Daoud Kuttab: Israel's Prime Minister has called for a strategic separation of Israel from the Palestinians. Will this call speed up the creation of a Palestinian state?

Sari Nusseibeh:
This is not the first time Rabin has made this sort of statement. Before the checkpoints were placed permanently around Jerusalem, he made a similar call. Israelis often propose simply to put a barrier between them and the Arabs. Rabin is more enthusiastic now about the separation idea. Israelis give us the feeling' that they are sick and tired of us, as if we Arabs are polluting their lives. They don't want to have anything more to do with us.
This is of course simply impossible. While Rabin is talking of separation, he will do nothing that will affect Israel's security or will strengthen Palestinian authority. On the contrary, he is seeking ways in which he can fortify his security at the expense of the Palestinians. In this context, the separation concept is unworkable.

Are the Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories an obstacle to making the separation a reality?

The problem is much more complicated. Israel has to worry about Arabs not just in Gaza or the West Bank, but also inside Israel. We have Jews in the West Bank and Gaza, and especially in Jerusalem. In the long run and strategically speaking, separation is impossible because the two people are too interconnected. This purification idea which Israelis are preaching can't be accomplished here, just as it is impossible in Germany or Holland or England, even though there are voices calling for it. The whole philosophy of the peace process is built around opening borders. Who can prevent integration? Israelis will soon be going to Petra. People from the Arab world will be coming here. The peace process has created a new reality.

What about preparing now for separation in the future?
Whatever happens, it is going to be very difficult. Even if a genuinely independent Palestinian state is established, we will still face the reality that we and the Israelis are living in the same land and that borders cannot separate us hermetically, especially in times of peace. Political and economic separation will not be possible in the future. There is no escape but to accept the fact that there is a heavy Arab and Jewish presence in the whole area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

But are the events of the last few days not poisoning the relations and the atmosphere between Israelis and Palestinians?

As long as these things are continuously happening, the atmosphere on both sides will be poisoned. The question is whether it is possible to contain such actions, and to make them politically insignificant in relation to broader developments. In other words, what is needed is to prevent these actions from receiving popular support. This can only occur when the public at large realizes that there is no benefit to be gained from an act which kills twenty people in Tel Aviv. Maybe today many sympathize or feel proud that an Arab or Muslim is willing to sacrifice his life in a suicide mission inside Israel. When will the time come for us to evaluate these matters with our heads and not with our hearts? Until we reach that day, until people realize these actions are not beneficial to the Palestinian cause, the atmosphere will continue to be poisoned.

Don't you think that the deterioration in the atmosphere has been the result of Israeli intransigence in the peace talks?
It is easy to say that these actions are the result of the oppression of the past, or because at present Israel is not moving fast enough in the talks. However, what is important is to look at the higher Palestinian interest. It is clear, for instance, that if someone is against the successful conclusion of the peace process, he may be happy with such operations. But if one is interested in the peace process, then these things only hurt our interests.

What do you think is the interest of Hamas?
If I understand the point of view of Hamas correctly, then I believe that they are opposed to any peace process with Israel, basing themselves on the principle that they will not recognize any non-Islamic rule over Palestine. So they are against any peace with Israel. If on the other hand you are talking about the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), then they might support these actions because of the belief that this will improve our bargaining position, but it would be contrary to the PFLP philosophy to support these actions solely because they oppose any peace.

Are you suggesting that the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis unite their forces against Hamas because of Hamas's opposition to any peace with Israel?
We have to differentiate between the military and political issues, and we have to differentiate between what could be seen as a coalition and what could be interpreted as common interest. Politically, you cannot stop people thinking the way they want, or expressing themselves, or organizing popular support for their position. This is already in contradiction to what Israel wants here. The Palestinian position should permit pluralism and should not deal with such positions as if they were in themselves hostile acts. Those supporting such positions should not be dealt with as criminals or as supporters of an illegal organization. While Israel would want the Palestinian Authority to crush Hamas, we should not agree to such a policy.
Second, we have to differentiate very clearly between political and military activities. The reasons for our stressing the need to end military actions against Israel must relate to our present political program. This program is a result of previous Palestinian military and Intifada actions - namely, the struggle for the liberation of Palestinian lands. I believe that present-day military activities against Israelis simply obstruct the accomplishment of our goal of liberating Palestinian lands. I feel that priority must be given to this cause of liberating the land and that any activities which delay this goal are not serving the interest of our people. The Palestinian Authority and its supporters have to convince the military wing of Hamas of this logic through real dialogue. I do not believe that using repression against Hamas, as Israel wants, will get us where we want. All such repression will do is to widen the gap between us and make it more difficult to reach a common understanding with them.
I would like to see these issues discussed honestly and openly. We have to agree on our priorities. Are they to try and liberate Jerusalem first, even at the cost of extending the period of the Occupation? The Occupation will last longer as a result of these military actions. They will not liberate the land. For twenty or thirty years we have been carrying out military actions and now we have reached the political ceiling which the international community is permitting us. Are we going to give this up? Do we want to wait a hundred years before liberating our land? And what do we do meanwhile? What will happen to our land as settlements expand? Even though there is no denying the suffering and persecution to which we were subject, the military leaders of Hamas must consider the questions raised here carefully and think logically and objectively.

What should Israel do?

I can't speak about Israel in the same way as I speak about Hamas, or any other Palestinian organization. When I speak about Hamas, I am doing so from the point of view of the interest of our people, not that of a hostile party. Israel is interested in peace with the Palestinians and has started a new phase by affording Palestinians the opportunity to solve problems on Palestinian lands, using Palestinian solutions.
However, it is clear that the first priority for Israel is not a Palestinian solution. If this plan fails, then Israel will pursue its own interest through preparing other alternatives. Thus the challenge to the Palestinians is not to permit this program to fail. We on the Palestinian side must work out our problems in our own way: the aim is not to allow Israel to exploit differences between us in order to push us into internal confrontation. For such internal fighting could be a formula for the failure of the Palestinian solution, the results of which can affect the whole of the Palestinian people.