TEST
We Must Negotiate until the Last Minute
An Interview with Dr. Rafiq Husseini

Dr. Rafiq H. Husseini, is chief of staff, Office of the President of the Palestine Liberation Organization / the Palestinian National Authority, and former deputy director general for development and administration at the Welfare Association, Jerusalem and Amman. He is the author of four books and several scientific journals, reports, articles and presentations, primarily related to the health field. He was interviewed for the Palestine-Israel Journal by Gershon Baskin and Khaled Abu Aker.

PIJ: Dr. Husseini, this year, the Israelis are celebrating 60 years of the creation of the state of Israel, while the Palestinians commemorate 60 years of the Nakba. As someone who travels to Ramallah back and forth, you see Israeli cars carrying the Israeli flag, while Palestinian cars carry black flags to show their sadness and dislocation. What is your opinion?

Dr. Rafiq Husseini: It is obvious that one people are celebrating, and one people are commiserating over the same event. This adds to the frustrations when one sees Israel, or some Israelis, celebrating chauvinistically the takeover of Palestinian territory; the Palestinians who own it are saddened by it all. It is a very difficult feeling to put into words. Nobody understands this dichotomy, except maybe the occupiers and those under occupation. Not many people outside Israel/Palestine have seen occupation. The occupation has gone on for a long while now. What we have to do is to try and make sure that we bring both peoples together in the understanding that a wrong was committed and an injustice was done. If we understand each other better, if we both commiserate because there is nothing to celebrate, we may come to the day when we both will say, "Okay, we are both in need of each other's goodwill to coexist." It is very difficult; it makes me angry to see the Israelis celebrating something that makes me very sad, but that's the reality on the ground. We have to break this deadlock very soon. Otherwise, we will be at each other's throats forever.

Concerning 1948, we have an Israeli narrative, independence, and a Palestinian narrative, the Nakba. These are two different narratives. Do you think that it could have been different in 1948? Could there have been another outcome then, or was this inevitable?

Well, as Palestinians, we have to keep asking ourselves the question: Did we miss an opportunity in 1947 and 1948? Could we have done things differently? But the answer is very difficult. You have to understand how the people felt at the time: that the people could not understand how Haifa could not be theirs; that Haifa would be part of another state; that they would have to accept that most of the Jewish settlers were coming from abroad, speaking a different language, not only Hebrew but other languages… No Palestinian leader could have taken a different decision in 1947, no matter how realistic it might appear now after 60 years…

…except the Palestinian Communist Party, which accepted the Partition Plan.

Except the Palestinian Communist Party, this had no support whatsoever from the general population. Any leadership that makes a decision has to ensure that the decision is backed by the majority of the population. But you cannot make a decision if you are not backed by anyone. You can think, "Okay, a disaster is looming," but if you can't carry your people with you, then you can't take that decision.

In this context, can President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) today carry his people in an agreement with Israel?

I think the Palestinian mood has changed tremendously in the last 60 years. The majority of the Palestinians accept a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel on the 22% of historic Palestine. That has to include East Jerusalem, and it has to link the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. This is the minimum. If we get this deal, then the president can carry his people. He cannot carry all of his people, because that is impossible anyway, but he will carry the majority of his people.

Dr. Rafiq, after 60 years of Palestinian Nakba and the failure of the peace talks and lack of progress on the ground, the Palestinians have started reviewing their position regarding a two-state solution. There is a growing argument among Palestinians concerning a one-state solution as an alternative to the two-state solution. This means that the Palestinians who propose this consider the two-state solution to have failed. Do you think that a one-state solution is an alternative?

We can say that there is not enough progress in the peace talks with Israel, but we have to continue to talk until the last moment. The last moment will be the end of [U.S.] President George W. Bush's tenure, who spoke about the vision of the two-state solution. Aside from all the difficulties he has had and the Israelis have had, President Abu Mazen is pushing for this solution. It is difficult to attain. We understand that. But I can assure you that the Palestinians will continue to negotiate until the last moment, because we do not want to be blamed again for any breakdown in the peace talks as happened in 2000. That will not happen this time, despite the pressure on us - on the Palestinian leadership - even by our own people not to negotiate because of what Israel is doing on the ground.
What is happening with the two-state solution? Is it feasible and still viable? Well, I can assure you that if Israel continues like this, a two-state solution will no longer be viable. There is a movement within Palestinian society among the intelligentsia that says, Look; there is no possibility [of a two-state solution] at the moment. If you just take the map and look at the spread of Israeli settlements, at the [separation] wall and at what Israel wants to keep and not to keep in the West Bank, the arrangements they have for the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea… Where is the Palestinian state going to be? The Palestinians can't accept whatever Israel is thinking at the moment, because it won't have majority backing for such an agreement. And, therefore, if we don't have a two-state solution, then what can we have? We can only have the one state. There's no other way. And that one-state solution is of course extremely difficult for the Israelis because they want - some of them, at least - a Jewish state. A Jewish state will not work if you consider the number of Palestinians who live between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The two-state solution was not even our choice to start with! In 1968, when Fateh assumed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership, it advocated a secular bi-national state. The two-state solution came out of the needs of not only the Palestinians, but mainly of the Israelis.

