August 29, 2000 No.

Abu Mazen on the Peace Process

PLO Executive Committee Chairman Mahmoud 'Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, is widely perceived as Arafat’s deputy and was a member of the Palestinian negotiating team at Camp David. He is considered one of the more moderate leaders in the PLO. Following are excerpts from an interview he gave to the Israeli-Arab weekly Kul Al-Arab[1]:

Question: What is the status of the peace process at this stage?

Abu Mazen: ...The position we presented before and during the Camp David [summit] is both true and just, because we made all the compromises anyone can demand from us and accepted resolutions 242 and 338. Therefore, we have nothing [more] to offer on the basic issues of Jerusalem and the refugees... The lands occupied [by Israel] in 1967 must be returned. All the Arab countries that fought Israel have regained their lands and therefore, it is our right to get our lands back as well. We consider Jerusalem an occupied territory. Resolution 242 states that there should be a just solution to the refugee problem and this solution also appears in resolution 194: compensation to whoever does not want to return. We also demanded that our lands that were occupied in 1967 should be cleared of settlements, like in the Israeli withdrawals from Egypt and Jordan, and as it will be in the case of Syria. [Once that happens,] we will live side by side with the Israelis and everybody will enjoy peace and security.

Question: [Israeli] Minister Shlomo Ben 'Ami said that the efforts do not focus on reconvening the summit but rather on looking for some flexibility on the Palestinian side. What is your comment?

Abu Mazen: I don't understand what he means by "some flexibility!" When we [gave up] the [1947] Partition Resolution and accepted resolution 242 -- wasn't that flexibility!? [We conceded] half of the lands that had been given to us in the Partition Resolution. [In addition,] we say that Jerusalem will be an open city and that there will be a joint Israeli-Palestinian city council and municipal cooperation. We say that the holy places will be open to [believers] of all religions. Regarding the refugee problem, we presented a position that protects the right of whoever wants to return, but they don't want anyone to return. [They claim] that any refugee who wants to return should do it on the basis of humanitarian cosiderations [reunion of families]. The Israelis even refused to pay the compensation. They admitted that they have "swallowed" and stolen all the money in the 'Absentees Properties Fund,' [The properties of the refugees] in accordance with Israeli law. But they want us to participate in compensating the Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries. This is a strange logic. Also, in Jerusalem, they want sovereignty over the Haram [i.e. Temple Mount mosques] and to pray there. Who can possibly accept such demands?...

Question: The Israeli side speaks of a creative solution regarding Jerusalem. What are the proposals that were brought up in Camp David?

Abu Mazen: First, they presented solutions of annexation rather than creative solutions. When they talked about Jerusalem, they presented a whole rainbow [of solutions] in which each part of Jerusalem has its own status. [They said:] Inside the Haram there will be a special status; the Armenian Quarter will be ours [i.e. Israel's]. The neighborhoods outside the walls will be autonomous; the neighborhoods outside of Jerusalem will be under [Palestinian] sovereignty. These ideas are neither creative nor acceptable. Regarding the refugees, they refused to accept the Right of Return and the moral, historic, and legal responsibility for the refugees' plight. Some Israeli historians wrote about the massacres that were committed and [even] mentioned massacres we did not know about…. Thus, they proved that Israel, purposefully and premeditatedly, planned to drive out the refugees. In other words, the refugees left neither because their leaders called on them to do so, nor because of the war. The Israelis must bear the legal and historic responsibility. It is only natural that each refugee return to his home and whoever does not want to return will receive compensation.

Question: The Israelis say that the Palestinian side will have political sovereignty in Jerusalem by allowing the Arab citizens to vote for the Palestinian Legislative Council, while the Jews will vote for the Israeli Knesset. What is your comment?

Abu Mazen: This is great!! Just great!! They want to annex Jerusalem and give us the citizens. They do not want these citizens to avoid an increased burden [on Israel.] Such talk is nonsense. We do not accept this...

Question: It seems that we have reached a dead end...

Abu Mazen: We are ready to negotiate, to meet, and to talk. But when we ask them to make concessions, they refuse. We have made excessive concessions. [If the Israelis do not make concession too,] we will open the records of the past and demand the country in which they live [i.e. Israel in its pre-1967 boundaries.]

Question: The Israelis want you to forget the past and turn your gaze to the future...

Abu Mazen: According to this logic, he who wants to forget the past [namely, the Israelis] should not claim that the [Jewish] Temple is underneath the Haram. They demand that we forget what happened to the refugees 50 years ago and at the same time they claim that 2000 years ago they had a holy place there. I challenge the assertion [that there has ever been a Jewish temple.] But even if it were true, we do not accept it because it is not the logic of someone who wants a practical peace. We took a historic step when we accepted resolution 242 while three quarters of the Palestinian people rejected this resolution [242] and demanded, as a minimum, the Partition Resolution [of 1947]. Have the Jews forgotten that in 1948 they owned only 5.6% of Palestine while the Partition Resolution gave them 56% and that they took over 79% through occupation. We do not forget history.

