July 2, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 534

Interview with PLC Head Ahmad Qurei'(Abu Alaa): 'Bush's Words on the Jewish Identity of Israel Arouses Concern For the Right of Return;' 'Oslo Was an Achievement Because We Gave Nothing In Exchange'

July 2, 2003
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 534

The Lebanese daily Al-Nahar [1] published an interview with the chairman of the Palestinian Legislative Council Ahmad Qurei' (Abu Alaa). The following are excerpts from the interview:

The Aqaba and Sharm Al-Sheikh Summits

Question: "To what extent can we talk of the road map's successful implementation after the Aqaba summit and in light of the direct involvement of the American president George Bush?"

Qurei': "…In my opinion, the Sharm Al-Sheikh summit did not focus solely on the Palestinian issue but [on the situation] after the war on Iraq. It may be that the summit discussed arrangements in the region, but unfortunately there was no announcement from the summit responding to what was agreed upon in Beirut by the Arab leaders – that is, land for peace, a return to the 1967 borders, an end to the conflict, and discussion of the refugee return issue. Then the Aqaba summit convened, and it focused ostensibly on the Palestinian issue, but actually there was an attempt to appease the friends from the U.S. President Yasser Arafat was absent from [such a] summit, for the first time, and this is something that we cannot [ignore]. It is unacceptable, even if he was the one who appointed the summit delegation members. This is a very dangerous precedent. We created the post of prime minister because it was a Palestinian need, not [in compliance] with Israeli or American demands. It should have been said that the Palestinian leadership headed by Arafat has decided to participate in both summits."

"The Aqaba summit must be looked at from the point of view of what was said and what was not said there. The Palestinian side stated the commitments demanded of it [by the Americans], and we on our part did not point out the Palestinian principles, that is, Jerusalem, the refugees, the 1967 borders, water, and the settlements. President Bush's statement that Israel is a Jewish state aroused much concern among us. These words should not have been said. This summit had positive elements, and they are: the emphasis that a Palestinian state is the right of the Palestinian people – but issues regarding the essence [of this state] and its nature will be determined by negotiation."

Question: "Why didn't the Palestinian side mention the Palestinian principles, and did President Bush's statement [that Israel is a Jewish state] reflect an essential shift [in the Palestinians' position], that is, relinquishing the right of return?"

Qurei': "Abu Mazen did not speak of the principles because they are obvious. This aroused concern among people, even though [these principles] are obvious and even though no one can deviate from them. If this was not the case, why did Camp David fail? Not mentioning [the Palestinian principles] does not mean denial of them, even if they should have been mentioned."

"With regard to Bush's words – what is the meaning of a Jewish state? Do we say: 'This is a Jewish state, this is a Sunni state, this is a Shi'ite state, or Alawi, and this other [state] is Christian?' These are definitions that will bring the region into turmoil. It also causes concern regarding the right of return, which is one Palestinian principle that none must discuss before we come to the negotiating table."

The Road Map

Question: "Have there been changes... which [make] it is possible to think that the road map will succeed?"

Qurei': "The road map is not a solution, it sets the starting [point] that may turn into a breakthrough in a completely stagnant peace process. It does not give a solution for the issues of the refugees, Jerusalem, and water. What is important is that it is an international effort, and this is highly significant. But whether it will succeed or not? I will say in all honesty that the Sharon government, in its present composition, cannot respond to the demands of the road map, since it includes two elements calling for expelling the Palestinians – National Unity Party leader [Avigdor] Lieberman and National Religious Party leader Effi Eitam. Were the Israeli government to be reassembled from forces that have tried and made peace, such as the Labor Party, Meretz, and others – and I cannot say with determination that there is [in Israel] a force fully committed to peace – then, in my opinion, there might be a possibility for the road map to succeed."

Abu Mazen

Question: "After the uproar about Abu Mazen's call to stop the 'militarization of the Intifada,' how do you think it is possible to unite the Palestinian position and prevent civil war?"

Qurei': "I am not worried about Palestinian unity. Suffering has taught us that our blood, spilled by enemies, cannot be spilled by members of our people. We [can be] divided [in our opinions], and this is the legitimate, permitted right [of the opposition factions]. But it is a mistake to aim the Palestinian weapon at a Palestinian. I think that no one from the Palestinian forces would do it. We need dialogue, and it is to this that we aspire."

Question : "To what extent can Abu Mazen unite the Palestinian discourse?"

Qurei' : "I think that he acts towards this goal. The one who can do this is President Arafat, because Abu Mazen is the PA prime minister and not the PA president. Abu Mazen adhered to the unity of the political discourse…"

Question : "Arafat still repeats that it is he who chose Abu Mazen to be prime minister but in the past few days, in anger, he has said, 'Abu Mazen was not my choice.'"

