We have no basis for resuming the negotiations with Israel, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, exclusively told RT.
RT: Mr President, this is your ninth visit to Russia. Could you tell us about the outcomes of your visit? What did you hear from the Russian leadership?
Mahmoud Abbas: We discussed three major issues: the Middle East peace process, the situation inside Palestine and the problem of Palestinian unity, and bi-lateral relations between Russia and Palestine.
It is a well-known fact that our relations have deep roots. Our co-operation develops in many areas. Russia supports us in the area of economy, security, as well as administration and management. The whole world knows it. We also co-ordinate our efforts in the political sphere. My visit happens right after Mitchell’s visit to the region. We had two meetings with him. And of course President Medvedev and I discussed both of them. We also discussed the changes that took place in the process of inter-Palestinian reconciliation.
RT: Mr. President, you’ve mentioned the meeting with George Mitchell, American special envoy to the Middle East. It’s evident that the USA has re-activated its attempts to restore Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. In your opinion, what’s new in the American position?
MA: Let’s put it this way – what new did we propose to the American administration?
Our ideas are twofold: the US should convince Israel that in order to resume talks it should stop its settlement activities, at least for a certain period of time; Israel should also recognize decisions of international organizations. If Israel agrees to that, we can restart the talks. Our second idea is that we achieved a lot in the negotiations with the Olmert government and Bush administration, and now we need to put these agreements into practice. We agreed that it is necessary to go back to the borders established in 1967, including the exchanges that we have discussed many times, proposing our own ideas and looking at the ideas suggested by Israel.
Now the US can also propose some ideas. And we can start a dialogue, adding to it the problem of refugees and how many of them can return to Palestine. Israel’s answer was “no” to both ideas. We would like to continue this dialogue, “talks on the spot” as they say. If we agree to their proposal, then they are ready to continue the dialogue, to which we answered that we need to consult with representatives of Arab countries and our partners, and we will be ready to respond in ten days. Another issue that we discussed has to do with the US convincing Israel to take steps in order to implement the “road map”, and stop invading our territories. We need Israel to free Palestinian prisoners and allow us to deliver construction materials to Gaza. We also need Israel to reconsider the land division. Israel promised to study the subject. It is important that this study would be impartial, not influenced by some other issue, because all of this is stipulated by the “road map” and just needs to be implemented. So far Israel has not responded, even though it was the Americans who demanded it, not us.
RT: Mr. President, while everybody’s waiting for the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli talks, time flies, Palestinian lands are taken away, the settlement activity goes on, and one-third of the West Bank is taken away. Will these lands be included on the exchange list? Will you agree to that?
MA: This is not how the exchange of territories will happen. First Israel will need to go back to the borders established in 1967, and then we will consider possible changes acceptable to us.
However, Israel continues creating new settlements. I am sure that if we start talks under these circumstances, they will tell me, “But you have sat down at the negotiating table.” Thus we’ll return to the zero point. I would not like to start the talks to show to the whole world how flexible we are and the extent of our readiness. I am sure that at the very first session, when the question of 1967 borders arises, they will say “No”, so their response on Jerusalem and prisoners of war and refugees will be the same.
All these questions are envisaged in the agreements. I am ready to meet with Netanyahu even tomorrow, but as a result we’ll have a kickback again. So to avoid this, we say, “Let’s agree on principles for us to start the talks with.” I accept everything Olmert and I have agreed on. He has discussed six problems with us: Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, security and water resources.
After that, Condoleezza Rice said she understands the issue of occupied territories as follows: It’s about the Gaza Strip, the West Bank without the Dead Sea, the Jordan, Jericho and the so-called “No-man’s land”. We both agreed to that. And at that point we completed the talks. We could have continued them, but the Olmert government fell. Now, we have no basis for resuming the negotiations. The USA cannot influence Israel about the 1967 borders.
RT: Mr. President, do you think it’s possible to negotiate with the Israeli government and whether they want talks in your opinion?
MA: I would not like the affair to be presented in such an absolute form: whether they want it or not. I suggest that people should judge this. I don’t want to tell the people that this man does not want peace, does not want negotiations. Here are his viewpoints and his thoughts.
I don’t want to impose anything on anyone. Let them fulfill this resolution. These were resolutions adopted by the world community and they don’t need to be adjusted to someone’s wishes. However, they are choosing from different resolutions for themselves, what is called “pick-and-choose” in English, it’s unacceptable for us. You either accept the resolutions or you don’t.
RT: Netanyahu spoke about it from the UN tribune saying: “If Arabs in due time had agreed with decisions of the world community, the situation now would have been different…’
MA: Right, let’s turn over a new leaf and start from scratch. In 1988 we declared at the National Assembly session that we accept resolutions 242 and 338, and that we are willing to build an independent Arab state on the territories occupied in 1967. Isn’t it clear? Let me remind you that before 1988 every Israeli governor coming to power said that: “Once Palestinians adopt resolution 242, we leave at once”. They wanted to load us with all the troubles about making peace. On the other hand, Israel was the first state against American-Palestinian dialogue.
We adopted Oslo’s treaty which lists six clauses and adoption of resolution 242 is the first one. Then Netanyahu refused to talk and Barack refused too. How can we cooperate if parliament makes a decision by the majority of voices and the government does not fulfill it? This means the state has no self- respect.
Netanyahu said that Arabs always refuse. Fine, we did refuse and were wrong. Forgive us! And take us back, we admit it! But I know he was sure that Palestinians would have never agreed to that; and he built his policy on our non-admitting. But we admitted our fault and he had to stop speaking. They all got infuriated about our dialogue with the USA.
RT: Mr. President, who do you see out of any of the Palestinian political leaders as a suitable candidate for the president’s post?
MA: Today, I cannot say that such and such will be my successor. That’s not the way. There is the voting procedure, and there are 8 million Palestinians, 4 million of which will vote, and they will elect the president. The ballot boxes will tell us who it will be. We have chosen democracy, and you can’t tell the people who their president will be.
RT: Talking about the Palestinian peace process, what has the development been like lately? Do you still insist on not having talks with Hamas?
MA: We have maintained a dialogue with Hamas for over two-and-a-half years. We had talks, cooperated bi- and trilaterally with Egypt. And Egypt has come to a decision to work out a single approach which was later presented to Hamas on 7-8 October 2009. Hamas disagreed, and the document was sent back to us. We accepted it though we had issues with it. We signed it – while Hamas refused to. All they had to do was merely sign it. Therefore it’s not the way Hamas is trying to make it look like – like we don’t want to talk to them. We do, I simply say, “Sign this,” and we shall launch the talks in an hour, in fifteen minutes. I think Hamas doesn’t want reconciliation and doesn’t want the elections, although the election date of 28 June was set at their request. But Hamas is against it. Compared to the high goal of uniting our people, such little things as editing the paragraphs’ wording should not be set as a priority. The issue here is not with the document’s wording, it’s with the sub-text of their behavior.
RT: Mr. President, why do you think that Hamas will avoid the elections even though they have secured support of the majority of Palestinians?
MA: Yes, Hamas has won the majority of voices, and we are inviting them to participate in the elections. But they might have a different perception of the matter. My understanding of democracy is that it lasts longer than just one day, like you win and it’s forever.
Democracy is an order with elections every two, three, or four years. I can tell you why they do not want the elections. They are afraid to lose. But we lost, for instance, and so what? The world has not gone wild. They can lose, but then again they might win.