meters at the border strip into which any Palestinian is banned from entering. Add to this the fact that the borders of Gaza are closed and the Palestinians in Gaza cannot exit except with the permission of Israel. Therefore, where is the liberation and what is their justification for this?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there new initiatives to push the two sides toward agreement?
[Abbas] I am not divulging a secret when I say that Fatah has not severed contacts, and that the contacts are continuing with Hamas officials. Any Central Committee member is authorized to meet Hamas officials, and talk to them. There are officials who went to Gaza, and we are prepared to send others. There are officials who went to Damascus. Also they meet them in the West Bank. As far as we are concerned, we are trying by all means to push them toward reconciliation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is their reply?
[Abbas] There are foreign sides that do not want them to engage in reconciliation. Second, there are the entitlements for reconciliation; these include the presidential and legislative elections. In a nutshell, they do not want the elections, be they presidential or legislative. They are waiting for any sign from us indicating willingness to postpone the legislative and presidential elections for between two and ten years, and we reject this. This is the problem.
(During the interview, Muhammad Shutayyah contacted Abu-Mazin. Shutayyah is the resigning communications minister, and is the candidate for the post of chief of staff of President Abbas, a post that was occupied by Rafik al-Hosseini, who resigned because of a sex scandal. Shutayyah informed Abbas in front of those present that Mahmud al-Zahhar, member of the Hamas Political Bureau, and Ahmad al-Jabari, Hamas’s military official, told Munib al-Masri – Palestinian national personality who was visiting Gaza within the framework of his efforts to achieve reconciliation – that they heard at the Revolutionary Council new words from Abu-Mazin, and that they would deal with this direction in a completely responsible way. Shutayyah conveyed to Al-Zahhar and Al-Jabari: If you issue positive signs, the president is prepared to introduce the amendment at the proper time. These were considered new and encouraging words, and they promised to contact the leadership in Damascus to stress to it that Gaza was ready for reconciliation without prior conditions.)
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With regard to the continuation of the siege, now it has been continuing for some three years; it has exhausted the citizens, materially, financially, physically, and socially, i.e. the exhaustion is in all directions. What are your latest moves to lift the siege from the Gaza Strip?
[Abbas] We are continuously and relentlessly calling on Israel to lift the unjust siege from our kith and kin in Gaza. We have asked more than once for allowing the entry of the necessary materials. Now, there are essential materials that get into the sector, whether via Egypt, or via us. The problem is with the construction materials, whose entry Israel bans completely. This is truly a problem, because there are some 100,000 Palestinians (whose houses have been destroyed during the last war) who are living rough, and they need houses to accommodate them. A way out of this suffering has to be found. However, the question that presents itself is: What is the cause of the siege? Basically the cause is the coup d’etat, because before it the Gaza Strip was open, and the Palestinian policeman was guarding the Rafah crossing point under EU supervision according to the agreement with the United States and the European Union. As soon as the Presidential Guard departed, they were followed by the Europeans, and the borders were closed. Then the war came and made the situation worse. Now, if Hamas accepts reconciliation, it is assumed that all these issues will be resolved, and life will return to normal in Gaza. I do not want to burden the reconciliation with too much, but Hamas is the one that staged a coup d’etat, and it is a part of the problem.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has the United States talked about the possibility of helping in lifting the siege from Gaza within the framework of the efforts to return to the negotiations?
[Abbas] The United States only talked about the issue of allowing some building materials to enter Gaza through UNRWA. We still are trying to achieve progress on this issue with the Israeli side, and the United States supports us in this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Hamas accuses you of participating in cutting of the electricity and in the stoppage of the power generators in Gaza some weeks ago. Have you really stopped paying the bills whose funds come from the European Union?
[Abbas] We pay, and they collect the money and the profits. We pay for the water, electricity, fuel, education, health, and other things, in addition to the salaries of 77,000 employees there. The problem is not us; the side that pays should be the side that is responsible for the suffering.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you saying that you have not stopped paying the bills?
[Abbas] Not at all. The issue is that we pay, and they collect profits. We asked them to return what they collect to us, and they promised to do so, but they did not. This is thuggery, but they dare accuse us to prevent the people from getting electricity!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] At Sirte summit, have the Palestinians obtained what they wanted from that summit despite the disputes that preceded it?
[Abbas] The resolutions of this summit are good, we are satisfied with them completely, and nothing occurred that we did not want. As for Jerusalem, the summit allocated 500 million dollars, and delegated the responsibility to collect this sum to the Arab League, and here we are waiting.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the summit witnessed some verbal skirmishes and exchanges?
