Some people are talking about a Post-Oslo era; do you see it
Abu 'Ala: First of all, I'm sure we are at a very critical
juncture. Though this is a most dangerous period, I believe that
taking a long view, we are standing on the threshold of achieving
the national right of our people to e$tablish their independent
Palestinian State. This is how I see the picture even at a time
when the Israelis are escalating the situation with unprecedented
severity through assassinations, closure and military occupation of
our territory. I don't think any other country in the world is
doing what the Israeli occupation forces are doing today.
But this unparalleled use of force will not achieve success. These
are measures taken by a government in despair and without a viable
policy. Therefore, despite all the obstacles and the difficulties,
I am very optimistic in my conviction that, eventually, peace will
be achieved between Palestinians and Israelis and an independent
Palestinian State will be established. This will be the outcome,
first of all, of the determination of the Palestinian people but
also, I believe, that of the of the peact:; camp in Israel.
Eventually, these forces will win the battle.
But on the political level, where do we stand today?
After Oslo, there was much optimism. But when people saw the
implementation, their expectations dropped.
On the contrary. In spite of this aggression from the Israeli side,
what I am seeing is that the ceiling of expectations among our
people is even stronger than it was before. This confirms my
confidence that the right of the Palestinian people will be
recognized here in the region and in the world, and implemented.
You must bear in mind that facts have been created on the ground
that constitute the foundation of the Palestinian State. The
Palestinian Authority is the last step in the march to establish
our state. On the political side, there is no doubt that we are in
a time of crisis, because Sharon's government lacks any political
program. No Palestinian will assert Sharon's statements on the
so-called long-term interim agreement and neither does this idea
benefit those Israelis who are looking for a real, lasting peace
with their neighbors.
Can we stilI talk about Oslo as the basis for the political
Oslo is still alive and working. The crisis of Oslo is the result
and provocations from the Israeli side. There are two scenarios in
which Oslo can die. One is when we reach a permanent-status
agreement and lasting peace. The other would be if Israel declares
that there is no more Oslo. That would be generating an even more
dangerous confrontation than exists today, the sort of explosion
that will not be contained here, but would spread throughout the
Some people accuse those who were involved in Oslo of making
mistakes that led to the situation we are seeing now - the eruption
of violence on both sides.
That is not Oslo's doing. It seems to me that the fault lies in the
structure of Israeli society and of the Israeli government. We
signed the Oslo agreement with the late prime minister Rabin, who
said that he would fight terror as if there is no peace and work
for peace as if there is no terror. With this vision, circumstances
permitted negotiations to continue until he was murdered. Contacts
continued under Peres for a very short period of time, and in the
same spirit. But when Netanyahu came in, he froze the
implementation of the agreement for three years. Netanyahu was the
choice of the Israeli people, not our choice. Even when we signed
the Wye River agreement, Netanyahu, in his way, rejected the
agreement that he himself had signed. Then Barak came into power.
Barak was courageous in his opening moves, but not courageous
enough to complete them. Therefore, he avoided implementing the
remaining interim agreement issues, and refused to return the
Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Ois. He tried to escape implementing
the third deployment by going over to permanent-status
negotiations. We made some progress, but then Barak fled from the
negotiations to the Camp Oavid summit, without adequate
At Camp Oavid, we moved forward somewhat but, none of the bold
decisions expected from the leaders were taken. Then Sharon went to
AI- Aqsa and the crisis began. Negotiations continued in Taba, but
there were new Israeli elections, leading to the election of the
5haron government. 50 in this short period of eight years, the
Palestinians have faced five prime ministers - Rabin, Peres,
Netanyahu, Barak, and now 5haron - with five ideas, five concepts,
five visions, five strategies, each one contradicting the others.
Here is the real problem. I have never seen, on any national
political scene, such a series of governments, each one refusing to
accept what the previous one agreed to.
Is it because Oslo was weak that each prime minister or leader
could have a different interpretation of it?
It is not a matter of interpretation. It is no secret that the
Likud rejected Oslo from the day it was signed. Right up to today,
you still hear many Israeli ministers, such as Lieberman, saying
they reject it.
You met with Netanyahu and Sharon?
I met with them. I'll meet with anybody. We have no objection to
meeting with any Israeli who is in power, who has been elected by
the Israeli people.
But how do you convince the Israelis that we should continue the
implementation of Oslo?
Of course this is the aim. What are the most dangerous Israeli
violations of Oslo? One is failing to respect the scheduled, the
clearly delineated timetable agreed upon in Oslo. There was no room
in the agreement for any misunderstanding or misinterpretation of
the schedule. The Oslo Accor,ds contain a condition that, in the
third ye~r of the interim agreement, permanent-status negotiations
are to begin; and after five years - not exceeding five years - a
permanent agreement will be achieved. Also, there are very precise
schedules for withdrawals and redeployment, and these leave no room
for one-sided interpretations. But the Israelis failed to respect
that timetable to which they had agreed unambiguously.
