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Palestinian Authority Condemns Attacks Against All Civilians

Aired April 13, 2002 - 09:01   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, first reaction to that statement, Palestinian representative to the U.S. Hasan Abdel Rahman, he's joining us now on the phone to talk about that.

Sir, your first reaction to the statement?

HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN, PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, this is really an reiteration of the position of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO this -- on March 28, President Arafat made the speech in Arabic to the Arab summit conference, and he condemned attacks on civilians and called on the Palestinians not to hurt Israeli civilians.

And he -- this is a standard position of the Palestinians.

But I think what is needed now is an equal position from the United States and Israel to condemn all acts of violence against all civilians, also Palestinians and Israelis.

This really would change the climate, it would change the environment and the feeling of the Palestinians that the United States is an honest broker, is -- treats Palestinian lives with the same respect that it treats Israeli lives.

PHILLIPS: Mr. Rahman, I'm going to ask you just to stand put there for a minute. I understand we have Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, on the line. He is inside the Ramallah compound where Arafat is still being isolated.

Sir, can you hear me OK?


PHILLIPS: Well, I guess what we all want to know is, was Yasser Arafat involved in this statement, in the decision to make this statement, sir?

ERAKAT: I think President Arafat is the one who made the statement, actually, President Arafat and the Palestinian leadership expressed their condemnation for all terrorist activities, whether it's targeting Israeli civilians or Palestinian civilians. And this context we condemn with the strongest possible terms, the massacres committed against our people in Jenin and Nablus, and we also condemn the targeting of Israeli civilians, as what happened yesterday in West Jerusalem.

We condemn these operations. We've been consistent in condemning these attacks against the Israeli civilians, against Palestinian civilians, and we really urge the international community to show some sensitivity about what the massacres that are being committed against the Palestinian people.

I'm not saying life is fair, I'm not saying life is about justice. But a whole nation of people are being targeted by the Israelis, our life is being destroyed. We no longer have an infrastructure of anything on the ground. We no longer have schools, we no longer have (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

PHILLIPS: Looks like we've lost our contact with Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

Let's go back to Hasan Abdel Rahman, standing by in Washington. Sir, why don't we just sort of pick up what Mr. Erakat was saying there, if you'd like, and continue the conversation...

RAHMAN: Yes...


RAHMAN: ... what Saeb is saying is really, we need to be treated equally and with equal respect, like the Israelis are treated. For the last 15 days, we have seen atrocities committed by Israel, and they continue to commit them. A whole nation is under siege, no food, no medicine. We are -- I have the minister of health today speaking, a Palestinian minister of health. There's a risk of an epidemic in the West Bank because of lack of sanitation, lack of care.

This is inhuman treatment of the Palestinians, and it should really solicit the attention of President Bush. He should speak loudly, and American officials in general, like other officials around the world, the Europeans...

PHILLIPS: Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), sir, President Bush, he...


PHILLIPS: ... he has, he has come forward and made it very clear to Ariel Sharon that he is asking for withdrawal of troops. That point has been made over and over again. And so I do want to make the point...

RAHMAN: No, no, but I did not hear President Bush condemning the killing of Palestinian civilians. He, yes, asked Sharon, and Sharon so far has defied President Bush. In fact, not only President Bush, he has defied the international community and the Security Council resolutions, with impunity.

I mean, listen, the United States is mobilizing the international community to attack Iraq for violating -- alleged violation of Security Council resolutions. Why the United States is so soft on Israel when Israel defies the will of the international community? And this is not the first time.

PHILLIPS: Mr. Rahman, I want to ask you this question, it's been...


PHILLIPS: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- come -- I can't stop thinking about it. With regard to the suicide bombing that happened yesterday, Al Aqsa Brigade.


PHILLIPS: I -- it's so hard for me to try and understand why the suicide bombings continue even as this meeting between Arafat and Powell, it was coming so close, they were so close together, yet these suicide bombings continue, a cause which I thought is in support of Yasser Arafat, yet they continue to do these bombings.

Is this disrespectful to Arafat? Do you think it's disrespectful to this meeting that is trying to happen?

