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RAY SUAREZ: Feisal Husseini has been an official with the Palestine Liberation Organization since 1964. He now serves as minister without portfolio in the Palestinian National Authority, with responsibility for Jerusalem. He’s been in Washington meeting with members of Congress and State Department officials. Welcome.
FEISAL HUSSEINI: Thank you.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, when he was leaving the White House today, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he was optimistic about the future of peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. Does the Palestinian leadership share that optimism?
FEISAL HUSSEINI: No, actually, if you look at what happened yesterday … this step that they took yesterday to hold the meeting of the cabinet… in illegal settlements, is a very dangerous message in which they… are not listening neither to the Palestinians nor to the international community.
RAY SUAREZ: Secretary of State Powell this week called on both sides to, in his words, “knock it off.” He said that peace is necessary as a breathing space for any progress to occur. Do you agree with that?
FEISAL HUSSEINI: Yes, I agree that peace is important and stability is important — to go and negotiate, but at the same time, I believe that we are people in an occupation. We are like any other people who are in occupation… People are demolishing homes, confiscating land. And so we are resisting that occupation, but to ask to us sit calm when we see that our land is taken day by day by the Israeli occupation and more and more settlements is built there…this is not acceptable.
RAY SUAREZ: But right now in the seven months of conflict, it’s Palestinians who have been doing most of the dying. For your own people’s sake, might there be some wisdom in standing down just to disengage, to perhaps save some lives?
FEISAL HUSSEINI: You know, sometimes the people are thinking in this way when they are giving the process that they must have something for that. But even after all of these victims, and then Israelis coming to us saying at first, “You must [calm], and then we will talk with you”; it means that they are not feeling of what happened to the Palestinians. They don’t have the human feeling of these casualties for the Palestinians to tell us, “Forget about everything; just stop your activities and then we’ll think [about] talking with you.” I believe this arrogance cannot help any peace in the future.
RAY SUAREZ: The new American administration came into office saying that it would not place the same high priority as the Clinton administration did on helping negotiate a settlement. Yet, the Bush administration had been very tough on the Israelis when some of the land under the Palestine Authority had been occupied by Israeli soldiers; they’ve been calling on both sides to stop the shooting. What’s your judgment of how the American administration has handled this since January, the new administration?
FEISAL HUSSEINI: I can say that there are steps, those steps of asking the Israelis to stop, and to be tough with the Israelis in this method is a must. The Americans were supposed to take this position because in this case, they can save the peace process and they can save the American role in this peace process. Otherwise, if they are not going to interfere in the negotiations and to push things forward, and to leave the Palestinians and the Israelis fighting while they’re knowing what kind of balance of forces between the Palestinians and the Israelis – in this case it will be that they are supporting completely the other side.
This position of the United States is showing that it is not completely supportive of the Israelis and we hope that such policy and such toughness which was there on the ground to be also in the matter of other things like building more settlements, like expanding more settlements, like the evaluation of the Israelis for the international decisions, I believe we are in need of such a position for the United States. I hope the Americans will come quickly to this matter because as you said every day we are paying a very high price for the neglecting of the world – of what is going on, on the ground.
RAY SUAREZ: Are the Americans essential to the future of peace at this point? When he was here on the program yesterday, Foreign Minister Peres seemed to indicate that the Americans are quite important to the future of the bilateral relations between your two peoples.
FEISAL HUSSEINI: Yes. I believe that is really important. They are the first power in this world – they are the people who are leading this peace process; they are very important and very important but in a way that they must use Israel in the right way – not to neglect [what is happening] on the ground, which is saying that the Israelis are occupying us, the Israelis are bombing us; the Israelis are confiscating our land – the Israelis are leading a policy of transferring people from their homes, especially when the Israeli government has ministers like Mr. Asabi [ph], who is the minister of transfer – in Israel, when we have some statements from some ministers – who are calling that we must go, and hitting the Palestinians – until they come to us on their knees, and they have some … who are saying that we are not fighting to reduce the violence, but we are fighting to end the terrorism and the Palestinian Authority have 10,000 terrorists – and we must fight them – until that we will end all of those people.
This means they are not searching for peace, and they are trying to implement something completely against the peace process by going on with the occupation, going on with the settlements, and what they did yesterday by holding their meeting in one of the illegal settlements in the occupied territories is very bad indication.
RAY SUAREZ: But Israeli leaders do point out that their citizens are dying in these confrontations as well, whether it’s individuals inside the state of Israel who are being killed by bombers, or settlers who are moving through occupied areas in motor vehicles and buses who are being killed by snipers. They say, and the foreign minister said here yesterday, that the Israelis will not negotiate at the end of a gun.
FEISAL HUSSEINI: Okay. The one who is holding – holding a heavy gun is the Israelis, and the one who is hitting and the one who is killing is the Israelis. Yes, there is some casualties for the Israelis. I am not undermining any kind of feelings for anyone [who] is lost. I am not counting here how much the Israelis are losing, how much the Palestinians are losing, but actually the side who is using more than enough power is the Israelis.
Yes, we have some people from our side who are acting and attacking civilians, but you must remember that the Israelis also have people who attacked Palestinians. Not only individuals like Golda Stein in Hebron, who killed… But their police who kill the people where they are in… Like in the beginning of this intifada when they killed seven people when no one was shooting, for a whole week no one was shooting. Forty-nine Palestinians have been killed without even having one single Israeli to be injured. This reality is giving you the real picture — that it is not… There is one side who is attacking, who is maintaining the occupation, and another side who is defending and who is struggling for his own freedom, for his own dignity. He is resisting an occupation.
And I would like to ask you, in whole history, did [you] hear about an occupation who ended just like this? Did you hear about people who were under occupation and the land is confiscated every day and they are not going to resist against that occupation? Did you hear that in any place in this world that the one who is resisting the occupation of his own country be blamed, and that one who is implementing this occupation and moving his own people into his own settlements from his own country the occupied areas are not blamed?
RAY SUAREZ: Along with the new American administration, a new Israeli administration has taken office. What is the nature of your communications, the state of your dialogue with the new Sharon government?
FEISAL HUSSEINI: Unfortunately until now, because of the manner of this government and the way that they are dealing and the kind of ministers they collect in this government, really there is no real communication between us and them. There is some security meetings between the people of the securities just to run some things of life here and there but is something complete, I don’t believe that there is something.
Yes, Sharon is sending his son from time to time. I don’t know why did he choose his son. Did he believe that this was the Arab …and we are dealing as families or as tribes? Maybe this is one of the things that Mr. Sharon is refusing to understand, that we are a people and we are not something under that, and thinking that we would be pleased to have his son talking with us. I didn’t see his son. Maybe he is a marvelous man. But in the end, this mentality of trying to show that he knows and he understands how we are thinking and we will come with a certain act or certain decision believe that is the best the Palestinians must accept, and he will be surprised that we didn’t accept it because not in this way people can talk with each other.
RAY SUAREZ: Feisal Husseini, thanks for joining us.
FEISAL HUSSEIN: Thank you very much.