"I Can Deal With Arafat"

Washington Post
November 16, 2003

The new Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, one of the architects of the 1993 Oslo agreement, appears to have lost out in last week's power struggle with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. By week's end, Arafat managed to consolidate control of the security services under his command. Thus, many fear that Qureia, known as Abu Ala, will not last much longer than his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned in September after only four months in the job. Others, however, are betting on the 66-year-old Qureia, who was confirmed by the Palestinian parliament on Wednesday, as the Palestinian Authority's best chance.

In a lengthy interview on Thursday with Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth, Qureia said he can deal with both Arafat and Israel. Sitting in his Ramallah office, he appeared confident that he will soon hold talks with Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon. Excerpts:

What do you hope to accomplish?

I hope there will be a possibility to start a new era of cooperation, to open a road for negotiations and to put an end to the conflict. [I am] looking for a meeting with Sharon and he is welcoming that. But we want this meeting to be well prepared. Our people are suffering a lot, and the Israelis are suffering, too. We should leave this meeting with an explicit message to the peoples on both sides that we will start working together to put an end to the suffering. We will reach a cease-fire agreement and start negotiations to end the conflict and live as good neighbors.

Have you had direct contact with Sharon?

Direct, no, but there have been contacts between the director of my office and Sharon's chief of staff.

Are you exploring bringing about a cease-fire with Hamas and Islamic Jihad?

Not [only] a cease-fire with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. . . . My strategy is to have a clear understanding with [all] Palestinians. Secondly, to negotiate with the Israelis for the cease-fire.

Don't you have to attack the infrastructure of terror, as the road map specifies?

I cannot agree that we are terrorists. But there are acts like the killing of civilians which we strongly condemn. We want help to be strong enough to put an end to this. I said we will fight against it [terrorism].

It's my understanding that Sharon will not move without a cease-fire.

Sharon is not [Yitzhak] Rabin. Rabin said in 1995, "We will fight terror as if there was no peace and we shall continue working for peace as if there were no terror." . . . I hope Sharon will be wise enough to believe this because Israel is suffering bloodshed, killing and hatred -- I have never seen the hatred as it is today.

The U.S. fears that Arafat will undermine you as he did your predecessor, Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas].

The real problem is Israel, not Arafat. Abu Mazen is a good man who tried his best. I was at his first meeting with Sharon. We talked about prisoners, the siege and President Arafat's situation, which is not acceptable. We came back with nothing. Abu Mazen tried to persuade me to meet again with Sharon, but I said, "This is a mistake; let's see what they give." But they gave nothing. Then, we went to Washington. We met with President Bush, who gave all his support to Abu Mazen. I said to President Bush, "Abu Mazen will go home with support from your administration but he needs the support of the Palestinian people. He won't have it unless the situation on the ground changes. Please help with Sharon to change the situation." The president said Sharon was coming and they would discuss it. But nothing happened. Abu Mazen met Sharon three or four times, but they gave him nothing.

Arafat certainly helped to undermine Abu Mazen, don't you agree?

Look, Arafat is a human being. He is the elected president and he is under siege. He was not happy with Abu Mazen. And he will not be happy with me if his situation remains as it is. Therefore a prerequisite of my success is that the Israelis should change the way they are dealing with Arafat. He should be free to go to Gaza or abroad. Arafat is in prison. And the Israelis destroyed the Palestinian security services. They can have security if they talk to the Palestinians. There will be an act here or there but we can deal with it together. The girl [suicide bomber] that went from Jenin to Haifa had a brother who had been assassinated. I don't agree with her action, but if the Israelis continue this way, they will create more reaction from the Palestinians.

Sharon has said he won't move on security unless terrorism stops.

You are not wrong but this will not achieve anything. We are against killing Israelis and Palestinians.

Are you going to ask Israel to stop targeted killings if you produce a cease-fire with Hamas and Islamic Jihad?

All the killings of Palestinians should be stopped. The Israelis say they want actions, not words. I feel the same way. I want them to help me change the situation on the ground -- to give the Palestinian people something.

You want Israel to stop targeted killings, ease the checkpoints. What else?

Stop demolishing houses and also release prisoners.

Arafat created a national security council that many believe he will use to undermine your cabinet.

No, it will support our government. There are four cabinet members on this council, as well as the leaders of the key security services and myself. Arafat will help.

What happens if he calls an NSC meeting every day?

I know how to deal with Arafat. He gave me his support. If Israel and the U.S. support us, I think things will move.

What do you plan to do to stop the violence?

I will talk with the Israelis in a very explicit way. I will discuss all the issues with them: missiles, Kassam rockets, suicide bombers, tunnels. The day we reach an agreement and they agree to change the situation on the ground, then we will fight [terrorism] strongly. This is my understanding with Arafat. . . . We are a small country under occupation. I cannot start without [getting] something from the Israelis [which will bring me] support from my people.

To comply with the road map, it's necessary to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism.

When we reach a cease-fire, I am committed to it. I am committed to the road map. I am committed to all the agreements that have been signed. I recognize Israel but we want the Americans to tell the Israelis to stop the settlements and the wall. Does the U.S. want to give us a viable state? How can that happen with the wall?

It is said that Sharon could lead Israel to a settlement if he wanted to do so.

Yes, I told him, after the last election, "Mr. Prime Minister, if you want peace, you are the one who can do it." He said, "Abu Ala, I am angry. You said , 'If you want it.' " I said, "If you want it, we can do it in six months." The question is, does he want it? He wants it in a different way. Why is he so angry about the Geneva understanding? I thought it was a good effort by both sides.

Abu Mazen made statements denouncing the intifada and explaining how it had hurt the Palestinian cause. Do you agree?

We are from the same school. It is not a matter of descriptions but of how to change it.

Most observers think Arafat will undermine you as he did Abu Mazen.

It is not true. The Americans undermined Abu Mazen. They didn't give him anything, nor did Israel. Nice words are not enough. He needed support.

But everyone blames Arafat.

It was not Arafat. Without him, Oslo was impossible, as was the interim agreement. He opened the road for peace.

Isn't Arafat unwilling to accept the existence of a Jewish state?

He likes the Jewish state more than I. Who is responsible for all the agreements with Israel? He was the decision maker.

But who started the intifada?

A coalition between Sharon and Barak.

What is your assessment of Sharon?

As a person, he is warm in a meeting but he is not easy. I am afraid he has a plan and he is still talking about an interim solution. . . . The solution is to find a permanent, lasting solution.

Will you still be here in this office next year?

I hope so. The key is to achieve something for the Palestinian people. The main issue is reforms. Moreover, we want an election in June.

Will you run?

I am not sure.

More Information on Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories
More Information on the "Peace Process"

FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C íŸ 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.