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Erakat: Sharon 'will never change'

Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat
Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat  

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat discussed the current crisis in the Middle East Monday in a telephone interview with CNN's Bill Hemmer.

CNN: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told CNN Monday that "we are on our way out," related to the military incursions right now. He said possibly another week. Palestinian reaction to that is what?

ERAKAT: With all due respect, that's not what he said. He said that, "We will not withdraw immediately," as the world is asking him to do. He said, "We may pull out of built-up areas" -- he's playing with words.

As a matter of fact, what he declared tonight, he's declaring every Palestinian town, village and refugee camp as a big prison, because he said, "We will only move from built-up areas, even after a week, from Jenin," or I don't know when from Nablus, but never from Ramallah or Bethlehem and other areas. I think he's playing and he's defying the president of the United States, he's defying the international community.

You know, the most important thing tonight, if you give me a chance to respond to these 35 minutes he has on TV...

CNN: Sure.

ERAKAT: ... and I cannot get to Jerusalem because you know I'm confined to Jericho, as all Palestinians. I believe that Sharon tonight showed that he's beyond rehabilitation. This man will never change. He denies the occupation, and he denies the massacres, and he says it's hard to be a Palestinian and his solution is to kill them.

When we asked why we're facing this hardship of 35 years being subjugated to this Israeli occupation, Sharon's solution is to kill us, or, in his eye, is to maintain his occupation. And we have to protect his soldiers who occupy us, to protect his settlers who take our land away from us. And if we resist this occupation and cry freedom, then we're terrorists. And that's very easy logic to Sharon.

The third point he mentioned tonight, he wants to appoint our leaders. This man, in 1998, when we were in Wye River, I remember standing next to President Clinton, President Arafat and Mr. Sharon, President Arafat offered his hand for Sharon to shake it, shake hands, and Sharon refused it. So it's not, this thing did not born yesterday. We all know that Sharon stood against the peace process, against the Oslo accords, and tonight his declaration is to maintain the Israeli occupation and to reorganize the Israeli occupation.

And it's really ironic that this man says he's committed to peace. What peace when you build 35 settlements in one year? What peace when you confiscate Palestinian lands?

He denies the occupation. He denies Palestinians' cry for freedom. He never mentioned the word that, "I will pull out." He knows that the Palestinians have recognized the state of Israel as the maps show on 78 percent of the land and accepted to have a state on these red dots appearing on your TV on the 22 remaining percent that's the June 4, '67 border. And yet not one word that was mentioned tonight.

He spoke about buffer zones, that he will maintain the occupation through them, which means more suffering for the Palestinians, and then speaks about survival of Israel. We have recognized Israel. We don't want any harm to come to Israel or Israelis as Palestinians. On the contrary, we want to live in peace, side by side next to Israel. But the survival of Israel is not achieved through the destruction of Palestinians, through the destruction of Palestinian way of life, through preventing our children...

CNN: If I could?

EREKAT: Please.

CNN: Yes. I apologize for the interruption. I just want to move to different areas. You mentioned something very specific in there. Ariel Sharon said peace is not possible, in his opinion, as long as Yasser Arafat is in charge of the Palestinian leadership. Are you saying that peace is not possible so long as Ariel Sharon is prime minister of Israel?

EREKAT: I don't choose the leader of Israel. I respect the democratic choice of Israelis. The Israelis have elected Sharon. He is the prime minister of Israel. And it's not up to me to decide who runs Israel. I will not downgrade myself to the level of saying that I will appoint leaders for Israel.

So it's up to the Israelis to choose, but I think they know by now who they brought in to rule them and to have them in this critical situation.

CNN: Let's get back to the withdrawal then. I want to get back to the withdrawal. Specifically, he did indicate that within a week there would be substantial pullouts. He said they would move back away from the towns. He would wait and see, gauge the quiet, then possibly pull back even further.

But he said with the exception of Bethlehem and Ramallah; there would be no movement there. Specifically, Ramallah, he said he wanted -- his words now -- "the wanted killers of the tourism minister back in mid-October are right now taking refuge inside Yasser Arafat's compound." Is the Palestinian leadership willing to turn these men over?

EREKAT: Well, I think we have agreements that guide our relations and govern our relations with Israel. And I would advise Mr. Sharon to look at Article 27F and four legal annex of 1995 interim agreements. We have our court systems. We have our jails. We have our legal jurisdiction over our country. He has no right to ask us to transfer Palestinians.

