Asharq Al-Awsat talks to Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas
By Ali El-Saleh
United Nations, Asharq Al-Awsat- Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas looked
very pleased hours after he delivered his historic speech at the United
Nations General Assembly [UNGA] and submitted the application requesting
full membership for the state of Palestine. This pleasure and happiness are
justified. President Abbas disappointed those that cast doubts on his
seriousness of going to the United Nations prior to presenting the
membership allocation to UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon and delivering his
speech. Up until the last moment, many people, including Arab officials
according to Abbas, thought that the Palestinian president's step "is no
more than a tactic to raise the ceiling of the Palestinian stand". The
Palestinian president was also very pleased with the reaction of the
politicians, diplomats, visitors, and journalists that attended the session.
The hall and its four-level balconies were packed as President Abbas was
accorded seven standing ovations. He was also pleased with the reaction and
telephone calls that he received after he delivered his speech, including
phone calls from Hamas leaders that officially rejected the speech and even
the idea of going to the United Nations, describing this as a "unilateral
step". At any rate, the atmosphere among the members of President Abbas's
team en route to New York was devoid of any tension despite the enormity of
the event and the daring step that defied the United States that repeatedly
stated that it rejects this step. The correspondent of the American Fox News
network that accompanied President Abbas on his trip to New York was amazed
at the lack of tension on board the Palestinian president's airplane, saying
"I expected a tense atmosphere but the atmosphere was totally different.
Everyone was happy as if they going to a party". Immediately following his
return from the United Nations building, President Abbas told Asharq
Al-Awsat "I am very pleased; I pray to God for success". He added: "I feel
pleased now although I was very worried last night (the evening before the
speech)". The speech was drafted by several Palestinian officials who spent
long hours during the flight from Amman to New York and many days prior to
that until the last minute when his motorcade left for the United Nations
building. Abbas's pleasure was doubled when he saw his third grandson Ammar,
his son Tariq's son) who came specially from Canada where he is going his
higher studies to be close to his grandfather in these historic moments. It
was indeed a historic day and a major accomplishment for President Abbas
that elated millions of Palestinians, Arabs, and supporters of the
Palestinian cause in the world.
The text of the interview is as follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How did you feel when you were received in the hall by a
three-minute standing ovation?
[Abbas] The people were affected by the Palestinian atmosphere; there were
also fears that our stand may change at the last minute. People were hoping
for this change; that is why we were warmly welcomed even before I delivered
my speech. At the United Nations, we offered hopes to the people. I was very
pleased to notice that the audience was very attentive. At the same time,
however, we do not wish to give them high expectations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you face any obstacles before you left for the United
[Abbas] Many Arabs and Europeans rejected the idea of going to the Security
Council. Several Arab countries wanted to present an initiative. We will
seek to develop any Arab or foreign initiative.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you feel about the statement issued by the Quartet?
[Abbas] I will give my opinion only after I return to Ramallah and discuss
it with the leadership. We will announce our opinion afterward. We were
presented with a French initiative and we will consider it. We will also
consider the Arab initiative and the new European initiative. As for the
past European initiative, we should reject it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Arab initiative, I mean the initiative that
was adopted at the Arab summit in Beirut?
[Abbas] We should safeguard this initiative; we should not ignore it. We
should give it more importance and focus on it because it incorporates a
complete political solution for the Middle East. The Israelis have not yet
realized the substance of this solution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it possible to deal with any initiative that does not
set [the borders of] 1967 as a reference point and does not reject
settlement construction activities or call for a halt to such activities?
[Abbas] We will not deal with any initiative that ignores these two points.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How will you deal with the financial crisis that might
exacerbate in view of the sanctions that the US Administration may impose
because of the step taken to go to the United Nations?
[Abbas] The crisis exists and we are resorting to all means to meet the
priority requirements of the budget.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the first priority?
[Abbas] The payment of salaries is more important that repaying the debts.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will there be changes in the economic policies?
[Abbas] We are working to change the scopes of economic action in the PA. In
other words, we want to promote industrial and agricultural productive
projects. That is why we are asking for amending or opening the Paris
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the status of the reconciliation? Are efforts
being made to reactivate it following months of suspension after the
reconciliation agreement was signed in Cairo on 4 May?
[Abbas] Of course, we care about the reconciliation and desire to implement
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There was talk that a government would be formed after the
September UN bid. What is the status of this goal?
[Abbas] We are proceeding in the efforts to bring about reconciliation but
there was a misunderstanding regarding the government and its formation. I
still hear people talking about a national unity government and senior
politicians used to ask about a national unity government. I found myself
driven to explain to them that the government will not be a national unity
government but a provisional government made up of independent technocrats.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you go to Gaza as you have said?
[Abbas] We will hold thorough talks with Hamas not only about the
reconciliation but also on all the scopes of Palestinian action.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Were you surprised by Hamas's stand that rejected the
United Nations bid?
[Abbas] They were opposed from the beginning to what they describe as a
unilateral action in submitting the application.
Certain observations were made that did not see the true stand. In general,
however, I received much support from Hamas officials (Abbas mentioned in
particular Nasiraldin al-Shair, a West Bank leader who was the Minister of
Education in the national unity government that was formed after the Mecca
agreement in March 2007).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What happens now after the Palestinians submitted the
application for full membership and demonstrated their seriousness to the
Arabs first and to the Europeans and Americans second?
[Abbas] All the options are open, including the return to the UNGA to seek
recognition of Palestine as a non-member state. This point is very
[Asharq Al-Awsat] One year from now, will you be called the former
Palestinian president or the president of the state of Palestine?
[Abbas] Yes, I do not rule that out. I have repeatedly said that I will not
run in the elections again. If elections are held, I will not participate in
them. This is definite even if the Palestinian state was formed within one
year whether with a state or without a state.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] That means we definitely say that there is no hope or
possibility no matter how remote that you may change your mind, submit to
the wishes of the masses, and run again for a second presidential term? It
won't be the first time that you've submitted to the people's demands.
[Abbas] Yes, there is no possibility that I may change my stand.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it possible for you to support one candidate against
another or will you be the father of all and not intervene?
[Abbas] I do not know who will nominate himself. However, it is certain that
if there are many candidates I will stand with the best qualified and the
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you support new faces for the presidency or will you
support the members of the old generation despite their old age?
[Abbas] We definitely support the renewal of blood.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the accomplishments that you wish to be
associated with as a former president?
[Abbas] Of course, I wish my name to be associated with independence.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you accomplish what you were planning to accomplish
when you took over office in 2005
[Abbas] I accomplished a lot but a lot more is still to be accomplished. I
brought security to the people and a modest economic prosperity. However, I
did not accomplish independence for my people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who is the leader or official on whom you set high hopes
but who let you down more than others?
[Abbas] I do not wish to answer this question.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who is the leader for whom your respect rose because his
deeds were equal to his words?
[Abbas] I do not wish to answer this question either.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you ever think of saying what you thought of a leader
but did not due to protocol and diplomacy?
[Abbas] I sometimes had stands but my position does not allow me to divulge
my opinion. I have opinions but it is not my business to say so and so is
good and so and so is bad, like in the case of the Arab Spring.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If you were asked to classify the Israeli leaders on the
ease of dealing with them or negotiating with them, where will you put
[Abbas] Unfortunately, Netanyahu would come in the lower categories because
he holds difficult political stands that are almost ideological. He is the
most hardliner among the Israeli leaders I have known starting with Yitzhak
Rabin (who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist for signing the Oslo
agreement in 1995), Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Tzipi
Livni. You could give and take with these.
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Received on Wed Sep 28 2011 - 16:29:37 EDT