The second very serious violation of Oslo is the continuing
expansion and construction of new settlements. At Oslo we agreed,
since permanent-status negotiations were to begin at the start of
the third year of the interim agreement, that the issues of
settlements and Jerusalem were to be tackled during
permanent-status negotiations. Therefore the status quo would be
maintained until the parties determine together the future of these
categories. But the Israelis, under Labor and Likud prime ministers
alike, continued expanding settlements, confiscating land, building
bypass roads, and constructing many new settlements, among them Abu
Ghneim/Har Homa. All this is nothing more or less than a flagrant
violation of the agreement, its text and its spirit alike.
The third violation is that the Israelis always believe that, since
they have superior military power, they can use it against the
Palestinians indiscriminately. Look at the situation here on the
ground today. Who can accept the imposition of a whole year of
closures, isolating cities and villages from one another, closing
whole areas down completely? This is the mentality of the
occupation. This is not Oslo. It was agreed in Oslo that the
interim period would be used to build trust, not to wield power in
this way, not to expand settlements, not to violate the situation
in Jerusalem, not to ignore all the scheduled timetables that had
been agreed upon.
We're talking about violations from the Israeli side, but after
the Camp David talks, the Americans and the Israelis were united in
criticizing the Palestinian side and accusing them of
responsibility for the failure of Oslo.
The Israelis said that, in Camp Oavid, Barak offered the world,
including withdrawal, a Palestinian State, etc., etc. It's not
true. We were ready to accept the 1967 borders, as long as
modifications were agreed upon by both parties. Actually, the
biggest concession we made was in our readiness to accept the 1967
borders, which represent 22 percent of the size of historical
Palestine. But the Israelis were not satisfied and demanded more
and more Palestinian concessions. No Palestinian could accept what
was actually offered at Camp David.
In Taba, it seemed to me that the Israeli negotiators like Shlomo
Ben¬Ami, Yossi Beilin, Yossi Sarid, Amnon Shahak could better
understood Palestinian needs. At that time, I said we were closer
to each other than at any other time, though that doesn't mean we
had bridged the gap. There was still a gap. But I believe that had
we continued for two months or so, we may have reached an
Then the Israeli elections took place in February
Yes, the election changed everything, and this is the problem with
the Israeli government. As I said, with each new Israeli prime
minister, you have to start anew.
So what is the approach now with Sharon's government?
There are third parties who are working to bring the parties closer
to each other under international auspices. George Mitchell and his
team proposed a mechanism for solving the problems on the ground
and to pave the way to a two-track negotiation - one track to
implement the interim agreement, and one to begin permanent-status
negotiations, as long as potentially explosive elements such as
settlement expansion and violence are removed,
But the problem here is the implementation on the ground. We
hear about talks and meetings, and then suddenly witness a
development on the ground that moves everything in the opposite
This is because Sharon tied his hands by the promises he made when
he came in as prime minister against entering negotiations until
the violence stops. Since he exercises the arrogance of power, only
he will decide when this will be, and the other party is ignored.
It cannot go on this way. A good example is the Israeli freezing of
revenues due to the Palestinian Authority. They don't have the
right to block this money. Sharon wants to topple the Palestinian
Authority, but he will not succeed.
On the other hand, Palestinian attacks in Israeli cities give
Mr. Sharon and his government an opportunity to say the
Palestinians are the ones who are committing the
We are very clearly against such violence. We condemn it. We stand
against it. But without cooperation from the Israeli side, it's
impossible to control it. For example, after President Arafat and
Shimon Peres met on the 26th of September, 2001, we agreed on the
first step forward to lifting the closure and starting the
implementation of part of the Mitchell plan. Immediately, the next
day, Israelis carried out an assassination in Qalqilya, then
another one in Jenin and one in Bethlehem. Why, in that situation,
was Israel in such a hurry to kill Palestinians. There are those
within the Israeli government - and unfortunately, maybe among
parts of the Israeli public - that believe the use of force will
compel the Palestinians to succumb. How can we get back to
coordination? We have had good experiences in this respect in the
past. Rabin, whom I respected as a very courageous and wise man had
once said, "We have to fight terror as if there is no peace, and we
have to work for peace as if there is no terror." But now, the
Israeli government believes only in power, power, and more
Is Sharon's main target now to undermine and lead to the
collapse of the Palestinian Authority?
