Following are excerpts from the most recent and comprehensive interview with Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam (July 28, 2001):
Q:"What, in detail, has Israel proposed regarding Jerusalem?"
A: "They left the Jerusalem issue for the last moment. At the beginning they spoke of the Wall, which consists of the Wailing Wall and the Western Wall. Later, they spoke of the Armenian Quarter, and then they spoke of the Al-Magharba neighborhood, which they call the 'Jewish Quarter.' We told them: 'We would not agree that you would have any kind of presence in the Western Wall. However, you may conduct [religious] ceremonies at the Wailing Wall. Regarding the Al-Magharba neighborhood, it would be possible to find a solution; beyond that, East Jerusalem, in its entirety, must be ours.’"
"On the last day, they presented us with the most ridiculous proposal: that the supervision over the [Haram] will be Palestinian whereas the sovereignty over what's underneath will be Israeli. We, of course, viewed this as a joke and as an offensive proposal, which we are unable to accept, and thus we rejected it."
"Regarding the proposals which came up following Camp David, and specifically with regard to what was termed the Clinton Proposal, namely that the 'Arab homes will be for the Arabs and the Jewish homes for the Jews’. What is known as the Holy Basin, which includes what is inside and outside of the Wall, the Silwan Village, Mount of Olives, and more will be subject to international sovereignty of twenty supervising countries. In short, part of East Jerusalem and its surroundings will be handed over to international custody. With regards to the settlements that they established in Jerusalem – they absolutely refused to discuss this issue."
Q:"Many Israelis and Americans are trying to promote what was offered at Camp David, using attractive language such as: We offered you ninety-five percent along with almost full control over East Jerusalem. What is your reaction?
A: "When they say: 'We offered you ninety-five percent,' I'm asking: 'Why not one hundred percent?' When they are saying, almost full control over Jerusalem: [I'm asking] 'Why wouldn’t the control be full?' While they are talking about Israeli positions – [I am asking]: 'Why shouldn’t there be an international security force, similar to the ones in Sinai, South Lebanon, or on the Syrian border? If they wish to have security, we have no objection for the presence of an international force between them and us. However, we object to Israeli security on our land since this interferes with our sovereignty. They are sugar coating everything with nice words, but unfortunately many people think that these were tempting offers and they complain about us rejecting them. However, they absolutely misunderstand what was actually offered: the meaning of the offer was cantons and definitely not an independent state."
"They proposed ninety-one percent at Camp David, and ninety-four percent at Taba in return for land exchanges measuring between one and three percent. The meaning of this is that there is five percent left over. The five percent equals twice the size of the Gaza Strip. This means that they want to take [land] in the West Bank, with no compensation, double the size of the Gaza Strip."
Q:"It was said that one of the reasons for the failure of the Camp David summit was that the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, isolated himself and sat in his room all by himself [what is your comment?]"
A: "Due to personal reasons not known to me, Barak did not show up at all during some days. He would be hiding, and we would hear that he is not meeting with his colleagues or with the Americans. We would hear about this but we did not know the reasons for his self-isolation. But there is one very important thing and that is that there was never a trilateral meeting between him, President Arafat, and Clinton. Despite the fact that it was possible to assume that they would meet, talk, and exchange [views], this did not happen even once. Barak would send the teams and they would stall time."
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Q:"Many Israelis and Americans, and even some Palestinians, claim that the Palestinians did not give Clinton's ideas a positive consideration."
A: "Unfortunately, these same Israelis, Americans, and few Palestinians are deluding themselves. You could say that they are rushing [to judge], or that they were blinded by a few Israeli proposals that were [actually] empty. Regarding the options for the refugees, when you read the options you discover they're really not options. When you discuss [the claim] that they offered us ninety-five percent of the territory, you realize that the remaining five percent controls the water resources and divides the West Bank into four cantons... five hundred fifty kilometers. Why should I donate that land? What makes the settlements legitimate? The Sinai settlements were uprooted, and Barak himself decided to uproot all the settlements in the Golan if there is going to be an agreement [with Syria]. Why won't they uproot all of the settlements [in our area]?"
