Zahra Khalidi, PIJ co-managing editor, Khaled Abu Aker, a member
of the PIJ editorial board and Daniel Bar-Tal, PIJ co-editor
interviewed Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator and Minister
of Local Government and Municipal Affairs on March 16,
What do you think of the Road Map proposed by the Quartet? Do
you think it can be implemented and why the reiteration by Bush
I believe the Road Map can be implemented, but it needs to have
defined means of implementation - timelines and monitors on the
ground. We have discussed and debated the Road Map for the past six
months, and I think we were able to make a marked contribution to
it. These talks were concluded in November 2002 and we were
promised that it would be introduced on December 20, 2002. Later,
we were told it would be introduced after the Israeli elections,
then we were told after the Israelis form a government and now
we're told after the Iraq war. I think the level of trust between
Palestinians and Israelis now is below zero, that's why we need the
intervention of a third party. I believe the Quartet - that is, the
US, Europe, the Russians and the UN - can be this third party. The
Road Map is a comprehensive, substantial document that has all the
elements and obligations emanating from the Mitchell and Tenet
agreements. The political, humanitarian and economic aspects are
covered, with the elements of security defined in accordance with
Tenet, and the element of the cessation of settlement activities as
specified in the Mitchell report.
But there were information leaks a few weeks ago that the road
map is dying or will not actually be implemented.
It's very obvious, if one reads Ariel Sharon's speech in the
Kenesset upon the formation of his government and its submission to
the vote of confidence, that he has a totally different Road Map
than that of the Quartet. Sharon's road map is one of settlements,
of dictation rather than negotiations, of escalation and of
destroying the Palestinian Authority. That is why, when president
Bush said he would welcome and expect contributions from Israel and
the Palestinians to this document, I was really alarmed. The last
thing anyone wants to do now is introduce the Road Map for further
discussion, because we know that Sharon will send his one hundred
comments, which means we're not going to have a Road Map at the end
of the day. But, early this morning I was contacted by the US State
Department (this is breaking news for you) and they told me they do
not intend to open the Road Map for discussion again. They told me
the December 20 Road Map will stand.
This atmosphere of war might have negative implications for the
Palestinian question and place more pressure on the Palestinian
This is why we need the Road Map and the monitors on the ground
immediately. Sharon is exploiting the focus of the international
community and the Americans on Iraq, while his forces are killing,
on the average, 11 Palestinians every day, and a Palestinian home
is being demolished every hour now, on top of the closures and the
siege. We are being pushed towards a human catastrophe. All these
issues are taking place and nobody is focusing on us. There is a
dreadful silence from the international community. Thus, we could
witness the destruction of the Palestinian Authority and President
Arafat, and the resumption of full occupation of the West Bank and
Gaza. This is an option for Sharon and I think he will do it.
Do you think the US can ever be an honest broker in the
I don't think politics is about honesty or dishonesty, politics is
about shared interests and currently the US is the only superpower
on Earth. Its efforts are needed in this peace process; they can
influence the Israelis. But, I believe the US, so far, has taken a
cost free policy of blaming and slugging the Palestinians.
Sometimes it seems that they have shifted roles, making it appear
as if the Palestinians are occupying Israel, making incursions into
Israeli cities and targetting or assassinating Israeli leaders! The
US seems to undermine the fact that we are the last people under
occupation and that Israel is the last country on Earth that still
possesses the title of occupying power.
There has been a lot of pressure on the Palestinians, especially
over the past year, to start reforms and appoint a prime minister.
How do you see all these international pressures relating to this
Well, pressure is an instrument of politics, we live with it. As
long as we have an international system based on interests,
pressure in many forms will always be used. As to Palestinian
reform, I don't think it was due to external pressure but internal
pressure - it was the Palestinian people who demanded the reforms.
The Palestinians wanted to see accountability and transparency in
all fields and it was the Palestinians who wanted to see an
improved functioning of the Palestinian Authority. The same thing
is applicable to the office of prime minister. There are some of us
who have been calling for the office of prime minister since 1995.
Israel refused to include the idea of a prime minister and refused
to empower the Palestinian Authority with foreign affairs because
they said; "No you're not a state" - they refused to let us be
responsible for negotiations. So if I go and negotiate now, I would
be going on behalf of the PLO, and not on behalf of the Palestinian
Authority. If I sign an agreement with any donor countries, I sign
it on behalf of the PLO and not the Palestinian Authority. People
have short memories and tend not to read the specifications in the
agreement signed with the Israelis in 1995, which made the
Palestinian Authority dependent on the PLO for its foreign
relations and its negotiations. All the reforms have been taken in
accordance with Palestinian interests. To be honest with you, I
don't think Sharon cares if the Palestinians are ruled by Attilla
the Hun or the Boy Scouts of Jericho. But Sharon is using the issue
of reforms despite the fact that he doesn't care.