You say that one state is difficult for the Israelis, but isn't also difficult for the Palestinians? A one-state option denies the Palestinians' right to self-determination in a national state of their own. It denies them the right to have their identity in their own flag, language, culture and heritage. The two-state solution serves the national interests of both sides.

It serves the national interests of Israel more than the Palestinians', to put it frankly, because we have now moved on. As I said, in 1968, we wanted one state. We consider ourselves Palestinians; we have lived with the Jews for centuries. There had always been a 10% Jewish presence in Palestine. They were Palestinian citizens.

Except that the PLO Covenant that called for the one state required all the Jews who came here as a result of the Zionist movement to go back where they came from. So you are talking about a small minority of Jews who would be allowed to stay here.

That has since been much modified, and we have now come to terms with the fact that the Jewish people in Israel are not going anywhere. But as I say, what bewilders us is that, for Israel's sake, a Palestinian state is a must, because then you put the Palestinians in a state and leave the Jewish people as a majority in their own state. Israel should be fighting for us to achieve this state, but it is not happening. Therefore, what is the plan? That is a difficult question.

But Israel's understanding of what a Palestinian state is differs from the Palestinian concept. In addition, when we talk about the right of return that is guaranteed according to United Nations Resolution 194, we are talking about the right of those Palestinians who were expelled from their own land in 1948 to return to what is now Israel. Now Israel understands that a solution to the Palestinian problem of right of return would be for those Palestinians living in refugee camps and in the Diaspora to return to a Palestinian state. This conflict in concept creates a kind of sensitivity regarding the topic and how to find a creative alternative or solution to it. As a result, when you speak of a one-state solution, it means that the Palestinians have the right to live anywhere… settlers can live anywhere. That's why people started thinking this way.

Theoretically, you are right. If there is no shared solution that is satisfactory to both sides, Israel has to create the two states because Israel controls the whole situation. Therefore, if there is no two-state solution, some people are saying it's better to be in one state.

If the territorial questions can be met - the 22% [of Mandatory Palestine] with [East] Jerusalem and the Haram al-Sharif returned to the Palestinians - is the right of return reconcilable with the two-state solution?

It is a difficult issue. All of these issues are difficult, but I think that you end up with a package deal. In the package deal you say, "Okay, I won some, and I lost some." On both sides we should be able to say that. In the end, people will not be 100% satisfied. But, for the sake of a better life, we should accept it. The issue of refugees is a sensitive issue, but it has to be resolved somehow - without damaging the [demographic] equation. We are creating a two-state situation. You can't say, I want my state, and I want to put all the refugees, four or five million people, also in Israel. This can't be accepted by Israel. But it's a package deal. What happens with Jerusalem, what happens with the borders, what happens with the settlements will all affect how the issue of refugees is resolved.

People have always suggested that some kind of moral acknowledgment on the part of Israel regarding its part of the responsibility for the refugee problem would help. Do you agree? What kind of acknowledgment would that have to be?

Well, even if we are two persons fighting and I do something wrong to you, then I go to you and say, "Look, I did something wrong; it wasn't fair to you," I can assure you that with these words you can then start talking about how to coexist. But if you never acknowledge it, then the problems harden and become unsolvable. Acknowledgment is important. One can understand that the Palestinians have a right to return; a Palestinian says, "I was kicked out of my village; I have the right to return." It's not something that cannot be understood. We all should understand this and then find ways to somehow make it palatable… make it acceptable to the Palestinians. If there's peace, then maybe people can go live in - not only visit - Haifa if they come from Haifa, reside there as citizens or as visitors. Then maybe the right of return can happen without its nationalistic overtones. It will be like the Benelux, where nobody cares if you are from Luxembourg or if you are from Belgium. You can go there and live, but when it comes to voting, you go and vote in your own state, and you exercise your national rights in your own state.

