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July 16, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 3102

Mahmoud 'Abbas in Extensive Interviews: I Reject Armed Struggle; Jerusalem Will Be Divided into Two Capitals; Some Refugees Will Return to Israel

July 16, 2010
Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 3102

In a recent wide-ranging interview with the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Ayyam, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud 'Abbas discussed political questions on the agenda, as well as the issue of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation. Three weeks later, the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida published excerpts from a talk 'Abbas held with journalists in Jordan, on similar topics.

On both occasions, 'Abbas claimed that he is determined to follow the path of peace and that he is opposed to armed struggle against Israel. He also presented what he thinks the nature of the negotiations with Israel and the nature of the permanent arrangement should be.

Al-Ayyam also published a more casual and personal interview with 'Abbas, in which he talked about how he deals with life as Palestinian Authority president, his views on contacts with the Jews and the Israelis, his visit to his family home in Safed, and more. In this interview, 'Abbas said that he hopes that the Palestinian state will be established soon, and discussed the difficulties that he is encountering on the path to statehood.

The following are the main points of 'Abbas's positions on political and intra-Palestinian issues, and translated excerpts from the personal interview:

The Peace Process

I Adhere to the Principle of Two States

In the Al-Ayyam interview, 'Abbas said that he adheres to the peace process and to the two states solution, and that he rejects the bi-national state solution: "I do not know whether we are close to an agreement or not. They ask me whether I am optimistic, and I customarily say that I am keeping my hopes up – but that I don't know for how long. Sometimes I feel weariness and despair, but I want to keep up my hopes, for my people...

"I fear that the concept of two states, a contiguous independent Palestinian state where we can live in security and peace, alongside the State of Israel, is beginning to erode, and that the world has stopped believing that we can arrive at such a solution. For this reason, there are slogans [regarding a bi-national state] that are beginning to emerge, with which we do not agree and that we do not accept, but we cannot silence the people who have begun to publish announcements in the West Bank saying that there will be a single [bi-national] state. Israel does not accept it, and we do not accept it either."[1]

Commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative

Also in the Al-Ayyam interview, 'Abbas stressed his commitment to the Arab peace initiative, and his peace-seeking activity with the entire Israeli leadership: "We don't want to take [the initiative] off the table. We talk at length with many people who have been disappointed. Because it is the only call for peace, the initiative cannot be rescinded; the alternative is war. We do not want war, no one wants war. No country seeks war – I speak at least for the Arab states.

"Thus, there is one path before us, and that is peace, by means of a clear and defined initiative with no obscurity, ambiguity, or opaqueness. We hope that it will resonate with the Israeli leadership [as well]... Naturally, whether we like [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu or not, he is the prime minister of Israel, elected by the Israeli people. We must negotiate with him, because we do not choose our partner, just as they do not choose their Palestinian partner."[2]

In his talk with journalists in Jordan, 'Abbas reiterated that the Palestinians would not fight Israel: "We do not have the capability to confront Israel militarily, and this point was already discussed at the Arab summit in Sirte [Libya] last March, when I told the Arab countries: If you want war, and if everyone will fight Israel – then we will support it. But the Palestinians will not fight alone, because they have no capability to do so. The West Bank was completely destroyed [in the Al-Aqsa Intifada], and we will not let it be destroyed again."[3]

The Refugees

'Abbas told the journalists in Jordan that he would not accept an alternative homeland instead of Palestine, and that both the countries hosting the refugees and the refugees themselves must be compensated: "The Palestinian people will not accept an alternative to its homeland. Jordan belongs to its citizens, and we have no problem with that... The Palestinian side will not propose any solution vis-à-vis the refugee problem independently of the host countries, which have a position, an interest, and an opinion regarding the solution. It is they who hosted the refugees, and they must be asked about and compensated for the burden that they bore, in addition to compensation for the refugees themselves."

The Al-Hayat Al-Jadida daily noted that during this meeting with the journalists, "President Abu Mazen [i.e. 'Abbas] maintained that there was no way that six million Palestinian refugees would return to the homes and lands from which they were expelled in the Israeli aggression of 1948." The paper quoted 'Abbas as saying, "There is no way out of a return by some of them, and there is no way out of discussing their number. In previous talks, during the time of Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, the percentage [of returning refugees] was not set; rather, there was discussion of the concept [of return itself]... The refugee problem appears in the Arab peace initiative, which stipulates an Israeli withdrawal from the Arab lands occupied in 1967 and the attaining of a just and agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem in accordance with international resolution [i.e. U.N. Security Council Resolution No.] 194 in exchange for normalization."