[Abbas] At the summit there was talk about armed resistance, but we rejected this call. We rejected it for a simple reason, namely that all sectors of the Palestinian people reject the armed resistance; both we and Hamas reject it. Therefore, if we do not want the armed resistance, why do the Arabs want to impose it on us? We also said: If the Arabs want war, we are with them; however, if they do not want war, and at the same time they do not want peace, then the state of no peace and no war is impossible. We said that the Arab initiative still existed. Unfortunately, some say that Israel does not want it, which naturally is true, but that Arabs have not done anything (he said it with vehemence) to promote it either at the international level or on the domestic level. Personally, I asked Arab newspapers to publish the initiative, but they refused.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the basis of the newspapers’ refusal?
[Abbas] The reason is that it carries the flag of Israel! Can you imagine such a mentality?! Thus, they officially refused to promote it, and also they did the same in the media, while they put the burden of rejection on Israel alone. Yes Israel rejects it, but why do we not use this to embarrass Israel? The Arab initiative is the most important weapon in the hands of the Arabs, because it presents us as an Arab and Muslim nation that wants peace. Every now and then, someone comes up and threatens to withdraw the initiative; however, what is your alternative for the initiative? If you want war, be my guest; however he answers you by saying that we are not prepared for war! If you are not prepared for war, what do you want?! We will not accept using the Palestinian people to wage a war (Abbas repeated this phrase twice); and we will not accept the armed resistance, because we know its results, as we have been destroyed in the second intifadah, we have been destroyed in the aggression against Gaza, and I am not prepared to destroy our people again.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the alternative?
[Abbas] The alternative is the popular resistance. This expresses our opinion for whose promotion we are touring the entire world. When has the world ever stood by us in the same way it is doing this time? The reason is that we are following a clear policy; we demand peace, and we are serious in our demand. This puts Israel, not us, in a corner.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you consider the boycott of the products of the settlements a part of this popular resistance?
[Abbas] Yes, it is a part of the popular resistance. Also we have the right to ask the world to boycott the Israeli products. We say to the world that these goods, which are produced on our territories, ought to be boycotted. If the Europeans are boycotting the goods of the settlements, can our calls and boycott be considered incitement against Israel?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The question that presents itself is: Why has the Palestinian decision to boycott the goods of the settlements come very late, especially as the EU countries have started years before you, and the settlements have been in existence since the beginning of the occupation 45 years ago?
[Abbas] The decision, which I signed, came at the right time, and it is now being implemented.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This is something for which Israel blames you?
[Abbas] Israel considers that by this I am inciting against it, but this is not correct. Had these accusations been correct, the United States would have been the first to draw our attention to this. I am not asking the worker to boycott Israel, but the boycott is directed at the goods of the settlements, and this is not incitement.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you assess the relations with Syria?
[Abbas] The relations with Syria are normal, and there are no problems. We always have been in contact with them; moreover, at one period they invited me to Damascus, but they canceled the invitation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] That was in October 2009 because of the Goldstone Report on the crimes of the Israeli war against Gaza?
[Abbas] Yes, it was because of the Goldstone Report. What materialized is that the decision was not my fault, and I was not the one who took the decision. The decision was taken by all the Arab, Muslim, Non-Aligned, and African countries. The proof is that we returned the decision to the United Nations (after the commotion and the attempts by various sides to wriggle out of it and hold Abu-Mazin responsible for it), but no one now is following it up other than us.
(Abbas received a news report saying that 45 people were injured due to the explosion of a land mine left over from the war; all the wounded are civilians.)
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With regard to the reconstruction in the West Bank, there are plans to build more than one city, including Al-Rawabi near Ramallah, and Jinan near Janin, How are these projects financed?
[Abbas] There are two types of reconstruction: private, and public. The private reconstruction is undertaken by ordinary people. The public reconstruction is what the government undertakes. Also there is the Palestinian Investment Fund that buys properties and land, builds, and sells to the citizens through convenient loans spread over 20 years. We have a modest Investment Fund that cooperates with international institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to build suburbs in the Palestinian cities, such as the Al-Rayhan Suburb in Jericho, and Al-Jinan in Janin.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about Al-Rawabi near Ramallah?
[Abbas] No, Al-Rawabi is different, because it is a private project. We will build a city called Al-Qamar north of Jericho in order to attract people to live in these empty and uninhabited areas. Let the Palestinians come from all over the world and buy houses for themselves. These building activities produce economic movement in the country and employ workforce. In Israel they call construction the leading sector; why, because if there is construction all the fields of life work. There are projects that are being implemented, and others that are being planned. We want to build our country, and this comes within the framework of the project to establish the state in which the government works in preparation for the statehood.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the project enjoy international support from Europe, the United States, and the International Quartet?
[Abbas] Yes, the entire world welcomes the project, while some come to say to us that he (Fayyad) is competing with us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If the two years pass without the achievement of the dream of statehood, is there Palestinian thinking of returning the dossier to the United Nations?