Yes. Unfortunately, this is what he thinks, and unfortunately, this
is the lOP's plan. But everybody should realize that this has no
chance. We are a people who believe in our rights. We are a people
which is looking for peace with our neighbors, not for perpetual
war, conflict, violence and hardship. We are the people who have
suffered the most in this region, if not in the world. We want a
fair peace, a peace that we can defend, that our children and
grandchildren can accept. A dictated peace will not survive. A
lasting peace that enables us to build our state in cooperation
with all the countries of the region, including Israel, is a
Despite all the hatred and violence that we still see, is there
a chance for that?
Remember how much hatred there was before 1993, and look at the
cooperation that began to manifest itself after Oslo, We even
started to think about joint ventures and projects in various
fields, in culture and education and industry. We began
people-to-people programs to strengthen the relations. When there
are real opportunities for peace, when there is a light at the end
of the tunnel, people don't want to live in hatred. I don't know
how the Israelis feel about being the only occupier in this world
in this century. The world is moving on. No other country is
looking to occupy another country or to control the lives of other
Now, the main reason for the talks is to work with the Israeli
side in order to implement the Mitchell plan. Where do we go from
there? We implement Mitchell and then go back to the negotiation
table? On what basis?
I think something was achieved in Stockholm and Camp Oavid and
Taba. I don't think we will put all that behind us and start anew.
We will continue on from that point. I am speaking about principles
that have been accepted. 242 is the principle. The 1967 border is a
principle. Any modification on the borders must be mutually agreed
upon by equal parties. This is a principle.
You are talking about a Palestinian State and Mr. Sharon also
refers to a Palestinian State. But what you're looking for is
totally different from the Palestinian State he's talking
That's right. We have to delineate this Palestinian State, its
borders, its authority, its mandate. Who can accept a state in
which Israel will control all the borders, the sky and the air
space, who comes and goes? A state like Swiss cheese - blocks of
settlements surrounding Palestinian villages, and the Israeli army
everywhere. Real peace should satisfy Israeli security, but not
through undermining our sovereignty. What President Bush said about
a Palestinian State is important in that in a period of change, it
puts us on the political maps of the new world order.
What about the American statement relating to a Palestinian
State ¬and statements of other world leaders - that have been
issued in order to help build a coalition against
I think the whole world recognizes that the most dangerous weapon
in the hands of all fundamentalist groups is the Palestinian cause,
the Palestinian people and Jerusalem. I hope the Israelis will also
recognize it. Let's solve these problems. Then the fundamentalist
hands will be empty.
Bin Laden used the Palestinian cause when he was in a corner, and
everybody heard what he and other Islamic groups say. I remember,
when talking to Uri Sapir in Oslo in 1993, I said that, next time,
the conflict would become a weapon of all the fundamentalist
groups. Without a solution problems in the region will
What kind of state do you envisage and how would you ensure
It is a Palestinian state that will accomplish peace for itself,
for Israel, and for the region. That's why the state has to be
independent with full sovereignty, like other states, capable of
protecting its borders, people and system. Its system should be a
democratic one that practices political plurality in prindple and
practice; it has to provide political freedom of expression and
protect that freedom. Astate must be capable of upholding the peace
that it signs, and preserving it and developing it into viable
cooperation with its neighbors for the benefit of all.
Such a state has to be based on the borders of 4 June,
1967,according to UN resolution 242 and 338. This state must be
open to the world and its neighbors, welcoming visitors of all
nationalities and religions. It must be able to control residence
on its territories according to its laws and accepted international
conventions. By implication, this state rejects any colonization of
its land and annexation of any portion of its territory.
Only such a state will be able to sign and maintain peace. It will
have credibility with its people and internationally and be able to
assure stability based on financial sufficiency, modernization, and
revival of a Palestine that had long suffered from
It surprises me that Israel does not make a bold declaration that
it recognizes a state of Palestine within secure border s on the
basis of 4 June, 1967 and resolutions 242 and 338, so that the
State of Palestine can also declare its recognition of the State of
Israel on the same basis.
This would break psychological barriers, opening the way to other
agreements and security arrangements. It would be possible to set
an optimum period for resolving outstanding issues - the refugees,
the status of Jerusalem, security, water, relations, and other
matters of mutual concern. The probability of resolution is then
high because there is promise and mutual recognition.
Without such a bold step, the peace process will suffer, we will be
trapped in a vicious circle, and other countries will continue to
touch on the conflict without affecting its essence. The dangers of
regional instability will remain, and both the Palestinian and
Israeli sides will continue to exchange accusations and escalate
the confrontation. It is certainly time for courageous moves by the
It seems you're more optimistic now.
It's not a matter of being optimistic or pessimistic, I see the
world moving toward finding a solution. It's inevitable. This is
the movement of history. Both peoples need and want peace. Opinion
polls on both sides will veer toward support for peace once there
will be a serious move forward in the process. The task of the
leadership is now to end the violence and start the negotiations -
and the sooner the better.