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interview saeb erekat

You went to the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. ... How do you personally feel?

I think the first row there were the presidents, so President Mubarak, King Hussein, of course other leaders. We were sitting myself, I think Abu Ala [a senior Palestinian negotiator] was there also and then behind us one row was Netanyahu. And I said that day, "Whoever killed Rabin killed the peace process, and this man is coming." ...

... Then there was a moment of great hope. [Soon after Rabin's assassination] you had the Israelis withdraw from Palestinian towns. There was almost no violence. Everything went smooth.

Shimon Peres [who succeeded Rabin] came and I was really worried. But then the withdrawals from Jenin, Tulkarm, Nablus, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Bethlehem take place. Then we have the most important thing that happened in the last five years, which is the Palestinian presidential and national elections for the council, for the parliament.

There was a meeting between President Arafat and Shimon Peres at Erez. I know that at that meeting your president told Peres, "Make elections now." Do you remember that?

Can I not comment on it?


A former academic and journalist, Saeb Erekat is the Palestinian Authority's minister of local government and one of its senior negotiators and spokesmen. Several interviews were conducted over time with him. The last ones occurred between September 2000 and late January 2001--a period when the Al Aqsa intifada erupted and Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were in a race against time to conclude a "final status" agreement before Clinton and Barak left office. In these interviews, Erekat talks about some of the hopeful moments that occurred in the peace negotiations, Wye River's high drama, the impasse at Camp David, and his thoughts on the future of a peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

... We just want your opinion. ...

I never want to see any Palestinian interfere in Israeli internal politics. It's too complicated, too sophisticated, and as much as I don't want them to mess in our internal affairs, I never like it any, whether good or bad, to mess in their internal affairs.

Of all the Israeli withdrawals, from the towns, which one took you at the heart the most? Ramallah, Bethlehem--?

Bethlehem.

Why?

The religious significance, the Church of Nativity, the place of Jesus' birth now coming to be under the Palestinian flag, under our full jurisdiction. For years, I've seen the Israeli commanders coming to celebrate or to walk religious dignitaries and other dignitaries at Christmas. And now it was Palestinian officers. That made me so proud and that made me hopeful, and that gave me a sense that today Bethlehem, tomorrow is Jerusalem.

From the roof of the church, President Arafat talked to the people. In his speech he said, "This holy land belongs to the Muslims but also to the Christians and to the Jews." You remember this?

Yes, I was with him.

How did you feel at the time? You remember again what he said?

First of all, President Arafat strikes me as the first leader in the Muslim world who made it happen to attend the Christmas prayers for the Latin, for the ... others. Not to go and congratulate them as we do but to go and sit in the mass. President Arafat is a deeply religious man and he always speaks very highly of Judaism as a religion, Jews as people.

But this sentence, on the roof of the church, in front of thousands of Palestinians. This surprised you?

No. I've heard it before. I don't know what was the reaction of the people but I've heard President Arafat many times -- when we travel in the plane together. He's a deeply religious man and he has so much knowledge on Judaism and Christianity. ...

The withdrawals. Was it for you a moment of high hope?

Absolutely. See, it was the whole peace process was centered on one point, and that is the graduality of Israeli withdrawals. This peace process was not about a one-time withdrawal which we had hoped for. It was about the graduality of withdrawal, so you see Gaza, Jericho, and then we see Jenin, Tulkarm, Qalqilya, Nablas, Ramallah, Bethlehem. But ... Peres could not do Hebron. And he said we'll do it after the election and we agreed.

Then you had the killing of Yehiya Ayash [who was considered the chief bombmaker for Hamas].

Just two weeks before the elections.

You were worried?

I think this was the most strategic mistake Israel committed because there was here the period of time, [when] there was no violence whatsoever, no bombings whatsoever. Everything was really going for you. You see that the withdrawal from the towns. You see the sympathy with Peres after Rabin's assassination. You're about to see the most historic event in Palestinian national modern history, the election of a Palestinian president and the election of a Palestinian parliament. And everything was going so smooth. It was an atmosphere for months now void of any violence whatsoever.

Then whoever made this decision to assassinate Yehiya Ayash committed the most strategic mistake done in this period, vis-ż-vis the peace process.

... And then buses started to blow up in Israel. ... How did you feel when you heard the news about what's happening in Jerusalem?

I knew that everything was slipping outside our fingers like sand. I knew everything was crumbling. I knew it. There in Jerusalem, there in Tel Aviv, it was Ayash in the background. But also you've seen these forces, OK? I mean, those who assassinated Rabin did not want to kill Rabin as a person. They wanted to kill the peace process. I can't say the same thing of those who committed this strategic mistake of killing Yehiya Ayash ... and this bus bombings and explosions. ... It was also an attempt to further stab the peace process, that's how I felt. And I felt it was so successful.

The [Palestinian] Authority, came under tremendous pressure to act. There were no Israeli reprisals, there were no Israeli attacks. There was a strategic decision from Peres, from the army, from the Shin Bet [Israel's internal security agency], to let you deal with the problem.

Which we did.

Why not before?

... At the end of '94, we had internal Palestinian clashes in Gaza in which 13 Palestinians were killed. And we had a period of time whereby we said we would tolerate political pluralism, we would tolerate parties expressing their opposition to the peace process and so on. But what we will not tolerate is authority pluralism, is those who will make parallel authorities against the Palestinian Authority. ...

We have witnessed a Palestinian transformation that was a peaceful and orderly one. It was difficult for us to distinguish between freedom of expression and incitement, between the right of parties to form and no right to people to form parallel authorities. We've seen months of total quiet. Everybody was going in Palestinian society, Palestinian political parties, in accordance with the wishes of the Palestinian Authority.

We were going to pursue this peace process, a gradual withdrawal, making peace with Israel. [And then the] Rabin assassination and then comes Yehiya Ayash assassination. ... I think, every element of these things -- Rabin assassination, Ayash assassination, the buses exploding -- there was one man [who] was watching this very carefully. ... With each Palestinian death and with each Israeli death was one man who was seizing the opportunity, seizing the moment, a very opportunistic person who knew exactly how to manipulate the blood of Palestinians and Israelis. And that's Benjamin Netanyahu.

Do you remember the Sharm el-Sheik summit? Do you remember any stories? ...

Everybody gathered in Sharm el-Sheik. They wanted Peres to win the election. ... They knew that the peace process was slipping outside our fingers like sand. They knew that Benjamin Netanyahu was capitalizing on each drop of Palestinian and Israeli blood, and they knew that the peace process was in serious, serious danger. They were right. It's never the same.

This was a meeting with the leaders of the world and half the Arab League. ... Did you think it was possible before?

It was a support system to the peace process. Unfortunately, it did not work. The whole world was working on this to give us -- the peacemakers and Palestinians and Israelis -- a support system, and Netanyahu was on the other side. He won.