RAHMAN: I don't think it has to do anything with Arafat or with the meeting. It has to do with the desperation of the Palestinian people. There are people who has been pushed to the position in which there is not much difference for them between life and death.

If you live for three generations under Israeli occupation, that you are robbed of your dignity, you are humiliated on daily basis, look at what the Israelis have been doing to the Palestinians. Look at what...

PHILLIPS: I understand, but -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- I...

RAHMAN: Yes. So this -- you know, looking, this is not the first time in history this happens. What were the kamikazes in the Second World War? Those are people who are fed up. They are angry, they are frustrated, and they don't even think of Arafat or of anybody else. They want to take revenge against the Israelis, because...

PHILLIPS: But isn't there an understanding here...

RAHMAN: ... they feel...

PHILLIPS: ... at all, an understanding at all that that Secretary of State Colin Powell is one mile -- one mile -- from Yasser Arafat in this, or one mile from the suicide bombing when it happened, and just moments away from meeting with Yasser Arafat?

RAHMAN: Yes, but, you know, they look also to see what is happening in their own homes at the hands of the Israelis. They don't think too much of what Sharon tells Colin Powell or Colin Powell tells Sharon, because they also see what the Israeli army is doing to them in their own homes. That's what they are thinking about.

There was an (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with one woman, and they asked her, and she said, "Of course, when I see my people massacred by the Israelis, I want to take revenge."

Of course, I disagree with it. I hate to see our people killing themselves and killing others in the process. But we have -- it is not enough to condemn it. You have to remove the causes for it. And the cause for it is the desperation and the system of terror that has been imposed on the Palestinian people for 36 years, the stealing of their land, the humiliation, the killing, the deprivation of the Palestinians.


RAHMAN: We are the only people in the world who live under foreign military occupation today.

PHILLIPS: ... Hasan...

RAHMAN: And Israel is the only colonial power that is occupying other people.

PHILLIPS: Hasan Abdel Rahman, please hold that thought there, Palestinian representative to the U.S. I'm going to ask you to stand by. We have some new information here.

RAHMAN: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: I'm -- absolutely, please stand by. We'll go to Miles here.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, events unfolding as we speak. As we've been telling you, a statement from the Palestinian Authority, though not in the person of Yasser Arafat, condemning violence against innocent civilians on both sides of the fence, so to speak.

For more on the reaction from the secretary of state's party, Colin Powell, we are joined by Andrea Koppel, who is Jerusalem.

Andrea, any word yet from Mr. Powell or his people?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, I've just spoken with a senior State Department official traveling with Secretary Powell. He said that they are looking at the statement right now. As you know, it was issued in Arabic. State Department officials are in the midst of translating the statement. He said, "If it is what it appears to be, that would be a good thing," in his words.

No official reaction yet in terms of whether or not that would mean Secretary Powell would go ahead with the meeting tomorrow, but certainly that was one of the conditions, the main condition that the secretary of state had laid out before Yasser Arafat in order for such a meeting to move ahead.

This is a meeting that the U.S. does want to happen. They've heard Secretary Powell during his travels through the region, before he arrived in Jerusalem, heard from every Arab leader that he met with that the United States must sit down with Yasser Arafat, must show the international community that Israel's attempts to isolate Arafat and make him irrelevant have not worked.

And so it is very much in U.S. interests as it seeks to try to find a way out of this horrible situation here, to meet with the leader of the Palestinian people, Miles.

In addition, Secretary Powell, as far as the rest of his day is concerned, I'm told that he is going to be meeting with his team here in Jerusalem, but he has no plans to meet with the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, this evening, as some had speculated he might.

So as things stand right now, the team traveling with Secretary Powell is translating Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority statement. It was not made in his name, but it does seem to satisfy the fundamental condition that was laid out by Secretary Powell in that it condemns Friday's suicide bombing here in Jerusalem, Miles.

O'BRIEN: So it seems, at least, at least under first blush of your first contact with the sources there, that General Powell is perhaps willing to allow this bit of face-saving in accepting this particular statement potentially as the pretext for a meeting.

