GLOBAL VIEWPOINT: What is your response to (Secretary of State James) Baker's visit in Jerusalem on April 9 with the Palestinians?
YASSER ARAFAT: It was a good meeting but with no big results. It was good because this is the second indirect dialogue of the PLO with Baker. It was an exploratory meeting, not more than that. Baker said clearly that he had no special proposal. We are not dogmatic, we will have to wait and see. The U.S. knows that no progress can take place in the Arab-Israeli conflict without this piece of paper.Here from Tunis, I drew up a list of participants and gave my instructions for the second meeting with Baker. I thus regard this meeting by Baker as a signal from the U.S. administration that they see the PLO as a main factor in this process.
Publicly they say "no PLO," but they know they are meeting the PLO leaders in the occupied territories - twice now.
I'd say President Bush has no more than eight to 10 months to solve these big problems on the two-track road - the very difficult Arab-Israeli state-to-state normalization and the Palestinian issue.
(Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak) Shamir is a stubborn man. He wants to escape until the U.S. election period., I know him.
VIEWPOINT: In effect, in your view, the U.S. already realizes that there is no one to deal with other than the PLO? That is implicit in Baker's two meetings with you?
ARAFAT: They know that. Even the Israelis know that. Yitzhak Rabin knows that. Shimon Peres knows that. I would even say that 70 percent of the Israelis accept this fact. Part of the Likud accepts this.
VIEWPOINT: What about the Israeli statement accepting an "international meeting" aimed at regional security?
ARAFAT: It is putting the cart before the horse. There can be no state-to-state security relations with Israel's neighbors while avoiding the crux of those relations - the Palestinian issue. This statement was nothing new for the Israelis. The Israelis called for such a meeting as much as five weeks ago. They called it a "regional event."
All the Arab states have rejected a regional security conference; they all insist on dealing with the Palestinian issues first.
YASIR ABED RABBO: There is one golden word, that the U.S. insisted upon to Saddam: withdrawal. To that end, he sent half a million soldiers to the gulf and refused to compromise along the way to war. He refused even to negotiate. Now, to open the peace process once again, the same golden word is necessary for President Bush to use: withdrawal. Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories in accordance with U.N. Resolution 242.
VIEWPOINT: Meaning land for peace in the occupied territories.
ABED RABBO: Yes, not as the Israeli leadership often tries to interpret it as meaning - that they already fulfilled the terms of 242 by giving part of the Sinai back to Egypt for peaceful relations.
ABU MAZEN: Our position is that in 1988 (at the U.N. General Assembly in Geneva with the renunciation of terrorism and acceptance of Israel's right to exist) we made an initiative.
In the past months, Bush has committed himself to international legality, not only in the gulf but also in the Middle East. International legality can be applied within the framework of an "international conference" - or a "regional conference." But we do not want to negotiate about Palestinian representation until Bush fully commits himself to the application of 242 and 338 as it is understood by everyone but the pres-ent Israeli leaders.
Why should international security be held hostage by one stubborn man, Israeli Prime Minister Shamir?
VIEWPOINT: Israel also has suggested that the Soviets restore diplomatic relations with them. Recently, former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze said that the Soviet Union should restore full diplomatic ties with Israel. Do you support what Shevardnadze is saying?
ARAFAT: I have no problem if the Soviets establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. The Soviets have never spoken to us about it. The Soviets had a strong relation with the Iraqis. In spite of that, they didn't have an inside track in the gulf crisis.
VIEWPOINT: What leverage does the PLO have in this present situation? What can you do next? What is the way forward?
ARAFAT: You see, now the challenge is not facing me. It is facing President Bush, the European leaders and the Arab countries.
They said they were against the "linkage" which had been declared by Saddam between the gulf crisis and Palestine. They said, "No linkage. After the gulf crisis we will deal with that problem." Now, we have to wait and see if they will fulfill this promise.
VIEWPOINT: What would be the result of not settling the Palestinian issue now?
ARAFAT: Complete chaos and confusion in the region.
VIEWPOINT: What do you mean chaos? An escalation of the intifada in the occupied territories?
ARAFAT: I am not speaking about the Palestinian arena. There is no chaos there. I am talking about the region as a whole, from Morocco on across the vast Islamic geographic stretch to the Islamic countries in Asia. The chaos will come in very unpredictable ways, which makes it even more frightening.
No Arab state will be able to talk with Israel as long as the Palestinian issue is not resolved.
VIEWPOINT: Are you now planning to establish a provisional government or a government-in-exile?
ARAFAT: The American administration has informed us, through indirect channels, that they are against this idea.
VIEWPOINT: Why doesn't the U.S. want you to form such a government?
ARAFAT: Because they know this will present at last a real basis for negotiations because it will put the Israelis in the corner. If we become the official government of all Palestinians, inside and outside of the territories, they will have no choice but to talk to us.
VIEWPOINT: During the gulf war, Egypt, the leading Arab coalition state, said many nasty things about Arafat and the PLO. Many high officials said you were finally finished. Now they have ended a boycott of meetings with the PLO and affirmed again that "the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people."
ARAFAT: These were the manners which emerged in the gulf war. But you won't see it much now. Even during the war, relations with Egypt and us were never broken. Now, the whole picture is changing. I am proud of this meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister Esmat Abdel Meguid a fortnight ago. I worked hard for it, as I have been working with the Mahgreb countries to convince them to come together. I have even personally sent an envoy to meet with Saddam to try to get him to attend. We would all be under the same tent in such a meeting. Perhaps not a comfortable tent, but the same tent. In this way we may prove that, by our own efforts, we can heal the wounds.
VIEWPOINT: How do the Israelis now view dealing with the Palestinians in the territories after the war?
ARAFAT: Dan Shamoron, the former chief of staff to Shamir, said (in the Knesset) a few days ago that Israel cannot defeat the intifada by force.
VIEWPOINT: Did the Scud attacks make the Israeli people think again about the need to resolve the Palestinian question?
ARAFAT: For the first time, the theory of security promoted by Sha-mir and the Likud - "strategic depth" - has failed. Possession of more territory does not protect them. Only a regional peace agreement, it is now clear to them, can provide security. Even members of the Likud now realize this.
VIEWPOINT: For the record, do you still stand behind the statement denouncing terrorism and recognizing Israel's existence that you made in Geneva in 1988?
ARAFAT: I am committed to what has been declared and accepted by our PNC, what I declared at the General Assembly in Geneva and my press conference afterward. I have fully respected by commitments to the international community, and I hope they now will respect their commitments to me. It's unfair. We have given so much ground but get nothing in return.
VIEWPOINT: Isn't that commitment inconsistent with the attempted attack on Israel by (PLO Executive Committee member) Abu Abbas which caused the U.S. to suspend its dialogue with the PLO?
ARAFAT: In my opinion, the Abu Abbas matter was not the real reason why the U.S. suspended dialogue with us. It was the excuse. They haven't stopped their dialogue with the Israelis despite the massacres against our people, including on the Temple Mount. Sabra, Shatila, southern Lebanon. Ariel Sharon, the killer of our children, is a government minister!
The Abbas military operation didn't injure even one person. Look, we are a revolution with many factions, many elements. It is amazing that I control 90 percent of the PLO. I'm, sure George Bush wishes he controlled 90 percent of the U.S. Congress. But he doesn't control everything and neither do I.
VIEWPOINT: Are the younger people among the Palestinians starting to think militantly again, that is, in terms of armed struggle?
ARAFAT: I'm sorry to say, yes. You don't know what pressure I am facing. I have given instructions to the intifada not to use weapons.
1991, New Perspectives Quarterly
Distributed by L.A. Times Syndicate