Yasser Abed Rabbo was in Athens recently at the invitation of the Left Coalition and spoke last Friday at the Zappeion Mansion at an international conference on the Middle East conflict. In this interview with Kathimerini, he displayed a political pragmatism regarding this most important initiative and the dangers threatening the region. What do you expect from your meetings in Washington? First of all, a serious commitment on the part of the US to implement the road map. As we have explained to the US administration, we consider the Geneva document as complementary to the road map, and not a parallel solution. The road map includes detailed formulae for security and for confidence-building measures between Israelis and Palestinians, but it does not include a detailed solution for the final settlement with the creation of two states, without specifying the borders of Israel, the solution for Jerusalem, the settlements or refugees, all these things. We wanted to make a kind of marriage between the road map and the Geneva Accord. Our initiative contains detailed positions on all these issues, something which Colin Powell recognized. However, we want the US to be serious about promoting the peace process. For example, there has been no real move on their side to stop Sharon from building the «apartheid wall» on the West Bank, or taking a serious position regarding the settlements. The US is having huge problems in Iraq and Bush has a difficult election campaign ahead of him. In these circumstances, do you expect the US to show much interest in the Palestinian problem in the months to come? I believe the Jewish community in the US is not necessarily backing Sharon’s policy, because this policy will turn Israel into an apartheid state, a kind of racist South Africa, condemned by the international community. Moreover, the Americans need an achievement in the Middle East precisely because the situation in Iraq is very difficult for them. I don’t think that they will achieve their goals in Iraq, as long as they continue to be supported exclusively by military force. I think at the same time, if they continue to support Sharon, their interests in the region will be in danger and they will appear to be identified with the more extremist elements in the region like Sharon, with the result that their image and their interests in the region will suffer enormous damage. How are developments in Iraq affecting Palestinians’ morale and collective consciousness? Iraq’s future is not clear and with every day that passes, the future becomes more obscure for them. The entire region is threatened with a greater danger than it has witnessed in the past five or six decades, in the whole past century. Because of American policy, the extremist, fundamentalist forces are growing. Personally, I don’t want to have to choose between an American occupation and a fundamentalist future. Citizens support us What practical value does your initiative have if it is not supported either by the Israeli government or the leadership of the Labor Party, the main opposition party? First of all, our plan is supported by the majority of people in both Palestine and Israel. According to a recent poll by an American institute, 64 percent of Palestinians and 52 percent of Israelis are in favor of the Geneva initiative. That is very important, because a major mistake in previous peace agreements, including Oslo, is that they were restricted to the top, without convincing the people themselves. Furthermore, at least 20 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council support the initiative, including militant Fatah figures such as Marwan Bargouti, a prisoner of the Israelis. At the same time the plan is supported by leaders of the Labor Party, of Meretz, deputies from the Sinui party which is in the government, some of Likud’s deputies and generals from the army who are not connected with the Left, and even an Israeli security official. Above all, after working for two whole years, we have managed for the first time in our history to reach an agreement that could be applied tomorrow, if the leaders will accept it. There is no ambiguity in this agreement. That creates a precedent. If and when official negotiations begin between the two sides, the Geneva test will constitute a starting point. The Israelis will not accept anything more than this formula and the Palestinians anything less. Although you are not from Al Fatah, but the Palestinian Left, you have worked closely with Yasser Arafat as information minister for the Palestinian Authority. What is your view of the role of Arafat as leader of the Palestinian movement? In internal affairs, Yasser Arafat has made mistakes, particularly concerning the creation of political, democratic institutions that are necessary today and, even more, the day after we get our independence. But politically until now, he has been the center for all Palestinians. Without him, there is no possibility of a political solution. The Americans’ policy of trying to marginalize Arafat is a dead end. They cannot support Sharon by saying he is democratically elected by his fellow countrymen and try to marginalize Arafat, the legitimate, democratically elected leader of the Palestinian people.