[Abbas] Yes, there is this idea. It is an idea that has been discussed at the Arab League, and there is a resolution about it. If the state does not materialize, we will go, with the agreement of the world countries, to the UN Security Council. By the way, this is not a unilateral action.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there communication with the western countries about this issue?
[Abbas] Yes, there are contacts with the western countries, which have become convinced of the idea of the two years. Therefore, when we are ready, and Israel does not want to do it, it will be our right to go to the UN Security Council, but not to declare the state unilaterally.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us move to another subject. I have seen you in your airplane reading the Holy Koran. Is this reading linked to the travel and its fears, or is it a daily practice?
[Abbas] This is a daily habit. I have been used to read some Suras every day, and I recite some of the Suras I have memorized. As for traveling by airplane, I always keep a copy of the Holy Koran, and I complete reading it every three to four months, in addition to once during the month of Ramadan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What we have seen first hand during the journey to Shanghai in China refutes the circulating stories about your bad health. However, we have to make sure. Does Abu-Mazin suffer from any secret illness?
[Abbas] In principle, the talk about illness is appropriate. However, there is no illness. I am getting treatment for some time in Jordan because of a slip in the bathroom during my visit to Tunisia, which caused some bruises in my back. These bruises need six weeks of medical observation and rest. My long stay in Jordan made some people interpret it, and talk about illnesses that have no foundations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] They say that Abu-Mazin’s travels have exceeded those of [interrupted]?
[Abbas] (Interrupting) Abu-Ammar (late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat)?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Your journeys have exceeded the number of tours of Abu-Ammar, and also of US President Barack Obama, or any other official in the world. There are comparisons between your tours and those of Obama?
[Abbas] Were mine more numerous than his?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In fact they are double the number of his. Does this not burden the finances of the PA?
[Abbas] I do not think that the travel ticket or the costs of a small private airplane can exhaust the budget of the PA. However, this is not the important point. What is important is that the problem is that many countries cannot reach us, and this compels us to go to them. Most of the Arab countries do not come to us, but we need them and hence we are compelled to visit them. The other point is that our relations with all the world countries are open; everybody wants to meet us. I have a program and for its implementation I need ten years. This is something positive, and it reflects the interest of the world countries from Canada to Japan in us and in our cause. They all want us to visit them. Therefore, we are compelled to visit these countries. Another reason is that these countries are the ones that help us, and we visit them to ask for aid (The visit to China resulted in aid to the value of 30 million euros, equivalent to 5 million dollars). Thus, we always are compelled to do this in order to communicate with the world countries. Sometimes I, the prime minister, and Foreign Minister (Riyad al-Maliki) are not enough to respond to all the invitations. It is an advantage that the doors of the world are open for us, because this is a precedent that never happened before. We do not have problems with any of the world countries, and there is no country that does not welcome us. The international support enjoyed now by the Palestinian cause is due to us. Kuwaiti Amir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah said at the Arab summit in Sirte: this international openness to the Arabs and to the Palestinian cause is due to the patience and wisdom of Abu-Mazin. This means that visiting the countries of the world is no reason to reproach us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that these visits are not for tourism and entertainment?
[Abbas] O man, what tourism?! You have seen with your own eyes; what kind of tourism is this? I visit China for one night, and then return; is this tourism?! Here we are in the UAE; we have performed two activities within 24 hours, and then we go back to Amman. Therefore, where is the enjoyment in this journey? We do not see anything of the countries we visit. It is complete exhaustion, tiredness, and murder. Man wishes to sit down at home with his children and grandchildren in order to see them and enjoy their company, but not to go round from one place to another. I am ill, I suffer from back pains, and my health condition does not allow me to travel; however, despite all this we went to China, we visited the UAE, we will go to Saudi Arabia (visited Saudi Arabia on Tuesday), and on the same day we will visit Egypt, and will return from it on the following day to Amman (the return to the West Bank to meet George Mitchell). All these are necessary visits.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] One of those accompanying you has told me that Abu-Mazin carries out tours of Ramallah, including a visit to one of the poor families during the month of Ramadan, and that you had dinner with that family. Is this a true story, or is it a fable?
[Abbas] It is true. Once I went with a small number of youths to the market, and we ate ice cream. Naturally, I am not allowed to go without bodyguards. The problem is that I am not allowed even to breathe without bodyguards (Abbas said jokingly). Nevertheless, I went in the street, I met people, and I broke the fast with a poor family; last Ramadan I chose a poor family among these people and broke the fast with them. This reflects that the people are living a normal life, safely, securely, and without fear or terror. People are living their lives, they stay late at night, they watch television, and they enjoy themselves, and so on.