Daoud Kuttab: How would you describe Palestinian-Israeli
relations these days?
Faisal Husseini: Many political issues were considered taboo for
both Palestinians and Israelis. These taboos are gradually
disappearing: talking to the PLO was considered illegal; the
thought of sharing Jerusalem with Palestinians, or the withdrawal
from what was part of Greater Israel was intolerable. For the
Palestinians, a two-state solution was inadmissible as was the idea
of an interim period preceding statehood. These matters are more
acceptable now, an indication that Palestinians and Israelis can
You meet with Israeli Minister of Police, Moshe Shahal,
regularly. Have these meetings been productive so far?
So far, the meetings have not been regular. A step forward is often
followed by some set-backs. We are sounding each other out; we are
exploring possibilities for action. We have not been able to
resolve any strategic issues on the ground. Some progress has been
achieved in less substantive issues though. For example, we have
managed to get the Israelis to partially lift restrictions on
women, men over forty and residents of villages near Jerusalem
wishing to go to Jerusalem. Having acceded to our demand, the
Israelis then revoked their decision on security grounds. Finally,
we have succeeded in having travel restrictions on women lifted,
but men still need permits to enter into Jerusalem.
Is the Palestinian negotiating position stronger or weaker as a
result of the Washington Declaration between Jordan and
Following the signing and all the Jordanian and Israeli statements
attributing the responsibility for negotiating on Jerusalem to the
Palestinians, I think this has been a positive development. In
fact, we have succeeded in opening the Jerusalem file for
discussions, and thus we have helped do away with remaining
How do you evaluate the work of the Palestinian National
Authority (PNA) shortly after its establishment?
When Israel withdrew from Gaza and Jericho, we were faced with an
unusual situation. Jericho which was supposed to be the
headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, had no government
offices, while in Gaza, offices were available for all the major
governmental departments. Once this problem is dealt with, we have
to turn our attention to the budget. Gaza, which generates little
tax revenues, needs a great deal of money to be invested in it. The
West Bank, on the other hand, which is richer and generates more
income from taxes, is not under our control, with the exception of
Jericho. Promises for grants by donor nations have yet to be
fulfilled. Similarly, the much awaited Palestinian investment has
not materialized. In fact, we seem to be caught in a vicious circle
on this issue: Palestinian investors are waiting for the area to
develop before financing any project there, while it is next to
impossible to achieve any development without the injection of
funds from the Palestinians in exile.
Secondly, the procrastination of Israeli negotiators, such as the
delay in the release of prisoners and the absence of confidence
building measures, has not been conducive in giving credibility to
the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, some actions have even been
outright embarrassing: a few days ago, a group of Palestinians were
permitted to return, but when they reached the border crossing,
they were stopped by the Israelis and denied entry.
You visit Gaza regularly. Are you satisfied with the progress of
the Palestinian Authority there?
It is clear that the wheels have started to turn, and when I visit
Gaza, I can see the progress on the ground. It is not going at the
expected rate, but progress can definitely be detected in the
solution of problems and the reduction of pain and suffering.
What is your official status in the Palestinian National
I head the Palestinian team to the peace talks as well as the
steering committee for the Palestinian bilateral and multilateral
talks. I am also the Palestinian representative in the Jerusalem
committee with Israeli Minister of Police, Moshe Shahal, as my
What about the National Authority?
I have no official post there.
What are the challenges facing Palestinians during this interim
Our top priority is to address the situation in the areas under
Palestinian authority. Hard work is needed to build an
infrastructure and a base from which we can expand the Agreement to
include the other areas of the West Bank. We also have to resolve
the various side issues that have not been settled yet, such as the
issue of prisoners, deportees and the return of the displaced.
Finally, we need to complete the return and the establishment of
the PLO in Palestine.
What steps are you taking to prepare for the talks on the final
status of Jerusalem?
We are working on a number of different fronts with the aim of
obtaining the needed data about Jerusalem. We are looking at the
geographic, demographic, economic, social and security issues. Maps
are being drawn, and we are studying the various Israeli and
Why have you not yet established a shadow municipal council in
Various organizations are preparing different activities that will
lead to practical steps in stemming Israeli actions in East
Jerusalem. The Israelis are undermining the status quo and we have
to prevent their attempts to change the situation on the ground
before negotiations start.
Don't you think the time has come for someone to give all his
time to the issue of Jerusalem? And don't you think you can be both
a national leader as well as the leader of Jerusalem?
There is definitely a need for a number of people to concentrate
all their efforts on the issue of Jerusalem. As far as I am
concerned, I am trying to curtail my duties in all other fields so
that I can devote all my time to Jerusalem. For this purpose, my
responsibilities must be properly mandated and guaranteed, and the
needed funds must be secured. We can't deal with the issue of
Jerusalem as a media story. What we need is for all Palestinians,
irrespective of their political affiliation, to unite over this
issue. We need to isolate Jerusalem from all the inter-Arab
maneuvers. We also need to mobilize Christians and Muslims from
around the world for this issue. Jerusalem should interest Islamic
countries as well as European, Latin American and North American
people. Christians around the world need to be informed about the
dangerous decrease in the number of Christians in Jerusalem due to
emigration. Western countries, by and large, are very sympathetic
to the issue of Jerusalem, but they are not very assertive in the
face of Israel.
You are the head of the Fatah movement in the West Bank. What is
your opinion of recent efforts to revitalize the movement by
changing its by-laws?
The entire region is entering a new phase. It makes no sense to
preserve the hierarchy which was in use when the movement was
underground. The Fatah movement has taken upon itself the
responsibilities of the new stage with all what this entails in the
form of mobilizing the people. In order to do this, our movement
needs to regain the allegiance of the independents who naturally
lean towards Fatah. This requires new methods that allow the widest
possible level of participation in decision-making which naturally
means more democracy in the movement.
With the ban of An-Nahar Newspaper, do you think we are moving
towards a police state?
What happened to An-Nahar,* and the manner in which it took place
is unacceptable and reflects the nature of the transitional period.
It still carries many of the remnants of the previous period which
I used to call the militarization of the Intifada. Yes, I support
the presence of laws and regulations as a framework operation. I
also support the need for institutions to respect these
regulations. But the regulations have to be clearly defined, and
the institutions must have enough time to consider them. I am
opposed to the haphazard way in which this matter has been dealt
* An-Nahar is a pro-Jordanian East Jerusalem newspaper -
Palestine-Israel Journal mourns the untimely death of Knesset
Member Tawfik Ziyad, a man of letters and of political vision, who
devoted his life to the struggles of the Palestinian people and to
Arab-Jewish equality and peace.