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Saeb Erekat Discusses Ehud Barak's Resignation

Aired December 9, 2000 - 3:25 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: We continue to watch the developments from Florida, but we want to move now to the Middle East, where there's a dramatic announcement earlier today from the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, that he would resign and make a statement on Sunday, that he would call for a new, special election within 60 days and that he would stand as a candidate for his own current seat.

Joining us now on the telephone line is Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

Mr. Erekat, can you give us your reaction to Mr. Barak's statement?

SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Well, I think this is an internal Israeli matter, and we have always maintained that we were going to make peace with all Israelis, not with this party or that party in Israel.

At the same time, I have to warn, because it could have an impact on the Palestinians. It's up to Mr. Barak now in what he offers the Israeli people in this election. Will he offer them Barak as a peacemaker who will make a commitment to withdraw from the occupied territories (inaudible), or will he offer them Barak of the general (inaudible), who can inflict more suffering, more pain and more killing upon the Palestinians? I believe the ball is in Mr. Barak's court now at this stage.

CHEN: But Mr. Erekat, it is quite clear that a lot of the reason for Mr. Barak's decision had to do with the political pressures on him, the situation that he faced at home. As you say, there are internal Israeli politics at work here, but a lot of it has to do with what he has been able to negotiate with the Palestinians, or as the case may be, not been able to negotiate with the Palestinians. Do you think that your cause would fare better if he were to lose to the opposition?

EREKAT: Well, as I said, you know, we have one case over here. The case is that it is Israel occupation upon us. We're still under Israeli occupation. Some of Israel's right wing wants to maintain this occupation, and with occupation you will have always an abnormal situation. You have violence, which will feed violence.

And what we're trying to tell the Israelis: It's really time to end this occupation. And it's really up to Mr. Barak at this stage of history to either go into history as the Israeli prime minister who had made peace with Palestinians, or had prolonged war, suffering, violence and counter-violence.

Absolutely, the causes of all trouble in the region is the continuation of Israeli occupation of Palestinians since 1967.

CHEN: I appreciate your situation, but I have to return you to the issue itself, about Mr. Barak. If he is to fade from the political scene, do you think that your side will fare better with his opposition, which could include Mr. Netanyahu, who seems to doing quite well in the polls these days?

EREKAT: Joie, as I said, we want to make peace with all Israelis. I cannot interfere in Israeli politics. But I will tell all Israelis that we want to make peace with you and there is only way for that. It's for us and you to live as equal neighbors, for you to end your occupation, and to withdraw in accordance with the UN (ph) Security Council resolution.

That's it. The choice is theirs, and the ball is in their courtyard. I cannot choose for the Israelis who will rule them. We have always maintained that we will (inaudible) with the Israelis. We want to make peace with all of Israel, and the price of peace is very well-known for them.

Occupation cannot go with peace.

CHEN: Given the political situation, given Mr. Barak's announcement, do you have much optimism for that?

EREKAT: It's very premature, but still I think the Israeli politics are changing rapidly, and it's really more changing than the weather in Britain. So it's really premature to tell as of this date.

CHEN: Can you tell us if there is anything under way now that you might be able to offer to Mr. Barak, in terms of negotiation now, that might move the process forward?

EREKAT: We will continue to offer all the Israelis, not Mr. Barak, what we committed ourselves to in this peace process, is to achieve the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution, to (inaudible), to (inaudible) of Israel.

Everyone knows today that Israel's security is not threatened. And once again, the mother of all ills in this region is the continuation of the Israeli occupation. And it's really up to them what to do about this election. Will they enter it in the platform of peace, or in the platform of war? And the choice is Mr. Barak's.

CHEN: Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator on the telephone line with us from the Middle East.

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