Netanyahu won and everybody came to--

Everybody came to see me, to see President Arafat. ... The whole world meets in order to prevent Netanyahu's election, and then once he's in office these same people come to you and start to [say], "Look, look, he's a pragmatic person. He's not ideologically committed. You can make peace with him. Give him a chance. Don't rush into conclusions." I say, "What? Benjamin Netanyahu is pragmatic? Benjamin Netanyahu is one that you are telling us -- as Americans and Europeans and sometimes as Arabs ... and of course Israelis -- that he will make peace? What are you talking about?" ... The only thing available in front of us is damage control and crisis management. I said, "That's how we should deal with Netanyahu."

I don't know of any name that we met at that period who did not say that Netanyahu's pragmatic. When you think about it, you don't blame them. That's what you have in Israel: a prime minister who was elected; you have a peace process that you need to continue with. And I think that by saying he was pragmatic, it was their own way of having damage control by hoping that he would look good. They tried and they failed.

Then you got a call and you had Abu Mazen [Arafat's deputy] first meet with Netanyahu's people. ...

Yes. Terje Larsen [the U.N. special envoy to the Middle East].

At his home?

His home, yes.

In Tel Aviv. Tell me the story.

That's right. ... We go and meet. The first thing Dore Gold [an Israeli negotiator] wanted to do that night is to change the agreement signed. ... Honestly, the least you could have done is just read the agreements because we were going to discuss the withdrawal from Hebron. ... What you need to do is just put mechanisms and timelines to implement, and these people did not even bother to read the agreement signed. They wanted to come with a new terms of reference. Abu Mazen knew that night. He told me, "God help us. These people will not abide by agreements signed and we can not change agreements signed." ...

Then you got to the first meeting ... Can you describe it? It was the first time since Beirut that you were face-to-face with the Likud people.

I remember it very well. A few days before the meeting I was asked once again to meet with Dore Gold. And we met I think it was in Jerusalem. ... Also, Terje Larsen did arrange for the meeting, and we wanted to prepare the meeting. So it was very difficult to agree on the "to do" things, and I suggested to Dr. Gold, "Why don't we try the approach of 'not to do' things?" ... Meaning, what is it that we don't what Netanyahu to say? And to them, what is it that they don't want Arafat to say? And actually the statements were worked out between us before the meeting. The agenda and the talking points and everything were worked out and the press conference even was worked out before the meeting. This is how cautious we were. They were very cautious. They did not want this meeting to fail. Neither did we. ...

... First of all you get him, Chairman Arafat, ... the Likud people [at that meeting]. ... Can you describe it? ...

For me and Abu Mazen who were in the meeting, we've seen the Likud people. We've seen his people before this meeting. Now for my other colleagues and President Arafat, it was the first time. So everybody wanted to be at his best to project the imagery of the way they wanted to be perceived by Netanyahu and the way Netanyahu wanted to be perceived by Palestinians, so they were at their best.

I remember we were sitting in the room, standing in the room actually. ... Benjamin Netanyahu, I had known him before, years before. We had been in so many TV programs together. ... I was standing next to him in the room in Erez and they told us that President Arafat is just coming. So as President Arafat approaches the door, Netanyahu runs to the door to show the Middle Eastern respect and so on, inviting him to sit.

You remember what he said to President Arafat?

... We sat at the table and I remember two things he said to President Arafat, very clearly. The first thing he said, "We should have met a long time ago." And the second thing he said, "We will make it, Mr. Chairman. We will make it together, Mr. Chairman. We will make peace, Mr. Chairman. It needs courage. It needs leadership, and we can make it together, Mr. Chairman." ...

And then we had the episode of the [settlements]. ... You are in Jericho at the time. ... You remember that?

I remember that day very well. Actually since he came to office in these two months, Netanyahu, he was throwing so many things. ... There were so many announcements of new settlements, of expansion of settlements. He cancelled the government Resolution No. 60 in which Rabin had ... [said] not to expand the Israeli settlements. ... So he cancelled this resolution, and he began a huge settlement activities program.

That's the way you get Palestinians toward confrontation. That's the most threatening thing to the Palestinian mind. Settlements to Palestinians is the equivalent to bus exploding in Tel Aviv to Israelis. That's the ultimate threat. It's land, it's future. Settlements are put there to stop us from having our future -- independent state, freedom.

It was coming. The clashes were coming. And then what happened that day, I was in Jericho. There were clashes here in Jericho, [between] the demonstrators and Israeli army, and they told me that many people were wounded and somebody was killed. ... Settlers were shooting in the road to Ramallah. They were shooting at the entrance to Ramallah.

And the Palestinian police? ...

Was involved, was returning fire and was involved in the shooting. ...

And then you went to Washington. King Hussein was there. ... Syrians, the whole process, everything has collapsing. Do you remember the meeting with President Clinton? You're in the White House with President Arafat.

We began the meetings before the president met with Clinton and King Hussein and so on. They took us, it was me and Nabil Shaath, to Blair House. And from the Israeli side came, I think for the first time Yitzhak Molcho, Danny Naveh, and Dore Gold. And they had prepared a paper which they submitted to us. I look at the paper and they want us to arrest all officers and Palestinian security people who shot, were involved in the shooting, to put them on trial. And there were seven or eight conditions, all meaning to engage in a process other than the process of redeployment of Hebron. ... I remember the term reciprocity introduced for the first time in political dictionary of the Israelis or Netanyahu's period at that evening.

And I remember ... I went to see President Arafat at 4 o'clock in the morning. And once he looked at the things, he called pilots to prepare the plane to leave Washington. Americans got knowledge of this. I remember King Hussein calling at 4:30 in the morning to speak to President Arafat, He asked him to be a little patient. I think the Egyptian prime minister ... was also in Washington. He came to see the president immediately at 5 o'clock in the morning. ... It was so tense, the atmosphere. ...

[We] had this lunch with President Clinton and King Hussein was in the meeting. ... I remember sitting next to President Arafat with Abu Mazen. And King Hussein delivers a speech very passionate about peace, about saving lives. And he was very, very critical of Netanyahu. He told him, I remember that line still, "I hope that you'll grow up to the wisdom and courage of Rabin."

Nothing was agreed?

There was nothing agreed even when they said they were going to have a press conference. Clinton said, "No one will speak, but me. I will only speak." And then the only thing that was agreed, as we were leaving, ... is that Dennis Ross [a former U.S. ambassador and leading negotiator] will come to the region. And the Steering and Monitoring Committee will meet. The Steering and Monitoring Committee is the committee that runs the highest negotiating committee at that time. I was heading it for the Palestinian side.

... Clinton arranged the handshake, the famous handshake. ... Do you remember it?