KOPPEL: I would say that it was the -- it was the statement that the U.S. felt that it had to have from Yasser Arafat, from his leadership, before any kind of meeting could go forward. The Israeli government, as you might imagine, wasn't in favor of this meeting to begin with, and then following Friday's attack here in Jerusalem, was all the more outraged over the prospects of Secretary Powell meeting with the leader of the Palestinian people when the suicide bomber was a young Palestinian woman.

So certainly it would seem to satisfy the basic condition. And I think, Miles, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that this meeting will likely go forward on Sunday.

KOPPEL: Miles?

O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much, Andrea Koppel. We'll of course be staying in close contact with her all throughout the day as we hear the reaction and as events unfold.

One of the people who was very close to that bombing just referred to yesterday was the mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, who is now our guest. Thank you for being with us, Mr. Mayor.


O'BRIEN: What do you, what do you, what are your thoughts about this statement from the leadership at the Palestinian Authority? Is this something that you see as a way to clear the way for a meeting between the secretary of state of the United States and Yasser Arafat?

OLMERT: You know, I said yesterday when I heard about the chance of a meeting between Secretary Powell and Yasser Arafat that I feel embarrassed for the secretary, that while America fights terror and the president condemns terror and the secretary condemns terror, that he has to meet with the greatest terrorist on earth today. When I hear now the wording of the condemnation, I feel even more embarrassed for the secretary. I mean, this is entirely ridiculous, to be very honest with you.


OLMERT: There is no condemnation here, because there is no condemnation here. If Arafat had condemned what happened yesterday voluntarily and spontaneously yesterday, that could have meant something. But you need 24 hours to negotiate a very vague and ambiguous wording of condemnation only in order to justify a meeting with Yasser Arafat?

I don't want to speak for my government, but I speak for the people of Jerusalem. We don't need any condemnation. We don't need any apology. We think that this is ridiculous and appalling and insulting.

A man who has been held responsible by the president himself for all these not suicidal bombings, quite frankly, homicide bombings, this is what it is, he is held responsible. Now someone says on his behalf, without naming him, that Palestinians are sorry and condemning the killing of innocent people, Palestinians and Jews and so on and so forth, and the way is clear for a meeting between Secretary Powell and Yasser Arafat.

This is ridiculous. If Secretary Powell wants to meet with this terrorist, all right, we think this is a tragic mistake. But don't mislead yourself that Arafat condemns terrorism. Arafat is the terrorist. Arafat is the one that sends the terrorists. Arafat is the one that is personally responsible for these killings.

And I think that you all were -- might be very embarrassed if tomorrow there will be another homicide bombings. What then will you ask for Arafat? To condemn it again? Will you then cancel the meeting retroactively?

I mean, you are dealing with the greatest terrorist on earth. It's time that you will understand it and draw the necessary conclusions.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Mayor, you call it a tragic mistake. You say that that the U.S. is dealing with a terrorist. What are the alternatives, though? He is the only person at the other side of the bargaining table.

OLMERT: He is only -- he is the only table on the other side because you have decided to look at him as the only table on the other -- only person on the other side of the table.

But he is not a partner for peace, to start with, he is not a partner for peace because he doesn't want to make peace. He doesn't meet any of the preliminary requirements the president made, not what we make.

OK, you can argue with our position and so on, but your president made a few preliminary requirements. He said that Arafat has to take an action to stop terror. He said that it is incumbent upon him. He said that Arafat has betrayed the hopes of his own people by not doing anything to stop terror.

Now, from demanding him to stop terror, you are bargaining with him for 24 hours that he will agree to say something against the killing of innocent people in the heart of Jerusalem? And after 24 hours, he agrees to say something in general, not coming from his own mouth, not being said to the cameras by himself, but being attributed to the Palestinians in the most vague words, and you are happy about it?

If you are happy about it, what can I say?

O'BRIEN: Mr. Mayor, you say that Arafat does not want to make peace. There are many on the Palestinian side who will tell you that Mr. Sharon feels the same way and does not want to make peace, but to wage war. What do you say to that?