During the Camp David negotiations there were some ideas that were thrown on the table, and some tried to find creative solutions for the right of return. The Labor party had a representative who was in charge of Palestinian affairs, [Knesset Member] Yossi Katz. He proposed allowing around 100, 000 Palestinians to return. Is this the kind of creative idea you propose, or do you mean, in general, that the Palestinians should understand that the right of return means a return to the Palestinian state?

We have to be very creative when dealing with difficult issues in negotiations. It's not only the refugee issue; Jerusalem is another one with which we have to be creative. We are in a small country and both peoples feel they belong to this country. We have to address these issues and feelings. At one stage, the idea of a return of a token number of people meant that the right in its entirety would have been fulfilled. Whether it's 100,000 or more or less is an issue to be discussed. We are going to have to come up with a solution that caters to the needs of the Palestinians, but also to the needs of the Israelis. The Israelis should not feel that they are being threatened by the struggle for return and that their very existence is also being jeopardized. Somehow, we shall have to find a better solution for this issue. It is part of a package deal: You don't drop something until you get something in return, and you are able to say to your people that you won some and you lost some.

In this regard, how do you understand the article in the Arab Peace Initiative that says that any solution to the refugee problem should be agreed upon between the Palestinians and Israel?

Well, this is exactly what I mean: It has to be a solution that is just and agreed upon. "Just" means that we cannot accept something that hurts our dignity, or that we, as Palestinians, feel is unfair. But, at the same time, it has to be agreed upon because the Israelis have to agree to it and feel that they can live with it for the agreement to last. Nothing will be signed unless both sides feel safe and secure within their borders. Our borders as we have accepted them are those of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

How do you see the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative within the whole process to date?

I think it is a very important initiative because it talks about the normalization of relations, not only with the 22 Arab states, but also with the Islamic world. It is an opening for Israel, and I think Israel should have dealt with it in a much warmer way and seriously explored its ideas. They are already negotiating with Syria about the Golan Heights. The occupied Sheba'a Farms, a very small area, part of either Lebanon or Syria, in the end has to be returned along with the West Bank and Gaza. In my opinion, Israel is now dealing with the Arab Peace Initiative, but dealing with it piecemeal. Maybe it could have been better to acknowledge the existence of the Initiative and to go forward and get a deal based on it because, if tomorrow Syria and Israel reach an agreement outside of the Arab Initiative, the Arabs are not obliged to normalize their relations with Israel. However, if it is within the framework of the Initiative, the Arabs would be obliged to normalize.

What if we say that we have fulfilled all the requirements of the Arab League document and that now it is time for the Arab world to normalize?

Well, maybe, but you know, I think it is always stronger to start within a framework. Why should we work outside the framework if we are going to reach the same result? In the end, the Arab Peace Initiative is a very important initiative. It will open up the Middle East. I hope we go back to working within the Initiative, rather than trying to do things piecemeal here and there.

Regarding the term Nakba, [Israeli Foreign Minister] Tzipi Livni has expressed dissatisfaction at the use of this term by the Palestinians. Do you think the Palestinians can find a different term? Or, is using such a term essential to expressing the Palestinian feelings towards what happened?

This is not really an issue. It has never been an issue. We could call it nakba… we could call it anything. The Jews could call the Holocaust the holocaust; they could call it the catastrophe; they could call it the disaster. Who are we to tell others what to call their biggest disaster? For us, the events of 1948 - the exile from our land - has been our biggest disaster. Maybe Mrs. Livni would not like to compare it to the Holocaust and say that it is nothing in comparison, but to us, it has left us refugees: without our land, without our towns, without our villages. The suffering of the refugees is so great and so humiliating that it is not only about leaving their town or their city; it's also about their dignity. It is the most important thing to them. We were humiliated in 1948. We lost our dignity. Most of us had to go to refugee camps. Everything was communal, and we lived in tents. It was not dignified; it was humiliating for the Palestinians. And therefore we can call it what we like.

You participate in the meetings between Abbas and [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert. Is there a sense of dignity [in these meetings]? Is Abbas treated with a sense of dignity? Or is [he] the underdog?