Yes, I remember. We left not from the White House main entrance actually, from the back door. And I think the four leaders walked together. ... But they shook hands in Erez. ... They shook hands like this. Netanyahu was really, almost, I thought he was going to break Arafat's arm. ...

At the time, you were worried? Did you think it was the end of it?

My main thing was counting on the Israeli people realizing the gravest mistake they committed by electing this man and how to bring about a peace camp in Israel that will undo this mistake. This was my heart telling me. With all due respect, I mean no harm to the person of Netanyahu. I'm talking about the politics and policies of Netanyahu. ...

On the 15th of October [1996] King Hussein of Jordan made something incredible. He came to Jericho. This was Jordanian land 20 years ago. And then he came to visit you after the terror crisis, after everything. How do you feel having the king in Jericho?

... Hearing President Arafat receiving King Hussein in Jericho, hearing the Jordanian national anthem and the Palestinian national anthem that they played in Jericho, I was among ... the reception party, and in the closed meetings with the King. As Palestinians, I'm one of those who keep telling myself, things are moving in the right direction, things are progressing -- not in the speed we want it to go, but we are really on the right track. Our national identity is being established. Our institution is being established. Jordan no longer claims any sovereignty over the West Bank. Israel is relinquishing its occupation, gradually. So that's the kind of feeling I got that day.

You were asked to do the same thing for Hebron, for security agreement and you are negotiating with Israelis, with [Netanyahu's adviser, Yitzhak] Molcho. ... Then you have the Hebron agreement. How did you do it? It was very hard.

Yes, it was the most difficult thing. But I felt so good that now Netanyahu got the message very clearly. ... Signing the Hebron agreement for me was a demonstration that Netanyahu failed and will fail to change any part of the agreement signed. We will not open the agreement. We said that Day 1. And once we signed, I told him, "Next time please let's do it in an expeditious fashion by being honest to the agreement signed."

January [1997], the Israelis withdrew from part of Hebron and the atmosphere was euphoria. There's a speech of President Arafat when he quoted the Knesset, saying the Likud voted 87 votes against 11 in favor of the withdrawal of Hebron. How do you feel?

... I think the first one who came to see President Arafat was, I think if I'm not wrong, was David Levy in Erez. And President Arafat told David Levy, "Listen, meeting you is making me feel that I'm making peace with the other 50 percent of Israel." And when Israel, Netanyahu, withdrew from Hebron it wasn't only Peres and Rabin and the Labor talking about the territorial compromise. Now it's the Likud and the right wing in Israel that are doing the withdrawal, which was significant. All this nonsense about Likud and right wing of Israel speaking about their commitment not to accept the territorial compromise. It was shattered that day. And I believe that day on, I think the way was opened for a Palestinian state and for an Israeli withdrawal. That's why I still believe that will happen.

Then everybody was surprised in March '97. ... Har Homa [a contested hill near Jerusalem; Netanyahu gave the green light for a new settlement there]. How do you feel? How did you react? Did you call somebody? You knew in advance?

We knew in advance through the Israeli peace movements, actually, who are always the first to know of the Israeli settlements activities. I asked to see the Israeli side. I went to see Danny Naveh and said, "What are you doing? You're out of some parts of Hebron, now you want to take parts of East Jerusalem, Bethlehem?" And he began saying to me that was ... not something that Netanyahu came with. It was approved by the previous governments. And I said to him, "Then it's true? You will build? ... You know the meaning of your decision. There will be no more dialogue. You're destroying every possibility to have peace. Do you understand this?" He said, "Nah, don't exaggerate. This is nothing. This is just to accommodate the needs of the Israelis." What he called it I think that day, "the natural growth."

And he said, "We're going to give licenses in ... Arab villages in East Jerusalem to build homes." And I said to him, "Danny, you're destroying it. It's finito." And that was the meeting.

I remember after that I was sent by President Arafat to Jordan. Saw the King on this, King Hussein that time and then went to Egypt, saw the Egyptian leaders on this. And then spoke to the United States. From the answer Danny Naveh gave me, I had told President Arafat that the decision is taken and as far as Netanyahu is concerned, it's a done deal. Hebron withdrawal for Abu Ghneim [where the settlement was to be built]. This is part of his thinking. This is part of a deal he had already maybe made with the extremist parties in Israel.

Then you had the return of violence. A bombing in a caf» in Tel Aviv, demonstrations, stone throwing and everything. The area is again unstable. Maybe you remember this meeting. You had a meeting with [U.S. Ambassador to Israel] Martin Indyk, with [Netanyahu's Defense Minister Yitzhak] Mordechai. ... And you told to Mordechai that he's signing the death guarantee for the future Jewish generation.

If Sharon is elected by the Israeli people, that means that the Israelis are not ready to make peace. He will bring with him people who are also non-negotiators.It was the first time in Ambassador Indyk's residence actually in Herzlia where I get a chance to sit with Mr. Mordechai and to have a long chat. He [said], "I'd like to brush settlements. It's not important. Why are you making this issue out of it?" I told him settlements to us threatens our future. ... And then he started not to accept this logic at all. I told him, "You know what. ... I did a very thorough study. And you know what, I found out that the majority of Jews will not convert to Christianity or Islam. And I found out that all the Christian and Muslim Palestinians will not convert to Judaism. What do you have for the future? What do you have for the future of the Jewish generations? Where do you see the vision? Do you know what settlements will do?"

And he just brushed aside. He didn't want to even listen. And honestly, this arrogance of that man bothered me so much even though I learned negotiating with Israelis all these years not to take it personal. But the way this man responded when I spoke about the future of Israelis and Palestinians, my children and his children. And then sensitivity, he dealt with it as a defense minister. I said, "Man these people are in deep trouble."

Then, Ras al-Amud. Suddenly there are new settlements.

... 132 homes to be built in Ras al-Amud ... inside a Palestinian residential area. And we all realized at that time, though there was a peace agreement with Netanyahu, we've done it. That's it. That's the last thing he will do. It was implementation of the Hebron protocol. He will do nothing else.

You were losing Jerusalem. You were losing on the ground.

That's what he tried to tell us by doing Abu Ghneim and Ras al-Amud, that Jerusalem will not ever be negotiated. And I remember telling Danny Naveh, "You will never get an end of conflict, end of claims, from Palestinians without your relinquishing your occupation of East Jerusalem."

The return of Sheik Yassin [who is considered the spiritual leader of Hamas] was an important event for you after the Meshal affair in Jordan [when Israeli intelligence agents bungled an attempt to assassinate Khaled Meshal, a Hamas leader, in Amman, Jordan]. Certainly you have tens of thousands of Hamas supporters in Gaza. Your position? This was a catastrophe in terms of internal Palestinian politics?