OLMERT: Yes, yes, first of all, let me take the opportunity. You know, I listened before to the Palestinian spokesman, and he kept talking about the plight of the Palestinians being under siege for such a long time.

Let me remind you of something that I think it's about time there will be reemphasized again and again for the international community, which might not be aware of all the facts.

For the last eight years, the majority of the Palestinian population is under Palestinian control. It is not controlled by Israel, not administered by Israel. It is administered by the Palestinian Authority.

This is the most corrupt administration on earth. This is an administration which was given billions of dollars in the last eight years by the international community, including the United States of America, and it was not administered, it was not taken over by the state of Israel, because we were out of all their main cities.

What did they do to improve the quality of life of their own people? What did they do to invest in the quality of life of their people, in improving their roads, in improving the infrastructure, in building new schools? Nothing. They have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for one thing only...

O'BRIEN: Mr. Mayor...

OLMERT: ... to commit homicide, homicide killings...

O'BRIEN: Mr. Mayor...

OLMERT: ... to kill themselves and to kill...

O'BRIEN: Mr. Mayor, I'm sorry, I...

OLMERT: ... innocent people. O'BRIEN: ... I -- unfortunately I...

OLMERT: That's what they were doing.

O'BRIEN: I -- with time elapsing, I just want to bring you back to the question...

OLMERT: And you are telling me...

O'BRIEN: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- Can i just bring you back to the question very quickly? Do you...

OLMERT: Yes, I can say only this. Ariel Sharon, the prime minister of Israel, agreed to the conditions of President Bush, agreed to the conditions of General Zinni, agreed to the conditions of Secretary Powell, agreed to pull out from all of the cities only three weeks ago. You remember what drove Israel back into the cities? The massacre in Netanya, the mass killing of innocent people in the middle of a Seder in a religious ceremony in Passover, the killing of innocent people in Haifa.

That's what brought us back into the cities, in order to take over the headquarters of the Palestinian terrorist organizations, where they sent their homicide bombers to our cities. That's all. And we have accepted the condition of the president to pull out from the cities.

Arafat didn't do one thing to stop terror. It is incumbent upon him. President said it, secretary of state said it, it's time that you will force him to do it, instead of negotiating with him and a statement that he condemns the terrors that he has performed himself.

O'BRIEN: Ehud Olmert, who's the mayor of Jerusalem, thank you very much for sharing your viewpoints with us, sir.

OLMERT: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Kyra?

PHILLIPS: Well, for reaction from the White House, we go back to our Kelly Wallace, standing by with a reaction from there. Kelly?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hello again to you, Kyra.

I can tell you, I just got off the phone with a senior administration official who said that U.S. officials are, quote, "looking carefully" at what Yasser Arafat said in this statement, as you, Miles, and Andrea were talking about earlier. Of course, the statement in Arabic, it must be translated.

Then U.S. officials, again in the words of this one senior aide, "must look carefully at what Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, is saying in this statement." Clearly he is in some way responding to demands coming from President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell. President Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, making it very clear yesterday during his briefing that Mr. Bush felt the time was now for Yasser Arafat to come out and condemn Friday's suicide bombing, to denounce terrorism, to show his commitment to stop and crack down on acts of terror.

So the key question will be, number one, what exactly is Yasser Arafat saying? How specific was he? Is he doing what this administration wants him to be doing? And then, of course, it comes down to, will this be enough for Secretary Powell to decide to meet with Yasser Arafat as soon as Sunday morning?

As we've been saying, U.S. officials continue to say that President Bush has given Secretary Powell really maximum flexibility to carry out this mission, meaning that ultimately it will be Secretary Powell's decision, deciding whether to meet with Yasser Arafat.

One senior aide saying that President Bush has great faith in the secretary's judgment, that he is the one on the ground in the region talking to the parties, that he will be the one to decide if such a meeting should go forward.

So we should look for, A, the U.S. officials to look at this statement, get some reaction, and then ultimately they'll have to decide if it's enough to warrant a face-to-face session with the secretary of state.


