NEWS

NABIL SHA’ATH

With a doctorate in political science from the University of Pennsylvania and much past experience as a businessman, Nabil Sha’ath is one of the interlocutors that Washington and Tel Aviv find most acceptable. One of the main Palestinian negotiators in the peace process in Madrid and Oslo, he has retained the post of foreign minister throughout successive cabinet reshuffles. Yasser Arafat declared the road map dead and Shimon Peres spoke of a «road accident.» Are we back to square one? The road map was based on the so-called vision of George Bush for two states, Israel and Palestine, and on the more specific proposals of the European Union and the United Nations for the mechanisms of the peace process. Basic problems There were two basic problems. First, that it repeated the fundamental inadequacy of Oslo: That is, it worked along the lines of building trust step by step without defining the final goal, what type of state the future Palestine was to be. And second, President Bush confined himself to gestures at Aqaba and Sharm el Sheilk. If the Europeans and the UN do not get more decisively involved, nothing positive will come out of it. Have the lasting factional disputes within the Palestinian leadership and the inability to form an effective government disappointed your people? Don’t they allow Ariel Sharon to claim he has no interlocutor? I don’t want to underestimate the seriousness of the problem and the responsibilities which are exclusively ours. Tackling crisis Yes, there is a crisis and we have to tackle it. But no, this isn’t why Sharon isn’t complying with the provisions of the road map. Sharon wanted to get rid of Arafat long before the crisis. His government is making repeated incursions into Gaza, with dozens of victims, occupying the entire West Bank and building a new wall of apartheid, which condemns the Palestinians to asphyxia, and he is unilaterally changing the borders. The West and the whole international community have a duty to intervene, immediately, now, if they want to prevent a new Srebrenica, a real ethnic cleansing. Do you believe that Sharon would dare to remove Arafat, as he says? I don’t know how far he’ll go, and I don’t know if the US would let him do something like that. Such a dramatic act would require a mafia-style contract. A martyr In any case, life in the Middle East after Arafat will be very different if he goes out as a martyr. It is a nightmare scenario, but at the point we’ve arrived at, nothing can be ruled out. Is the prospect of a national unity government still up for discussion? Yes, after November 4, when the term of the emergency government of Abu Ala (Ahmed Qurei) ends, a broader government could be formed. But the Islamist organizations – Hamas and Jihad – won’t participate. It will be a government comprising Fatah, some independents and representatives of smaller left-wing organizations. Civil war Israelis and Americans accuse you of not taking decisive measures to stamp out terrorism. This is evasiveness and irrationality. There are no Palestinian police, only occupation forces, on the West Bank. Can’t they, with their all-powerful military machine, not deal with the suicide attacks? Are they waiting for us to do something? If we started arresting hundreds of Palestinians tomorrow without Israel taking any steps to end the occupation, and if we worked for the security of the Israeli State without getting anything in exchange politically, we would certainly cause a Palestinian civil war. We won’t do that. What is your view of the Geneva initiative? The Geneva text needs to be worked on in order for it to become the basis for a realistic, overall solution. The major problem, in any case, is not whether some Palestinians and Israelis of good will reach agreement over a document, but whether the people themselves and their governments agree on such a course.