War or Peace: The Palestinian View
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MARGARET WARNER: With me is Hasan Abdel Rahman, the Palestine National Authority’s chief representative to Washington. Mr. Rahman, I understand you’ve spoken to Yasser Arafat in the last hour or so. What did he say?
HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN: Well, he’s in a very good and high morale. He believes that he is the fighter for the cause of the Palestinian people. He realizes that there is an aggression committed or being committed by Israel against him personally, and against all of the Palestinian people; he is one of the Palestinian people — those 3.4 million Palestinians who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in history.
MARGARET WARNER: Give us a sense of where he is. I understand this compound is about a city block big and he is in one particular building. Is he still in this windowless office that he was described as being in earlier today?
HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN: Believe me, I did not talk to him about where he is. We spoke about other issues. But he informed me of his high morale and of his attempts to speak to other leaders around the world. He is being contacted by many people at this moment, by the Europeans, by Arab leaders, by Palestinian leaders, to give support and express their condemnation of Israeli attack against him and against Ramallah and the Palestinian people.
MARGARET WARNER: Secretary Powell said, as you know, that Ariel Sharon assured him that Mr. Arafat is not a target either to be killed or to be expelled. Does Mr. Arafat still feel he is a target?
HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN: With all due respect to Secretary Colin Powell, I don’t see how can he believe, first of all, or trust Mr. Sharon. We remember all what happened in 1982 — how Mr. Sharon lied to his prime minister and to the Israeli cabinet and he was reprimanded for that. Mr. Sharon is a liar. He cannot be trusted.
MARGARET WARNER: I guess what I’m asking –
HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN: And let me just continue because when you use cannons and tanks to attack a civilian compound, you can kill somebody by accident.
MARGARET WARNER: I see. So the fact that they– if they really wanted to kill Arafat, they already could have, could they not?
HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN: The operation is not over yet. As I was talking to President Arafat, Israeli tanks were firing on his compound. What is there in Arafat’s compound to use so many tanks to attack it? I mean I was honestly disappointed with the statement made by Colin Powell because we respect Mr. Colin Powell. But I wonder how he allows even himself to accept that the elected leader of another people be attacked by the army of an occupying nation without outrage from the United States and from Mr. Colin Powell personally.
MARGARET WARNER: Sharon said himself that he wanted to isolate Mr. Arafat. What do you take that to mean, and has he succeeded in further weakening Mr. Arafat’s hold, essentially, on the Palestinian National Authority, on Palestinian security forces, or is Arafat still in charge?
HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN: This is an outrageous statement, Margaret. How would even I consider what Mr. Sharon says, to isolate Yasser Arafat? Yasser Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinian people. He is respected, recognized by 180 nations around the world. What right does Mr. Sharon, who made a career of being a terrorist, have to isolate Mr. Yasser Arafat? That should be the question. And I am amazed that there is not enough outrage against this action, reckless action by Sharon, dangerous action, which puts not only the future of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis in danger, but the whole stability of the region.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let’s talk about terrorism because you brought that up and Sharon of course, brought that up today saying as he said before, that Arafat runs a coalition of terror, that they’re going in to root out this infrastructure. Are you saying that even though some of the groups that have done some of these attacks such as the al-Aqsa Brigades are tied to Fatah, PLO’s military wing, that Arafat has no control, no ability to rein in any of the attacks?
HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN: Margaret, you and I know that terrorism was introduced to our region by no other than the Israeli leaders. You remember that two of the Israelis first prime ministers, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, were both wanted by the British for assassination of the international mediator. So we know who introduced terrorism to the region. Now there are certain Palestinians who are involved in acts of violence that we reject, but there is a difference between having one individual Palestinian acting violently and when terrorism becomes the policy of the state of Israel.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you saying, though, that terrorism is in no way the policy of the Palestinians?
HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN: Absolutely not. On the contrary, we have condemned. We have tried to contain it, but you cannot isolate what happens from the overall context that is created by Israel. Remember that for 35 years, the Palestinian people are living under the most brutal illegal military occupation, to use the words of Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. And this occupation sucked life out of the Palestinians, left them hopeless, desperate, poor, destitute, and they live under a state of siege by the Israelis.
MARGARET WARNER: So are you saying–.
HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN: I’m saying that Mr. Sharon and the Israeli policies are responsible for pushing those young Palestinians to become terrorists.
MARGARET WARNER: And therefore, is your answer to Secretary Powell who even today called on Yasser Arafat to go after the terrorist attackers, that there is nothing that can be done?
HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN: Unfortunately Mr. Colin Powell is missing the point. He should point fingers to Mr. Sharon to move his soldiers, his army, his settlers, from the Palestinian territories. And I assure you that we are not going to follow them across the green line. We will be able then to live in peace with a state of Israel next to the state of Palestine. But let me tell you what. As long as the Israeli illegal military occupation continues in the Palestinian territories and as long as we have those Jewish Talibans settlers in the Palestinian — 300,000 of them, the most extreme coming from Brooklyn and New York and other places to settle in the Palestinian territories, we cannot expect to have peace. Peace can be achieved only when those guys leave us alone and leave us as a free people.
MARGARET WARNER: So are you predicting more suicide bombings?
HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN: If this situation continues, if the occupation continues, if the brutality of the Israeli army, the killing of Palestinian young people, the imprisonment of Palestinians, the humiliation of the Palestinians, no one can stop the Palestinians. The only one to stop the violence is to eliminate the causes of violence and the cause of violence is the illegal military occupation.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Rahman, thank you very much.
HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN: Thank you very much.