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World Today

Yasser Arafat Discusses the Prospects for Middle East Peace

Aired September 7, 2000 - 8:28 p.m. ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: President Clinton is also spending some diplomatic energy in hopes of kick starting the Middle East peace process. Palestinian and Israeli leaders have failed to convince the other side to give more ground on the outstanding issues. Today Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said only Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat could break the impasse. The two sides are far apart on how to administer Jerusalem.

Arafat is equally adamant in demanding movement on the Israeli side, and today he rejected a U.S. proposal to split control of Moslem and Jewish holy sites in East Jerusalem.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour sat down with the president of the Palestinian Authority to discuss where the process goes from here.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Arafat, what are the chances that you will declare a state on September 13th?

YASSER ARAFAT, PRESIDENT, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY: First of all, you have to remember it is not my decision. It is the decision of our center council, which will be held there within some days.

AMANPOUR: Would you say that the Palestinian leadership will declare a state on September 13th, or would you say you will defer it?

ARAFAT: Anything will be decided in the central council...

AMANPOUR: So you're not...

ARAFAT: Don't try to push me outside of our democracy.

AMANPOUR: Do you plan to meet with the Israeli prime minister, Mr. Barak, here in New York?

ARAFAT: I am meeting him every day.

AMANPOUR: Have you had a face-to-face meeting with him here?

ARAFAT: Yes, I...

AMANPOUR: Here in New York? ARAFAT: Yes. Every day I am meeting him and shaking hands with him, every day.

AMANPOUR: Are you discussing?


AMANPOUR: What are the chances, do you think, of reconvening a three-way summit any time soon?

ARAFAT: It depends not on me. It depends on what we agreed upon yesterday with President Clinton that negotiations will continue.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that Mr. Barak, as we've just discussed, has gone further than any other Israeli prime minister, has basically almost seen his government collapse...


AMANPOUR: ... and has seen his popularity...

ARAFAT: Who told you that he -- still (UNINTELLIGIBLE) voting for him can vote. The Arab -- the votes of the Arabian votes, 20 votes still in his pocket..

AMANPOUR: So you think he's in a secure position?

ARAFAT: I don't know. You have to ask him. You have to ask him. It is his policy.

AMANPOUR: The general consensus is that he has made steps that no Israeli leader has and he's suffered for it politically. My question to you is, do you think that you can get even more out of him, that you can outmaneuver him, outlast him politically? Is that why you're waiting, to get more out of an Israeli prime minister?

ARAFAT: First of all, I'm not asking for the moon. I'm asking what has been signed, what has been agreed upon to be implemented accurately and honestly. Not more, not less.


ARAFAT: Are you against this?

AMANPOUR: When Prime Minister...

ARAFAT: Are you against this?

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you this, though. When Prime Minister Netanyahu was prime minister, you used to say the same thing, I'm not asking for the moon...


AMANPOUR: ... and everybody agreed with you then. But now Prime Minister Barak is head of the Israeli government, and he has gone farther than any other Israeli leader.

ARAFAT: Not yet.

AMANPOUR: So he's given you...

ARAFAT: For your information...

AMANPOUR: ... more, right?

ARAFAT: To speak frankly, for your information, you remember that we both, me and him, signed Sharm El-Sheikh agreement in Egypt under the supervision of President Mubarak, and also he signed the agreement, King Abdullah had signed the agreement, Mrs. Albright had signed the agreement. And we had two letters of guarantees, one American letter, one European Union letter.

And in spite of this, nothing of what had been signed in this agreement has been implemented. And you can ask him to give me one item who had been implemented by him in what he had changed in the Sharm El-Sheikh agreement.

AMANPOUR: There are those who've suggested shared sovereignty over Jerusalem, shared sovereignty.

ARAFAT: Over Jerusalem?


ARAFAT: Would you accept to share sovereignty of Washington?

AMANPOUR: So for you that's a nonstarter?

ARAFAT: Would you accept?

AMANPOUR: I'm not an American citizen.

ARAFAT: From where you are?

AMANPOUR: I'm from England.

ARAFAT: You accept London to being shared?

AMANPOUR: But London is not in dispute like Jerusalem is. Today is today. What if...

ARAFAT: Today is today. Rights are rights.

AMANPOUR: So, no, in other words?

ARAFAT: No doubt, I can't betray my people. I can't betray the Arabs. I can't betray the Christians. I can't betray the Moslems. And he has to respect all these items concerning the Christianity and the Islam.

AMANPOUR: You say you cannot betray the Arabs. Certainly you have been doing a lot of meetings recently with the Arab leaders. I want to know, are you seeking from your Arab partners room for maneuver and room for compromise, or are you seeking from them the permission to hold firm on all of this?

ARAFAT: You have to remember that recently we had a very important meeting in the Arab League on Syria for all the foreign -- Arab foreign ministers, and it had been called a session -- representative session.

AMANPOUR: But when you go see them...

ARAFAT: I am...

