NEWS

‘Withdrawal from Gaza, West Bank only solution’

How do you see today’s vote by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud party for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip? Might it pave the way for positive developments in Israeli policy and the Palestine issue? I believe that no matter what the outcome of today’s vote, Sharon would not face problems if he really wanted to promote the peace process. Shimon Peres’s Labor Party seems willing to participate in a coalition government, so Sharon has many alternatives, even if today’s result is negative. I have just been told that he is trying to put the blame on the Palestinian Authority for his failure. As if I had magical abilities and could influence members of Likud from here in Ramallah. From our point of view, the basic issue is to promote the road map which was adopted by the UN Security Council and was officially proposed by the so-called Quartet – the European Union, Russia, the United States and the UN. A proposal that was also adopted by all the Arab states. As you know, however, Sharon has officially announced – and he said it again three days ago – that the road map is dead. So what discussion can there be? ‘Changing form of occupation’ The Israeli government presents its so-called withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as a substitute for the road map. In fact, it is not a withdrawal. The only thing that will change if this proposal goes ahead will be the form of occupation, the packaging of the occupation. With Sharon’s plan, Gaza will be cut off from Egypt and the West Bank, as the two channels of communication between the two Palestinian areas will be closed off, as will all the approaches to Gaza by land, sea and air – for example, the port of Gaza, which was under construction as a joint venture by a French and a Dutch company. The reconstruction of our destroyed airport in Gaza will be canceled. Where is all this leading? To the complete isolation of Gaza and its transformation into a huge prison. At the same time, Sharon is building this wall of shame, the new Berlin Wall in the West Bank. Look at this map. You can see that they’re taking our land, they’re turning the West Bank into a group of tiny ghettos, not even like the bantustans in (South) Africa, but real ghettos. Consequently, does the Palestinian Authority see the withdrawal from Gaza as meaningless? We insist on the need for a simultaneous withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank through implementation of the road map. This is the only way to give peace a chance. What’s more, a temporary withdrawal won’t guarantee us anything. Remember the crisis that was created two years ago at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. We agreed then that our fighters who had taken refuge there be transferred to Gaza or to European countries so as to end the Israeli army’s blockade of Bethlehem. Soon afterward they returned and reoccupied Bethlehem. Now they have declared the whole area – Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahur – a «closed military zone» as their documents put it. [A colleague interrupted Arafat to bring him a message.] I have just been told that an Israeli Apache helicopter has killed three Palestinians in a car. Just before that another Apache destroyed buildings and radio installations in Gaza, but we don’t know yet about casualties. Before I came to the West Bank, I spent two days in Israel, where I noticed that the following scenario had strong currency: One way or another, Sharon will push through his plan for withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and will allow you to move from Ramallah to the city of Gaza. What do you think of that? No! I refuse to go to Gaza because I won’t be able to come back here, to Ramallah, to move freely throughout Palestinian territory. I was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in free elections, under the supervision of international observers from many countries, and it is inconceivable that I cannot travel through my own country. So what is the point of my moving from my Mukata headquarters to Gaza? To go from one prison to another that is simply more spacious?