Going a little bit back in history, do you think that the flaw
is actually in the Oslo agreement, the fact that there are areas A,
B and C, or is it something to do with the performance of the
I don't think that we're mistake-free in the Palestinian Authority,
we have made mistakes, but, in reality, the deficiency in the peace
process is the responsibility of those Israeli governments that
never honoured timelines, or signed agreements, and who said many
times that "time is not holy". I believe this is the flaw and the
deficiency, that's the first point. Secondly, the continuation of
settlement activities on the Israeli side. Every government,
whether it is Labour or Likud, has settlements as its national
objective and priority. I believe that in the first eight years we
honoured all our commitments as Palestinians. We're not the ones
who missed the 1999 deadline for the completion of the
negotiations, we're not the ones who are continuing with settlement
activities and, I should remind the world, even as far as violence
is concerned, it was Baruch Goldstein who innitiated the mass
killings and terror attacks when he massacred 29 Palestinians in
al-Haram al-Ibrahimi in Hebron.
Anyway, recalling history is not useful, I don't think the flaw is
in Oslo, I don't think there is anything wrong with Oslo or the
peace process, on the contrary, it's a constituted, gradual
approach. Had it been honoured, it would have lead the way, but
those who did not honour the Oslo Accords in the Israeli
governments, I think, are the ones responsible. And the worst flaw
in these governments was when Ehud Barak decided to become Sharon's
campaign manager and said, "I don't have a partner on the other
side and I offered the Palestinians things that they could not say
no to," which is absolutely not the truth.
Do you think the PA was mistaken again, here, in not disclosing
to the people what actually happened at Camp David?
No, no, it was not mistaken, we're no match. I'm no match for Ehud
Barak, if its going to be the Congress, the Senate, the New York
Times, the media, I'm no match for Ehud Barak, let's face it - I
come out of peace conferences, talking, showing whatever I can,
showing documents and then Ehud Barak will say one thing - five
senators will take it and that's it - I don't stand a chance
against him. I agreed, I personally agreed with President Clinton
and Ehud Barak that we would not point fingers at each other, that
we would not score points, we would not blame each other, that we
were not going to play the blame game in Camp David. In the evening
we issued a statement to this effect. One hour after we left, I was
saying that we came a long way - it was not a failure at Camp
David. They were saying that we were offered something - I asked
President Clinton last year when he came to Tel-Aviv, "Why did you
do that Mr, President? I was with President Arafat when he told
you, 'I accept your parameters,' on January 2, 2001, eighteen days
before your departure from the Whitehouse. He told you we accept
your parameters with the following clarifications - why did you say
that Arafat rejected them?" He answered me, "I was told if I don't
say this the peace camp in Israel will cease to exist." But you
know the truth or not the truth is not the issue here, it's the
impression these people in the US and in Israel can leave if they
want to start a smear or a discreditation campaign against
President Arafat and against the Palestinian leadership and the
Can the creation of the prime minister's position create a break
through in relations?
Well, the prime minister is the choice of President Arafat, he's
the choice of the Palestinian people and we have the prime
minister's office in order to re-engage with the Americans and the
Israelis. It is not a secret.
So this will open doors?
We hope so, but I don't think that will happen if Sharon continues
business as usual. You came on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho
today and you saw mountains being moved, which is part of the
expansion of greater Jerusalem. If he continues with the faits
accomplis on the ground, and business as usual as far as settlement
activity is concerned, I don't think we will have a vision of a
state to talk about in 2005, the target date of the Road Map.
In addition, the Israelis are continuing to build the separation
The separation wall, settlement activities, land expropriation, the
creation of facts on the ground - if Israel wants to make peace one
day - a genuine lasting peace; they know that building settlements
and apartheid walls do not go together with peace. They know that
stealing Palestinian water aquifers and killing the livelihood of
Palestinian farmers do not go together with peace. If they want to
have peace one day they have to make the choice! Faits accomplis
and dictation, or negotiations.
They know that the peace we seek is a peace that will have Israel
withdraw to the June 1967 borders; and that creating facts on the
ground, creating settlements is the act of those who want future
generations of Palestinians and Israelis to be unable to make
Is this possible with a Sharon government or will we need to
wait for a peace-oriented leadership?