'Abbas added that in his negotiations with Olmert, "the refugee problem was discussed in detail, without an agreement, but the ideas were clear to both sides."[4]

Demarcating Borders

Referring to the November 2007 Annapolis conference, 'Abbas told Al-Ayyam that he and Prime Minister Olmert had come very close to agreement on the two fundamental issues under negotiation – demarcation of borders and security arrangements. He said: "With regard to borders, we agreed that the borders to be discussed were [those of] the occupied territories. This was a tripartite agreement between ourselves (the Palestinians), the Israelis, and then-U.S. secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. We agreed – and it is all written down and documented in the protocols – that the occupied lands are the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, and the Holy Basin [i.e. the Old City of Jerusalem and its environs]. Based on this precise definition of the occupied lands, Olmert and I began to discuss, and we exchanged corrective percentages and maps, and we were perhaps very close, such that each side knew exactly what the other side was getting."[5]

Territorial Exchange

In the Al-Ayyam interview, 'Abbas revealed that Olmert had proposed bringing the Israeli Arabs into the Palestinian state, but added that he had rejected this proposal: "They told us, take the citizens from the 1948 [borders], but we refused. When we are talking about territorial exchange, we are talking about the smallest possible percentage of border amendments here and there. We will put the barest minimum on the table, and they should discuss with us why this minimum is unacceptable. Exchanging a large percentage of lands is not possible, because that way Palestinian lands will be lost."[6]

Jerusalem

In his meeting in Jordan, 'Abbas said that in his talks with Olmert, "it was agreed that eastern Jerusalem would be the capital of the Palestinian state, and that it would have its own municipality, and that western Jerusalem would be the capital of the Israeli side, and it would have its own municipality, and that there would be coordination between the municipalities. Thus there would be no need to return to a divided [city], and it would be open to all religions. But we will not relinquish it [Jerusalem]."[7]

Security Arrangements

'Abbas told Al-Ayyam that at Annapolis the Palestinians had agreed to accept an external security force in the region: "It was agreed that we, as Palestinians, would not oppose the presence of a third party on Palestinian lands for specific purposes, first among which is training Palestinian police forces as per the Oslo accords, which will reassure the Israeli side that matters will continue as they are at present. By this I mean that for the past three years, there have been no [security] incidents whatsoever against anyone in the Palestinian lands, that is, in the West Bank...

"Who will be this third force? We have no objections to any element whatsoever; at the time, NATO was proposed. We have no objection to NATO or to a body like the one [operating] in southern Lebanon [UNIFIL]. How long will they be present, and what is to be their mission? All these are issues that can [be agreed upon]. There is complete agreement regarding security, and we will talk about this with Jordan and Egypt, as agreed with them, because they are the two countries most likely to be impacted, either positively or negatively, from the presence of these forces. The security issue has already been settled, with the agreement of Israel, the PA, Jordan, Egypt, and the U.S."[8]

Proximity Talks and the Transition to Direct Negotiations

'Abbas said in the Al-Ayyam interview that the security and border issues are the basis of the current Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks, and that progress in them is a condition for a transition to direct negotiations.

He said: "These two dossiers are [currently] in front of American envoy Sen. George Mitchell, for him to discuss with the Israeli prime minister, in hopes that the discussion of these issues will end within the agreed-upon period – that is, four months. After that, we will not forget the other final-stage issues: Jerusalem, the settlements, the refugees, and water, and to this we have added a section about the prisoners, that is, their release from Israeli prisons. These other dossiers were discussed with Israeli prime minister Olmert, and I cannot say that we reached an agreement, but I can say that both sides, the Palestinian and the Israeli, learned the other side's position on them. Since we want to reach a solution regarding these two primary issues – that is, security and borders – if Netanyahu agrees to the principle that was agreed upon with the previous government, regarding which there are proposals from our side and from the Israeli side, then we may start direct negotiations for concluding the other issues."

Regarding Israeli fears that a withdrawal from the West Bank would have consequences similar to those of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, 'Abbas said: "Vis-à-vis security, we are willing to give [Netanyahu] guarantees for a period of 10 or 20 years, and we will not threaten anyone. The Israelis cannot continue to use what happened in Gaza as an example. They did not have to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza the way they did. We warned them to coordinate the withdrawal with us, but they refused, [but] today we are talking about an international agreement, and we will give them all [necessary] guarantees."[9]

The Intra-Palestinian Reconciliation

Removal of the Siege – Following Reconciliation

Referring to the intra-Palestinian arena, 'Abbas spoke in the Al-Ayyam interview about the Hamas-Fatah dispute and called on Hamas to sign the Egypt-brokered document, in order to allow the implementation of the border crossing agreement and the removal of the siege on Gaza.