Well, I think the meetings are conduced with dignity and with respect. If they hadn't been, we wouldn't have gone to the next one, I assure you. I know of one meeting with [former Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon in May 2005 which was not held in a dignified manner. I don't think Abbas and Sharon ever met after that meeting.

Is the story of dignity and respect related to the meetings themselves or to the humiliation by Israel of Abbas since he was elected? The atmosphere that was created was that he was capable of bringing a solution because Israel wanted him, the United States wanted him, and the moment he was elected he started to face difficulty in achieving anything, since they were undermining his authority and policies.

I answered the first part of the question, which was: Are the meetings conducted in a dignified manner? Yes, they are dignified. But are we getting what we want out of them? No, we are not getting what we want out of them, but that does not mean that they are not held in an atmosphere of respect.

Do they argue with each other?

Of course there are arguments. There are no shouting sessions, but there are arguments. There are issues we argue about from the moment we sit to the moment we leave. The issue of settlements and Jerusalem are very hard issues. We the Palestinians think that the settlement activity is destroying the two-state solution.

There are two different concepts of a Palestinian state. The Palestinians speak of a state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem within the 1967 borders. The Israelis speak about a different Palestinian state… What is the most realistic approach to these negotiations? Do you think the Palestinian concept of a Palestinian state is reachable or not?

We have to be able to reach a solution which we can carry to our people. It is not only the president who signs an agreement; the president has to take this agreement and convince the majority that it is right, either by referendum, by the Palestinian National Council (PNC), by whatever means, but, yes, he has to convince the people of the legitimacy of what he has done and signed. The minimum that we can accept for the Palestinians is a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. There could be some change here and there and border adjustments, but these have to be absolutely minimal and of similar size and quality. An adjustment is one thing, but carving chunks out of the West Bank is another.

Aren't you already sitting down with maps in the negotiations? Aren't they drawing lines yet? They have met 70 times already.

To date the maps have not been put on the table as of yet. We all have the maps in our heads; we have the Israeli map in our head, and the Israelis have our map in theirs. But we have not reconciled the two maps as of yet. That will be very difficult. That is the crux of the matter. We are worried that East Jerusalem will not be part of a Palestinian state. Mr. Olmert has said several times that he wants this issue off the table. He wants to delay the issue of East Jerusalem, but you cannot delay anything; nothing will succeed if you delay something. We still don't know exactly what the Israelis want to take. Once we see the maps, we will be able to tell if it is to be a viable and contiguous Palestinian state - a state that the majority of Palestinians can accept - rather than just another Israeli attempt at carving up as much as possible of the West Bank. Once the maps are produced, this will be the make-or-break of the negotiations.

Do you think it is possible to reach a solution without Jerusalem?

No, no, the president will not be able to sign anything that does not include East Jerusalem.

What if Olmert feels this [way] as well?

I think this is a red line; it is not a secret, and we cannot sign. The president cannot sign if it does not include East Jerusalem.

Olmert states in public that Israel does not want to rule over a quarter of a million Palestinians in East Jerusalem. I don't know what he's thinking in this regard…

I hope that it doesn't mean that you start denying their right to live in Jerusalem and start taking their Jerusalem IDs and giving them Palestinian IDs instead, which makes them lose the right to reside in their city. Maybe the Israelis are only interested in the Holy Basin, the most important part of East Jerusalem, and, therefore, have no interest in the areas further away. Maybe they are only interested in the Old City and the surrounding Holy Basin - but that is the crux of the matter as well. When we talk about East Jerusalem, we don't talk about Beit Hanina; we talk about the Old City, the Haram al-Sharif and Salah Eddin Street. This is the city for us. This is where East Jerusalem is.

Do you think there is a chance for secret back channels conducting the real negotiations, aside from the official talks?

Because of Oslo, people keep imagining that there could be something more secret than what is happening now. But the people who were at Oslo are actually sitting at the table with Israel now. So, I don't think there are other groups of people who can secretly negotiate a deal other than what is being negotiated at the table. The president thinks that the negotiations should be open, but the content be kept secret. Of course, there are many channels, both Israeli and Palestinian, that try to come up with innovative solutions for some of the big problems, but these initiatives are not official. They may contribute positively, but they are not officially endorsed and thus cannot be part of the negotiation process.

Do you mean what is called Track Two?

Some of it is Track Two, some of it are old relationships between Palestinians and Israelis who have reached a compromise on a certain issue and want to take it further, but these are only Track Two and unofficial. It can be helpful if adopted by the negotiators - official negotiators - but it is not a secret channel like what happened during Oslo.