The thing is, I have personally, upon instruction of President Arafat, spoke about the release of Sheik Yassin more than any other subject concerning any other Palestinian prisoners. And the Israelis whenever they heard -- all governments by the way that we raise the issue of Sheik Yassin with, about his release -- did not take us seriously at all. And then all of a sudden, we see a deal struck with Sharon, Meshal affair in Jordan. Sheik Yassin is released to Jordan and then sent to Gaza.

And then the question was, we have been asking for this man's release for almost five years, in every single meeting. And it was an impossible issue with them whenever we raised it at the table. And now Netanyahu does it, in this manner. ...

Let's talk about Wye. ... The two incidents. One, the story of the suitcases, with the Israelis packing. And then we'll go to the last night in the big tent. When did you hear stories that the Israelis are packing? ...

I was there. I was with them. I was in their quarters because I was meeting I think Danny Naveh over some arrangements on practicalities of the memorandum on security, I think. ... And then all of a sudden, somebody comes to see him. ... And then he asks to be excused. And then I wait. I wait too long. I go to an Israeli ... and say, "I want to talk to Danny." He comes and I say, "Danny, if you're busy I'll go." He said, "Yes. We have some difficulties."

When I was leaving I had this small car, golf cart. I saw a convoy, other cars, bigger cars, leaving. It was Americans. I did not see who was inside the car. But later on I knew she was Madeleine Albright. And then I went back. I think I forgot the keys to my cart. I went back to the room and I saw Danny Naveh screaming at Martin Indyk, really screaming at Martin Indyk. I didn't want to bother.

I went to the room and took the keys and I was leaving and an Israeli came to me and he said to me, "You know what. We're learning from you. You remember when President Arafat asked you to pack your luggage in Taba in '95?" I said, "Yes." He said, "The prime minister just instructed us to put our luggage outside." I said, "It's true? Well, that's something I want to see." I think it was Israel Hasson. I was joking with him. He said, "No, no, no. It's serious. He instructed all of us to bring our suitcases, our luggage, outside." I took the car and went to President Arafat and I told him they're leaving.

President Arafat said, "I knew it. He doesn't want peace. He doesn't want an agreement. He doesn't want anything." Then we called the Americans to inquire about what kind of an arrangements we will do because if they leave we will have to arrange our travel and so on... They told us to be patient a little bit.

...Then you went to this last night. You enter the big tent. Clinton was sitting in the center; you are sitting on the side. You are not supposed go out. ... Twenty-four hours drama.

This was a big tent with sofas and couches and chairs scattered and any way you look you find somewhere to sit. In the middle, I saw Sharon was sitting in one of the sofas and I was passing by and [said], "Hello, Mr. Sharon." He stood up [and said], "Hi, Mr. Erekat" ...

And then President Arafat comes and goes. President Clinton comes to us and goes, and then the three of them -- Netanyahu, President Arafat, and Clinton -- will come to the drafting session. We offer this, we offer that, and so on. And then at 4:30 or 5:30 in the morning, everything is agreed, done; I receive my instructions from President Arafat to conclude in accordance with the following as he had agreed with Netanyahu and Clinton. As we were concluding, I hear voices. I was the only Palestinian in that big tent now. I hear big voices. It was around 6:30. It was a sleepless night. And then I leave that room ... to see that there was finger pointing between President Clinton and Netanyahu.

There was really screaming and so on. I said to [one of the members of the Israeli delegation], "Excuse me. I have to leave." He said, "Why?" I said, "It's not decent for me to be the only Palestinian here while this is going on. ... I think we've concluded everything. I will go to our quarters."

I think it was Dennis Ross who came to speak to me, and he said, "We're having major difficulties. We appreciate the fact that you've concluded the drafting. But I don't know if we will sign the agreement or not." And I said, "I hope it's nothing to do with the agreement. Because if you open one part of it, it will collapse." He said, "No no. It's something about a Jewish spy ... named [Jonathan] Pollard. He wants Pollard to be released and he wants Azam Azam [an Arab-Israeli] to be released from Egyptian jails. And if he doesn't get these two people, he will not release any Palestinian." I said, "No, it's part of the agreement." ... I said to Dennis, "I have to inform my President." He said, "Yes."

So I went to the president. It was about 7:30 and then his bodyguards said, "No, no, no, he's just been to bed for an hour and a half." I said to them, "Gentlemen, I will go to see the president. I will wake him personally. Don't worry." ... So I went, personally, and rubbed the president's shoulder. I said, "I'm sorry. There is a major problem." He said, "They don't want to sign the agreement." I said, "Yes, ... he doesn't want to sign the agreement." And I explained to him. So he immediately got out of bed and went to the shower and dressed and he asked me call all my colleagues. ... We sat waiting. We waited. We waited for hours before they came and told us it was solved. ...

Before we took the choppers back to Washington, I said to Israel Hasson [an Israeli security chief], "This man of yours, ... he will not implement." He said, "How can he?" I said, "He will not implement. All what I've seen today and yesterday and the day before yesterday is an action of a man who wanted to avoid the agreement. He was telling us when he packed the luggage, when he spoke of Pollard and Azam Azam, 'I don't want an agreement.' Now he will sign agreement, but he will not implement the agreement." ...

You had elections in Israel and then comes a big hope: Barak is elected.

That night I said a line. They asked me on the media, what's the difference between Netanyahu and Barak? I said that I hope the difference will be between a non-negotiator and a tough negotiator. ...

Then you wait and you have only two months later after the elections the first meeting between Arafat and Barak. ... This is where you met again Gilead Sher [then the top Israeli negotiator]. It didn't go well.

Before the meeting I tried very, very hard with my Israeli colleagues. ... I said to them, "We cannot go to this meeting without preparation. Please, have them designate someone for me to prepare the meetings, to prepare their agenda, the talking points, and the press afterward." And he [Barak] refused. ...

Then Barak in the first meeting jumped to say, "We don't need to waste our times on little issues. We don't need to concentrate on the third phase of the redeployment. We should go at it to get the whole thing done." And at that moment of history, the third phase of the Israeli redeployment constituted the most cardinal point in Palestinian politics, in Palestinian thinking, and Palestinian relations with Israelis because that was the battle with Netanyahu -- the third phase of the ... redeployment which he refused to do.

Now Barak said to Arafat, "We will sit down for negotiations. I have Gilead Sher for my side." President Arafat said, "I have Saeb Erekat for my side." He said, "They'll meet and put a timetable for the implementation for the Wye River." ...

President Arafat was so much touched negatively by Barak when he mentioned what he mentioned about the third phase of the redeployment. And President Arafat probably washed his hands from Barak that first meeting.

And you started negotiating with Gilead Sher, at first with instructions not to budge but only to discuss Wye River, not to discuss final status, nothing.

