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Interview With Ahmed Khalidi

Aired April 14, 2002 - 08:51   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We do continue our coverage of this Mideast crisis this morning with a closer look at the negotiations for peace. More importantly, how those negotiations could help save lives in the region.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us from London this morning is Ahmed Khalidi. He is a former Palestinian negotiator who is now at Oxford University.

Mr. Khalidi, good to have you with us.


O'BRIEN: All right. What are your thoughts right now on the apparent outcome of this meeting? You know, you have to read the tea leaves when they speak in those diplomatic languages. But when they talk about constructive dialogue, how do you read that?

KHALIDI: I think it's the beginning of a very important engagement, potentially.

Mr. Powell has a mandate from the president, and I think if he pushes it through, he will be able to achieve something positive.

The primary point here is, first, to engage seriously with the leadership of the Palestinians, the elected leadership of the Palestinians. And, second, to insure that Israeli insurgence to Palestinian territories ends. And, third, to move towards a political process that takes us beyond the immediate cease fire and to something more substantial and more long-lasting.

PHILLIPS: Now, it was mentioned yesterday, when PLO and Yasser Arafat came out with a statement condemning the violence that's been taking place in the Middle East, the thought that every single word is extremely important in the Middle East.

Once again, now, today, we're hearing these words, negotiation versus moving forward. The difference between the two?

KHALIDI: Well, negotiations, in my opinion, cover everything, of course.

But I think what we have to do is to go beyond what the immediate demands of the situation are, which is a cease fire and Israeli withdrawal, and into a negotiating process that ends the occupation and that brings peace to both sides.

We started this process some years ago. We have to take it up and continue with it.

O'BRIEN: What about the possibility of additional suicide, homicide, murder bombing attacks -- whatever you want to call them. How could that potentially derail things? And how much control does Yasser Arafat have over those events?

KHALIDI: We can't be hostage to any extremist groups, on either side. This is an occupation that has gone on for 35 years. It has incurred enormous costs on the Palestinian side. This is something that is not always very visible to the Israeli public, and certainly not to the world at large.

We're talking about tens of thousands of people who have been incarcerated by Israel over the 35 year period. We're talking about Palestinian lands that have been settled. We're talking about 20,000 Palestinians killed and wounded over the last two years alone. That's something like 1.5 million Americans.

We are talking about an occupation that is, for a very small society -- we are only 3.5 million Palestinians -- an onerous and devastating burden.

This has to end. This is the prerequisite for peace, and for giving Arafat the political opportunity to be able to deal with anyone who wants to disrupt this process. So in order to…

O'BRIEN: Mr. Khalidi, the specific question was, though, how much control does Mr. Arafat have over the events of these suicide bombers? And how would an additional event effect things, do you think?

KHALIDI: At this moment, I don't think he has any control whatsoever. How can he have any control when Israeli tanks are literally sticking their battle into his room? You can't have control under these circumstances, and it's ridiculous to demand that he have any kind of control.

And also, when the Palestinian security apparatus has all been dismantled, systematically, by Israeli bombing attacks over the past two years. So he doesn't have the means to implement any kind of control whatsoever.

In order for him to do this, the Israelis have to withdraw and the PA has to be able to reestablish its security control through its own security means.

PHILLIPS: So taking that lack of control into consideration, also the lack of faith that Palestinians and Israelis both have for each other, how do you move forward? How do you continue to work for a cease fire and stick to it?

KHALIDI: Well, I think what you have to do is you have to setup the end game. You have to tell the Palestinians unequivocally that Israel will end its occupation. It will withdraw to the '67 boundaries thereabouts, as indeed the Arab peace initiative of a couple of weeks ago suggested, that not only the Palestinians, but the entire world, would subscribe to.

And with this, you have the best chance of giving peace and security to both sides. Occupation will not bring security.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Khalidi, though, isn't it true that the end game, as far as the Palestinians see it, at least officially, is the destruction of the Israeli state? That is still the official stance of the Palestinians?

KHALIDI: Absolutely not, sir. Absolutely not. Never. Never. Absolutely not.

O'BRIEN: Isn't that the way -- well, why don't you explain that, then.

KHALIDI: No, it is not. No, it is not. No.

The official program of the Palestinians for over 25 years, and explicitly for over 15 years, has been a two-state solution along with '67 borders. This we have reiterated time and time and time again, ad nauseum.

Anyone who knows anything about this conflict knows that the Palestinians are the ones who suggested the two-state solution first. They are the ones who are willing to make the historical compromise.

Remember, the West Bank and Gaza are only 22 percent of what we consider to be our historical homeland. We have accepted this historic compromise, and this is what we are asking for today. This is what we have been asking for for over two decades, and this is what we still believe is possible, if the international community and if Israel is willing to go behind this.