Are you for or against Track Two negotiations?

We should be for, because we should think outside of the box, find innovative solutions. If you want to break this deadlock, you have to find innovative solutions for many of the problems. You have to satisfy the needs of both peoples on the issues to be negotiated.

One area where we need innovative solutions is that of the modification of the borders. Israel keeps pushing the idea of the Jewish state. To maintain this Jewish state, some propose that we get rid of Um el-Fahem, for example, or of the Triangle, or some other land swap. Are you in favor of these ideas? Are they creative ideas, or are you against the concept of a Jewish state?

We've heard of this. We know that [the] Yisrael Beiteinu [party] and MK Avigdor Lieberman talk about transfer, transferring the Palestinian Arabs in Israel in a land swap, not empty land but populated land, to the Arab state. I think that this has been rejected by the Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. They say, "You can't separate Um el-Fahem from Nazareth, Um el-Fahem from Acre…" These are issues that relate to the million-plus Palestinians who live in Israel and who also do not want to be split into different peoples or in different states. Therefore, I don't think that this is a very good innovative solution. Neither the people to be swapped accept it, nor is it a solution that helps the peace process. What we are talking about is a two-state solution and the population of Palestine who live within the 1967 borders - the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
What about a Jewish state? Even Abbas in one of his speeches spoke about Israel as a state of the Jewish people.

President Abbas has recently said that we are not to define what a Jewish state is, and what is Jewish and what is not Jewish. This is none of our business. If the Israelis want a Jewish state, then they have to fight it out with their own people. The president says, "I cannot say that Israel is a Jewish state. I cannot say this because 20% of the population is not Jewish, and I am not authorized to define their future."

I want Israel to be a Jewish state. No one who talks about a Jewish state talks about an exclusive Jewish state. This is a mistake in conception. I think there is a distinction when we talk about a Jewish state and a state for the Jews. A Jewish state is okay; it should be accepted, but a state for the Jews excludes the Arab citizens of Israel.

This is not an issue for President Abbas. This is an issue for the Israelis to decide. To decide how they want to conduct their state. This is not our business.

To what extent do you think that dialogue with Hamas is becoming more serious and more conducive to national unity and a new government?

We are not sure how Hamas is going to conduct itself in the future. What the PLO leadership has felt is that there is a lot of pressure on them to take the initiative in reopening dialogue. The hard-line - "We are not going to talk to Hamas" - has affected the credibility of the PLO and of Fateh among Palestinian and Arab public opinion. Therefore, the president responded by saying, "Okay, let's go for negotiations. If the people want us to dialogue, then it will be done." Therefore, this initiative is not only addressing Hamas, but addressing the Palestinian people. It is for the Palestinian people to understand that the president and Fateh are not against dialogue and unity. What we now want badly is unity between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Otherwise, we give Israel a pretext to say, "You are not ready for the peace process; you are not ready for a two-state solution," and so on. We need unity badly and the president has reopened dialogue so that he can reunite the Palestinian people. He has taken an important position there, and I hope that Hamas responds, agreeing to do something to reunite both sides of the Palestinian state.

What you are saying is actually very dangerous. At least, if I understood you well. Does the president want to use Hamas only as PR in order to satisfy the Palestinian people and show them that he wants to talk to Hamas, or is he really serious about talking to Hamas and concerned about reaching an agreement to bring back to the Palestinian people?

The president has always been serious about making sure that we are reunited because this is something that is damaging our credibility, damaging our cause. He put conditions to this dialogue. The conditions were that Hamas had to rescind the coup and go back to negotiations and, eventually, to elections. These were the conditions, and he has been very adamant in this respect. However, the perception of the people is that this is too great a demand and this is hampering the unity talks, and, whereas Hamas is ready to talk, it is the president who is not ready to talk to them. With the initiative he has shown that Fateh is not the obstacle: we are ready to talk, but is Hamas ready? We are not sure whether Hamas is moving towards unity, or whether they are still inclined to keep a separate entity in Gaza.

It's not only to score a point against Hamas?

No, but to put Hamas in the hot seat as well. To say to Hamas, "Okay, you said that I didn't want to talk; now I'm opening the way for national dialogue. Let's talk." He's testing whether Hamas will really go for unity or not.

I can see the great importance in the need for territorial unity, that both territories of the Palestinian state are under one authority. Can there be unity when the ideological, philosophical, fundamental positions of Hamas and the PLO are diametrically opposed?