But the fact he's coming in with guns demanding that we hand him over prisoners in our jails -- and all those he mentioned are prisoners in our jails -- and we said we'll bring them to court, just shows you that this man is not about to respect any agreements signed.

And the only agreement he has, and the only logic he has is the logic of the arrogance of power.

I think -- you know, don't be fooled, Bill, here. I don't want anybody to be fooled, you know. When he says, "I will pull out from built-up areas," it means that he's turning our town, villages, refugee camps into big prisons. Bill, I said so many times, we are normal people. We have people with kidney -- who needs kidney dialysis, who needs cancer treatment, who needs diabetes. We could not get a place to place -- to hospitals to ambulances.

And he talks about the behavior of his soldiers; when they stop people from being taken to hospital by Red Cross ambulances or other ambulances, when he stops medicine and food supplies, well, if this is the behavior he's proud of, I'm really scared, because I want my Israeli neighbors to stick to their values, to stick to their code of ethics. And what the army did in the Palestinian areas is really going to be a scar on their face for many, many years to come.

All I want to say is that...

CNN: Allow me to move to a different area. Allow me to move to a different area right now.

As you well know, over the past few days, there's been a lot of steam gathering right now about the potential for an international conference. Earlier today, it was suggested that it might be taking place at the ministerial level, perhaps the foreign ministers of a number of moderate Arab countries in the region, also to include the United States, Israel and the Palestinians. Would you be willing to attend a conference, such as that, if it meant further talking about how to end the current crisis and working towards some sort of political solution and a peace agreement that would follow?

ERAKAT: First of all, Bill, there are two things on the table now. One is what Sharon suggested. Sharon wants a regional conference. He wants to choose who we let in the conference and who will not attend the conference. He wants to know who he wants to appoint to will come from the Palestinian side, as he mentioned.

Which is absolutely, you know, something that we cannot accept; it's unacceptable.

Now there are ideas being floated by Secretary Powell. What the ideas that are being floated is Secretary Powell is saying there will be no peace without security and no security without peace. So he's trying to engineer now a formula of an interconnected approach of security, political and economic issues, a set of issues that would lead to ending the Israeli occupation, as President Bush himself declared, ending the Israeli occupation and establishing the state of Palestine in accordance with the implementation of the Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

Now, once we continue our deliberations with Secretary Powell on these ideas, I don't think we will mind to attend an international conference once we know the substance of this conference, once we agree on the terms of reference for this conference, once we know that it's not going to be the idea of just more talking about talking.

Because Sharon knows very well that in 1991 we went with the prime minister, Shamir, who was his boss in 1991, to Madrid. We agreed in terms of...

CNN: Sir, you're dismissing the possibility of getting together then, is that right?

EREKAT: No, no. We never dismissed the idea of an international conference with the clear-cut terms of reference, with a clear-cut substance, and with a clear-cut road map as to where to go, in terms of the guarantees, the assurances and the time line of the relevant Security Council resolutions.

But I think Sharon's idea of a conference, he wants to really waste our time. We all know -- and he said tonight, there is no occupation. He denies occupation. He did not mention once the word, "I will withdraw from the occupied territories. I will stop settlements as per Mitchell." When he says, "We accept Mitchell,"

Mitchell called for a full cessation of settlement activities. He did not mention it.

We all know by heart that Sharon is out there to waste time. Sharon wants to maintain the occupation, wants to deepen the occupation. And I can tell you, Bill, this will not bring security for us or the Israelis.

There will never be a military solution in this conflict. And I hope that Sharon, one day in his life before he goes, will understand that Palestinians and Israelis cannot play it in accordance with a zero-sum game; either two winners or two losers.


EREKAT: Two winners...

CNN: I want to go into a couple of different areas. Specifically, I want to talk -- understood, sir. But, Mr. Erekat, I want to talk about Jenin in a moment. And in a second we're going to go back and listen to part of the interview with Wolf Blitzer and Ariel Sharon, what he had to say about Jenin.

But first, Marwan Barghouti, a very close aide to Yasser Arafat, was arrested inside a home in Ramallah early on Monday. He is largely credited from a number of different circles as being a chief coordinator for the current uprising or intifada, 18 months old right now.

CNN: How much of a blow is the arrest of Marwan Barghouti to the intifada, sir?

EREKAT: Well, Bill, I don't know if you know that Marwan Barghouti is an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. That's the equivalent of your...

CNN: That I do know. I'm quite aware of it.