"Unfortunately, few of our brothers – Palestinians and non-Palestinians – found these offers tempting. However, we believe that what was offered to us was actually humiliating and we must not accept it or even discuss it. When a Palestinian says that we have missed an opportunity, or a tempting or a beneficial offer, it weakens the Palestinian position, since, [consequently] the Americans and Israelis say: 'Here is a Palestinian who agrees with our position.' Such things, unfortunately, severely hurt the Palestinian position."
Q:"Is what Robert Malley said true, namely, that Clinton made a mistake trying to play with the contrast amongst the Palestinians?
A: "I have already said that they applied collective and individual pressures. Yes, they tried to grab on any word, from anyone, that remotely resembled a concession. Even during unofficial negotiations, which they conducted with non-governmental Palestinian organizations, when they would get any kind of word from a Palestinian, they would grab onto it and bring it to the formal negotiations and say: 'the Palestinians said this and that.' But who are the Palestinians? The Palestinians are President Arafat, and he is the one who makes the decisions. We would tell them: 'Have you heard anything from President Arafat? If you have not heard from him, anything else you’ve heard is a lie.' We repeatedly warned the Israelis and Americans regarding this issue. I told Barak, 'I hope that you will hear from us and not about us,' meaning, if he wishes to learn what is the Palestinian position he must hear it from President Arafat and not from anyone else. Only President Arafat represents the Palestinian position. Yes, sometimes they would play this card."
Q:"That said, was Camp David a trap which you managed to escape from?"
A: "Certainly. This was a trap. From beginning to end, and we survived it. No one was ever subject to pressures such as those applied on us. Imagine yourself not being able to speak with anyone or go outside of [Camp David]. Once I went out with brother Abu Alaa to speak with advisors. This caused a big fuss. We went out for only fifteen minutes. [When we returned, we were asked:] 'How did you get out? From where? Why?' There was barbed wire, police, and military. And you should know this: We went out in coordination with the American security, apparently, without them getting the authorization from the higher levels. Throughout the entire period [of the summit] we stayed at Camp David, isolated and under siege."
Q:"How was the relationship between you and the Israelis during the Camp David summit?"
A: "Normal relationship. We would sit to the dining table, eat, and talk. But the negotiations were very difficult. What I am trying to say is that the human relations and the formal relations were completely different. Meaning, our relationship with them was excellent, but this does not mean that if there is an excellent relationship with someone I will make concessions to him. He [Barak] thought that if my relationship with him is excellent he could influence me. No. These are two different things."
Q:"Now, a year following Camp David, do you feel a sense of regret for not accepting the proposal which was presented to you?"
A: "Not at all. I don't feel any sense of regret. What we did was the right thing to do. The Israelis and the Americans deluded themselves and others that in that way, and based that information which they gathered from here and there, they could coerce us [into doing] something and to come out of this summit victorious."
"We discussed the opportunity very seriously and responded to everything that was offered to us with both counter offers and with written proposals and we have records for all of that. We were not negative, despite the fact that they are trying to present us as the ones who rejected, as if they made offers and we [only] rejected them. These things are incorrect."
"Right from the beginning we said that the goal of the negotiations was to implement Resolutions 242 and 338, and that this slightly diverts from Madrid [the 1991 Conference]. So we agreed on that. We have the right to demand it. Can you call the demand for what was agreed upon - stubbornness?"
Q:"If this is the situation, what can you tell people who claim that you missed an opportunity?"
A: "I tell them that the opportunity never existed. The opportunity was never offered by anyone. There were a few ideas that were unacceptable, and the proof to that is that many Israelis and Americans say that they were unacceptable. Take Robert Malley for example, he says that the Israeli proposals never reached the Palestinians minimum aspirations. Now the Israeli and American press begin to uncover many documents and many of them are saying that there wasn’t any opportunity and that it is a big lie."
"We are not inflexible and we are not radical, we do not support terror or violence, but only peace. We started Oslo and accepted the principle of peace, not peace at any price, but peace that is based on justice, and the meaning of justice is international legitimacy. I am not asking for absolute justice, I mean relative justice that was confirmed by the international legitimacy. We did not miss an opportunity at all, but rather survived a trap which was laid for us."