Barak and Gilead Sher hated Wye River so much. They hated it. ... And they caught us because in Wye River when we were drafting and negotiating we were giving to the Israelis on the form and taking on the substance. Barak and Gilead Sher understood this and they wanted to have a more pragmatic approach whereby they put us as Palestinians back to our obligations emanating from Oslo and the interim agreement which is ongoing, especially in the security. Because Wye River, they ask for plans to be agreed between the two sides, plans to counteract terror, plans to do this. And then all the substance that we're supposed to do, in accordance with the agreement signed, evaporated. Now Gilead Sher wanted us back to this obligation because that constituted the broader base, which is true. ...

Now in exchange for this, we introduced the element of the permanent status. We introduced the element of the third phase of redeployment. Now once we did this, the Israelis countered with the idea of: yes, to permanent status; yes to the implementation of [U.N. resolutions] 242 and 338; but [they said] we need to reach a framework agreement within five months, a framework agreement for the permanent status. ... What do they mean by a framework agreement for permanent status? They're taking out the comprehensive agreement because we were seeking a comprehensive permanent status agreement. And now they want a framework agreement. ...

You wanted also immediately to calm down the street. You had the feeling that your Palestinian street was starting to boil.

Not at that moment. At that moment, the main point of conflict was over the prisoners. Palestinian street was boiling over the prisoners because Netanyahu, when he came back [from Wye in 1998], instead of releasing the political prisoners, he began to release Palestinians civilian prisoners, criminals, and not the political ones we wanted to see.

So now the Palestinian street was really boiling so much over ratio of prisoners. They came forward, the Israeli side [in these new negotiations] and said, "We will release 350." I wanted them to stick to the categories: that those who spent two-thirds of their sentences; those who are sick; those who are under 18 years of age. There were categories agreed in the agreement. But they said, "We don't have any more than 350 because we will not release those with Israeli blood on their hands." And this was the line that we could not accept under any circumstances, especially when we're talking to Israelis with their hands washed with Palestinian blood.

I told them many times, "It's shameful to say this; it's anti peace. We're talking about peace. We're talking about turning a new page." And this is an issue of the most important issue for us. So that was the first issue of a friction. ...

You are under terrible pressure from the Americans, from the Europeans, from the Egyptians to sign with the Israelis, to get this agreement to go. Just 48 hours before the signing in Sharm el-Sheik I know that you were stuck in Gaza with [Mohammed] Dahlan [a Palestinian security chief] ... because there was still some argument about the prisoners. And somebody on your side gave up.

No, the true story is that we were negotiating in Mohammed Bassiouni's home, the ambassador of Egypt to Israel. He's a very close friend of mine, and we've done so many meetings with Israelis in his home because it's a good location and he really provides everything. So [we] were doing the negotiations with Gilead Sher and other Israelis in Bassiouni's home. And every time we reached a drafting page or provision or whatever, I would just lock it in with Gilead, with Bassiouni. And actually I had called President Arafat and told him we worked out the permanent status negotiations provisions. ... [I said], "We worked out the third phase of the redeployment. We worked out the south and north safe passages. We worked out all the security arrangements. The only things that's left, sir, ... [is that] the Israelis are saying we have 350 prisoners to release. We're saying 400." And he said, "That's fine. I can't say that this is the only remaining things." I said, "Yes, Mr. President." ...

The ceremony, everybody was there. Albright, King Abdullah, Mubarak. It was a feast for peace.

It was a very good day. It was a feast for peace. I remember standing next to my president when he was signing. ...

There was some hope. There was the opening of the safe passage.

No, no, no. The beginning ... was very dangerous. We had one ceremony on the permanent status agreement between Abu Mazen and David Levy in Erez. Speeches were delivered. And then we were looking around us. Gilead had left and we were looking around us asking, "Who are our counterparts on the Israeli side for the interim negotiations and for the permanent status negotiations?"

And they went without negotiators all September, all October, and the first week of November I was called by Danny Yatom [an Israeli negotiator and former head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency]. ... I was in Gaza, the president's office, and he told me that, "We'd like to inform you that the head of our delegation to the permanent status negotiations and the interim agreement will be Ambassador Oded Eran." [It had been] two months between the signing of the Sharm el-Sheik agreement and November without Israeli counterparts, without any negotiators.

So my friend Yasser Abed Rabbo now heads the permanent status negotiations. He began negotiating officially, unofficially, under table, over table, secretly and openly with Oded Eran. And then he had a delegation of 10 people. It's true. At that time ... we have seen the release of certain prisoners. We have seen the implementation of the remaining parts of Wye River, redeployments of Israeli forces. ... We have seen after strong debate, the opening of the safe passage. ...

The real dangerous thing was the follow up with development of the permanent status talk. There was no seriousness whatsoever on the Israeli side. And I thought that Yasser Abed Rabbo was exaggerating when he will tell me this. So one day Yasser came to and said, "Saeb, I spoke to the president and I want to change the format of the permanent status negotiation. You and I," he said to me, "will be alone going to see Oded Eran and Israel Hasson." ... I resisted, but I like Yasser very much. I thought, let's give it a chance. ...

I had known Oded for years. Of course, Israel Hasson is considered a friend actually. And the first meeting, in a West Jerusalem hotel ..., exactly where the West separates from East Jerusalem, the 1967 line. I say, "Oded, Israel, how do you want to go about it? Maps? To work on maps? Or to exchange draft of [framework for a permanent status agreement]?" And I put on the table Draft A, Draft B, Draft C, Draft D, Draft E -- five versions of Palestinian [framework]. And I said "Choose. If you're ready for negotiations, let's begin with five." ... That was December '99. ... They refused.

And then I realized that they cannot do two tracks together. They cannot do Syria and the Palestinian track at the same time. And Barak had made up his mind about Syrian track first. And I told Oded and Israel, "We support your endeavor with the Syrians 100 percent and we want it to succeed. And we will not play track against track." And we kept meeting. ...

But before that. I filmed real tension. ... The French Prime Minister [Lionel Jospin], in February [2000], he was attacked in Bir Zeit, which was an expression of the street was boiling. [Jospin had spoken out against Hezbollah attacks on Israel.] ... ... The students who threw stones at Mr. Jospin at Bir Zeit were in fact demonstrating against not only about his poor sentence about Hezbollah but they were demonstrating against the Authority. Everywhere we interviewed there was there was people told us, "Nothing is going, nothing is moving."

You're right. That's what I'm telling you, that the permanent status negotiations which we promised the people that all the pain and suffering and to accept the period of five years of limitations. You know, the Israeli government is a concept of limitations. A painful concept for Palestinians. There's a source of authority called Israel. We cannot move without their acceptance. And we accepted this in order to reach the permanent status agreement and once we reached the permanent status agreement, there was no movement whatsoever. And that's why the Palestinian street began boiling up, boiling up, boiling up. Angry, angrier. Angrier, angrier...