Question: What do you say about the settlements?

Abu Mazen: Whenever the Israelis add another stone, they claim that it is irreversible and that no Israeli prime minister would dare remove it. We say that no Palestinian leader would dare accept it. We will not give up on Jerusalem because Jerusalem does not belong [only] to us but rather to all the Arabs in the world, Muslim and Christians alike. These people do not want peace. I am not talking to you as a hawk, but rather as the smallest among the doves. We cannot possibly allow the West Bank to turn into cantons. This is not peace. They want to humiliate us and we will not allow it...

Question: Will the Palestinian side agree to postpone the pending issues?

Abu Mazen: No, no...

Question: Do you think the US serves as an honest broker?

Abu Mazen: The US serves as a mediator, but not necessarily one that talks "straightforwardly." We are aware of the nature of relations [between the US and] Israel. We only demand reasonable neutrality, not [even] absolute neutrality from the Americans. The Israelis and Americans had the illusion that Arafat will sit at Camp David for a week, give them what they want, and go home. It was proved that Arafat will not go there for a week, ten days, or even a year, and sign an agreement that does not answer the [Palestinian] minimal [demands.] It is possible that we made a mistake in presenting our minimal [rather than maximum] demands...

Question: In case of a [Palestinian] referendum, will the Arab minority in Israel have the right to participate in it?

Abu Mazen: No, I say this clearly: You [i.e. Israeli Arabs] are in Israel and we would not wish to get you involved in this. Such a position may infuriate many. This is your legal status [namely, Israeli citizenship].

Question: What about the prisoners from amongst the Arabs of the "inside" [i.e. Israeli Arabs]? Do you demand their release?

Abu Mazen: Undoubtedly. We demand the release of any person, especially if this person became a prisoner for security reasons...

Question: Was the issue of territory exchange brought up and I mean the transferring of the [Israeli-Arab city of] Um Al-Fahm to Palestinian control?

Abu Mazen: Not at all. We demanded that the exchange of territories include lands that are vacant of any population from both sides of the border. If they want to change - it should be equal in size and value on both sides. Also, these lands should be empty of people...

Question: What is your position regarding the declaration of [the unilateral Palestinian] state?

Abu Mazen: The Central Council will convene on September 8th and decide about the declaration of the state on September 13 or at a later date... my personal opinion is not important and I keep it to myself.

Question: What about the holy places?

Abu Mazen: I don't know. I had a conversation with Barak and he told me that he intends to destroy all the settlements in the Golan... Why, then, in our case are the settlements holy and cannot be removed? If you say that everything is holy, you don’t want peace. I, for example, can demand all the holy places. Is it possible, for example, that we demand the Church in Nazareth?

Question: It seems that the elections in Israel are nearing, since the Israeli right closes ranks. What is your analysis of the Israeli political scene and is the peace process in danger?

Abu Mazen: I don't think so. The love of peace has begun to develop more and more amongst the Israeli people who have been living in a ghetto, and now are beginning to feel the value of peace….. If Barak brought an agreement and presented it in a referendum, the Israeli people would approve it. However, Barak will not win the elections for several personal, partisan, and religious reasons. The Israeli people have more clarity [of vision] than their leadership and if it had been in the people's hands, we would have found a solution by now. The position of the Israeli leadership is unjustifiably extreme.

Question: Do you demand that Barak rely on the votes of [Israeli] Arabs and Arab parties in forming a blocking alliance [against the opposition?]

Abu Mazen: We have for a while demanded that he rely on the votes of the Arabs who are part of the Israeli state, and form a blocking alliance.

Question: Will you call on Israeli Arabs to vote for Barak in case of new elections?

Abu Mazen: This is premature. We don’t like to interfere in such matters. You know your interest better than we and can choose whom to vote for...

Question: Why was the [American-Palestinian] exchange [in Camp David] done in writing? Does it testify to the lack of trust between the two sides?

Abu Mazen: No, no. It was done for history's sake, so that no problem of interpretation regarding a certain word or sentence evolves. The Definite Article "the" in resolution 242 has caused enough misunderstanding and problems.[2]

Question: Does the option of struggle still exist?

Abu Mazen: I hope there will be no struggle between us and the Israelis.

[1] Kul Al-Arab (Israel), August 8, 2000.

[2] This refers to the assertion in the English version of Resolution 242 that the withdrawal should be from "territories" rather than "the territories".