October 4, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 793

Abu Mazen: The Whole Intifada Was a Mistake

October 4, 2004
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 793

The Jordanian daily newspaper Al-Rai recently published an interview with former PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). [1] The following are excerpts from the interview:

'We Need to Put Our House in Order'

Question: "Why did you not conclude the negotiations before [Netanyahu's election], when it was known that Netanyahu had a fair chance of winning?"

Abbas: "… Oslo was stalled due to the actions of the various Israeli governments; afterwards there was Camp David and after that the Intifada. Sharon's visit [to the Temple Mount] was a bad beginning after which came the Intifada, and the continuation [of the Intifada ] was the worst thing. I think now that that the Intifada in its entirety was a mistake and it should not have continued, and in particular what is called 'the militarization of the Intifada '…"

Question: "The negotiations did not yield any results, so why do you think that the Intifada was the worst option?"

Abbas: "If we were to sum up where we have ended up after four years of the Intifada, [we would find that] there are three opinions: the first opinion is that after the killing of 1,000 Israelis in the Intifada, Israel would collapse, as would Sharon; the second opinion is that the armed Intifada would liberate the homeland; the third opinion is that the Intifada would bring the settlements to a halt. An examination [of the matter] shows that Sharon did not fall. On the contrary, he has become the most popular [leader] in the history of Israel, after having been subjected to condemnations in Israel. On the same note, all of the Palestinian lands are now occupied and vulnerable, and the settlements have nearly doubled. We damaged our relations with the Americans and with Israeli public opinion; the latest statement from the Quartet is an additional indication of what has become of us."

Question: "You alluded to a fourth opinion concerning the Intifada – what is it?"

Abbas: "The fourth opinion says: stop the 'militarization' of the Intifada. Let us fulfill our obligations as they appear in the Road Map and in the Basic Law, and let us convince the world that we have fulfilled our obligations and that Sharon must fulfill his. Yet today the entire world condemns us instead of condemning Sharon."

Question: "What must the Palestinian side do in order to get out of this situation?"

Abbas: "We need to put our house in order. That is the first condition. This has not been done, and the fourth voice has been weak and has not been heard."

If Israel Eliminated the Absentees Property Fund 'then Hitler's Decisions Were Right'

Question: "Who is responsible for the failure of Camp David, and does Yasser Arafat share in this failure?"

Abbas: "The truth is that throughout the 16 days of Camp David there was no such thing as the 'Clinton Plan,' but rather there were [only] ideas. In the course of the last two days at Camp David only three issues were discussed: borders, refugees, and Jerusalem.

"The first mistake was that Camp David was convened without preparation… Moreover, there was not even a single meeting between Arafat and Barak. All that happened was that Clinton would come to us and to them and speak about some ideas…

"As for borders, Clinton suggested this solution: 80% of the West Bank for you [i.e. for the Palestinians] and the rest for the Israelis, of which 8% would be left [under Israeli control] and the remainder could be leased out for 20 years, and in part of this leased area there would be military posts. We began to discuss the question: 'why do [we have] to lose 20%?' After a long discussion, Clinton offered 92%. We rejected this offer and we said to them that our position was that we were prepared to agree to the '67 borders with minor reciprocal modifications. Clinton came back and said that the offer was 92% and another 1% 'in the framework of a land swap. We once again refused. We must not accept [such a proposal], not now nor in the future…

"Then there was the issue of the refugees. The Israelis' idea was the following: 'there were 150,000 refugees that left, of which 100,000 died, and we are considering allowing the remaining 50,000 to return.' We started to try to convince them that the number of those who left stood at 950,000, and we reached a stage [where we agreed on] 600,000-700,000. The Israeli side said that Jews from Arab countries came in their place [i.e., in place of the Palestinian refugees] 'so it's one-for-one and we want 40 million dollars in reparations, of which half will go to you, the Palestinians, and half will go to the Israeli side.' We presented them with evidence and documentation that the Jews took all of their property before leaving the Arab states and that I, as the Palestinian side, have nothing to do with any Arab state from which Jews emigrated and that that is not my responsibility.

"We succeeded in convincing Clinton that there are Palestinians who have the right of return and that that is a right that they may opt to exercise, as is the right to reparations. We explained all of the details and we proposed to start with [the refugees in] Lebanon. In addition, we asked [then State Attorney] Elyakim Rubinstein about the Absentee Property Fund, and he admitted that Israel 'axed it' in a cabinet decision. I said to him: 'If that's the case, then Hitler's decisions were right.' This tells you something about the kind of reasoning and dialogue that went on with the Israeli side at Camp David…"

Question: "[I ask] once again, who is responsible for the failure [of the Camp David summit]?"

