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Interview of Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian Negotiator

Aired March 29, 2002 - 11:00   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to go right now on the telephone to someone who is very close to this issue: Hanan Ashrawi, a very well known Palestinian legislator.

I understand that you are in Geneva right now, Ms. Ashrawi. Is that correct?

HANAN ASHRAWI, PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Yes, I am. I'm on my way to the airport, trying to get back home.

HARRIS: What do you know about what's happening right now?

ASHRAWI: Well, I've been in touch with President Arafat and with many of my friends and colleagues at home and with my family. The situation is absolutely insane. It is quite dangerous, quite lethal. There are snipers everywhere shooting people in the streets. Even ambulances cannot get there.

And of course across the street from my house, where the president is, there's shelling and shooting. And they entered, they went through, the tanks and the armored vehicles went through the fences, the stone walls. And right now they are shooting. They actually shelled the president's office itself. And they're going from floor to floor and room to room.

So it's extremely dangerous, and there is madness and insanity unleashed.

HARRIS: You just heard Andrea Koppel say that the U.S. was urging Ariel Sharon to exercise some restraint in this activity right now. Does this look like there was restraint there?

ASHRAWI: Well, asking Ariel Sharon to exercise restraint is like telling a fire not to flame. I mean, Sharon, from the beginning, from day one, has been true to his legacy, his mass murders, his history of war crimes. He has done nothing but escalate the violence, provoke the Palestinians, create a bloodbath here, a cycle of revenge, continuing escalation, resorting to military tactics, bashing, battering, shelling, destroying, assassinating a captive Palestinian people.

And they're saying -- promising that he can bring peace and security. He's bringing death and destruction on both sides. He should be stopped. This is madness, this is insanity. HARRIS: You say that you spoke with Yasser Arafat while he is there in that compound right now under fire.


HARRIS: What did he tell you?

ASHRAWI: Yes, I did talk to him, and I did hear, of course, a couple of times when I was talking to him, I heard the shooting and the shelling while he was on the phone with me. And I talked to also many of the people around him who felt that they were being targeted.

He told me that he will not surrender, that he will be humiliated or demeaned. He represents a very proud people, and he will, if needs be, he will die standing up, he will not surrender, he will not give into the Israelis.

And he was very sad that at the moment in which the Arabs adopted a peace plan, in which he clearly announced a cease-fire, even though we are the victims and under occupation, in which he said he's willing to implement the Tenet agreements unconditionally, without any conditions, that all he gets is more murder, more bloodshed and more mayhem.

HARRIS: Did he say anything to you about whether or not it is his intention or his expectation that Ariel Sharon is going to make a martyr of him?

ASHRAWI: No. He said it's his expectation. They will never take him alive, he said. But at the same time, he said that if it needs be, he's like all the other Palestinians, he will die for the cause. But he is not going to surrender. And he feels that this assault targets him personally and, through him, the Palestinian people and, through him and the Palestinian people, the Arabs as a whole.

He was saddened, but he was very calm, he was strangely composed, and he said, "Don't worry about me, you take care of yourself." And he said, "You hear the shelling, you can hear them coming, they're going from room to room."

But I told him we will call everybody, we're trying to talk to people, to intervene, to put an end to this insanity. But it's clear that Sharon is somebody who, when he goes on the rampage, he cannot be contained. And this is his history, it's been that way all along.

We are calling also the Israelis, because I believe the Israeli public has to hold Sharon accountable, they have to prevent this -- put an end to this increased escalation, they have to hold him -- restrain him, because it seems to me that this bloodbath is the working of a mentality of occupation that seems to think that they can batter and bash and punish the Palestinians into submission.

HARRIS: Well, as you know, Anthony Zinni is in that region trying to change that mentality, on both sides.


HARRIS: What did Yasser Arafat tell you about his contacts with him, and will there be any contact soon?

ASHRAWI: Well, I didn't ask him specifically, but he told me that he did relay the message, he did talk to Zinni, and they did tell him that he's willing to implement immediately, unconditionally. This was even before the latest invasion and incursion.

However, it was Sharon himself who announced unilaterally, with the usual arrogance, that Zinni's mission is over. And it seems to me that Sharon has given himself the right to pass judgment and to pronounce positions and policy on behalf not just of Israel and the Palestinians and the Arab world, but also the U.S. He declared Zinni's mission finished.

