Following are excerpts from the most recent and comprehensive interview with Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam (July 28, 2001):
The Camp David Summit
Q: "The PLO was not optimistic about Camp David and tried to postpone it, why?"
A: "First of all, the different Israeli governments refused to enter negotiations with us regarding issues of the permanent settlement. Netanyahu did not mention these issues even once during three years [of his administration]. However, when Barak became Prime Minister we were shocked from his five no's, which meant that they refuse to return to the 1967 borders, refuse to remove the settlements, refuse the right of return, and to return [East] Jerusalem. We are amazed at how the Israeli government wishes to negotiate the questions of permanent settlement, while at the same time sets limitations regarding these issues. We spoke with Barak more than once and told him that if this is Israel's position then what is the use in having the negotiation?"
"The American administration pressed us to enter negotiations. We traveled to Washington several times, and presented our positions to the American side; the essence of which was the implementation of [UN Security Council Resolutions] 242, 338, and 194..."
"From that moment on, both the Americans and the Israelis attempted to get concessions from us. We made clear to the American and Israeli sides several times that the Palestinian side is unable to make concessions on anything, since this is the minimum that it is willing to accept, and because the Palestinians had taken the difficult decision when they recognized Resolutions 242 and 338 in 1988…and will not agree to anything short of Resolution 242, and 338, together with Resolution 194."
"We never refused to go to Camp David, all we said is that if you want to enter negotiations you can't put time restrictions on them… There was no other way but to make preparations for this summit. The Americans refused [to accept this suggestion] right from the beginning. The Israelis thought that if we go directly to the summit, it would be possible [for them] to get Palestinian concessions. At this point, the Palestinian side absolutely insisted on the need to prepare for negotiations. In the meantime, we met with senior Israelis. I met with Barak one month prior to negotiations and told him that I'm hoping he understands that without preparations for negotiation, he will not succeed and the consequence will be a catastrophe. Additionally, [I told him that] if you have illusions that the Palestinian side can make concessions on land, borders, settlements, Jerusalem, or on refugees, you are daydreaming, since the official, real, and rational Palestinian position is what I tell you: 'We demand a return to the 1967 borders; in full.' If there is a need to make minor adjustments and [land] swaps that are equal in value and size then we will be ready to discuss it. We cannot agree to settlements on our land. We want Israel to recognize its responsibility for the refugee problem and for the right of return, and following that we will agree on ways to implement this right. Regarding Jerusalem, it is clear that East Jerusalem should return to us, and that West Jerusalem will be an open city. There is going to be cooperation between the [two] municipalities. This is our position, and you should absolutely ignore anything else…"
"Unfortunately, both the Americans and the Israelis insisted on going to Camp David… When we asked: 'What about the preparations?' The [Israelis] replied: 'The preparations can be done in two or three days.'"
"So there were reasons for our hesitation since we clearly knew that the failure of this summit is certain, and that it is impossible to reach a resolution for an issue that has been ongoing for a whole century in one, two or three weeks… In addition, we felt that Clinton wanted to crown the end of his second term in victory regardless of what this victory would look like. Certainly, this victory will be at our expense. Also, the Barak government started to disintegrate and thus he wanted to strengthen and consolidate it. He had no way of doing this, other than [through] any kind of victories…We knew all that, however, to prevent him from claiming that the Palestinians refuse to enter negotiations or that the Palestinians are afraid of the summit, we [agreed to] enter this summit and to go through with this experience. We did not yield to any pressure put on us since what was offered to us did not fit at all to the minimum of the Palestinian aspirations."
Q: "You mentioned pressure that was applied on you, what kind of pressure…?"
A: "We felt as if we were in a prison. The Americans and Israelis constantly applied personal and collective pressures so we would agree and so we would not waste any time, and not retract. They presented a gloomy picture to us in case we refused, but the issue was one of historical responsibility of crucial importance to our people, and thus we were unable to agree whatever the pressures."
Q: "Did pressures include murder threats?"
A: "There weren't any murder threats, but there were threats such as: 'if you will not accept [the offers] we will destroy your authority [PA], and if you will not do this, it will be your end, and if you will not agree to this your people will curse you, if you will not do this the US will repudiate you, if you will not agree to this we don't know what will be your fate'…"
Q: "Were there any temptations?"
A: "The temptations were in what was offered, but it is impossible to describe these as temptations since, despite the fact that it is true that they offered things that were never offered before, it never reached the level of our aspirations."
