THE PALESTINIAN REACTION
MARCH 4, 1996
While Yasser Arafat, the president of the new Palestinian Authority, continues to condem the series of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, militant islamics continue to take credit for the bombings. Charlayne Hunter-Gault gets the official Palestinian reaction.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: It is the perspective from the Palestinian Authority of Yasser Arafat. Hassan Abdel Rahman is the chief representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington. Mr. Rahman, what can you tell us about who's responsible for these bombings of the past few days?
HASSAN ABDEL RAHMAN, Representative, PLO: Well, it's obvious that those who are responsible took responsibility for their action. They call themselves the Cells of Yahaiash, who is the "engineer" of the person who was assassinated by Israel in Gaza through the explosion of a cellular phone about a month and a half ago. They call themselves the Cells of Yahaiash. So--but we understand also that those proudly belong to the armed wing of Hamas, a very clandestine, small, tiny, military group who most probably received their instructions from outside of the Palestinian territories, the West Bank and Gaza. So--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: From where?
MR. RAHMAN: I believe that there are members of Hamas who are Jihad Islamic who are living maybe in Iran, maybe in some of the Arab countries, maybe in Europe, the United States. I don't know, but all we know that those are operatives who are engaged in acts of terrorism, and we are determined to really uproot this--because we believe that it is directed mostly against the ability of the Palestinian National Authority to establish itself.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The wire services are reporting that Palestinian security forces have arrested a suspect in these bombings, a 28-year-old student at a teacher training seminary. Do you--can you shed any light on that?
MR. RAHMAN: No. I have no information on that. The last time I had communication with our headquarters in Gaza was about two hours ago, and I have not heard anything about that.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you heard the ambassador, Amb. Rabinovich's analysis of who these people are, not the suicide bombers per se, but he said that they belonged to a network in which there's a preacher who stirs up things and brainwashes these young people to walk into crowds like today and blow up people and things and himself. How--do you--does that analysis square with your knowledge of how these things are set up?
MR. RAHMAN: Well, I don't really want to engage in polemics with Amb. Rabinovich, because I understand the situation he is, and most of the Israeli government and the Israeli public due to the regrettable, sad, and senseless killing that took place, we have also to remember that some of the victims were Palestinians. Today, two Palestinians were buried, one in Jones and one in Bejallah. So we have Palestinian victims also as consequences of those incidents.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But--
MR. RAHMAN: However--yes, I believe that there is a general environment and the general environment is--was in the past, before the peace process, conducive to this kind of situation. Now, when the Palestine National Authority took control, we moved on on those groups, and we succeeded to a great extent to a point where we were able to conduct a free and democratic election, where 80 percent of the Palestinian people cast their vote in support of the peace process.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But how do you respond to the ambassador's claim that the preachers have been able to preach hatred and brainwash these young people with impunity, he said, for the past couple of years?
MR. RAHMAN: Right. Listen, you cannot freely in any democracy arrest people for what the say. I mean--and I have not heard of anybody calling on Palestinians to commit suicide and engage in suicidal killing with impunity as the ambassador said, but I mean, he cannot cite any incident--I don't want to get into polemics. What I'm trying to say in Israel there are rabbis who are calling for killing of Palestinians. I'm not asking the Israeli government to arrest those because as long as people do not engage in activity, in actions, you cannot arrest them. However, we have took preventive action in the past and arrested hundreds of people, and we were able to really split Hamas and bring into the political fold many of the leaders of Hamas to the point where the last elections showed that Hamas's real size shrunk from 40 percent when Israel was in Gaza to 8 percent when we took control of Gaza.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, today, a spokesperson for Yasser Arafat said he was very angry about the bombings and said this was a declaration of war and that it should be treated as such. What did he mean about that--by that?
MR. RAHMAN: Well, we believe that those acts of violence also are directed against the Israeli citizens, but they are intended to undermine the peace process and to undermine the capacity of the Palestinian National Authority to build itself. It is not an accident in our views that this takes place a week before the Palestinian National Council, the Palestinian Elected Council is convened. It is just in the day or two days or three days before that we are building our national institutions.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You know, there have been calls for President--from President Clinton and the Israeli leaders for Arafat to do more. Do you think that, that there is more that could be done that hasn't been done?
MR. RAHMAN: I think the--I mean, I understand the situation in the Israeli government. I believe that some of the statements that were made reflect some panicking by the Israeli government, and only play into the hands of the Israeli right wing, as well as in the hands of the Palestinians who oppose the peace process, because once you start accusing Arafat of not doing enough, you are planting doubt in the minds of the Israeli public opinion.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, President Clinton said--
MR. RAHMAN: I don't think that that's accurate.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: President Clinton said that it's difficult, of course, and everybody realizes that it's difficult to stop any suicide bomber who takes it on his own authority to go and blow up people, but, but that everybody, including the U.S., has to do more. I mean, do you accept that the Palestinian Authority hasn't done enough and could do more, and is it going to do anything different?
MR. RAHMAN: We have been doing what we needed to do then, but we need to do more at this point, and that's why yesterday President Arafat declared all those organizations as illegal and outlaw organizations. We moved to arrest many of the leaders, so there are steps and measures that have been taken in the last week or so. But what I'm warning against is really reactive measures by Israel, like the one today in the refugee camp. Why do you need to arrest, to detain 1,000 people and arrest 30? This really plays into the hands of Hamas. Hamas cannot survive in a peaceful situation. They can survive only in a war situation.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Why is that?
MR. RAHMAN: Because Hamas, the extremism in any society is the product of despair, of depravation. We have 50 percent unemployment in Gaza among our labor force in the West Bank, so closure by Israel of those territories affects the Palestinian economy.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Earlier today, the ambassador said that the Palestinian Authority needs to go street by street, house by house in the areas where these suspected terrorist networks are and seek them out; otherwise, Israel might have to go in itself. How do you react to that?
MR. RAHMAN: I believe that is really an exaggerated reaction. I don't think you need to go from house to house to arrest people. I mean, you should think of the price that you have to pay as a result of that.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And what about--
MR. RAHMAN: And that is not necessary.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What happens if the Israelis go in, though, if they've decided that what--
MR. RAHMAN: I think it will be counterproductive.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: --what the Palestinian Authority--
MR. RAHMAN: It would be absolutely counterproductive, and it would not--it would be a self-defeating approach. What Israel needs to do is to expand the peace process, not to play into the hands of those small minorities. I cannot guarantee and neither the ambassador of Israel can guarantee that this man who committed suicide today got his instructions from Gaza or received the explosives in Gaza. He might have bought it somewhere in Israel. Nobody knows. So let's not really react to this very strongly and move to formulate rationale policies that serve the peace process.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Rahman, thank you.
MR. RAHMAN: Thank you.