Arafat still has faith and he thinks that the Americans can intervene. This remains to be tested yet, because historically they have given Sharon room to maneuver, room to wreak havoc in the region, room to carry out his lethal policies without any intervention. And this has led to this drastic and tragic deterioration.

HARRIS: What does all of this that's happening right now, how is that going to affect the suggestion, the policy or the idea that's been suggested and proposed by the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah at the Arab summit?

ASHRAWI: Well, this certainly is the appropriate Israeli response, true to the nature of this Israeli government...

HARRIS: But what will the Arab nations do in response with this?

ASHRAWI: I think the Arab nations -- I talked to some Arab foreign ministers. They are extremely upset, they are quite concerned, they are worried. They feel themselves targeted and slighted, because just when they reached out with an olive branch they got this response. And they say this is the typical Sharon response, very clearly.

So I think the situation will deteriorate. They are worried about the spread of violence. They're worried that this is a situation that will destabilize the whole region, will backfire. Sharon is absolutely adventurous, irresponsible. And he is taking the whole area to the brink of -- to the edge of the abyss.

And they're really concerned, and they have been in contact together and they're in contact, of course, with the Europeans, with the Americans. But so far we haven't seen a serious and effective intervention.

The peace plan needs a partner. Sharon is no partner. He has clearly rejected everything. Verbally, and now in terms of his actions on the ground, he has shown that he has no understanding and no commitment to the most modest imperatives or requirements of peace.

HARRIS: Ms. Ashrawi, I hope you'll permit me to make a personal observation here. I've talked with you a number of times, and of course I've heard you speak with others many, many times on this and other issues. I don't think I've ever heard you sound this down before.

Do you expect something terrible to happen here?

ASHRAWI: I certainly do, because what worries me is that there is such a devaluation of human life, that Sharon seems to think that bloodshed is something that can be taken lightly and that you can break the will of a captive people, that you can maintain a colonial situation.

I am heartbroken, I am worried, of course. My family is there, my house is across the street being shelled. And it's true, it's personal, but it's also very collective, very human.

HARRIS: How close do think this situation is to just all-out war?

ASHRAWI: Well, there can be no all-out war because we don't have an army, we don't have anti-aircraft, we don't have tanks. We are just a defenseless people under occupation. And so you find individuals driven to desperation, a 16-year-old teenage girl turning herself into a weapon, her body into a weapon.

This is unacceptable. There has to be the moral fortitude, there has to be an understanding by the Americans that they cannot allow the lethal dynamic to continue. There has to be serious intervention.

HARRIS: But, Ms. Ashrawi, one of the things that the U.S. officials have been saying consistently is that they don't believe that Yasser Arafat is doing enough to stop people like that 16-year- old girl.

ASHRAWI: It's absolutely unfortunate that the Americans have adopted the Israeli position and show a total lack of understanding of our own realities. You cannot drive a whole nation into desperation.

You cannot turn every Palestinian into a target. You cannot control the behavior of every Palestinian whose father or mother or sister or brother or child has been killed, whose home has been demolished. And then, you hold the individuals accountable and you hold the president accountable for the behavior of every individual.

When Sharon has been allowed to go on the rampage to destroy people's lives, people's livelihoods, people's homes, families, whole families. There's been mass murder. Daily, Palestinians are being killed by the scores and nobody pays attention. And now they're saying, "Well, it's Arafat whose to blame."

Short of putting a policeman with every Palestinian, you cannot stop their responses, because the provocation is Israeli. The occupation is killing everybody. That is what has to be dealt with, not separating security issues from political issues.

You have to restrain the occupiers and provide a light at the end of the tunnel and prepare a political avenue that can lead to a genuine solution, rather than to continue (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Israeli preconditions, Israeli positions, where they have license to kill and we're supposed to die quietly.

HARRIS: Hanan Ashrawi, many of us are hoping that we see that light at the end of the tunnel very, very soon.

ASHRAWI: Thank you. Thank you very much.

HARRIS: We thank you very much for your time. I understand this is a very stressful time for you.


HARRIS: And we thank you for taking time to talk with us. And good luck to you and your family. We do hope that you'll be able to keep in touch with them. Take care.




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