|NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW WITH P.L.O
CHAIRMAN YASSER ARAFAT
October 24, 1995
Yasser Arafat, chairman of the PLO, and head of the Palestinian authority now exercising self-rule in Jericho and the Gaza Strip, says a majority of Palestinians want peace with Israel. Arafat tells Elizabeth Farnsworth his plans to try to bring Hamas, a militant Palenstinian group opposed to the peace process, into the political arena before scheduled elections next year.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you very much for being with us, sir.
YASSER ARAFAT, Chairman, PLO: Thank you.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What has happened since the September 28th signing of the self-rule accord? Has--have the Israeli forces begun to pull out, as they promised?
YASSER ARAFAT: They will, according to what had been agreed upon even after they sign an agreement, we have some discussions, and we have some meetings with the Israelis, and we hope that the withdrawal will start in twenty-eight--in twenty-five--on the twenty-fifth of this month.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about the prisoner releases? Has that gone as you hoped?
YASSER ARAFAT: No. No, especially the, the women, because the women had to be released according to the agreement, all females, but still the President, President Weizman, is refusing to sign the release for their release.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: He's refusing to sign a release because these are prisoners who are convicted of homicide?
YASSER ARAFAT: In any case, this agreement is between me and the Israeli government, and he has to respect it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So what can you do about that?
YASSER ARAFAT: Well, I am continuing my efforts.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are you pleased with the agreement?
YASSER ARAFAT: No doubt, because now we are starting the second stage of the--of Oslo agreement. Everybody was thinking that it would be only one stage. Now, we have started second stage, which is very important, especially this will enable us to control all our people in the West Bank and Gaza, and to have a Palestinian national authority, and to have a Palestinian flag. It's not easy, and this will enable us also to carry on with our election.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let's talk about Hamas for a minute, the, the Islamic resistance group which had opposed the peace accord and which had carried out suicide bombings in Israel. Newspapers have reported here that you're close to an agreement with Hamas, an agreement under which they would give up their resistance to the accord, is that true?
YASSER ARAFAT: We were doing our--all our best to control all these activities, and the same, the Israelis, from their settlers and from their fanatic Israeli groups, so we have the two and the two sides' fanatic groups, how we have our fanatic groups and they have their fanatic groups, and we are suffering from the two fanatic groups here too, because two of them were against the peace process. But in the same time, I--we began to open talks with all the oppositions, not only with Hamas, with the Popular Front, with the Democratic Front, with the Arab Front. with the Palestinian
Front, with all of them, we open talks. It is a part of our democracy, and the Palestinian field, and for your information, we are proud of our democracy.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But are the press reports premature in saying that you have reached an agreement with Hamas, so that they participate in the elections?
YASSER ARAFAT: Not yet, no, no, not yet.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Not yet?
YASSER ARAFAT: Not yet.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You're still in the process of doing that?
YASSER ARAFAT: Not yet.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think that these fanatic groups can derail the peace process?
YASSER ARAFAT: No.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You think it's strong enough that it can resist those pressures?
YASSER ARAFAT: The--we have oppositions, no doubt. We are a democratic area, field, and we are proud of our democracy. But the majority of our people are supporting the peace process.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I want to talk just for a minute about human rights. As you know, there have been some criticisms from human rights groups in Israel and in this country and in, also in Gaza, about the Palestinian authority's handling of human rights. There were special courts set up, and I believe that human rights--
YASSER ARAFAT: I will tell you--I will tell you why I had--I had done it--the state's security courts. We had arrested a group of three persons from what's called Abu Nidal group.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes. Abu Nidal's group.
YASSER ARAFAT: This is a terrorist organization, and they were planning to assassinate the Palestinian leadership.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: To assassinate the Palestinian leadership?
YASSER ARAFAT: Yes. And they, they confessed to that during the investigation with them. So we sent them to the court.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But how do you--
YASSER ARAFAT: Please.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes, go ahead. Sorry.
YASSER ARAFAT: We sent them to the court. The court had released them. They said that clearly and obviously even in front of the courts, yes, we--we had an instruction to, to assassinate the Palestinian leadership. So, I, I followed up and I found that there are threats against the civilian courts, the civilian judge.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Oh.
YASSER ARAFAT: For this, I was obliged to, to have our securities court, state security court, so that to protect the law and not to let anyone to interfere or to threaten our judge.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The security is still very tight around you, and are you in as much danger as you ever were?
YASSER ARAFAT: It's not the first time. You have to remember, Sharon had mentioned once that he will--that he had tried 13 times to assassinate me in his memories.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, that's what I wondered, if you're in less danger because now you have the peace accord.
YASSER ARAFAT: No, no, the same.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The same?