He said: "With regard to the Rafah crossing, we must go back to the agreement signed in 2005 by the Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, and Europeans, and when we return to it, we will have to bring the [PA] presidential guard back to Rafah. But this requires talking about the reconciliation, and we cannot put [guard personnel] on the Egyptian side; [the guard] must return to the Gaza Strip by means of, and under, the reconciliation... We expect, and demand, of Hamas that it sign the [Egyptian] document, and from there we will be able to progress directly to presidential and parliamentary elections; there will be reconciliation and we will again be united."[10]

In the same context, 'Abbas was asked in the personal Al-Ayyam interview why he did not visit the Gaza Strip. He said: "Actually, I have asked myself this question a hundred times, and many times I think of visiting, but I say to myself that perhaps it would be better to wait for reconciliation... I am certain that such a visit would be a beneficial step."[11]

According to Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, during his Jordan visit, 'Abbas accused Hamas of planning the Gaza Strip coup even before it took place, in June 2007, and that it had also planned to assassinate him twice by planting bombs. He added: "We will not respond to the coup with a military operation, because we agreed on the Egyptian document, and we signed it on October 15, 2009, despite [our] many comments on it... Fatah and Hamas are not far apart politically and security-wise with regard to the agreement on the 1967 borders and the rejection of military resistance today, but Hamas is going towards a dangerous acceptance of [a state] in temporary borders, which we reject."[12]

In addition, Al-Ayyam said that 'Abbas accused the Hamas leadership abroad, that is, in Damascus, of thwarting the reconciliation, quoting him as saying: "There are several [elements] in Hamas [Gaza] that have changed, because many of them are immersed in very harsh circumstances and want to emerge from the crisis. Perhaps those of them [who reside] abroad do not feel the same pressure that those in Gaza feel, and that is why there are disputes between the two... Hamas Abroad opposes the agreement."[13]

No Military Activity Will Remain in the West Bank

'Abbas accused Hamas of attempting to reinstate military activity in the West Bank, saying that he would prevent such activity: "Hamas is trying to transfer its military activity to the West Bank, where every week we uncover military cells and caches of weapons and missiles. No military activity will remain in the West Bank; [possessing illegal] arms, [unauthorized] security [activity], and money laundering are completely unacceptable, but everything else is considered permitted."[14]

Opposition to the Armed Struggle

In the personal interview with Al-Ayyam, which he gave upon his return from his diplomatic trip to the U.S. and Europe, 'Abbas said that he had no regrets about how he fulfilled his role as Palestinian president or about the decisions he had made – including his determined opposition to the armed intifada. This intifada, he said, brought decline to the Palestinian Authority and negatively impacted the ability to establish a Palestinian state.

'Abbas told Al-Ayyam: "When I first began my presidency, everything was a mess. Security was a mess; there was no money, there was no economy, there was no infrastructure... The intifada and other factors had led to this... [Since then, we] have struggled, negotiated, run around, and worked - [and still] we have no state, and this causes a sense of asphyxiation."[15]

Also in this interview, 'Abbas spoke about the need to form a relationship with the Jews in Israel and the world, and talked about the place of religion in his own life and about his visit to his family home in Safed. Following are excerpts from the interview:

"Q: In the past, you expressed bold positions in closed meetings. When you came to power, did you find it difficult to implement these positions?

"A: ...In all matters, the truth must be told. For example, no one dared speak against the armed intifada, because domestic and foreign public opinion was for it. But I thought that it was a mistake, and I had to say what I thought. Regarding talks with the Israelis, I am for them. I say what I believe because I am the one in charge. If I would say something else, I would lead the entire country to perdition, and I am not willing to do that.

"Q: ... Did you get cooperation from people in implementing [your ideas]?

"A: The people began to be exposed to the truth, but few of them dared to speak it, and that's the difference. They began to discover that what I said is true, and that it was necessary and important to implement it. They needed someone who would tell the truth, and I said it and acted on it.

"Q: Did you get cooperation from the international community and from the Arabs?

"A: There is cooperation from the international community, and even the Palestinian public realized the truth and helped. If not, how could security prevail now in the West Bank? Things are improving. The people have become convinced that this is the right path, and that the opposite path is a complete mistake. The people followed these positions, but we have paid a heavy price..."

Dialogue with the Jews in Israel and Worldwide

In response to a question on his diplomatic activity vis-à-vis the Jews, 'Abbas said: "...I try to meet with people who are against us, and specifically with Jews around the world... I have met frequently with Jews, sometimes in Israel and sometimes abroad, who were against us [at the time] but now they are for us, because now they know the truth. With regard to the meeting with AIPAC, the American Jewish lobby, who came up with the idea of meeting? No one in the world advised me to visit AIPAC or to meet with its members. Everyone said, 'Leave them alone, nothing will come of it.' Nevertheless, the meeting with them was very effective and productive. Maybe 40% of it was effective, and next time it will be even more effective..."

