Recently, PLO Executive Committee Secretary Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), regarded as second in leadership to Arafat, spoke to the heads of the "Popular Councils" of the Gaza Strip refugee camps. In his speech, he criticized the militarization of the current Intifada and spoke at length of the Palestinian refugees. A transcript of the speech was published by the London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat. The following are excerpts from the transcript.
The Failure of the Intifada
"[The goal of] the Oslo [Accords] was to complete the peace process… [The completion] of the goal began with 'Gaza and Jericho First'; it extended to the West Bank cities, and then reached 42% of the territory of the West Bank... under Palestinian control. We began the phase of building and obtaining capital and investors. The world began providing us with aid to help train us to build the homeland and to complete our way for full realization... of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, ending the occupation and the settlements, and solving the Palestinian refugee problem in accordance with Resolution 194."
"But what happened in the past two years... is the complete destruction of everything we built [under Oslo], and of what was built before. We are living below the poverty line in Gaza and the West Bank; our people are in a situation of loss, starvation, and suffering. The reason [for this] is that many people responded to the Israeli provocations, and the Intifada deviated from its natural course. They began, in an unprecedented manner, to use weapons and inventions at their disposal, such as mortars, grenades, and other things, and to shoot from homes and neighborhoods… In light of this reality, and as a result of these operations, we are talking about a military battle, not a popular uprising expressing popular rage to which none can be opposed. As you see, every day, all the West Bank cities are subject to operations of destruction because of the Israeli exploitation of operations that I think are neither necessary nor effective…"
"…We should have taken the opportunity of September 11, when Abu 'Ammar [Arafat] said, 'I am against terrorism.' Then the U.S. said: 'This is the man we want,' and applauded him. A short time later Sharon came and said: 'How do you applaud Arafat? You sold out Israel' and they told him, 'Quiet!'"
"But matters developed towards the worse possible scenario, because of the deterioration of events and because of the mistakes we made, which pushed Sharon to continue his aggression..."
All Palestinian Factions Should Agree on "Hudna" [Truce]
"Now, all the pressures are directed towards us and we are accused of doing nothing and standing behind all the operations. This is because we held our tongues in light of the terror, and this goes back to [the matter] of lack of control over the situation. Most unfortunately, we are not of one opinion in Gaza. Let us hold a dialogue and arrive at an understanding, first of all with Fatah, and then with the other [PLO] organizations - the PFLP and the Democratic Front - as well as Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad, so that we can say where we are headed. Through this dialogue, we will be able to arrive at a formula for agreement, a formula for Hudna [truce] in order to defend this state…"
"We will not be able to realize the goal by use of force. It is the obligation of the new government to determine the way, to declare it, and to persuade our people that this is the way that will lead to the wished-for goal. Then, here and there will remain a number of people who will deviate from the Palestinian consensus. We will try to force them to place the supreme Palestinian interest above their personal interest, with force if it becomes necessary."
Our Way Failed
"Some of these people said at the beginning that the Intifada would bring down Sharon because he rose to power to ensure security [for the Israelis]. Actually, Sharon did not fall, because the Intifada deviated from its proper path. I think that Sharon today is the most important leader the Zionist movement has known since Herzl - even he did not have the 80% support that Sharon does…"
"They said: 'We want to liberate Jerusalem and the occupied lands' and [in effect] the result [of the armed Intifada] was that the lands liberated in negotiations were reoccupied by force. Only the land of the Gaza Strip remains ours, and we hope to save it before it is too late…"
Stop Military Actions
"What, then, is required? We need to say clearly and with determination: 'No more, enough!' Because if we stop now, we will be able to continue conveying [a message] to the world that we were massacred and destroyed, that this is a crime that must be stopped, and that we want peace - and then anyone who believes in genuine peace will stand by our side. In this framework, I want to point out that for the first time, the world has begun to talk about a Palestinian state. And this is something that has not been said before… We are certain that Sharon will fall after three or four months of negotiations, because he will not be able to offer anything, as he is opposed to evacuating any settlement and to giving the Palestinians more than 50%-60% of the West Bank. As a result, the entire world will not listen to him and will tell him, 'You are not relevant,' and then his fate will be like that of Netanyahu: defeat and leaving the Knesset…"
"The special investments that came from abroad have fled and gone back to where they came from, across the world. With the funds that came to us we managed to build something on the earth; we had streets, hotels, buildings, schools, and universities. But many funds fled, and the question arises of why… This is a tragedy. We must ask ourselves why."
"Some [Palestinian] organizations do not really want the PA. They want to destroy it and take its place… Why did Fatah take part in this? Did we build the homeland to start a war?…"
"At the Ramallah symposium, it was said that our people are showing forbearance and are being steadfast. I told them that our people were fed up with all these things. The people want to eat and to be secure about their lives and property... The pots and pans demonstration in Gaza - why did the people go out into the streets like that? Obviously to tell us: 'We want to eat.'…"
"Up till now, we have no ministry or institute with a defined budget. Therefore I said that the finance minister has a vision and began [to implement] reform in a particular way. I understand how to manage finances - not a penny should come in without it going into the general budget and [also] not a single penny should go out without a document or order from one authority. If we achieve this, it will be the first successful step [towards reform]. Similarly, there must be an end to the [irregular] orders for payment from here and there. I know that we have ambassadors who have not received their allowances."