Unity under democracy is something different than unity per se.

Being the loyal opposition?

Absolutely, I think now the people have tested and seen Fateh and Hamas. I don't think that a national unity government is workable - if this is what you are saying. There are two parties that are diametrically opposed, not only politically but in their social approach. How do we solve this problem? We solve it by going back to our people. The majority has to rule and the minority has to respect the wish of the majority. And if the people want Hamas, then we should accept that. In the next elections, they can win not only the PLC, but also the presidency because both elections are going to be held at the same time.

Do you believe that the tahdi'a (ceasefire) is also interlocked with the dialogue with Hamas, side-by-side, or are they two separate issues?

Well, it's an important side. It shows Hamas' willingness to move forward. Without a tahdi'a, it becomes very difficult for us to negotiate because what the president is saying is that Gaza has to become more prosperous. The only positive way forward is for the rockets to stop and for some tahdi'a to take place so that Gaza will be opened and will see some prosperity. So the tahdi'a is an important step if you want, but it is only a step.

Was the president involved in the tahdi'a talks?

Very much so - with and through the Egyptians. That is why the president has been to Egypt several times in the last few months. He wanted the tahdi'a to happen, for the president still acts as the president of the Palestinians in Gaza as well. He feels that if tahdi'a takes place, this will reflect positively on the talks between Fateh and Hamas and between the West Bank and Gaza.

If the tahdi'a succeeds, who do you think will be entitled to claim the credit for the achievement? The Egyptians, Fateh, Hamas or Israel?

I don't know who will claim it, but I think that everyone will benefit from it. Who will claim it is another question.

Is it a victory for Hamas?

How can it be a victory for Hamas, if we could have done this deal two years back, and, not only that, but we could have had within that deal a safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza?

Hamas proposed it two years ago and Israel rejected it.

The same deal? No. The proposal was much more radical then.

The same deal. Including [Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit. They spoke to me [Baskin] about this. Two years ago. A week after the kidnapping.

No, Hamas was proposing something different. Something very ambitious. They've now accepted something that is really minimalist, and that's why the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and other groups came out saying that this was not our understanding of the deal. Israel did not want to connect the West Bank and Gaza, and it got what it wanted from this deal.

That's for sure, but two years ago, after the Shalit kidnapping, they spoke to me, and I brought Olmert an offer from Hamas. They were talking about a ceasefire in Gaza and the West Bank. Olmert's response was, "We don't talk to terrorists. Period." It was Israel's refusal to deal with Hamas that made these two years of horrific suffering in Gaza.

I'm not sure…two years back there was still a president in Gaza. There was still an official authority in Gaza, and I don't understand how Israel would speak to Hamas when there was an official government… and there was also a national unity government that had Hamas in it. All I'm saying is that this tahdi'a is excellent for the Palestinian people. Everybody will benefit from it. I don't think anybody should claim credit for it, although everybody participated in reaching it. In the end, it is for the good of the Palestinian people, and I hope that their suffering now will ease.

It will be considered a victory for Hamas. Abu Mazen's term will end in January. Can we expect an election that will bring the presidency to Hamas, the Muqata'a in Ramallah?

We should expect anything, as under occupation everything is possible. We should accept it if it happens democratically and through fair and transparent elections. Unfortunately, Israel is one major factor that makes things happen or not. We, being under occupation, always respond to what Israel does. If Israel concedes to Abu Mazen, then Abu Mazen becomes strong. But if Israel weakens him by not conceding to him, then fundamentalism and extremism take over.

You have been involved in almost all the meetings that have taken place between Olmert and Abu Mazen. You are in a very small inner circle, making the politics of the Palestinian Authority. You have the complete confidence and support of the president. From what you know, how do you see the future?

I think the future is still very difficult. The challenges are very big. The two positions are not reconciled as of yet; they are still far apart. But, as Abu Mazen says, when he was involved in the Oslo negotiations, 24 hours before Oslo was agreed, 70% of the issues had not yet been agreed upon. These issues were agreed upon in the last 24 hours and by phone, when everyone accepted to compromise. Therefore, negotiations are such that you really have to take them to the brink in order to succeed. However, the situation is still difficult; the positions are still far apart, and if you analyze the situation, you will see that we will not reach peace by the end of this year. Having said that, it is not inconceivable that we will come to some sort of an agreement. The situation is flexible to the extent that anything is possible, and we have to keep trying until the last minute.

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