Daoud Kuttab: Israel's Prime Minister has called for a strategic
separation of Israel from the Palestinians. Will this call speed up
the creation of a Palestinian state?
Sari Nusseibeh: This is not the first time Rabin has made this
sort of statement. Before the checkpoints were placed permanently
around Jerusalem, he made a similar call. Israelis often propose
simply to put a barrier between them and the Arabs. Rabin is more
enthusiastic now about the separation idea. Israelis give us the
feeling' that they are sick and tired of us, as if we Arabs are
polluting their lives. They don't want to have anything more to do
This is of course simply impossible. While Rabin is talking of
separation, he will do nothing that will affect Israel's security
or will strengthen Palestinian authority. On the contrary, he is
seeking ways in which he can fortify his security at the expense of
the Palestinians. In this context, the separation concept is
Are the Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories an
obstacle to making the separation a reality?
The problem is much more complicated. Israel has to worry about
Arabs not just in Gaza or the West Bank, but also inside Israel. We
have Jews in the West Bank and Gaza, and especially in Jerusalem.
In the long run and strategically speaking, separation is
impossible because the two people are too interconnected. This
purification idea which Israelis are preaching can't be
accomplished here, just as it is impossible in Germany or Holland
or England, even though there are voices calling for it. The whole
philosophy of the peace process is built around opening borders.
Who can prevent integration? Israelis will soon be going to Petra.
People from the Arab world will be coming here. The peace process
has created a new reality.
What about preparing now for separation in the future?
Whatever happens, it is going to be very difficult. Even if a
genuinely independent Palestinian state is established, we will
still face the reality that we and the Israelis are living in the
same land and that borders cannot separate us hermetically,
especially in times of peace. Political and economic separation
will not be possible in the future. There is no escape but to
accept the fact that there is a heavy Arab and Jewish presence in
the whole area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean
But are the events of the last few days not poisoning the relations
and the atmosphere between Israelis and Palestinians?
As long as these things are continuously happening, the atmosphere
on both sides will be poisoned. The question is whether it is
possible to contain such actions, and to make them politically
insignificant in relation to broader developments. In other words,
what is needed is to prevent these actions from receiving popular
support. This can only occur when the public at large realizes that
there is no benefit to be gained from an act which kills twenty
people in Tel Aviv. Maybe today many sympathize or feel proud that
an Arab or Muslim is willing to sacrifice his life in a suicide
mission inside Israel. When will the time come for us to evaluate
these matters with our heads and not with our hearts? Until we
reach that day, until people realize these actions are not
beneficial to the Palestinian cause, the atmosphere will continue
to be poisoned.
Don't you think that the deterioration in the atmosphere has
been the result of Israeli intransigence in the peace
It is easy to say that these actions are the result of the
oppression of the past, or because at present Israel is not moving
fast enough in the talks. However, what is important is to look at
the higher Palestinian interest. It is clear, for instance, that if
someone is against the successful conclusion of the peace process,
he may be happy with such operations. But if one is interested in
the peace process, then these things only hurt our interests.
What do you think is the interest of Hamas?
If I understand the point of view of Hamas correctly, then I
believe that they are opposed to any peace process with Israel,
basing themselves on the principle that they will not recognize any
non-Islamic rule over Palestine. So they are against any peace with
Israel. If on the other hand you are talking about the Popular
Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), then they might
support these actions because of the belief that this will improve
our bargaining position, but it would be contrary to the PFLP
philosophy to support these actions solely because they oppose any
Are you suggesting that the Palestinian Authority and the
Israelis unite their forces against Hamas because of Hamas's
opposition to any peace with Israel?
We have to differentiate between the military and political issues,
and we have to differentiate between what could be seen as a
coalition and what could be interpreted as common interest.
Politically, you cannot stop people thinking the way they want, or
expressing themselves, or organizing popular support for their
position. This is already in contradiction to what Israel wants
here. The Palestinian position should permit pluralism and should
not deal with such positions as if they were in themselves hostile
acts. Those supporting such positions should not be dealt with as
criminals or as supporters of an illegal organization. While Israel
would want the Palestinian Authority to crush Hamas, we should not
agree to such a policy.
Second, we have to differentiate very clearly between political and
military activities. The reasons for our stressing the need to end
military actions against Israel must relate to our present
political program. This program is a result of previous Palestinian
military and Intifada actions - namely, the struggle for the
liberation of Palestinian lands. I believe that present-day
military activities against Israelis simply obstruct the
accomplishment of our goal of liberating Palestinian lands. I feel
that priority must be given to this cause of liberating the land
and that any activities which delay this goal are not serving the
interest of our people. The Palestinian Authority and its
supporters have to convince the military wing of Hamas of this
logic through real dialogue. I do not believe that using repression
against Hamas, as Israel wants, will get us where we want. All such
repression will do is to widen the gap between us and make it more
difficult to reach a common understanding with them.
I would like to see these issues discussed honestly and openly. We
have to agree on our priorities. Are they to try and liberate
Jerusalem first, even at the cost of extending the period of the
Occupation? The Occupation will last longer as a result of these
military actions. They will not liberate the land. For twenty or
thirty years we have been carrying out military actions and now we
have reached the political ceiling which the international
community is permitting us. Are we going to give this up? Do we
want to wait a hundred years before liberating our land? And what
do we do meanwhile? What will happen to our land as settlements
expand? Even though there is no denying the suffering and
persecution to which we were subject, the military leaders of Hamas
must consider the questions raised here carefully and think
logically and objectively.
What should Israel do?
I can't speak about Israel in the same way as I speak about Hamas,
or any other Palestinian organization. When I speak about Hamas, I
am doing so from the point of view of the interest of our people,
not that of a hostile party. Israel is interested in peace with the
Palestinians and has started a new phase by affording Palestinians
the opportunity to solve problems on Palestinian lands, using
However, it is clear that the first priority for Israel is not a
Palestinian solution. If this plan fails, then Israel will pursue
its own interest through preparing other alternatives. Thus the
challenge to the Palestinians is not to permit this program to
fail. We on the Palestinian side must work out our problems in our
own way: the aim is not to allow Israel to exploit differences
between us in order to push us into internal confrontation. For
such internal fighting could be a formula for the failure of the
Palestinian solution, the results of which can affect the whole of
the Palestinian people.