Q: "Some say that President Clinton was told … that if the Palestinian and the Israeli sides were to be brought to Camp David, an agreement could be reached. Was that your impression?"
A: "Yes, he was told that if he will bring the two sides together, and apply pressure on them, they will reach an agreement. He was told: 'Tempt them with percentages of land to be handed over, [tempt them with] the halting of part of the settlements, speak about money and aid, and about the refugees receiving forty billion dollars, etc.' But we replied that the issue was not one of money, aid, or land proportions, but an issue of [our] homeland…"
"For instance, when they said, prior to the Camp David negotiations, 'we will give you sixty-six percent of the land' they thought that they presented us with a generous offer. Later on, when I met with Barak, and when he said: 'we will give you eighty percent' I replied: 'the issue is not eighty or ninety percent. Give me one hundred percent of my borders, and if [there is going to be a need for border] changes, I am ready to accept them under the condition that they will be equal [on both sides] in both value and size.' We will not agree to anything less than that. They offered ninety percent, and they have already offered ninety – ninety-one percent [before], and told us to accept the nine percent [in return for] one percent in Halutza [in the Negev]; any sensible person could not have agreed to this."
Q: "[What was their offer on] refugees?"
A: "Israel refused to take responsibility for the refugee tragedy. Israel refused in principal to grant the Palestinians the right of return. She refused to even discuss the issue of compensations. They admitted to us that they squandered the Fund for the Assets of Absentees, which they established in 1949, and that they will not pay us even a single penny, but that they were willing to be one of the donor countries…"
"We made our position clear: they must take historical responsibility and accept the right of return and [responsibility for compensation for both those who wish to return] and those who do not. For those who wish to return - compensation would be for the use of their property, and for those who don’t wish to return - the compensation [will be for] the value of their property and sufferings. Additionally, they must pay compensation to the countries who host the refugees; this was all that we demanded. Unfortunately, when we were at Camp David, there were no more than two or three serious meetings regarding this issue, and when the Israeli side realized what our position was, they started stalling from the second or third day and until the end of the Camp David summit."
Q: "What solution did they offer for the issue of more than fifty-three years of misery…?"
A: "There was no offer. They did not offer compensation [even for] those opting for money [rather than for return]. Furthermore, they said that when we will receive compensation, half of it would go to them and [only] half for us. Why? Because they wish to compensate Jews who immigrated [to Israel] from Arab countries. We, of course, refuted this story quickly, and made clear they couldn’t even think about it. We told them: 'These Jews came [to Israel] out of their own free will and sold all of their property. If after all that they have demands, they can direct those to the countries from where they emigrated,' that is if they at all have such property, since we are convinced that they sold this property before they came to our country. The proof to that is that [former Likud Foreign Minister] David Levy traveled to Morocco, where he visited his home for which he had a key, they asked him: 'Is this your house?' He replied positively. When they asked him how come he is not returning to it, he replied: 'I sold it.'"
Q: "Many Israelis claim that the goal of Palestinian insistence on the right of return is to destroy the State of Israel, since it is possible to demographically destroy the state of Israel with the right of return. Are these really the Palestinian goals?"
A: "We do not wish to destroy the State of Israel. From the very beginning, when we entered into the peace process, we decided in principle that we would live with the State of Israel in co-existence. The Palestinian refugee issue is a very sensitive one. You have four million refugees which all came out of the land of historical Palestine, and they have the right to return to their homes. We do not force the refugees to return, but if some of them will decide to do so they must have the ability. This will be done through an agreement between us and the Israelis."
"There are those who would say: You had five offers and you rejected them all. But what were these offers? [The first offer] was that the refugees will stay in their place, but this does not offer us a solution. The second offer, [was that] they go to a third country. The third offer, that they go to the Palestinian state. The fourth offer was that some of the refugees would go to Halutza. And the fifth offer was that Israel could accept several of them based on humanitarian considerations. I don’t think that this complies with Resolution 194 or the right of return. All these proposals rely on the sovereignty of other states. For instance, the Palestinian refugees will be allowed to remain in their places if the host countries would agree to that. They will go to a third country if these countries would agree to host them. They will return to Israel conditioned upon its sovereignty and decisions. The meaning of all is [actually] that all the refugees will return to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. And you must realize the following: seventy percent of Gaza's residents, and forty-five percent of those of the West Bank are [themselves] refugees. Imagine that all the refugees will return to the West Bank and Gaza. This does not make any sense."