Yasser Arafat’s Senior Adviser Nabil Sha’ath
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
RAY SUAREZ: Joining me is Nabil Sha’ath, the Palestinian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation. He’s also a senior adviser to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Welcome, Mr. Sha’ath.
NABIL SHA’ATH: Thank you very much for inviting me.
RAY SUAREZ: In the last 24 hours there have been Israeli military incursions into Jenin, into Gaza, and now just before our program began this evening into Ramallah. What’s your reaction?
NABIL SHA’ATH: Well, we’ve heard Mr. Arens say this is the only way. I wonder if this only way will do nothing more than just deepen the cycle of violence, kill more Palestinian civilians, leading to more killing of Israeli civilians and I don’t think this is any way to solve a problem. I think going back to a real peace process is the way they have solved the problems before in Palestine in 1994, in Ireland, in South Africa, in many other places. Doing more occupation and more killing and more invasions is not the way to bring about security and peace. It’s a way to bring about more bloodshed.
RAY SUAREZ: To the people who have planned and carried out the bombings of the last two days, do you think that they would be responsive to a commencement of the peace process that they are running in tandem with your views in such a way that this would calm them?
NABIL SHA’ATH: No, I’m not saying that. In fact, if you see how they choose their timing, it’s to blow up our effort as much as that of the United States or others to bring back peace again. They time their bombs to explode opportunities for peace, and that’s why I’m saying we should never really allow them that kind of victory. A start of peace would create a Palestinian public opinion that will totally isolate them and will force them to stop.
And I think this is the political angle. But also going back to peace will bring with it a rebuilding of the Palestinian Authority’s security ability that was destroyed by the Israeli invasions and, therefore, will also carry with it some more ability to preempt their action. Going forward to peace is really the only way to solve the problem without further bloodshed.
RAY SUAREZ: But you questioned Mr. Arens’ assertion this was the only way to deal with continued terror attacks. What you would suggest that Israel do in the short term to protect its own citizens?
NABIL SHA’ATH: Well, nobody wants Israel not to protect its own citizens. Nobody is asking the Israelis to drop down their vigil in that matter. The question is: is the way to protect their own citizens to attack and kill other people, the death of Palestinian civilians in this case can only be shrugged as collateral damage? Sixty percent of the damage has been to Palestinian civilians, to mothers and children. Hundreds have been killed in their schools or going to schools.
And, therefore, I think this just creates further bloodshed, further violence, further hatred. What we should really appeal to is that the sense of both Palestinian and Israelis to isolate the extremists and to stop them.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, let’s talk a little bit about the role of Yasser Arafat in that case. As you just heard Mr. Arens doesn’t give him much credit for trying to stop these attacks on Israeli civilians. How do you see Mr. Arafat’s role?
NABIL SHA’ATH: Well, I worked with him very closely between 1992 and the year 2001. There was only one case in 1996 of three suicidal bombings in Ashkelon, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. And President Arafat then acted in a very decisive way to make a real stop. He went into every direction in order to get these people, apprehend them and stop them. And Israel, outside this period in March-April 1996, really have seen one of the best security situations in all its history.
But that really coincided with a period in which the Israelis had withdrawn from parts of the West Bank, had allowed a free election that elected President Arafat himself, including election by Palestinians in Jerusalem.
And, therefore, he had the whole Palestinian people with him against the extremists who wanted to plant bombs against civilians to destroy the peace process. But today the situation is quite different. President Arafat is hampered by an Israeli occupation and siege and curfews and collective punishments and destruction, and he is also hampered by destruction of all his security forces, all their police stations and all their prisons and their vehicles and their communication system.
So he has neither the ability to persuade, nor the ability to enforce and, therefore, he is really a prisoner in his small office in Ramallah. There has been three times in which the Israelis put him really in a literal prison in that office. And then they ask him to do more. That’s really a very difficult situation.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, that process may be starting again. Once again there are Israeli troops entering Palestinian cities. What do you make of the promise that this time they won’t leave until the violence stops?
NABIL SHA’ATH: They can do that for a while, in fact, they have been putting the West Bank and their occupation since 1967. Thirty-thirty-five odd years of occupation of the West Bank has not yet provided them with that kind of control they wanted.
This is not the first Intifada; this is the second Intifada, and they have to really rethink the value of the continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. I think that’s the critical situation. They should get out of the West Bank and Gaza and up for a real peace based on two states neighbors to each other rather than one of them occupying the other. I think that’s the crux of the situation.
RAY SUAREZ: Earlier you mentioned you felt that the suicide bombers were not only attacking Israel but attacking your government’s efforts to bring peace to that region.
NABIL SHA’ATH: Absolutely. Absolutely.
RAY SUAREZ: It looks like it’s put off – and no one knows for how long – the new Bush initiative on the region.
NABIL SHA’ATH: Well, that will be unfortunate. I know that only the president of the United States has the right to decide when he wants to come out with that statement. But it has become very critical. Putting it back or delaying it once more is in a way allowing the extremists to succeed, on both sides – the people of the right wing of Sharon who wants to transfer the Palestinian people, i.e., ethnically cleansing them out of Palestine, and our extremists who want to continue that confrontation. I think this is a time of action, as Mr. Bush himself put it, to seize the moment.
And what better than a policy produced by the United States and a commitment by the United States to lead an international action, to bring about that peace. The United States did not hesitate to go with NATO forces in Kosovo and Bosnia and many other places to see other forces go to Timor and places of that kind of confrontation and stop these confrontations and produce peaceful solutions. It’s played a major role in the peace in Ireland and before that in South Africa. Both are cases of settler colonialism and ethnic strife and I think that’s the time to do that in Palestine and Israel.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Nabil Sha’ath, thanks for joining us.
NABIL SHA’ATH: Thank you.