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PLO ambassador on seeking a political formula to end Mideast conflict

July 17, 2014 at 6:19 PM EDT
The Israeli ground assault on Gaza surprised officials who have been working in Cairo to negotiate a permanent cease-fire. Maen Rashid Areikat, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s representative to the U.S., joined chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner an hour before the incursion was announced to discuss the prospects of halting the violence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Israeli ground assault on Gaza late today surprised officials of foreign governments who have been furiously working in Cairo to negotiate a permanent cease-fire.

A case in point, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s ambassador to the U.S., Maen Rashid Areikat.

He spoke this afternoon with the NewsHour’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, just an hour before the incursion was announced.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Areikat, thank you for having us.

MAEN RASHID AREIKAT, Ambassador, PLO Delegation to the U.S: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, well after this lull, in fact, fierce fighting has resumed, more rockets, more killings in Gaza. What is it going to take to end this thing?

MAEN RASHID AREIKAT: I think it will take the efforts of many parties. It’s not only Israel and the Palestinian factions who are now engaged in intense efforts to reach a cease-fire.

The Palestinian president yesterday arrived in Cairo, held talks with Hamas officials, with Egyptian officials. He’s planning to go to Turkey tomorrow, to Qatar. There are very, very intensified efforts right now to somehow bridge the gaps between the two sides.

I personally believe that it is a matter of time before they reach a cease-fire.

MARGARET WARNER: So, you mean, even though we see all this violence going on, that this separate track, the diplomatic track, you think still holds promise? As you said, your president is involved.

MAEN RASHID AREIKAT: Yes, I think both sides have no interest in expanding this confrontation.

The Palestinian leadership position is very clear. We don’t believe that this is in the interests of any party, definitely not the Palestinians, who have really suffered a heavy toll of civilian casualties. More than 240 have been killed so far, 1,600 wounded, very, very extensive damage in the Gaza Strip.

So it is in the interest of the Palestinian people to see a cease-fire as soon as possible.

MARGARET WARNER: If there is no permanent cease-fire reached, there are many voices in Israel calling for some sort of ground invasion. What would be the consequences of that?

MAEN RASHID AREIKAT: I think that would be a major mistake, because Israel tried a ground invasion in 2008, 2009, and 2012. None of that is going to solve the problem in Gaza.

Our problem with Israel is a political problem. It’s a problem about a continued Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, of the Gaza Strip. Even though they withdrew their soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip, technically, Gaza is still under Israeli military occupation.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean because it’s controlled and exits are controlled.

MAEN RASHID AREIKAT: Absolutely, their airspace, their territorial waters, their land crossing points, they are all under Israeli control.

The situation in the West Bank is a little bit — is better than Gaza Strip, but, still, there is a political problem that needs to be resolved, ending this occupation, creating a Palestinian state that can live side by side in peace and security with Israel.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, of course, President Abbas called on Hamas to accept this first Egyptian proposal back on Tuesday, which they rejected. Is Hamas asking for too much here?

MAEN RASHID AREIKAT: Hamas wants to see the situation in the Gaza Strip change. And I think this is something that all Palestinians want to see.

The situation in the Gaza Strip, the blockade that the Israelis have imposed on the Gaza Strip for the last five, six years, has exacted a heavy toll on the population there. Economically, the conditions are very, very dire in the Gaza Strip.

MARGARET WARNER: But does raining rockets down on Israel accomplish that?

MAEN RASHID AREIKAT: Our position is very clear on that, too.

The Palestinian leadership, the PLO, believes that only political engagement can produce the needed results. But we have keep in mind that Israel actually undertook the campaign of arresting Hamas activists in the West Bank, attacked their institutions and organizations following the abduction and the disappearance — disappearance of the three teenage settlers.

MARGARET WARNER: And the killing.

MAEN RASHID AREIKAT: And then — and then the murder and then the following murder of the Palestinian, the burning him alive.

Listen, this is not an issue of who started first, who fired first, and who retaliated. I think now the most important task is to reach a formula that will be acceptable to both sides for a cease-fire.

If this is a reminder, it reminds all of us that the status quo cannot be continued. And Israel’s false feeling that everything is quiet in the Gaza Strip, in the West Bank is a very deluding feeling. And they are not going to be able to obtain security and stability unless they end their conflict with the Palestinian people.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Areikat, thank you.

MAEN RASHID AREIKAT: Thank you very much.