Well, I'm not an Israeli voter, I don't interfere in Israel's
business. If the Israelis want to make peace, we want to make peace
with all Israelis, not with this party or that party. But they
should know that we have already signed an agreement with Israel
saying that the peace process will be based on land for peace, that
is, Israel's withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 borders. The purpose of
the peace process is to implement resolutions 242 and 338, it's
very obvious. Now Sharon is trying to change the terms of
reference, and this will not happen, or change the Madrid formula
and this will not happen either. There is only one equation for
peace and that is termination of the Israeli occupation. That is
the shortest way to peace and security.
How can the Palestinans assure the security needs of the
By resuming a meaningful peace process, by the Israelis declaring
that they don't wish to be the occupiers any more, after 35 years,
by stopping their political blindness towards the suffering of 3.6
million Palestinians, who are being pushed to the brink of a human
catastrophe. When Israeli mothers and fathers realize that 50
percent of Palestinian children below the age of five are facing
malnutrition, 45 percent of Palestinian women of child bearing age
are anemic and that the whole Palestinian infrastructure sector is
being destroyed, setting Palestinians back 60 years in time. When
the Israelis realize what their government is doing to
Palestinians, maybe and only maybe, will they then stand up to
their government and we will have hope.
Do you think that there is a need for intervention by
Absolutely, I believe that we need a third party, we need
international forces on the ground, we need monitoring forces on
the ground - call it whatever you want, but we need the third party
What function can they fulfill?
To watch what goes on, on the ground, and to tell the international
community who is complying with the agreements and understandings
and who is not complying. To have my word against their word,
that's different. I'm not talking about the example of Hebron, I'm
talking about the example that is provided for in the Road Map - to
monitor implementation - to stand up and say who is implementing or
not implementing it - to vouch for both sides, so they don't put my
word against the Israelis' word, because as I told you, I don't
stand a chance.
Do you think you are talking about genuine peace? You are
talking about being partners with the Israelis.
We will. We will make peace one day. I did not wake up one morning
and say to myself my conscience is aching and I want to recognize
the State of Israel. Israelis did not wake up one morning and feel
that their conscience was aching because they wanted to make peace
with the Palestinians. Occupation will not produce peace,
settlements will not produce peace and one day Palestinians and
Israelis will make peace and there will be a Palestinian state on
the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its captial, next
to the State of Israel, living side by side. This is not a dream
any more. I'm one of those people who has envisioned life after
peace, we have drafted three chapters of the permanent status
treaty. The forces in Israel today who are trying to coerce,
manipulate, exploit and use the situation in order to push the
peace process out of the minds of the Israelis cannot remain in
government, because what is happening out there is the tip of the
iceberg of what may engulf Palestinians and Israelis if Sharon
declares the peace process dead.
After September 11, Arafat could have played the role of the
dove of peace, and he did. He started out very well, by donating
blood on TV, by making a speech to the Palestinian people, the
point is Sharon somehow was able to snatch it away from
Sharon managed to hijack September 11? He did, and Sharon used
September 11 to increase Israeli state terror against Palestinians.
It wasn't anything to do with us or our fault. President Arafat was
the first to denounce and condemn September 11, the Palestinian
people stood as one against September 11 and the Palestinians more
than any other people on earth felt the agony and suffering of
those victims and their families in New York and Washington,
because we know the meaning of suffering, we know the meaning of
losing loved ones. We stood up against September 11, we continue to
stand up against September 11 and Sharon should not be allowed to
hijack September 11. There is no moral ground for Bush or anybody
else to speak of fighting international terror while they continue
to reward the Israeli occupation, Israeli agression and Israeli
violations against the Palestinian people.
Concerning the municipal elections - why have they been
Because of the Israeli reoccupation, that's the only reason. We
have prepared ourselves, we have formed an international steering
committee - the US, Norway, Canada, Japan and the EU - everything
was on track, but no election can be carried out under Israeli
occupation. Ninety days from Israel's withdrawal from our towns,
villages and refugee camps, we will have municipal elections.
What is demanded now, how can we go back to resume the peace
process itself ?
Start implementing the Road Map.
What, do you think, is the first step?
For Bush to declare the timelines, the mechanism of implementation
and the monitors on the ground for the immediate implemenation of
the Road Map.
They might say the ball is in your court as
There will be a Palestinian Prime Minister appointed very soon, an
empowered, authoritative, credible prime minister.
Aren't you afraid Sharon will go back to his old security
I can tell you that Sharon's only end game is to destroy the peace
process and to seek pretexts and excuses for not re-engaging.
Sharon has chosen settlements and not peace.
And the Americans?
So far American policy has been a cost free policy, which is very