Against you?

Against us, against the peace process, against Israel.

. . . . . . . . . .

What follows is a transcript of four separate interviews with Saeb Erekat conducted between September 2000 and late January 2001 -- when the Al Aqsa intifida erupted and violence escalated, and while Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were in a desperate race against time to reach a "final status" peace agreement before Clinton and Barak left office.

. . . . . . . . . .

September 2000: This interview was conducted two months after the failure at Camp David. Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were engaged in a series of secret meetings, approved by Barak and Arafat, to try to restart the peace process.

You are negotiating every day, discussing every day. Are you going anywhere?

I don't call what I'm doing wasting time. When Saeb Erekat and Gilead Sher sit down, they are two persons, two lawyers. But if I'm looking around the table -- if I'm here in Jericho or in the King David in Jerusalem -- a question is sitting with us, religion is sitting with us, psychology is sitting with us, society is sitting with us.

The issues we are dealing with are not issues of normal negotiations in terms of dealing with the French, the Americans, the British, or others. These are issues of our basic understanding; these are issues of childhood, our history, our religion, our psychology. It's not easy. And I don't think in the history of conflict resolution, there are similar issues.

What are your thoughts about what happened at Camp David?

In that summit for the first time in history Palestinians and Israelis ... saw and realized what had to be done. They tried their best, both sides. Many taboos were broken by both sides. In Camp David we were on [new] grounds -- we've never been there before.

Many people said it was a mistake.

Unfortunately people don't look at Camp David the way you should look at Camp David. What did you expect to come out of Camp David -- [something] just because Clinton had three to four months more left? Or because Barak needed an agreement?

And if you go and have finger-pointing and blame, this signifies to me an attempt to run away from the final issues. Because Palestinians and Israelis are very good at that -- finger-pointing, at saying nothing has changed. I don't know how people in Palestine and Israel could be happy when we said that they didn't reach any agreement [at Camp David]. These two people need peace [more than] anybody else on earth. And I've seen more commitments to peace from Israelis than any leadership in Israel and the same thing to the Palestinians.

But nobody took what happened in Camp David and its real dimension. I knew, after Camp David, our negotiation will never be the same.

What changed?

We were talking about Jerusalem, the quarter of the Haram al-Sharif, the neighborhoods.

How can you in political negotiations today resolve issues -- Muslim, Christian, Jewish -- that were not solved for 100 years?

Well, some issues have not been solved in the past 300, 500 years. ... We didn't wake up one morning as a Palestinian feeling, "I feel so sorry for the Israelis. We want to recognize them."

Neither did Mr. Rabin or Mr. Peres or for that matter Mr. Netanyahu or Mr. Barak wake up in the morning and discover that the Palestinians have been displaced and they recognized the Palestinian people. The recognition came after a century of zero sum game. Then, both parties realized that they couldn't play ... either two winners or two losers. You can call the peace process frustrating, not moving, whatever you may call it. But this is the only way.

Didn't you not achieve agreement because of the question of sovereignty over East Jerusalem?

Don't simplify things. Camp David did not go to agreement because it was not time to deal with all the specific issues of not only Jerusalem. There is security, refugees, economics, territories, settlements, water.

Today, there are 300,000 Palestinians and Israelis crossing to each other's side. How do my workers enter Israel with a visa or with permission? We have 6,000 trucks of goods coming every day between Israel and West Bank. So many specifics, so many details that need to be dealt with. So, nothing was agreed in Camp David.

Gilead Sher said in three to four days, we could have an agreement in Camp David.

He knows -- he wanted an agreement. I was dealing with him 24, 26 hours continually. And we went a long way. [But] if you need to have an agreement for the political reasons you have, you [have to] work the details. If you say we have an agreement as far as Jerusalem is concerned -- we are going to sign today, the day after, we speak of an open city -- it includes free movement. If we speak of free movement, then we have to identify roads Palestinians and the Israelis will use. If you speak of roads, you speak of joint police for that road. Who will give the ticket to the Israeli state, who will give the ticket to the Palestinian state?

Then there is planning zoning. Then you have security, and special economic regime. So much details. I've been involved writing agreements between Palestinians and Israelis since 1993. It's details. They got so angry.

What can be achieved in the coming weeks or months? Before the details, you need a framework.

That's it. We cannot have a framework. If you want to make agreement, with the most single things, unless you know all the details of an agreement, you will not sign. I've contacted Gilead two days after Camp David -- more than 24 meetings.

Did you progress?

Every time we speak about new elements. ... The new fact that you're looking at details. I'm telling Gilead and he is telling me, let us think freely, let's not confine our way of thinking. Because at the end of the day, as a negotiator, I have to be free to think the unthinkable.

Now, I know that when he finishes something, he goes back to Barak and Barak makes a cross-out and then we go to Arafat and he may cross it out. But that should not keep us from trying to find a solution. My job is to find a solution. In this exercise, you can hear the most painful angry statements from both side.

The Palestinians said about the negotiations now: What the Israelis give from the right hand, they are taking back from the left hand.

Well, but Palestinians say many things. ... I'm telling you about my colleagues. You can say Camp David failed. You can say Camp David did not fail. Any way you look at the situation, you're right. What are we doing in this historical exercise?

As a Palestinian it is to look at a bigger picture. We accepted 22 percent of Palestine and recognized for Israel 78 percent. Now Israel stands to undermine this fact and doesn't see the bigger picture. You're going to have to produce a package that's not only going to be accepted by President Arafat and Mr. Barak, or to Saeb Erekat and Gilead Sher. When Israel signed an agreement with Egypt, they were able to sign with the government. When Israel signed an agreement with Jordan, they were able to sign with the king. With Palestinians, Israelis want to make peace with every single citizen. There is the situation.

Is an agreement possible without full Palestinian sovereignty over the mosques and East Jerusalem?

I don't think so.

Do the Israelis understand that?

They come to me and say, how can you not understand our belief of 1,000 years? Here was the temple! I'm not a historian. I don't want to deny or accept what you believe as a Jew, as an Israeli. You believe in whatever you believe. I respect that. But there is no such a thing as Temple Mount in existence today. There is a mosque. There is the Dome of the Rock. Israel is in total control and occupation for this side for 33 years. For 33 years the second chief rabbi of Israel refuses to allow Jews to pray there. ...

It's beliefs here. You go to the Wailing Wall, you can control the Wailing Wall. You go to the Jewish Quarter, you can control the Jewish Quarter. But what you didn't do under your control of Haram al-Sharif, don't ask [Palestinians] to do. Before Camp David, I have never in nine years of negotiations with Israelis faced this concern. I heard there are people like Gershon Salomon [leader of Temple Mount Faithful] who think that we should demolish the mosque and build the temple. But it's a very small minority in Israel.