PHILLIPS: And there's the question, too, Yasser Arafat -- can he gain control of all these factions, Islamic Jihad, Hamas -- you have Hamas coming out yesterday, rejecting the statement that he issued...

KHALIDI: How can he gain control when he has no means of control? How can he gain control when the very apparatus that is supposed to enforce control is being destroyed? How would you be able to stop crime in the United States if there was no FBI, if there was no National Guard, if there were no police? How can it be enforced? It cannot be enforced.

PHILLIPS: So does Yasser Arafat need to be pushed out and new leadership come in? Who can gain control, then, if not Yasser Arafat? He's the elected leader.

KHALIDI: Absolutely not. No. Indeed, he is the elected leader. He is the one with the most authority, and I can assure you that today he has never been more popular or had more popular support than in his entire history. Now what we have to do is we have to give him empowerment through politics, by giving a political horizon, by telling the Palestinian people that this occupation is going to end sooner rather than later, and then he will do his duty in enforcing a peace agreement and in preventing any kind of suicide attacks or any other attacks on Israel. That's the deal.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Khalidi, what do you make of the argument that Mr. Arafat's popularity is inversely proportional to the amount of effort he puts into peacemaking? In other words, those factions that we've just been talking about, have not a lot invested in the peace process, and the more he moves toward the negotiating table, the less control he has.

KHALIDI: No. The more he moves toward the negotiating table, the more marginalized they become, unless you are saying that the Palestinian people, as a people, are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to peace and that they hate peace as such.

If you give us the prospect of peace.

PHILLIPS: Then how do you explain Friday? How do you explain Friday's suicide bombing? Al-Aqsa Brigade?

KHALIDI: There are people there who have gone beyond desperation, who are willing to kill themselves. What more can you ask, in terms of somebody who is desperate, than them being willing to kill themselves? This is clearly an act that shows you what the cost of occupation are.

If the occupation ends, we will have the means and we will have the incentive to stop these kind of attacks.

While the occupation continues, we have neither the means nor the ability, nor the political ability, to enforce it.

O'BRIEN: Do you have the sense here, Mr. Khalidi, that seed has been planted, at the very least, for some sort of cease fire?

KHALIDI: I hope so. And I think we do need a cease fire. We do need the Israelis to withdraw forthwith. We cannot afford now a new cease fire lines that will turn the whole debate about Israeli withdrawal from withdrawal to '67 borders to withdrawal to the borders of whatever it is today, April 2002.

This means that the peace process will be ended, effectively. So the Israelis have to pullback. They have to end their occupation as, indeed, President Bush has required them to. And we haven't seen, unfortunately, although I do believe that he is trying his best, but we haven't seen Sect. Powell being sufficiently strong, on this issue, as far as I can see.

He has not been sufficiently strong in enforcing the United States own will on this.

PHILLIPS: Well, it will be interesting to see what comes out of today's meeting when we get the details.

Let's talk about garnering the support of Palestinians right now. You say that all they have known is occupation. So now, looking ahead, you're saying bring the end game forward and looking at the possibility of statehood. How do you garner the support of all Palestinians? And all factions -- militant factions -- to move forward and think in this manner?

KHALIDI: Well, there is a Palestinian mainstream, it's identifiable, it has been identifiable for many years, and it has supported this process, the two-state solution along with 67 borders. It is not a mystery that this is what Mr. Arafat himself represents, and I believe that this is the way that most Palestinians, inside and outside the occupied territories, will support.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Khalidi, I'm curious; we've been focusing a tremendous amount on this meeting, and I wonder first of all if you feel we have perhaps given it more importance than it deserves. And, secondly, do you have the sense that there are any sort of back- channel negotiations underway between both sides right now, perhaps, funneled through the U.S., or perhaps not?

KHALIDI: I hope so. Frankly, I don't think it is the case. I think Mr. Sharon on the Israeli side is determined to do away with Arafat. He believes that he has the right to designate who the leader of the Palestinians should be. And he is looking for someone to replace him. This will not hold -- it is not up to the Israelis, nor up to the United States, nor up to any other party outside the Palestinians themselves, to determine who the Palestinian leadership should be. It is our choice. We have chosen this leader, we have elected him, and he represents us. And those who want peace have to deal with him.

Now, if we are looking beyond today, then I think you are right -- we don't -- we should not focus all attention on the minutiae of what happens on a day-to-day basis. We need to reestablish the end game, we need to say -- and, indeed President Bush has said -- that the occupation has to end, and that the Palestinian state should be established. That's what we should be talking about.

PHILLIPS: Former Palestinian negotiator, Ahmed Khalidi. Thank you so much for joining us from London this morning.

KHALIDI: Thank you.




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