PHILLIPS: All right, our Kelly Wallace for there from the White House. Thank you so much.

We're going to bring in Hasan Abdel Rahman back, our Palestinian representative to the United States. He's been responding to this statement that has been issued.

Sir, I want to give you a chance to respond to what the mayor of Jerusalem had to say, plain and simple, that this statement, to him, is quite an insult, way too vague.

RAHMAN: First of all, he's not the mayor of all of Jerusalem. He is the mayor of half of Jerusalem, because the other half is occupied illegally, and your own government, the United States, and the international community never acknowledged the annexation of East Jerusalem to Israel.

So please, next time when you address him, either you address him as the mayor of West Jerusalem, or half of Jerusalem, that he is not the mayor of Jerusalem.

Second, I have not heard Mr. Olmert condemning, in the same way that we condemn the killing of Palestinian civilians and Israeli civilian, he condemns the massacres that were committed by Israel against the Palestinian civilians. Today only, in the city of Nablus, they pulled from under the rubble of a house that was bulldozed by Israel over its inhabitants, six people, three women and three children.

Third, listen, Israel was created by acts of terror. The two former prime minister of Israel, Menachem Begin and Shamir, were on the most-wanted list of terrorists by the British authorities in Palestine.

Third, Sharon is the man who is responsible for Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon. He is being indicted in Belgium, in other places, for war crimes. Today he is accusing Yasser Arafat of terrorism. Listen, for us the systematic terrorism is occupation, military occupation, illegal military occupation.

No one is asking Mr. Olmert what the Israelis want to do about military -- its military occupation of the Palestinians. What right does Israel have to continue occupying us and occupying our land, and building exclusive settlements for Jews imported from Moscow, from Brooklyn, New York, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, in our back yard, and arm them with machine guns to harass our people and kill our people?

PHILLIPS: Mr. Rahman, let's get back to...


PHILLIPS: ... the statement, let's get back to the statement here at hand. And I understand your points, absolutely. But let's move on to the statement. And I just -- the question is out there, why is Yasser Arafat not the one coming forward, getting the television cameras, and making the statement himself?

RAHMAN: Can you get, first of all, television cameras into his compound? Second, Yasser Arafat is not alone, Yasser Arafat has a leadership. He is the leadership -- he is the leader of...

PHILLIPS: Sir, there have been plenty of cameras in there.

RAHMAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- no, no, no...

PHILLIPS: We've had many exclusive televised interviews...

RAHMAN: ... but -- but -- but...

PHILLIPS: ... with Yasser Arafat with our cameras. So why not -- why does Yasser Arafat not take advantage of that and come out, make this statement himself, sir?

RAHMAN: Yes, OK, let's -- I with -- in my previous statement to the speech that Yasser Arafat addressed to the Arab summit conference, in which he stated that particular statement, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority, on behalf of Yasser Arafat.

You have Saeb Erakat saying that. This is a statement that was drafted, and I am issuing it on behalf of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Yasser Arafat is not something and the Palestinian Authority is something else. He is the president of the Palestinian Authority.

PHILLIPS: But Yasser Arafat is the man...

RAHMAN: And we do not -- let -- let -- let me...

PHILLIPS: ... to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

RAHMAN: Yes, but, but he is not...

PHILLIPS: This is the person with whom people want to hear from.

RAHMAN: ... but he is not meeting him in his personal capacity. Yasser Arafat is meeting him as the leader of the Palestinian people. We do not like the fact that Yasser Arafat is singled out. We -- this is a leadership position, this is a Palestinian Authority position, and that's why it was made on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, because we do not like to see Yasser Arafat singled out or pointed at.

Yasser Arafat is the leader of the Palestinian people, and whenever a statement is made on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, it's also made on behalf of Yasser Arafat.

PHILLIPS: Hasan Abdel Rahman, Palestinian representative to the United States, thank you, sir, for joining us there at the last minute. No doubt we'll be talking to you...

RAHMAN: thank you.

PHILLIPS: ... throughout the morning.





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