Newsmaker: Nabil Sha’ath
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MARGARET WARNER: And with me is Nabil Sha’ath, a senior advisor to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and minister of planning in the Palestinian Authority. He’s a veteran of years of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, including the failed talks at Camp David last July. He met with Secretary Powell today. Welcome, Mr. Sha’ath.
NABIL SHA’ATH: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: What is Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians looking for from Secretary Powell and this new Bush administration?
NABIL SHA’ATH: We’d like to see the same commitment to the peace process in the Middle East as we have seen with Mr. Clinton and with Mr. Bush Sr. before him. We’d like to see involvement and we’d like to see a real attempt at keeping the terms of reference, international, legality — Resolutions 242 and 338 –which meant in Jordan and Egypt and Lebanon withdrawal to the borders of the 1967.
MARGARET WARNER: How did Secretary Powell respond when you said this to him that you wanted deep involvement by the Bush administration?
NABIL SHA’ATH: Well, I think he was positive. He very clearly has not yet formulated the full policy guidelines for this administration, and he’s going to visit the Middle East very soon. He’s going to meet with President Arafat and with the leaders of the area. I think he is in the process of formulating a different strategy.
MARGARET WARNER: But he has said and the new President Bush has also said that they thought President Clinton and his people were too deeply involved and that basically the U.S. role should be to step back and let the Palestinians and Israelis work it out. I think Powell said last week, you know, jawboning is pretty much all we can do right now. I mean, how does that sit with you?
NABIL SHA’ATH: Well, remember in the Oslo agreement, we and the Israelis did it alone.
MARGARET WARNER: Of ’93.
NABIL SHA’ATH: ’93, and also the immediate negotiations afterwards which I led on the Palestinian side and the General Shah led on the Israeli side what became known as the Gaza-Jericho agreement we did without any intervention from the United States. But that was in the days in which there was euphoria about the peace process and mutual trust. With the present situation, without that trust and with the continued occupation by the Israelis of our territory and putting us under real siege, you still need the… an activist policy by the United States to get this peace process going and to end the occupation.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let’s turn to your view of this Israeli government and what that means for the Palestinians. First of all, your reaction to the news today that the defeated prime minister — Barak –will not be joining Prime Minister-elect Sharon’s government.
NABIL SHA’ATH: Well, I think this is really a matter that the Labor Party finally had to decide — as Mr. Barak was the leader of the Labor Party. The Labor Party and its supporters in Israel saw that they could not continue to give their trust to Mr. Barak. They feel that his defeat, which was partly caused by the many supporters of the Labor Party including the Israeli Arabs refrained from voting indicated that he could not continue — particularly with Mr. Sharon as his defense minister. It’s really an internal matter in the Labor Party and in Israel.
MARGARET WARNER: But the new president… The new prime minister Sharon has made clear he’s not willing to offer the same things that Barak offered to Palestinians. In retrospect do you think the Palestinians missed a bet not accepting the deal Barak offered at Camp David in July and instead essentially letting this uprising flower?
NABIL SHA’ATH: Well, I mean if you look at what has been done in Taba, you see that Taba was so much better.
MARGARET WARNER: This was the later meeting you had in Egypt.
NABIL SHA’ATH: Exactly. The last meeting just before the elections we did much better. There was a lot of progress. There was more progress that could have been achieved had it not been for the onset of these elections. Camp David, there was some progress no doubt. It was not enough for the Palestinians. After years of struggle for their freedom – for their independence, after making the greatest concession when they gave up struggling for all their country with the exception of the 22 percent, the West Bank and Gaza, it was not good enough. It could not have settled for it.
MARGARET WARNER: But now Prime Minister-elect Sharon is saying all those things are off the table. Barak offering 95 percent of the West Bank, offering Palestinian sovereignty over part of Jerusalem. Where does that leave you?
NABIL SHA’ATH: Now, the present situation is… cannot possibly lead to any peace and cannot lead to an agreement. I think the Israeli people knew it and know it. It was really their election of Sharon was much more a protest against Barak than it was really deserting the peace process.
MARGARET WARNER: But the Sharon people say it was also a protest against the uprising and the violence and that they wanted to elect somebody who they thought would bring security never mind a peace deal.
NABIL SHA’ATH: You cannot bring security without real peace. What this thing is all about is a just peace, and eight years the Palestinians accepted to negotiate and to deal with any violence inside or outside them and succeeded. The question of violence came when I think the Palestinian people felt that it was impossible to continue that occupation without a real protest.
MARGARET WARNER: I’m trying to get at here how you read this new incoming government, if he manages to create one. Now, Moshe Arens who is a key adviser to Sharon was on the show last week. He said a permanent settlement was not attainable at this time, that all Sharon wants is some sort of an interim deal that ends the violence and freezes… He didn’t say what it would involve, but an interim deal. Do you expect more?
NABIL SHA’ATH: We spent ten years of interimness, and that’s it. Look at the map. The map today shows 42 percent of the West Bank has been given back to the Palestinians and there are three regimes, a, b, and c. All of them are in little bundles, little blocks totally separated from each other in a sea of Israeli occupation — and increasing settlement activities. This is an impossible situation. If Mr. Sharon thinks this is a solution, this is prescription for further conflict.
MARGARET WARNER: But what is your reasonable expectation about where he’s going and what he’s willing to do?
NABIL SHA’ATH: Well, we don’t know exactly what he’s going to do. He’s unable apparently to form a unity government. And that is part of the reason why Mr. Barak had to resign. If he doesn’t form a unity government and forms an extreme right government, this really cannot survive. We don’t know yet if he’s really capable of putting a government that can stay and for how long. And it is quite possible that the Israeli people, after the shock wears off and after there is a real attempt at reconciliation seems possible to the Israeli people, that he is not going to be the man who is going to make real peace, that somebody will have to come from the ranks of the Israelis that once again will put that peace process on the table and then make a real attempt at making it.
MARGARET WARNER: So you’re counting on Sharon being a short-term prime minister? Is that what you’re say something.
NABIL SHA’ATH: Well, some people say there is little chance that the man can change — that Mr. Begin changed and made the peace with Egypt, that Mr. DeKlerk changed and made the peace with Mandela. It is possible. It is very improbable though.
MARGARET WARNER: Now he has also said and Mr. Arens said on the show last week that he’s not even going to sit down and talk about anything: An interim agreement, anything, until essentially the uprising stops, the violence in the streets stops. Is Arafat, one, able and, two, willing to deliver on that from the Palestinian end?
NABIL SHA’ATH: Well, the question really has to be looked at two sides. We are for a real solution that will stop the violence and will continue the peace process. But it is impossible to see it only from the point of view of Israel, of the Israeli right. The Israelis are in actual occupation. Their tanks crisscross our territory. Gaza alone is divided into five little pieces today. Our economy is under siege and GNP had fallen by 50 percent. 60 percent of our people are unemployed. What violence? The occupation is one of the greatest violence we have seen. It has to be done by both sides. It has to be done in a concerted way so that the violence is reduced as the occupation is reduced and as the siege is reduced. We need to really look at it also from the point of view of a political light at the end of the tunnel. The two things have to go together. Maybe peace is the best guarantee of security and not just the other way around.
MARGARET WARNER: But are you suggesting then that things may have to get worse before they get better or that the cycle of killing is going to continue?
NABIL SHA’ATH: I hope not. Here is a role for Mr. Powell. I hope his visit will lead to a positive … the United States’ role that would stop that escalation of violence, that will stop the excessive use of force by the Israelis and would bring this all towards a much better situation.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Mr. Sha’ath, thanks for being with us.
NABIL SHA’ATH: Thank you.