PLO Europe Envoy: We Have more Confidence in Clinton than in Dennis Ross
By Munir K. Nasser
A top PLO representative in Europe said that the Palestinians have much more confidence in President Clinton than they have in the State Department team headed by Dennis Ross.
Ambassador Afif Safieh, the PLO representative in England, Ireland and the Vatican, told Albawaba.com in an interview in London that the failure so far to achieve a breakthrough at the Camp David negotiations stems from the fact that the US tends to view the respective Palestinian and Israeli positions "as though they were equally valid and sort of having moral equivalence which we believe is not the case."
Safieh stressed that the Palestinians should not pay a price for the complicated Israeli domestic politics. "Diplomacy should not remain hostage to Israeli democracy," he said.
He added that the Plaestinians are irritated by the time invested in finding compromises, and that negotiators should focus on implementing the will of the international community as represented in UN resolutions.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Q- What do you think of the role the Americans are playing in the negotiations at Camp David?
A- One has to show gratitude for the personal involvement at the presidential level. President Clinton is devoting so much time to the on-going discussions. We believe that the issue is so important and critical that it needs the personal involvement at the President's level. I believe that President Clinton's sensitivity, knowledge, attitude and decency are all superior to those of his team and the Administration. So we Palestinians have more confidence in Clinton than we have in the team of the State Department dealing with the Middle East.
Q- Why do you think President Clinton's position is better than that of his team's?
A- I believe Clinton has vastly improved his grasp and knowledge of the issues involved over the past seven and a half years. He has invested a great deal of emotional energy but I am not enamoured with the way the State Department team around Dennis Ross has been conceiving the American contribution to peace making. So I have much more confidence in the President than I have in the State Department team.
Q- Why do you think it is taking so long to achieve a breakthrough in the Camp David summit?
A- The failure so far to achieve a breakthrough stems from the fact that the American role has been seen as facilitator and they tend to view the respective positions as though they were equally valid and sort of having moral equivalence which we be believe is not the case. There is no moral equivalence between the territorial appetite of an occupier, and the legitimate aspirations of the occupied to escape bondage. We expect the American Administration to take the side of international law and not to seek compromises and half way solutions of the respected attitudes and positions of the belligerent party's negotiating partners.
The Palestinian side should not be expected to pay a price for the complicated Israeli domestic politics, and the difficulty Barak has in keeping and restructuring a ruling coalition. We believe that the international will should prevail over national whim, and it is not up to the internal equilibrium in Israel to decide, and to dictate, the ceiling of the possible and the permissible. Diplomacy should not remain hostage to Israeli democracy.
Q- Are the Palestinians at Camp David holding their ground when it comes to the red lines on Jerusalem and the refugees?
A- "Red lines" is not a term I would use. We are in favor of implementing international law. We accepted, even though it wasn't music to our ears, that 242 be the basis for conflict resolution because the international community told us that was a prerequisite. What we need today is an identical unequivocal message from the international community, including the USA, to the Israelis that 242 also applies to east Jerusalem, which is occupied territory from which an Israeli withdrawal is expected. That is the evenhanded approach. For the last twenty-five years, we have been pressured to accept 242 as the basis of conflict resolution, and I believe that the Israeli public opinion should be sent a message that these are the expectations of the international community. That is the way to help the peace process. The international community expects them to do A, B and C, whomever they have chosen for their coalition government. And from now on, the Israeli public opinion will choose their leaders on the basis of their experience or inexperience, charisma or its absence, and socio economic programs rather than how much percentage of territory they 'are able to concede'.
Q- How do you see the outcome of the negotiations at Camp David?
A- It is difficult to predict, especially the future. I adopt a "wait and see position.".
Q- Are you satisfied with the British and the European Community’s position on the peace process?
A- I believe that the British, as important partners within the European Union, have adopted all the rights positions, including their unwavering support for the principle of Palestinian statehood, within the year ending September 13th. Unfortunately, Europe as a whole has played a very small role on the geopolitical level. The Israelis, left, right and center, expect a diplomatic outcome for the peace process, that would reflect 1) Israeli intransigence, 2) American alignment on the Israeli preference, 3) Russian decline, 4) European abdication, 5) Arab impotence, and 6) What they hope to be Palestinian resignation. How do they expect that type of diplomatic outcome to be durable, lasting and permanent? That is difficult to understand and I dare not utter the words equitable and just to describe such a settlement.
Q- What role would the European Union play when it comes to providing economic support to any final settlement on the refugee issue?
A- It is premature to speak of contribution, package volume, etc. But the Europeans are sensitive to the issue of Palestinian refugees. The British Parliament has often debated the issue and a British parliamentary delegation is going to tour Palestine and the host countries of refugees in September. On its return, the team will report its findings on the refugee issue to Parliament. There is therefore a tremendous level of interest and concern about the refugees. How this will translate later into political and financial terms is difficult to predict.
Q- How do you explain the position of the Arab world vis-à-vis the peace negotiations, especially that most of them are apathetic towards what is happening at Camp David?
A- I wouldn't say apathy, but the peace process and the way it has been unfolding up to now has been unconvincing for Palestinians and Arabs. Why? Because of this constant quest for compomises and the fact that the peace process has gone beyond expected deadlines. One is tempted to say that we have permanent peace discussions rather than a permanent, durable peace settlement. Now, the attention which Americans have given to domestic Israeli politics is revolting to us Arabs. Why? Because when Iraq occupied Kuwait, nobody bothered to suggest that they conduct a referendum in Iraq to see whether Iraq wanted to withdraw and how much withdrawal Iraqis would have consented to do. When the world was discussing the abominable apartheid regime in South Africa, nobody thought that the whites of South Africa should be consulted on the nature of the rights which should be bestowed upon the blacks. These two issues were considered to be issues that went beyond the whim or the will of the oppressor. They were considered of universal concern and a universal approach was formulated. This is why we also believe that the same type of expectation is there from the Arab side. We are irritated by the time invested in finding compromises. There should be no compromise. There should be implementation and the negotiations should discuss what in Latin is called 'post delum', the situation after peace is achieved we should start thinking of what will happen beyond peace, instead of trying to describe the shape and territorial contours of peace.
Q- As the PLO Represtntative at the Vatican, what is your evaluation of the Vatican's position on Jerusalem?
A- The Vatican has always considered that 242 applies Jerusalem as part of the occupied territories. They signed with us a bilateral agreement in which they again reiterated that 1) they consider that the Jerusalem problem requires a global solution in the Middle East, 2) and this solution should be based on international law, 3) they condemned all the unilateral decisions taken by Israel throughout the last 33 years as being morally and legally unacceptable. We on the other side, agreed with them that once Israel withdraws from East Jerusalem, we are ready to accept sort of special status with international guarantees for the Holy sites, which Israel never accepted as a principle. The Vatican is by far closer to our position than it is to the Israeli position – Albawaba.com.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)