EREKAT: ... Congress, a parliament. Marwan Barghouti has immunities in accordance with agreement signed. Marwan Barghouti was one of the first Palestinians to begin dialogue with the Israelis. Marwan Barghouti is a man who, like every single Palestinian, we seek our freedom, we seek our independence, we cry our freedom.

Now, I believe that by arresting Marwan Barghouti tonight, Sharon is really undermining our efforts with the Americans in order to de-escalate the situation, to contain the violence. And he's undermining our efforts to revive hope in the minds of Palestinians that peace is doable.

And I'm sure the list of accusations to any Palestinian is ready, it's out there, from terror to providing killings to innocent people being massacred, he has it all. And we are all guilty until proven innocent, that's the logic of Sharon.

So I really demand tonight, and I urge the Americans and the international community in helping us to get Marwan Barghouti released immediately. They have no reason whatsoever to arrest Marwan Barghouti. It's not a secret that Marwan Barghouti is a man who cry for our freedom; we all do that, but the moral should be any Palestinian, any...

CNN: Israel says that he Israel says that he is the man who is responsible for a number of terrorist activities, carried out against Israelis. Is that not true? Is that what you're saying?

EREKAT: My God, they said, just they arrested him now. And just about an hour ago. And now they already have the charge sheet and they have the verdict and they have the judge, the jury and passing the sentence immediately. Even I would have expected that, you know, that people would ask Marwan Barghouti to have a lawyer, to argue his case.

And that's why I'm telling you, every Palestinian has a sheet of accusations ready, and a sentence that's ready to be passed. And this cannot be accepted.

Anyway, anyway, Bill, all I want to say is that we are exerting every possible effort with Secretary Powell in order to ensure the success. Today I had a meeting with my American colleagues in terms of preparing the ground for the road map that's required for the interconnection between the political issues, the economic issue, the security issues. I believe we came a long way. I hope that we can really reconstruct a road map that will take us in the direction of having a light at the end of the tunnel. And I hope we can do that very soon. But as of tonight, hearing Sharon, you know, tonight, Bill, I would say that God help Palestinians and Israelis.

CNN: OK. Listen, let's talk about Jenin. And this is a subject that has simply has not gone away. I know you and I have had long discussions about this over the past week's time. And there are wide disagreements between what the Palestinians say took place there and what the Israelis are saying. I'm going to show you a short sound bite from the interview with Wolf Blitzer. Here is Ariel Sharon's take on what has happened in that refugee camp of Jenin.

SHARON VIDEO CLIP: You already know that this story is a lie. It's a lie. What happened there, it was very hard battles there, and I think that the Israeli forces, not like any other armed forces being involved in a very hard battle, were very careful not to hurt civilians.

CNN: Mr. Erakat, I have not personally been to Jenin. I've been following the reports on both sides. I'm curious to know, have you been there, and what do you know about the facts that took place in that battle of the refugee camp?

ERAKAT: I have not been there, Bill. This morning at 6 o'clock in the morning I was called by the mayor of Jenin who told me that he and the other Red Cross people are about to enter the refugee camp of Jenin. An hour later, they called me back. They told me they were allowed to enter one street. They found 20 bodies in that given street. And it was -- other areas were forbidden for them to go. And then they asked for equipments, for experts to defuse certain mines and unexploded shells by the Israelis. And I think they left the camp.

Look, Bill, I told you yesterday, if the number of Palestinians who were killed in that refugee camp is as small as they say, I'm willing to come to Jenin and say we made a mistake. But when Sharon tonight says it's not dozens, but it's not 500, what is it, 400, 300? What is it? And the point is about the civilians. Where are the civilians in this refugee camp? Is there a refugee camp left?

You know, I have a list of 1,600 Palestinians now from this refugee camp who called me. People are missing their mothers, their fathers, their daughters, their husbands, their wives, their little children, families that were fragmented, families that haven't seen anything other than the atrocities and war crimes in this refugee camp. And I stand that there were crimes committed in this refugee camp. This was a flagrant violation of the international law. And I stand by the term massacres were committed in the refugee camps. And I know for sure that witnesses told me that they dug various graveyards and had buried a lot of people...

CNN: Mr. Erakat, I'm almost out of time. But certainly the facts will reveal themselves. Aid agencies are now getting in. We do know journalists are getting much greater access right now in Jenin.

Before I left you go, just about 15 seconds left, will Colin Powell go to Ramallah tomorrow and sit down with Yasser Arafat again? Do you know if, indeed, that will happen?

ERAKAT: This is being talked about now. It's a good possibility but nothing's confirmed as of yet though.




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