YASSER ARAFAT: The same.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Can you become an efficient--let's talk about the government governing in the--in the areas that you're governing right now. You've been in clandestinity so long, is it difficult for you making the transition to becoming an administrative leader, an above-ground leader of a government?
YASSER ARAFAT: Actually, actually, for your information, we were dealing as an--as a government in exile. We are dealing with all our people's problems, education, social life, social--health on all levels, even, even when we're dealing how to export and import our productions.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But it is different now, isn't it?
YASSER ARAFAT: It is a little bit.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes. Is it difficult making the transition?
YASSER ARAFAT: More difficult. More difficult.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: More difficult yet?
YASSER ARAFAT: Definitely.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I mean, I--
YASSER ARAFAT: Because now we are, we are completely responsible for everything concerning our people, from the classroom to how many beds in the hospitals, to the roads, the electricity, water, jobs, career change of jobs, exportation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And can you delegate that? There's been some criticism that because you're so used to having control that it's hard for you to delegate.
YASSER ARAFAT: First of all, you have to understand, that's why we are proud of our cadres. We have--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Of your cadre, the people that work with you?
YASSER ARAFAT: Yes. We have the highest percent of education in the whole area. And we have enough cadres. For your information, all our infrastructures had been completely destroyed during the occupation. And believe me--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You're talking about highways, sewage--
YASSER ARAFAT: Schools. Can you imagine that? We are--our schools are working three shifts per day.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Six shifts per day--
YASSER ARAFAT: Three, three.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Three shifts per day.
YASSER ARAFAT: Three shifts per day. Can you imagine it?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Because there aren't enough schools.
YASSER ARAFAT: There is shortage. And we had started from, from the moment we are arrived to build new schools, new classes, no one bed had been increased, our population had been increased, and no, no one bed had been increased in our hospital during the 28 years.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: There had been no increases in the number of beds. Uh-huh.
YASSER ARAFAT: The sewage.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is the aid coming in for this?
YASSER ARAFAT: The electricity, the water, the roads, not telecommunications, the radio--we have to start below zero.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: As you know in Congress, there's some criticism and opposition to giving more aid to the Palestinian authority. In the House, there's an attempt to try to make the aid, which was promised by the U.S. government as part of a peace plan, make the aid go through human--go through Non-Governmental Organizations and not to the Palestinian authority which you head. What do you have to say about that?
YASSER ARAFAT: Why are they not doing the same with the Israelis?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why are they not doing the same with the Israelis?
YASSER ARAFAT: Yes. Why? Why only with the Palestinians? We have the right to ask it. This will--will reflect negatively against the peace process. You are gaining--you are giving the billions and billions for the Israeli loan guarantees and the side donations directly to the Israeli government, and they are situating to give some million dollars to, to the Palestinian authority after all this period of the occupation and after what we have suffered since '47, after they partitioned land, this is a moral and political responsibility.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This is a moral and political responsibility?
YASSER ARAFAT: Not only for the American administration, but for the whole world, because we are the victims of this United Nations resolution through which we had started our troubles after the partition resolution.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are we seeing the birth of a Palestinian state?
YASSER ARAFAT: It is coming.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: When do you think it will come?
YASSER ARAFAT: Maximum two years.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Maximum two years?
YASSER ARAFAT: Maximum.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Will it be an independent state, or will it be in a confederation with Jordan?
YASSER ARAFAT: Independent state, but we are at the same time, we are in same time looking to have according to our national, Palestinian National Council, to have a confederal relation with our brothers, the Jordanians, according to the free choice of the two peoples.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: When will the elections for the Palestinian Council take place, do you think?
YASSER ARAFAT: I hope that next January, after the, the final redeployment of the Israeli military forces from the whole populated area and the West Bank, which is about 1/3 of the area of the West Bank.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And finally, what are you most worried about now? What could, what could derail this process?
YASSER ARAFAT: First of all, we have to be sure that there will be accurate and honest implementation to what--to what had been agreed upon and signed, very important. And we have to take care of it, and at the same time, not to let any inside or outside activities to harm or to destroy the peace process, and the third point is the economical situation; we are suffering.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: 60 percent unemployment, is that right, in Gaza?
YASSER ARAFAT: 58 percent, yes, 58 percent.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What can you do about that?
YASSER ARAFAT: And this is one of our problems, and to--to let the Congress understand what is the meaning of this, and if they want peace in the Middle East, they have to cover these very important needs. Otherwise, it will reflect negatively on the whole peace process. And for your information, the peace is not only a Palestinian need. It's a Palestinian need, Israeli need, Arab need, European need, American need, international need, and the Middle East is not a spot on the map. It's one of the most important strategic, strategic areas all over the world.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well--
YASSER ARAFAT: Now to forget this is the Terra Sancta.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Holy Land.
YASSER ARAFAT: Terra Sancta--the Holy Land.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for being with us.
YASSER ARAFAT: Thank you.