The question is, why now? We're dealing with things that exist today. Even if [it's a matter of] religion, we can't accept it. We're dealing with realities, there is no such thing as a call for sovereignty over history. History is in our books, in our memory. But sovereignty ... that's the first time in history that I heard people wanted sovereignty on memory.

... Are you pessimistic about the peace process you're engaged in?

... This is not a job for me. This is for me a life commitment. This is for me the life of my daughters, my sons. This is to me I'm giving them a better chance than I had. This is to me about saving lives. There is nothing more frustrating, nothing more difficult. I remember Shimon Peres, when I was negotiating with him I was frustrated and he said to me: "Saeb, negotiations, frustrations for five years, is better than exchanging bullets for five minutes." He's right. We have to continue.

If this has to be a tragedy ... Palestinians and Israelis will continue. They have no alternative. I want everybody to know that we have done everything under our power to achieve an agreement. And it's not a fault of the Palestinians or a fault of the Israelis. Maybe at this stage, all the complexity of this region is unable to have ends meet. That's what I'm saying.

Your people told me that we have between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, and between Israelis and Palestinians at the leadership level, the most serious confidence crisis in years in the peace process, almost worst than at the time of Netanyahu.

No, I wouldn't compare. ... The difference between Barak and Netanyahu is the difference between a non-negotiator and a tough negotiator. Barak is not easy. I wished that in Camp David ... 15 days we stayed there, and not one single meeting between the two of them. ... [Barak] was walking one day. I was sitting with Arafat on the veranda. And then he looked at Arafat and came, shook hands, we offered a cup of coffee. I think he said one bad joke and he went. Didn't even laugh. That's not a meeting.

. . . . . . . . . .

Oct. 10, 2000: This interview was conducted 12 days after the Al Aqsa intifada erupted in the West Bank and Gaza following Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount.

We are heading into religious, racial conflict. What happened between the hope of peace that we had with you, two weeks ago, and today?

It is a very bad signal. ... I urge my Israeli colleagues to take some steps, to move their soldiers outside our towns. We have the international committee sending a commission of inquiry. ... The most dangerous development is when Israelis start shooting its own citizens. Thirteen Israeli Palestinians were killed last week, demonstrating, protesting against the killing of their brothers, the Palestinians, in the West Bank and Gaza.

We have the demonstration of the Shas Party when Aryeh Deri was jailed, the leader of this religious Israeli movement. They burnt cars. They burnt shops. They threatened to kill judges. Not one single Jew was against this demonstration. It's a very bad message Israelis are sending to us.

How do you analyze the origin of this violence? When did you feel that something like this could happen?

I believe that the origin in this violence began like this. After the summit in Sharm el-Sheik in September 1999, Barak began the implementation of the Wye River [memorandum], and the way he implemented things, without consultation with us, this [undermined] some of the confidence between the two sides.

Then Barak began issuing licenses for settlements. He gave a thousand in the first year office. And then, at Camp David, Barak committed a strategic mistake of introducing the religious element between the two people when he demanded sovereignty or residual sovereignty under Haram al-Sharif [Jerusalem's Temple Mount, a site holy to both sides].

I remember President Arafat telling him, "Please Mr. Prime Minister" -- in front of President Clinton -- "don't transfer the conflict from a political one to a religious one. Political ones we can fight; we can have our differences, ups and down, but religious fights and conflicts, we will know how it will begin but we never know how it will end."

The introduction of this element of Haram al-Sharif -- nobody ever asked for sovereignty over a memory or over a religious site. And then this was followed by certain actions, like allowing Sharon to go to the Temple Mount protected by the soldiers.

And the next day, on Friday, what happened on the Haram al-Sharif?

The next day was the reactions of the Palestinians to the entry of Sharon there. Five people were killed and then from there, hundreds killed. ...

Saeb, you are a true believer of the peace process. How do you feel today, deep inside?

The most difficult thing in this region is to be a person of peace, a person for moderation, at times when [people] are being killed. Sanity, wisdom, courage, disappear from Palestinians, disappears from discussion with Israelis. It hurts my heart because I also know that peacemaking is not about negotiating an agreement. It's not about Arafat signing an agreement with whoever the prime minister in Israel is. Peacemaking is how we begin or begin again having Palestinians and Israelis [get along] together. With each moment, I see ambulances carrying Palestinians and Israelis, shooting, whatever. I know this is taking us back. This is not the beginning we need. This is not the vehicle of the future.

Are we entering the era of extremists on both sides? They will now take the streets?

This can easily happen. The Palestinian and the Israeli societies are the two most insecure people. People who see a town around them which is growing. Or this empire, that empire, that kingdom, that religion, that prophet. People who think history for the present and cannot see the future without history, and it's very painful.

In such atmosphere it's very easy to speak to emotions and fears and that is why it is so easy to have extremism emerge on both sides; it becomes an easy transition. Because when people in Israel and in Palestine want to make peace, they must address the issue point by point, explaining one by one, like a calculation of mathematics that must be understood by the people.

How close are we to the point of no return?

I think we must stop it and we can stop it. It's in nobody's interest to reach the point of no return. I know the picture, the months of lack of trust between Palestinians and Israelis have reached high points but I believe we should never use the term, point of no return. This region must not enter in the age of darkness. That's the meaning of the point of no return.

. . . . . . . . . .

Nov. 22, 2000: This interview was conducted as the violence continued, with Palestinian terror attacks and riots and Israel's retaliatory air and missile strikes again Palestinian targets.

Since your last meeting with Gilead Sher in the office of France2, did you meet any other Israeli? Did you have any other contacts?

No. Phones, yes. But meeting others ... they can't touch us now.

What do you mean?

They [the Israeli negotiators] are very angry and they are acting in accordance with ... Sharon and the extremists in Israel. They have to look like they are tough, strong. They have to put on their hats of an army general, and not their hats of a peacemaker.

... The most important thing during this period is that we went to Washington. President Clinton asked to see us one day after the [U.S. elections]. We arrived in Washington on the 8th of November.

What did he tell you?

He told president Arafat the following: "I've 10 weeks in the office. I want to do everything in my power to use these 10 weeks to produce a comprehensive agreement, a historical agreement, a real reconciliation between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

I want you to have your own state. I know the complexity of the issues but I think you can do it. I want to know from you, Chairman Arafat, if you are with me. Can you commit yourself to me in this endeavor?"

Arafat said to him: "I count on you, Mr. President. I think we can do it together and we will follow any move that you want to take in terms of ... you want me to send somebody to discuss the details on specific things. I am with you." ... President Clinton was very happy at the meeting.

He said he understood the Palestinian position?

