PRAGUE — The Palestinian ambassador to Czechoslovakia, SAMEEH ABDUL FATTAH, spoke to PETER ANNEAR on November 30, the day of International Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
How do you assess the Palestinian position in the current negotiations?
Our attitude in favour of peace is quite clear. We have expressed it many times, especially during the negotiations in Madrid and even during our bilateral sessions with the Israeli delegation.
But to our fear and sorrow, the day after the conference, Israel started to build a new settlement in the Golan Heights. At the same time the Knesset took a decision saying the Golan Heights is Israeli territory and not negotiable.
We accept the principle of territories for peace. We ask the world and the US to bring pressure to bear on Israel to accept the United Nations resolutions calling for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.
Given that Israel will not negotiate on any of the territories, it may seem to some that the whole process of negotiations is not worth while and that perhaps the intifada is a better strategy.
If Israel refuses to negotiate over the occupied territories, it will have to face the two states who are patrons of this conference, and the whole world. President Bush personally made this principle of territories for peace the basis of the Madrid Conference.
If the US and the rest of the world do not persuade Israel to comply with the UN resolutions, we will be looking at a new war. As for the intifada, in my opinion it is part of the negotiations and it will follow as a natural response to the Israeli decision.
There was a discussion within the PLO about the wisdom of these negotiations. How do you answer the argument by some PLO forces who say too many concessions are being made?
I agree that the PLO has really made too many concessions. This is a reality. But we have always based ourselves on Arab and international realities. I think there is presently no other alternative to the negotiations.
[Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Shamir forced many conditions on us in an attempt to make us refuse the negotiations. But we didn't refuse. If we had said no to the talks, we would have ended Shamir's present political isolation and the world would hold us responsible for blocking the peace process. We want peace, and all the concessions we have made — all those concessions for which we have not until now obtained any rewards — were made for the sake of peace and to end the suffering of the Palestinian people.
Also, the Palestinian sphere is well known for its political pluralism and democracy. The last decisions concerning the peace conference in Madrid and the peace process were taken on the grounds of the
How should we now understand George Bush's new position in favour of a negotiated settlement, when in the past the US has been a staunch supporter of Israeli domination?
The US's understanding of its own interests in the Middle East has changed. After victories in the Cold War and the Gulf War, the US is no longer so reliant on Israel.
Oilfields have come under direct US control and so there is no need for Israel to protect the oil flow to the West. The Arab states themselves are competing in their loyalty to the US. Israel is no longer needed to counteract Soviet influence.
Israel's role has changed from that of a strategic tool to a strategic burden. The Middle East has an important role in US economic plans and so it needs stability, which means a settlement of the Palestinian question.
Also, the Zionist or Jewish lobby in the US is not capable of protecting both itself and Israel. They are, first of all, businessmen who are ready to serve Israel to the extent that it does not contradict their own interests in the US.
The US provides a lot of money to maintain the Israeli state and therefore has great leverage over it. Can Bush force the Shamir government to agree to a negotiated settlement?
Israel relies on the US for everything from bread to weapons. Logically, the US can pressure Israel to accept any decision it likes. The US also has half a million military personnel in the Gulf and has mobilised the United Nations Security Council and the whole world behind their policy.
The present Israeli government is not permanent, and even if it stays in power, the US has all the means it needs to persuade Israel. Both sides are perfectly aware of this.
Let's wait and see if the US is really serious. The whole proceedings will be according to its wishes.
What sort of response have you had from the Czechoslovakian government, which was very pro-US during the Gulf war?
Our relations are what you could call acceptable. The attitude of the US and the world in general towards the Middle East and Palestine is, on the whole, currently positive, and this helps Czechoslovakia to take supportive steps. Also there are Czechoslovakia's own interests in the region. I speak only about interests and not about principles, because they are not involved.