JERUSALEM — In a tiny office in occupied East Jerusalem, a new independent weekly newspaper has started up. The Jerusalem Times has a small staff who draw on both the Arabic-language press and their own journalism to produce an English-language paper that aims to give a real picture of the occupied territories and Palestinian perspectives on the peace process. Green Left Weekly's Jenny Long spoke to the managing editor, Ali El-Khalili.
Your paper has a wealth of news and views. Can you say a little about the paper, its audience and purpose?
It began on February 23, 1994, and it is now the only one [in English] in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem. We had another one for 18 years, from 1975 until 1993, but it was stopped after the Gulf War because of financial difficulties in the PLO. After a seven-month break, the editor of a previous newspaper began to publish the Jerusalem Times using his own resources, subscriptions and advertisements.
I was the editor of the daily Arabic newspaper for 18 years until it also stopped for financial reasons. The main financial sources of this newspaper are personal ones; it doesn't depend on the PLO, who cannot pay at this time.
The main reason we publish an English-language paper and not an Arabic one is that we thought it was best for all parties: for the Americans, the Japanese, the Israelis and also the educated Palestinians. We want to influence international and Israeli opinion.
There is a great deal of discussion about the peace process and agreements signed in Washington and Cairo. It seems that the delay of many of the more difficult questions has allowed discussions to begin. However, these issues are still looming over the peace process. For example, discussions over Jerusalem are now becoming more urgent as Israel declares its plans for a new settlement on Abu Ghneim Mountain, which would complete the isolation of Jerusalem from the remainder of the West Bank. Could you comment on this?
On the question of the order and time frame of the original agreement, this is the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It's long and complicated, but at least we have taken the first step. Our newspaper is supporting the peace process but in a very clear-eyed and democratic way. We need to build an economically strong situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We also have to rebuild what the occupation has destroyed in 27 years.
Until now, I don't think the Israelis have made it easy for us, and this is reflected in the Palestinian people. We are divided [in opinion]; some are for the peace process, some are against. We do, however, have our own democracy, and we've agreed that none of the organisations like Hamas will use violence against the peace process or against the peace agreement inside Gaza or Jericho. At the same time they are saying they will fight the occupation until all Israeli occupation is lifted from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The main difficult subjects are the settlements themselves. Mr Arafat signed the Cairo agreement, but everybody knows that the settlements are mines, dangerous mines in Hebron, Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Nablus, even in Jericho. The subject should be put on the table and not as Rabin wants [to put it off until later].
We also have the big question of Jerusalem. According to the Washington agreement, Jerusalem will be discussed after three years. However, the Israelis are really dealing with this question now; they are changing the facts on the ground and yet they are preventing us from discussing and finding the answer.
The Israelis are extending and making many more new settlemements inside the eastern part of Jerusalem; they are hardening the siege.
I am from Nablus, not Jerusalem, and it's not easy for me to come every day to my job. I, at least, have a permit for three months, which will end on July 1. But thousands of students and teachers, doctors, nurses and those who want to pray as Muslims or Christians in the holy places of Jerusalem, in Al Aqsa Mosque or in the Church of the Holy Seprulchre, can't come.
Some want to travel from the north to the west of the West Bank, but they can't because they would have to go through Jerusalem. [The Israelis] make us into small cantons here and there. This cannot succeed and cannot help the peace process.
When our leadership signed the agreement, they wanted to show their willingness to go ahead with the peace process. But if the Israelis go ahead with their settlements here in Ramallah and everywhere else they are building them, this agreement cannot succeed.
There seems to be a great deal of confusion about whether the economic agreement will further integrate and increase the dependence of Palestine on the Israeli economy. Where does Palestine's economic relationship with Jordan fit in?
For 27 years the Palestinian economy was attached to the Isareli economy. More than 120,000 Palestinians were working inside Israel and now [after the closure of the West Bank in 1993] there are only about 15,000-17,000.
We have had historical, educational, economic and political relations with Jordan. From 1950 when Jordan was here [in the West Bank and Jerusalem] until 1967, and then with Moshe Dayan [Israeli defence minister who played a key role in the 1967 Six Day War and the following occupations] and Palestinian and Jordanian acceptance, the borders from here to Jordan and from Jordan to other Arab countries, were open for Palestinian goods and travel.
In 1988, Jordan cut relations with the Palestinians. Israel began its strong siege of the occupied territories in March 1993. The Palestinian people found themselves in the middle of a big prison, unble to move to either the Israeli or Arabic side.
We were in that situation when the economic negotiations began. While we know there are many holes in the body of the Cairo agreement, we also know we can't jump over our economic relationship with the Israelis.
I think the Jordanians are afraid we are moving indirectly to some kind of economic federation with the Israelis. These questions will be solved in the near future if the Palestinians and the Israelis keep on with the peace process — not just with Jericho and Gaza, but East Jerusalem and the other parts of the occupied territories. If we stop, we could destroy everything.
As the list of appointees to the Palestinian National Authority (NA) for the self-rule areas is completed, it seems that a strong group is being drawn together, including those like Faisal Husseini who have criticised the accords.
The NA has a limited life — until the election in October. According to the agreement schedule, the first election should be on July 1, but Mr Rabin broke the December 13 and April 13 deadlines.
I hope the occupied territories can have the first national elections in October. Mr Arafat and the PLO leadership make the appointments to the NA. Until now they chose people with good experience who represent the West Bank, Gaza, Jericho and East Jerusalem and who know the Israelis very well.
These people have been accepted by the Palestinian people here. However, they are not seen as a real government. The Palestinian people will accept a democratic government only if it is appointed by our own parliament. Only a parliament selected by people with different points of view can make a strong government.
The Jerusalem Times can be contacted at its main office at 19 Nablus Road, PO Box 20185, East Jerusalem via Israel. Tel: 972 2 273 293. Fax: 972 2 894 975.