He didn't go into specifics other than saying that he knows the issues now after Camp David. Something has developed with them. But he didn't share with us any package, any specifics, and any papers. He said to us, "I need to consult and ask Mr. Barak the same questions."

Sunday, the 12th of November, Barak went to Washington. He told them: "I will not move before the cessation of violence." Clinton said to him: "I'm not asking you to move with Palestinians, to meet with them. They are going to come and meet with me and if we feel we have the components of a package, I'll call for you and Arafat and me to meet together." Barak refused totally. Dennis Ross [then] came here to attend Leah Rabin's funeral.

And he met you?

He met me. He met the next day at President Arafat's and the only thing that came out of the meeting was he requested Amnon Lipkin-Shahak [former Israeli army chief of staff] to meet Arafat. President Arafat accepted. But as far as the movement for the peace process, they have accepted Barak's position -- even if you have violence, this is one of the reasons why should engage in the peace process.

I have the feeling that the leadership is controlling less and less the street?

This is a question, actually. I don't know. We are the leadership that was elected by the people. I was elected for the small constituency of Jericho. I didn't get 100 percent of the vote in this constituency. I've got about 53 percent of the vote. Arafat was elected. He didn't get 100 percent of the vote. Many of the leadership was also elected.

So listen. We don't have remote controls in our offices. Tic. Palestinians open their mouth and speak what we are wanting them to speak. Tic. They open the ear and hear what we want them to hear. And tic. They open their eyes and see in the colors of our eyes. We are not a dictatorship here. We are a true democracy. Palestinians can come to this office, can write against me in the newspapers, can write something against Arafat. We have a parliament that attacks every one of us. So we don't claim that we work our people by remote control.

Second, this leadership and President Arafat will not kill the Palestinians to stop the intifada. Our job is to protect our people. Now, if you want to define control as having a tight grip, we are not this society. We are developing this way. [But] we are not a state yet. We are not independent yet. We don't have sovereignty, yet. We don't control borders, yet. We don't even have free movement between our towns, but we will not budge to change our way of political development or political system. We have made mistakes. We even will do them again. We'll learn. But the development of the Palestinian society with transformations is on course, democratic course.

One last question. Do you remember the discussion with Gilead Sher in the office of France2?

I said to him, "Please don't speak to us in the language of tanks and missiles and gunships." I said, "It's not good, Gilli. We've been there before and what these guns are doing is silencing people like me. And it's really extremists on both sides and I hope that Mr. Barak will address the Palestinian people [saying]: 'You will be free. You will achieve your independence. There will be a Palestinian state next to Israel.'" I told Gilead, "This is what you should communicate to the Palestinians." It seems to me he understood this. But the establishment in Israel has not yet developed this mentality.

What do you feel today?

(long sigh) I have been through all the bombardments, all the catastrophes that has taken place and that seemed to be really killing the peace process. Deep inside me, I will say that there will be a sunshine coming tomorrow, and the day after, and there will be next week, there will be next month, next year. The Palestinians and the Israelis need to have peace. It's a genuine need.

. . . . . . . . . .

Jan. 21, 2001: This interview was conducted the first day of peace negotiations at the Egyptian resort of Taba. It was a final, last ditch effort to reach a "final status" peace agreement. Clinton was now out of office; Barak was facing defeat by hard-liner Sharon in the Israeli elections just two weeks away.

The Taba talks -- how did they come about?

The negotiations were taking place three hours everyday and then not taking place for three days and not taking place for a day and it was really fragmented. That's what triggered it. The feeling of both negotiators on both sides that it cannot continue going like this.

On Thursday you had a meeting in Tel Aviv. You got maps?

I saw maps in Sharm el-Sheik actually, which President Mubarak saw. A map that Israel wants to annex 10 percent. I told them I don't need to see maps which I've seen before.

Clinton introduced his parameters: Your needs and the minimalist amount of land required so I can define the swap because you define your needs. I define the swap because my swap is compensation and it's not up to me to decide your needs. OK, don't like this map, show me your map. I'm not defining your needs for you. You define your needs, I define the swap because the swap is a compensation for what they gonna take as their needs.

In about two weeks, the prime minister of Israel will be Ariel Sharon. All the polls indicate this. ... What are your thoughts?

If Sharon is elected by the Israeli people, that means that the Israelis are not ready to make peace. The people know the history of this man from Kafr Kassem in the 1950s, to the 1970s in Gaza, to Sabra and Shatila in Beirut in 1980s. He is the man who always refused to shake Arafat's hands. So, if the Israelis choose to introduce Sharon, it's a message to every Arab, to every Muslim all over that this is the Israeli choice: no peace, no negotiations. He will bring with him people who are also non-negotiators.

Looking back, what mistakes did you make in this peace process?

I asked myself this question. Barak was elected in May 1999. I was charged by Arafat to contact the new government to see if something could be done in terms of contacting them ... and, my close associates that I met daily during the Netanyahu time -- Ramon, Beilin, Ben-Ami -- told me, "He will not touch you until he forms his new government."

So between May until July 7, he did not touch us. This genius allowed no one to affect him. Then he decided in July to allow more than 200 settlements units. I wrote then. Danny Yatom responded that it is only 193 units. We engaged for a month of real negotiations. We produced Sharm el-Sheik. And you know how it came about, the end and then the non implementation of the 2nd ... The answer is, there is not a [mistake].

Then Barak chose [as negotiator] Oded [Eran] because Gilead had a problem. Oded came to negotiate with us from the first meeting. I told him, "Oded, you're empty-handed, your man has decided to go the Syrian track [with negotiations]." Between November until April, [there were] no negotiations.

So your mistake was to believe them?

It's not a mistake. Our mistake is that we followed everything in order not to waste an opportunity and not to be accused of committing a mistake. That was our obsession. And because we are monitored under a microscope -- Barak is allowed to do 1,000 mistakes every hour -- but for the world [we are] under a microscope ... if we say no to something, or to a meeting or to an hour, or to a day. We didn't. At a very painful cost to us personally, and to our people, we did not turn down a request for any meeting, anywhere, anytime.

In the first meeting during the intifada, between Sher and me, I said to him, "Stop this. Stop your craziness. We didn't think that it was [going to be] Barak that would fire missiles at Palestinian cities. We didn't think that a government that has Ben-Ami, Beilin, Ramon will be the government that subjects 3 million Palestinians to a total suffocation, closure, siege and missiles ... What's this craziness?" He said, "Security. Security for our people."

No, you can't compare it. You can't show the Israelis that you are tough with other guys; that's not your area. You're going down. We're going down. And I said to Gilead Sher something in President Clinton's office in Camp David in July -- remove, do something about the prisoners, about the third redeployment. Otherwise, you are going to take us down. Violence will erupt.


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