October 30, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/ Palestinian Ambassador Dr Khalid El-Sheikh

'Until Israel realises force will not succeed, nothing will improve'

It is not the age of the logic of power. This is the age of the power of logic," asserts Dr Khalid El-Sheikh, ambassador for Palestine. A well-known face in the capital's diplomatic circles, he has been in India for almost 13 years, advocating Palestine demands and beliefs.

A trusted aide of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Dr El-Sheikh is now a worried man as West Asia witnesses a fresh bout of violence. In an interview with Special Correspondent Josy Joseph, he warns the region could revert to the bloody days of hijacks, assassinations and suicide bombers, if the present violence is not contained immediately.

Once again West Asia is on fire.

Unfortunately the situation is not far from September 28, when the whole crisis started after the visit of (Likud leader Ariel) Sharon. Israelis are trying to create some anger and anguish to get the people to react. Unfortunately, it seems the Israelis are adopting new tactics whereby they generate conditions and situations for us to react. And then they claim we created it.

Mr Barak recently made a speech, saying the days of fire are coming and Israelis have to be ready. This is an indirect invitation to war. He recently said the times of the peace process are over. They are trying to create an atmosphere by which their action incites us. And where they use excessive force.

Do you foresee all out war?

I don't think the region is prepared for a war, in the sense of involving other states. In the sense of mimicking a war, I think the Israelis are waging a war against us. Killing and injuring innocents. And starving people. All the refugee camps and settlements are besieged. There is a total blockade on movement of goods between towns. So the people are starving. In some places like Nablus, they have destroyed our food storage facilities. It is a big town, with over 300,000 people. There is a real war.

So the Camp David negotiations had no impact at all?

It is clear that immediately after Camp David, the Israelis took a decision to end peace. They are trying to orchestrate situations, certain scenarios where they will blame us by instigating us. This is clear. Because at Camp David, we made our position clear, that we cannot accept a compromise over compromise. We agreed to certain principles as the basis for the peace process.

We want to be like any other nation, any state, we want to enjoy humanity, freedom. We have the right to it.

Sometime back Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was your best friend. What happened now?

When we supported him during the election, we felt we should give him a chance because his opponent at that time was devilish -- Mr (Binayamin) Netanhayu. We thought, judging from his political speeches, from his election manifesto that he would be a better person. But unfortunately he is not. So, it was an attempt to create an atmosphere to resume the peace process and negotiations with a new environment.

That is why we thought he could be a better man. Because he had always claimed he is following the footsteps of (Yitzak) Rabin. That he wants to make peace as Rabin was. Rabin was killed for peace. And he had supported the Palestine State, during his election speeches he had said he would support our state and that he wants to go and make peace with Palestinians. I think he was elected on the basis of such promises only.

Unfortunately, he is behaving differently. You see on September 30, 1999 a protocol at Sharm-el-Sheikh was signed where it was decided that by that day the peace process would be finalised. That is why we said by September 30, 2000 we have the right to declare our state. He did nothing. On the contrary he wanted to dictate his own terms of peace to us. For that he tried very hard at Camp David, and now he is trying to do that on the ground. He says if he has failed to do that at Camp David, he can do it on the ground.

So you postponed your declaration of a Palestinian State?

We had to postpone it because we wanted to give peace a chance and we are still trying. But peace must have its own components: justice, it should be equal peace, not a dictated peace. Israel thinks they are strong. But we are stronger. We have our determination, our fair right to our lives. We don't need guns to defend ourselves. We will resist any Israeli attempt to capitulate us. They have to realise enough is enough.

It is nine years since the Madrid agreement, it is seven years since we signed the Oslo Agreement. We have made enough compromises. People are frustrated and humiliated because of the false promises given by the Israelis. Because the peace process has yielded nothing.

On the contrary, it has imposed and reinforced Israeli occupation on our people. In the name of peace, in the name of agreement, they were doing bad behaviour. I think the people have the right to defend themselves, their freedom. Until and unless Israel and Barak come to realise that force will not succeed, nothing will improve.

How do we threaten Israel, when we demonstrate on our territory? Why should they try to stop us? Why do they encourage people to throw stones on us? We are demonstrating on our own land, you just leave us, go away. Where did you ever hear of someone using machine guns, rockets and helicopter gunships against demonstrating people?