Qurei' : "I don't think that brother Abu 'Ammar said that. These two men have long, historic relations [in the framework of] the struggle, for over 40 years. Abu 'Ammar chose Abu Mazen as a signatory of Oslo in Washington together with him, [and chose him] a second time as a signatory to Oslo II, and also chose him as secretary-general of [the PLO] Executive Committee."

"The truth is that there were no pressures in favor of this or that individual, but pressure [was applied] in favor of what was – unjustly – called a reform process. In all honesty, the Israelis talk of revolution against President Arafat, and this is unacceptable. The Americans talk of marginalizing him, and this too is unacceptable. Everyone [must] realize that it is not possible to make peace without Arafat playing the main part. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell recently hinted at similar things, when he warned that Arafat must act in a positive manner. This is acknowledgement of his role. He also said: 'I recognize that he is the elected president, and I cannot bypass him.'"

Suicide Bombings

Question: "Will the operations that some call martyrdom operations and some call suicide operations continue?"

Qurei': "I personally support a halt to these operations, and support giving the peace process an opportunity to return to its natural track. This is because I think that the current Intifada has had great achievements and we must exploit them. It was the first Intifada that brought about Oslo, and this is an important and great achievement because it did so without us giving anything. But I am not saying that the current Intifada must end. But it must turn towards another track and another direction. There are many diverse means our people can employ in order to express our absolute resistance to the occupation. At the same time that I say martyrdom operations must stop, I [also] say that the Israelis are the terrorists and that they are the ones that use organized state terror."

The Stockholm and Camp David Talks

Question: "You knew President Clinton, and everyone agrees that he adhered to the peace process. But he said Arafat made the Palestinians miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Is this true?"

Qurei': "There is no doubt that President Clinton was determined, wanted to reach a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and invested unusual efforts [in trying to do so], and to this I am witness. But there was no serious Israeli partner. Prior to Camp David, there were serious negotiations in Stockholm. I personally held these negotiations, with [then-Israeli foreign minister] Shlomo Ben-Ami. We did not attain the necessary success, but we made much progress. For example, we agreed that the eastern border of the Palestinian state would run from Beit She'an in the north, to the Dead Sea in the south. Then we turned to the west, and almost reached [an agreement] regarding the western borders. We set out the principle that says that the borders are the 1967 borders with mutual adjustments. This is the first time I am speaking of this matter, because I want to talk about Camp David."

"Twenty days before Camp David, Shlomo Ben Ami came and said: 'We must go to the Camp David summit.' I said to him: 'If the gap between us is not clear – and the gap is small – then Camp David will lead to disaster. It is inconceivable that the leaders will come to the summit to talk about the matter from beginning to end. But if we go to the summit with clear positions – this is another matter."

"We went to Camp David without presenting clear positions to the leaders, and this is what caused the disaster. I said these things in public after they announced the [American] invitation to Camp David. I tried to get out of participating in the summit, but I went [anyway], and I participated, and there were problems there. The Israelis and the Americans suggested nothing at all to which the Palestinians could have said 'yes,' on various issues, and therefore the summit failed. But this does not mean that we can be blamed for the failure of the summit. Our rights are sacred and we cannot relinquish them. Had Camp David been one round of negotiations, then I would say it was excellent. But as a decisive summit, it was a failure."

Question: "You knew President Clinton. What is the difference between him and President Bush?"

Qurei': "I don't know Bush personally, but in light of what I have seen regarding Clinton it is hard for me to think that there will be another American president with such motivation. With regard to President Bush, Brother Abu Mazen told me he saw that President Bush too now has great motivation to attain peace. I hope this is true…"

The Refugees in Lebanon

Question: "…What is your attitude towards Lebanon, the country that cultivated the Palestinian revolution for a number of years? Is it a wound in the heart of the Palestinians who lived on its land…?"

Qurei': "…My love for Lebanon and its people runneth over in my heart – Lebanon that embraced and still embraces our refugee Palestinian people who wait to return to their homes."

The Al-Rantisi Assassination Attempt

Question: "Will the assassination attempt on Al-Rantisi affect the peace process?"

Qurei': "The assassination attempt on Al-Rantisi was a criminal operation and a clear expression of Israel's rejection of international efforts to find a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian problem. It exposed the Israeli desire and planning to harm the road map by means of terror, weapons, and strength, after it did not manage to sabotage it with its reservations. It is a blow to every possible result of the Sharm Al-Sheikh and Aqaba summits. This terrorist operation aspires also to frustrate any Palestinian effort to stabilize the rule of law."

[1] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), June 12, 2003.

Share this Report: