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interview yasser arafat

The film starts with the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin. I wanted to ask you, how did you feel that day, looking at this funeral of Rabin, your comment.

My partner. It was very, very difficult and painful for me personally, and for all the Palestinians, and many of his friends all over the world. ...

Then we had the big moment, when we had the impressions that the peace process was going very well. We had the withdrawal from the Palestinian towns, Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus. And [in the film] we show you in Bethlehem on the roof of the church. And you made a very beautiful speech. Do you remember how you felt at that moment?

Look, I am sorry to say that they are escalating their military activities again and stole our cities and towns and villages and camps against all our people. You can see by yourself the humiliation which our people are facing on all the checkpoints. And not only that, they had destroyed many of our establishments. ...

I am speaking about now. But this gave us how the whole attitude ... had changed while we're-- I will give you one example. When my partner Rabin was obliged to close Gaza Strip, when we started Gaza, Jericho first, I was astonished when he sent me money. I told him, "Why you are sending this money for?" He said, "For job creations. Otherwise, these laborers will be against you and against me."

And this is a very important point to which I want to stress upon, that the most important thing for the Palestinians and for the Israelis and for the whole Middle East area is to return back to protect the peace of the brave which I had signed with my partner, Rabin, and to live together as we had decided, in our state and in their state. And Jerusalem to be the capital of two states, as Rome is the capital of two states. The capital of His Holiness, the Pope, and the capital of the Italian government; Brussels, the capital of the European Union, and the capital of Belgium.

Mr. President, let's go back to the election of Netanyahu. Before, everybody told you, "Help Peres, because Netanyahu will be a catastrophe." And after the election, the same people came back to you and told you Netanyahu was pragmatic, you can make business with him, you can make an agreement with him. You were worried about the election of Netanyahu. You believed this guy can make an agreement with you?

The Likud Party, not to forget that they were -- the majority of them, not all of them, but a big section of them -- were against the Oslo agreement.


Yasser Arafat is the controversial president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), a position he has held ever since the first PA elections were held in January 1996, as required by the Oslo accord. Arafat and Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in producing the historic Oslo accord of 1993, a turning point in Arab-Israeli relations.

Arafat has been a longtime adversary of Israel. In the 1950s, he and associates formed Al Fatah, which was dedicated to reclaiming Palestine. It became the chief organization in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), founded in 1964 by the Arab League to bring together groups with similar aims. Arafat became a full-time revolutionary, organizing raids and attacks on Israel and calling for armed struggle against Israel. In 1988, however, Arafat appeared before the U.N. and renounced terrorism, saying that it was "the right of all parties in the Middle East conflict to live in peace and security, including the state of Palestine, Israel, and other neighbors." Soon after, the peace process began and was given momentum by the signing of the Oslo accord in September 1993.

How did you feel when you shake the hand of Netanyahu for the first time in Erez [in September 1996]?

Not to forget, not only shaking hand. We had many agreements with him; Hebron agreement, as an example. We had completed it with him. The Wye River agreement.

... The Hebron Agreement was very important because it was signed by the Israeli right, for you?

It was very important, no doubt. And also, we went to Wye River and we signed another agreement under the supervision of President Clinton. And not Netanyahu alone; Netanyahu and Sharon. They were together.

Sharon refused to shake your hand?

Never mind. But in the end, both of us accepted the agreement.

You said to several people in Wye River at the beginning, "This man, Netanyahu, will not implement the agreement." You believed it?

The most important thing [was] that a part of Wye River agreement had been implemented, not all of it. This is one of the most important facts.

When you heard that the Israelis were packing their luggage and going -- remember, they made this exercise in Wye River. You believed they would stay or they would go?

In Wye River?

Yeah.

No. It was clear and obvious that they want to squeeze me and to squeeze the Palestinian delegation. But the time had passed and they returned back to the negotiations under the supervision of President Clinton and the full participation of the American administration in every details.

Though it was in the last night and moment where you got up from the table, and President Clinton also, and left Netanyahu alone because Netanyahu told you, "Give me Jabali [the Palestinian police chief] or make Jabali disappear, Ghazi Jabali." Do you remember that?

Yes, I remember. But it had been solved, the most important thing and we have this agreement of Wye River. And we cannot forget the effort which had been done by His Excellency President Clinton.

He came afterwards to Gaza.

Um-hmm.

This visit of an American [president] in Gaza, making the strongest declaration ever for the Palestinian, for you. This is--

Not only that, he opened Gaza Airport, which had been now completely destroyed. Can you imagine? Is this for security? And the harbor, which was under construction with a French and Dutch company, also had been destroyed. Many of our infrastructures had been destroyed by the bombs and by the--

When Barak was elected, you were very hopeful. ...

Not to forget that we were trying to do all our best with him. I will give you many examples. We went many times [to] the White House, have discussions in the White House. And after that in Camp David, and after that, in Paris. You remember? And after that, in Sharm el-Sheik, and after that, in Sharm el-Sheik. And after that in Taba.

Can we go over these examples? It's the first meeting in Erez. You came out in a very bad mood because Barak told you he does not want to make the third redeployment. Remember that?

He delayed it, no doubt. And we then implemented the second agreement of Wye River.

At first, you didn't want to go straight to the final-status talks. Why?

Who told you?

The first meeting.

No, no, no. I was insisting to follow-up all the details in the interim period and the final status.

After Sharm el-Sheik, everything started again to go. But then the Israelis stopped negotiating because they started negotiations with Syrians. You were worried that this might delay the Palestinian track?

No. ... The agreement with the Jordanians, as an example, didn't stop us. Any agreement with any Arab countries will not stop us. But he used it to lose time. But, definitely, we are not against it. ... We had agreed upon from the beginning in Madrid Conference [is] the implementation of [U.N. resolutions] 242 and 338 and 425 for Lebanon. And we were not alone there. Many Arab countries had attended the conference. Many international high leaders had attended this conference. And everywhere there was a very important attitude to push the peace in the Middle East.

You started two tracks [of] negotiations with the Israelis: [Israeli negotiator] Oded Eran with [Palestinian negotiator] Yasser Abed Rabbo and also Shlomo Ben-Ami with Abu Ala; and also the Stockholm track. One was important. One was less important. What did you achieve in Stockholm?

Many of our understanding had been discussed in Stockholm. But, sorry to say that this had been stopped. ... I will tell you one example on Barak. You remember after our very important discussion which we had made it under the supervision of [France's] President Chirac in his office?

In October?

In his office. And with the participation of the Americans, headed by [U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright, and with the participation of Mr. Kofi Annan [of the U.N.], and the Israeli and Palestinian delegations. And we have very important discussions. And we arrive to very important platform, which we continued. After that, the details of it, until half past four in the early morning.

And we had agreed upon that we will go to Sharm el-Sheik to sign it with the presence of President [Hosni] Mubarak [of Egypt]. The Palestinian delegation arrived there. The American delegation arrived there. But we stayed there more than six hours. At last, they received a note that he [Barak] will not come.

They say you didn't want to sign at first.

You can ask--

Albright?

No, his Excellency President Chirac. And also, our friend, the foreign minister, he was continuing in the details also with us.

Let's go back if I may before Camp David. Albright came to Ramallah. You had two or three meetings with her. The Israelis wanted a summit. What did you tell her? You told Albright you are not ready. You think they are not ready for a summit.

... Simply, I told her, before this, we are in need of the accurate preparation so that not to make any confrontation. And this had been used not only between us and them; this had been used in all negotiations all over the world. The preparation is very important for any negotiations.

You remember, the Americans and the Vietnamese continued about five years in Paris until they arrived to the final agreement. And she had accepted, with me, for the preparation. But we had been surprised when they started directly.

Before that, the Israelis didn't give what they promised -- the three villages, Abu Dis?

Oh, not only Abu Dis, this had been even accepted by the Knesset. And in spite of that, Barak didn't implement it. This had been discussed in the Knesset. And the Knesset accepted it. And in spite of that, he didn't--

The Americans told us that you saw Clinton the beginning of June, before Albright was here. And you told him that, because you didn't get the villages, because Barak didn't implement, you didn't believe anymore in Barak. You lost confidence.

Actually, the most important thing, for your information, many activities had been agreed upon with Barak, as I had mentioned to you the agreements which had been done in the presence of President Chirac, and in the presence of Albright, and in the presence of Kofi Annan. He escaped and didn't accept to attach us in Sharm el-Sheik, while he had agreed upon with the Egyptians to sign it there in the presence of President Mubarak.

And not only that, when he gave permission for Sharon to visit the Haram as-Sharif [the Muslim name for the Temple Mount], I went to his house. ... Abu Ala [a senior Palestinian negotiator] was also meeting. Abu Mazen [Arafat's deputy] was at the meeting. Saeb Erekat [a senior Palestinian negotiator] was also meeting. And we went and he was preparing a dinner for us. And with him there was Amnon Shahak [former chief of staff of Israeli army], Gilead Sher [chief Israeli negotiator at the time], [former Foreign Minister] Shlomo Ben-Ami, ... Danny Yatom [former head of Mossad], and Danny Abraham. Danny Abraham is a very important American businessman who still working for the peace process. ... I told him not to forget that your hero, Moshe Dayan, when he occupied East Jerusalem, some fanatic figures raised the Israeli flag. He came by himself and took it over and gave a very important order to prevent these visits. I mentioned it to him [Barak]. "Why you aren't doing it now?" Why he didn't visit Sharm el-Sheik when he was the second man after Netanyahu? Why he didn't visit it when he was a hero of the Israeli army after the '73 war. ... Why he didn't do it during Begin? Why he didn't do it when Shamir was there? Why he is doing it now and you accepting? And you had to put in your consideration that this visit will make a big story, not only with us, [but] with all the Muslims all over the world.

He didn't listen to me. And the visit had been done. And the army, the next day, also followed up. And some of them had been, our players had been killed, 19 had been killed. And more than 70 had been wounded.

If I may go back to Camp David? You couldn't accept the proposals in Camp David. Why?

Because there are some points which, if you are in my place, you will not accept it. I will give you the control ... of the airspace. ... And also, I accepted for them ... early-warning station. ... Early warning station, three, with the participation of the Americans and the participation of the Palestinians.

You know that we are now essentially the only people who are under occupation? Who can accept this?But they are insisting to have, also, big -- not only military, big military bases with all armaments in Jordan Valley under their control. What's the meaning of that? And also, the borders between us and the Egyptians. Who can accept that? I told him, OK. Why not to be like Sinai, international forces headed by the Americans? Or like Syria, Golan Heights, or like south Lebanon, also international forces? Why only the Palestinians will accept your conditions? And not only that, some very critical points for our sacred Christian and Muslim holy places. As an example, the control of the Armenian quarter with all its churches. Who can accept this? I told him, "You have to remember" -- in front of Clinton -- "I cannot betray my brothers to the Armenians." And also, they have to control the area in which Santa Maria church is there. ... And they didn't reply.

Also, they have the sovereignty beyond the Harem as-Sharif. And we have the control over the Harem as-Sharif. Who can accept this? For this, if you remember, when I returned, I asked for immediate meeting for the Committee of Jerusalem of the Islamic Conference. And for the first time, I asked His Majesty, the King of Morocco, King Mohammed VI, that special representatives for all the mosques and for all the churches in Jerusalem will participate with us. And he accepted.

And after that, they had participated also in the Islamic Conference, took place in Qatar. And the meeting of the Foreign Affairs, Islamic Foreign-- And recently, in the meeting also of Jerusalem which took place recently, one week ago in Morocco, and I offered to them what had been offered to me. And this had been refused.

They say the Jewish temple is under the Harem.

I am giving you one example. During all this period of occupation this part, they had excavated everywhere. And no one single stone from the temple had been found. ... But I had accepted, officially, the Jewish Quarter and the passage to the Jewish Quarter, and the passage to the Wailing Wall. And this is the holy places which had been given to them by the British Committee ...

The parameters of Clinton in December, 94, 96 percent of the West Bank. In Jerusalem--

Ninety?

Between 94 and 96.

No, no, no. They were speaking about, in the beginning, in Camp David, they were speaking about 88. Then we stressed pushing, pushing. They said, "OK, 92." I told them, "I accept." But to mix what? In value and in the area, not only to give me desert in the same value. No. The value and the size.

Then we get in December the parameters of Clinton. ... You had the phone call from Clinton. And you go to the United States, to Washington, to talk with Clinton about his parameters. ... What did you tell Clinton? Did you accept his parameters?

I had received a letter from him and I replied him in details about what can be done from our side which would be accepted by the Arab nation and by the Christians and by the Muslims. Because these sacred holy places are not only for the Palestinians; it is for all Muslims and for all Christians. And I asked some explanation of what had been written in his letter about it.

You wrote about the refugees.

Yes.

What was your position on the refugees?

I told him, this had been accepted from the beginning by the Americans, by the whole world. It was the resolution of the United Nations, General Assembly 194. And I told him, in spite of that, "Let us start as we had agreed upon with the displaced refugees of '67." Specially, there is a committee of the four: Jordanian, Egyptians, Israelis, Palestinians. And we were working with it.

But it had been stopped. I told him, "Let us return back to what had been agreed upon, to push for the displaced. And the refugees, let us start directly with our refugees in Lebanon because they are suffering. They haven't the ability to work according to the laws." In 60 or 71 or 68 posts, they haven't the ability to work.

And also to solve the Lebanese problem, President Clinton asked me how many [refugees] they are. I told him, when I was there, they were 480,000. But I had heard now they are about 301,000. But it had been informed to me later upon, they are about 220,000. And, in general, this had been discussed, but not settled completely.

They could have come back to Israel?

Yes, according to [U.N. Resolution] 194.

But the Israelis said this makes for them a big demographic problem.

He had mentioned this. I gave him what had been written. It is still in my pocket, what has been written in Ha'aretz, that more than 62 percent of those who came from the Soviet Union areas, which are now different countries, 62 percent are not Jews. The majority of them, more than 90 percent of them, are Christians and around 10 percent of them are Muslims. ... Then how [does] the Christian or the Muslim who is coming from Soviet Union have the right to go to our homes? And the Palestinian Christians and the Palestinian Muslims haven't the right to their homes?

At one of your talks with President Clinton, you told him, "If I have the state, with Jerusalem as a capital, with the Haram, the demographic problem of Israel will be solved." Remember that?

Yes. Do you know how many Palestinians are there in East Jerusalem? More than 270,000. They will return back as Palestinians. But the most important difference is not about when I discuss about the displaced and of Lebanon; it was not the main issue. The main issue was the holy sacred places and the area.

This must be solved first?

Yes.

Then you can find solution for the others?

We have to find the solutions for them together. This is what had been discussed in details with President Clinton, with Barak, who was very ... excited. And he stayed three days in his villa not accepting to meet anybody or to leave it. And, in spite of that, we continue with the rest of his delegation.

Then after Camp David, there were secret negotiations between Gilead Sher and Saeb Erekat.

Until now, I didn't stop any contacts with the Israelis. Security meeting yesterday, ... with the American participation, with the speaker of the Knesset and the speaker of our ... council, ... and Abu Ala, recently it was in Paris. The first meeting was with Prime Minister Jospin, and the second meeting was President Chirac. And also Sharon, and also permanent contacts with his son, Omri. And also, the talks is still going. Recently, yesterday, in New York, between Abu Ala and Mr. Shimon Peres.

Two more questions for the history, which is very important because you are part of this history. Why couldn't you stop the intifada the way you succeeded, you with the Israelis, in stopping the problem of '96 after the tunnel? After the tunnel, you succeeded.

I told you I succeeded. And I succeeded many times. But they started the field of the thorns, military plan. And the ... "hell plan." And now, the rolling plan, escalating, escalating, escalating. What the meaning of their tanks some meters far of here? Thirty meters or 25 meters? Approximately.

How do you deal with these tanks here?

It is not the first time. ... You remember the big battle which they had mentioned that the tanks had advanced 10 meters in the ... area, while the length of the tank is 13.6 meters with its gun? The most important thing [is] not myself. The most important thing [is] how to let our people feel that they are living not under occupation, not under humiliation, not under poverty. Do you know that they had reserved all of our precious taxes, which is more now than $1 billion? It is our taxes. And they had kicked out 132 laborers working in Israel, now for 16 months.

And not only that, they had destroyed many of our factories. Not only that, they had uprooted approximate 50 percent of our olive trees. ... What is the meaning of that? How many thousands of families have lost their income? And also, they are bulldozing the farms everywhere and destroying the houses everywhere, and the infrastructures, including some hospitals, and some schools, and including some holy places.

What are you negotiating with Abu Maze,n with Sharon? What are the negotiations advancing?

This is a new start. We hope that ... it is not only for his visit to Washington. We hope that it will continue. We didn't stop any contacts. You remember we sent a delegation when Yossi Bellin [a leader of the Israeli left] accept to participate with us in the negotiations under the supervision of President Mbeki. President Mbeki is also representing, as he is the president of South Africa and also the [non-aligned movement].

You believe you could have made an agreement in Taba? Or it was too late because of the elections?

It was -- No. But we had arrived. If there was a time-- We had agreed upon that, after the election, we will continue. And we were hoping that within maximum six weeks, we will finish it.

The new American administration is not helpful?

Not to forget, he is a new president and he is in need of time, as any new president. And the same time, what had happened in last September was a disaster for the whole world. And, for your information, as you remember, I was the first to send my condolences for him and we declared our donation. Again, it's this dramatic, what had been done from these fanatic groups.

On one hand, you have Abu Mazen, Abu Ala talking to Sharon. On the other hand Sharon [says] he regrets not having killed you. [Ed. Note: In an interview with an Israeli newspaper published in February 2002, Sharon reportedly said that he regretted not having killed Arafat in Lebanon in 1982. When Israel invaded Lebanon that year, Sharon was Israel's defense minister.]

As I have mentioned to you, I am not looking for myself. I am looking to find something concrete for our people to live freely in their independent state as all other people all over the world. You know that we are now essentially the only people who are under occupation? Who can accept this? And where? In the Terra Santa? Can this be accepted for the whole world?

The peace, in the land of peace, in the Terra Santa, is not only for the Palestinians. It's for the Palestinians, for the Israelis, for the whole Middle East area, for the whole world.


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