Abbas: "Clinton told Abu Ammar [Yasser Arafat] and me that he intended to issue a communiqué [on this subject], but he promised us that he would not place the responsibility for the failure at Camp David on anybody in particular. And then he went and mentioned Arafat [as responsible for the failure]. However the truth is that Yasser Arafat was more flexible than I was at Camp David, but no serious proposals were made…"

Oslo was the Greatest Palestinian Achievement – 'It is what Made Yasser Arafat President'

Question: "Was Oslo a mistake?"

Abbas: "No. After all, I am 'the father of Oslo.' Perhaps if Rabin were still alive he could have done what no one else before him or after him has been able to do. This is because he was prepared to take measures, which he called 'painful measures,' to reach peace…"

Question: "Do you think that Oslo was the Palestinians' greatest achievement?"

Abbas: "Without a doubt. It is what made Yasser Arafat president."

Three Primary Causes for the Fall of My Government

Question: "There are those who say that America and Israel took advantage of your resignation as a pretext for Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people, alleging that President Arafat brought down your government."

Abbas: "Let's say that there were three primary causes for the fall of my government: the first was that Israel didn't give a thing, [the second is that] the Americans dragged their heels, and [the third is that] the Palestinians attacked me. Had there been no problem within our ranks [we could have claimed] that the problem was only from the Israeli side. We succeeded in getting 52 days of complete quiet in the Palestinian territories and on the 53rd day there was a [terror] operation in August in Jerusalem. Not only that, but they [the Palestinians] claimed responsibility for it and the truce [ hudna ] collapsed…"

Question: "If Israel foiled [the negotiations] and the Americans dragged their heels, how did things deteriorate to the point where the Palestinians took part in bringing down your government?"

Abbas: "Let me give you an example. Before I went to the summit in Aqaba, the Road Map was drawn up. I agreed to the obligations that were placed on us and at the same time the American side demanded that I not 'forget' to mention in my speech at the Aqaba Summit that 'Israel is a Jewish state.' I believed that it was not my job [to say this] and that's what I told them.

"Afterwards I gave my well-known speech at Aqaba and it was received with a quite irrational storm and fury and a flood of questions: why did you speak about the Jews' suffering? So I said that I also spoke of the Palestinians' suffering. Why didn't you mention the refugees? I told them that I talked about the final-status issues, of which are six in number and one of them is the refugee issue, without having mentioned this issue [explicitly] in a 15-minute long speech. The criticism was only for the sake of criticism and the condemnation was only for the sake of condemnation. Every step was greeted with a contrary reaction. So much for the political level.

"As for the domestic [Palestinian] level, we began internal reform until I came on September 4th [to the legislative council] and they received me with an armed demonstration at the entrance to the council and all of the windows were broken… I tendered my resignation and I don't know how Israel and America took advantage of that…

"There are those who say that [the current PM Ahmad Qurei, a.k.a.] Abu Alaa has failed. I say that he has not failed since he hasn't done anything and has not exercised his authority. There are those today who describe the Minister of the Interior, Hakam Bal'awi, as weak. I ask: has he tried [to do anything]? Up to this day Abu Alaa's government has not attempted to act, nor has it had the opportunity. When they do something, then we will judge them…"

Question: "Can you tell us why President Arafat is interested in not granting powers to the prime minister and why he does not want to allow the Palestinians to put their house in order?"

Abbas: "I don't know. He probably believes that if they were to take these powers away from him, then they would get rid of him."

Question: "Why does Abu Ammar refuse to grant powers to you and to other ministers despite the international and Arab demands?"

Abbas: "There is no answer to that question. When our internal affairs are settled, Abu Ammar will be in the White House."

Question: "You constantly emphasize that fulfilling this international demand [for reform] will jumpstart the situation [in the PA], so why does Arafat stubbornly refuse?"

Abbas: "If this will happen and there will be a reexamination of how to regulate security affairs, and there will be elections, then I tell you Abu Ammar will be visiting the White House within five months."

Question: "On what then is the PA betting?"

Abbas: "Perhaps on the elections in America, but I tell you that this wager is a waste of time, since as far as everything concerning us, Bush and Kerry are the same."

[1] Al-Rai (Jordan), September 27, 2004.

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