I have never heard this. Not even Hitler did this. Using helicopter gunships against protestors and demonstrators is the most brutal force you can imagine. People must exercise their right. How does it harm Israelis? Why should they fire at those people?

So where are we now? Back to the bloody days of 1967?

Judging from the statements of Barak and the action on the ground I think we are back to 1948, not 1967. He is rolling everything back to square one. See the reaction of the Arab states. They are calling for war, calling for an oil embargo, calling for the use of force. He has pushed everybody to that extent, because of his acts and deeds. Unnecessarily. Even if he is worried about the Israeli people, why use this excessive force?

Not us, not Arabs, not even our friends in the international community can stand mute to Israeli genocide. We have all the right to defend ourselves.

Hamas and the other extremist groups are once again emerging powerful.

Hamas is part of us. When it comes to the question of defending their people and their rights, everybody has to do it. Hamas is not powerful, but Hamas is part of the mainstream. When it becomes a war against us, we cannot stop them. We stopped them when the peace process was going on because we didn't want anybody to jeopardise the peace process from our side.

But now when there is no peace process, when there is war, why should we stop them? They have every right to defend their people, and they have every right to do whatever they want. It is very dangerous. That is why we have always appealed to the international community to please do something.

The Americans, whom you suspect so much, seem to finally play the crucial role of negotiator.

Unfortunately, the Americans are biased. Out of the 12 high level leaders at the state department, there are 10 Jews, including (secretary of state) Madeleine Albright. We have tried our best to make the Americans understand our stand, and we have co-operated to the maximum. But we cannot accept diktats from any power.

Why is Mr Clinton so enthusiastic about peace in West Asia?

You know what Mr Clinton's interest is. Unfortunately, they want to register his name as the person who made peace. But unfortunately, it proves he was doing it with his own interests. Even the Sharm-el-Sheikh deal was only an attempt to save face. It is not facing issues that could really make a difference, can really stop the aggression and killing. He just picked one sentence from there and one from here, and put them together to say here is a peace accord.

Despite that we said let us give it a chance. But there is no system of addressing the core issue. The core issue today is Israel's occupation. What is going on now is an appraisal against the occupation of our areas in the West Bank and Gaza, including Jerusalem, which were occupied in 1967. The United Nations, the United States, the international community said Israel must vacate it. Since 1967, they repeat this position every year. Israel has, with US support, defied all the resolutions which the United States has endorsed, even on Jerusalem.

There is the most famous United Nations Security Council resolution 4785 on Jerusalem, which the US supported and where it rejected and condemned the Israeli annexation of Jerusalem. Now when the issue of the future of Jerusalem comes in, the Americans are putting something totally different.

Why? Because of the election in the United States? Because Clinton wants to make his name, by crook or persuasion, as a man of peace?

This crisis will badly affect international oil prices.

Unfortunately, yes. Frankly, we will always try not to add to the tension. That is why when it comes to the question of an oil embargo, we are very hesitant. Because the developing world will suffer more, not America. Because America can find other ways and means.

We don't want war with the Israelis, we want to be friends with the Israelis. We want to go back to the negotiating table, because we know that is the only way. The Israelis also know it is not the age of the logic of power. This is the age of power of logic. We know that. They know we will resist as long as we can.

Are you getting co-operation from India in the present crisis?

We have always been friends with India. They have been true friends. They have been supportive of us in the past. We are keen to preserve and protect our friendship with India, whatever might happen.

There is a sudden improvement in the Indo-Israeli relationship. Are you not concerned?

We are not against this, if this collaboration does not interfere with our interests. But these are issues that cannot distance us from India.

The co-operation is in areas of security.

This is the big issue. We have to debate, discuss it. When it comes to the question of concerns of security of the Arab world, strategic tie-ups between the Indo-Arab world, this is not possible.

Co-operation in the fields of nuclear energy, anti-terrorist operations.

I am taking what the official statement has been. That there is nothing, and there will be nothing. And we have to stand by the official statement. I am trying to take it in good faith. Because we are interested in preserving and protecting the relationship, until and unless something otherwise happen. It was made officially clear to us that there is nothing of that sort. This is for now.

At any level, do you draw a parallel between Kashmir and Palestine?

No. Not at all. Our stand has been that both sides, India and Pakistan, should discuss and resolve the issue. President Yasser Arafat has always been ready to use his good office to resolve the crisis. He has done it in the past. We want to see a peaceful settlement of the issue.

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