AMANPOUR: ... and President Mubarak and the other Arab leaders, are you hoping they say, Chairman Arafat, you do what you have to do, you go ahead and make the compromises that you think are right, or do you want them to tell you to hold firm?

ARAFAT: They used to tell me, we respect what you are decided -- what you are deciding. But I am respecting in the same time their decisions, and their participation with me...

AMANPOUR: You know...

ARAFAT: As I had mentioned, this problem with Jerusalem is not only a Palestinian question. It's not only concerning Palestinians. It is for the Arabs, for the Christians and for the Muslims. And at the same time, I said we can give the full freedom for the Israelis to go to pray in the Wailing Wall.

AMANPOUR: Have you concluded...

ARAFAT: ... because we are respecting also Judaism.

AMANPOUR: Have you concluded that the better -- that it would be safer and better for you to extend this state of affairs rather than sign an agreement that certain people might say was a sell out?

ARAFAT: First of all, I respect what I had mentioned and promised my people, my nation, my religions, the Christianity and the Islam, and I am not going to betray them. You have to remember with whom you are speaking. You are speaking with Yasser Arafat.

AMANPOUR: And Yasser Arafat has already partly liberated his people from Israeli occupation.

ARAFAT: And I would continue to liberate all the Islamic and Muslim holy places.

AMANPOUR: But right now, sir...

ARAFAT: It is clear and obvious.

AMANPOUR: OK. Right now, though...

ARAFAT: If not, another one will come to liberate it.

AMANPOUR: So this could go on for a long time?

ARAFAT: And this I had mentioned clearly and obviously in Camp David to Barak in front of President Clinton. It will be liberated sooner or later.

AMANPOUR: Right now, though, there's no peace deal.


AMANPOUR: I'm just sort of stating it. I just want to ask you a question.

ARAFAT: What? You are stating -- you have to...

AMANPOUR: Is there?

ARAFAT: There is an agreement.

AMANPOUR: Right, right, but there's no -- you haven't signed the full deal yet.

ARAFAT: Yes, the final.

AMANPOUR: Right, so the question is, when you had the chance, for instance, at Camp David, from what we understand, from what we've been told, to either sign the deal which you decided not to or to sign a partial deal and defer Jerusalem for a long time, was that not OK?

ARAFAT: In spite of what you are mentioning, I am not in a situation to ask your advice. I have many advisers whom I am respecting their advice. I am following their advices, I'm not following your advice.

AMANPOUR: I'm sure you do. I want to know why you decided not to sign a partial deal. No, I'm not advising you to sign a partial deal.

ARAFAT: I had to -- you not to forget, I had to sign many partial deals. The last one was in Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt with Barak himself, which has not been respected.

AMANPOUR: How do you feel about President Clinton publicly blaming Yasser Arafat for the failure of this summit?

ARAFAT: This is not in my mind. It is a part of the mass media propaganda.

AMANPOUR: So you're not angry?

ARAFAT: No, and as I have mentioned, I had -- I respect it completely what he's doing and thank him from my heart for pushing forward the peace process.

AMANPOUR: A lot has been made of Arab public opinion and, as you keep saying, I will not betray the people.

ARAFAT: Would you betray your people?


ARAFAT: Would you betray your people?

AMANPOUR: I'm not in the same position you are.

ARAFAT: In your duty, in your position, are you ready to betray your people?

AMANPOUR: Well, then the question then is, the people want a future...

ARAFAT: You -- I am asking you clearly and obviously...


ARAFAT: ... do you accept to betray your people?

AMANPOUR: I don't have people to betray.

ARAFAT: You told me you are from Britain just now -- or you have no nationality?

AMANPOUR: But you know that many, many people would prefer...

ARAFAT: If you have no nationality...

AMANPOUR: ... to have food in their stomachs than talk about slogans. In other words, the people of Palestine, your people, want an economic future...


AMANPOUR: ... they want proper lives...

ARAFAT: No, no...

AMANPOUR: ... they want...

ARAFAT: You have to remember, we Palestinians, our first target is our land, the Palasanta (ph). Palestine means the Palasanta. You know what that means?

AMANPOUR: I don't, no. What is that?

ARAFAT: The holy places.

You are forgetting everything. Now it is enough.

AMANPOUR: Can I just ask you one thing? At Camp David, did you agree to the whole issue of Jewish settlements going to Israel on the West Bank...

ARAFAT: This has to be decided...

AMANPOUR: ... and the right...

ARAFAT: This has to be decided through the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

AMANPOUR: So do you think you can get more out of an Israeli prime minister?

ARAFAT: I am not asking...

AMANPOUR: Is that what you're waiting for?

ARAFAT: I am not asking more than what had been agreed upon.

AMANPOUR: Right, OK. Thank you for joining us.

ARAFAT: Thank you.


CHEN: An interview with Christiane Amanpour and Yasser Arafat done earlier today. Tomorrow the Israeli side, as Christiane interviews Prime Minister Ehud Barak.



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