"We are not saying to stop the Intifada, but [we are saying the Intifada should be] directed and that the negative phenomena should be removed from it, particularly the phenomena of militarization. We can hold a demonstration or a march. But I do not like the word bloodshed. Shedding whose blood? The blood of our children, of your children? I said this at the Tanzim symposium in Ramallah, in which Fatah commanders and leaders participated. They were angry at me, criticized me, and told me: 'These are red lines'… Today, we need, for the sake of our interests, to stop [this] and to give ourselves a chance. May we win! Killing is not our hobby. We want to achieve the goal. This is the right question, which must be directed towards every man who says he wants to continue on this path."
Our Return was Possible Thanks to the Oslo
"When we signed the Oslo Accords, no one [stood] with us. They told us then that we would need to ask the people, and ask the opinion of some of the Arab countries. You know the accusations directed against us. As a result of [Oslo] we returned to our cities and obtained some of the homeland and here, we are in it. The phenomenon of the lost Palestinian at the airport and at border [control] is over, and [now] he can return to his homeland if he wants. Between 250,000 and 300,000 people returned to the homeland. The refugee problem still exists, but at least the phenomenon of displacement has been ended by negotiations and peace. It was impossible to end it by war. We were involved in many wars and you know what the results were. Did the Arab tanks encircle Tel Aviv when we signed Oslo? Israel was the state that was built to conquer the entire Arab world in one moment…"
The [Saudi] "Arab Initiative" Included the Right of Return
"The Arab summit convened and ratified the initiative that includes the refugee problem. This initiative was among the most successful initiatives that have arisen in modern history. This initiative is important because Saudi Arabia is behind it, which means that the Arab and Islamic world also stands behind it. The initiative is clear: land for peace and normalization. The prospect of normal relations in exchange for a full withdrawal is a great temptation for Israelis, so 60% of Israelis supported the initiative. At every opportunity, Washington began to talk of how the sources of authority for peace are [Resolutions] 242, 338, land for peace, and the 'Arab Initiative.' With the 'Arab Initiative,' we managed to base the right of refugees in principle."
Israeli Arabs Should Help Us by Bringing Down or Setting Up Israeli Governments
"There is another subject that must be pointed out. I have reservations about the participation of our Palestinian relatives - the Arabs of '48 - in the Intifada, although I greatly appreciated their sacrifice. This is because their participation was a very great mistake. We refused to involve them in the first and second Intifadas, telling them: 'You have a unique quality, you have a different role than ours, an important role in bringing down [Israel's] governments and making governments succeed. Remain on that path. If you want to help us, do it by providing supplies [to the PA] and by [holding] peace demonstrations with the Israeli peace movements.' But it didn't happen like that. At the beginning of the Intifada the first wave of their demonstrations broke out. Thirteen people were martyred and 80 were wounded, and then the Israelis arose and said: 'They live amongst us for 50 years, and this is how they behave? How is it possible to return the refugees?' And thus, quick as lightning, every Israeli began to ask himself: 'Can we agree to the return of such people? What benefit will be gained by this?'"
"When I spoke with them on this for the first time, clearly and sincerely, they were angry. I told them: 'You made a big mistake when you followed the street and your feelings and did not act coolly. You could have helped us another way, by other means. Do not forget that you have Israeli citizenship, and this is your advantage and ours, and [it is] by means of this that you will be able to protect us. [Do this] by [voting] no confidence in the Israeli governments. You will [also] be able to change the governments by means of your Knesset members. This is what happened in practice when Yitzhak Shamir was brought down; then the Labor Party had 56 members of Knesset, and the Arabs had 5 or 6 mandates.' Had they been seriously involved in the elections, as they were in the municipal elections, they would have been able to get 15-18 mandates and prevent the rise of a government that we do not want. When Rabin wanted to expropriate land in Jerusalem, the Arab MKs threatened no confidence, and as a result he retracted his decision. 'You, Arab citizen of Israel, can do much rationally and on the political level without chasing illusions and demagogy.' The consequences of [their wrong behavior] were extremely negative."
Israel Must Accept the Right of Return
"I listened honestly to a number of MKs and Israeli ministers. They asked how many refugees want to return. When they say these things, [it means that] they agree in principle. I told them: 'Agree to the principle and I will give you the number.' At Camp David they asked for the number and we told them: 'If you acknowledge the principle we will give you the number now.' Acknowledgement of the principle was the beginning. That is, [first comes the stage of] Israel's recognition of the right of every Palestinian refugee to return to his land. Then the refugee can choose whether or not to return. [Then] negotiations will begin on implementation and on possible options in each individual case."