Personal Issues

I Observe the Commandments of the Religion

"Q: ... Many people do not know that you pray regularly.

"A: I perform every one of the prayers. I fast. I have fulfilled the commandment of Hajj twice. I have even made several pilgrimages to Mecca not during the Hajj. Every three months I finish reading the entire Koran, and I read it once during Ramadan. The Koran is my faithful companion when I fly... But I don't have the leisure to go to the mosque every day or to perform the prayers in the mosque; work prevents me from doing so...

"Q: What do you like to read?

"A: Books on history and religion... For me, the most important [books] are Koran commentary and chronicles of the life of the Prophet.

"Q: Does this religious tendency of yours have a particular background? For example, some Fatah leaders come from a Muslim Brotherhood background.

"A: No, there are two things that influenced me as far as religion is concerned. First, my family is religious. My father and grandfather and my whole family are religious, and that influenced me. For example, my grandfather built a mosque in Palestine, in Safed, and its minaret still stands today. And my brother built a mosque for my father in Damascus, where my family emigrated in 1948...

"Second, my law studies; in law there is much of the Islamic shari'a, fiq [jurisprudence] and ijtihad [personal deliberation about questions of law]... It is important to me to know the religious law on certain matters, but currently, to my great regret, the satellite channels deal with petty, trivial matters, which I do not think [really] interest people, instead of with the content and message of the great Islam."

My Visit to My Family's Home in Safed Deeply Saddened Me

"Q: You visited your family home in Safed, [didn't you]?

"A: Right, I went there once, I secretly visited our home in Safed.

"Q: How did you feel?

"A: I felt heavy sorrow, and I was profoundly affected. I only made that [one] visit. When we began the Palestinian activity, it was so that we could go see our homes and our land, but it was very disappointing when we saw that the world had changed and the houses had changed and other houses had disappeared completely. Life changed, and you find yourself in shock... I went there in a car that no one recognized, and I hid some of my identifying marks. I wandered around the city and remembered exactly [what it used to look like], as it was seared into my memory when I was a boy. My wife came with me too.

"Q: Were you surprised by what you saw?

"A: Of course I was surprised. They had changed the characteristics of the city.

"Q: Did you go to Jaffa and Haifa?

"A: Some areas remained just as they were. There are villages that remain the same; their residents are still there. There are areas that were completely eradicated from the face of the earth, unfortunately. In Safed's environs there were 80 villages; only two remain. The rest are gone."

I'm Tired of the Presidency, I Won't Run for Reelection

"Q: For many long years you were the No. 2 man in the Palestinian leadership, but for over five years you have been the No. 1 man. How would you sum up this period? How has it affected you personally?

"A: Without a doubt, this is a completely new stage in my life, and contrary to my personality, in that I do not frequently appear in the media and speak in public. [In my capacity as president,] I had to appear in the media and at public events, and I had to sit in lengthy meetings that I didn't have to in the past... I am really bored by these meetings, and it really doesn't suit me to attend daily sessions and meetings... The other thing is that the direct responsibility is very difficult, because you must take everything upon yourself and you can't hide behind anyone. You have to deal with and bear the responsibility for others' mistakes, and deal with everyone. It's not like it was before.

"The part that is not new for me is that if I have to voice my opinion in an open or closed meeting, I do it. Nothing has changed in that context; that is, my position on every political and non-political issue is the same [as it was before], but more finely honed, sharper, and confrontational, because of the responsibility...

"Q: They say that something you heard from one of your grandsons is the direct reason for your decision not to run for another term.

"A: Yes, it is one of the reasons, but not the [main] reason. At the time of the Goldstone uproar,[16] the children in my grandson's school began to make very insulting comments to him... Naturally, it was proven afterwards that all the talk was just smears... There were other reasons why I made the decision too. I cannot go on ruling, and I need to rest; I'm at the age where I can't continue [to lead]..."


[1] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), June 14, 2010.

[2] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), June 14, 2010

[3] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), July 6, 2010.

[4] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), July 6, 2010.

[5] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 14, 2010.

[6] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 14, 2010.

[7] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), July 6, 2010.

[8] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 14, 2010.

[9] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 14, 2010.

[10] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 14, 2010.

[11] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 20, 2010.

[12] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 6, 2010.

[13] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 14, 2010.

[14] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), July 6, 2010.

[15] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 20, 2010.

[16] The postponement of the discussion of the Goldstone Report in the U.N.

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