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CNN'S AMANPOUR

Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Aired November 2, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:00]

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, fading hopes for peace in the Middle East and the challenge of moving past petroleum. In our special program from the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, we look at two vital signs shaping the future.

Good evening. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program in Abu Dhabi, where we're helping to launch a new CNN center here and for a close-up look at the Middle East in flux.

It's another week further away from achieving peace in the Middle East, but here in the Persian Gulf, it's another week closer to figuring out what to do when the oil runs out. We'll ask two people how to reduce the UAE's massive carbon footprint.

But first, we turn to a man who spent two decades at the negotiating table. Saeb Erekat has been the chief Palestinian negotiator in talks with a succession of Israeli governments, and we welcome him back to this program.

Things seem to be all in flux yet again. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said, "I urge the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table." Are you going to do that?

SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: I urge him not to miss an opportunity. I urge Netanyahu to choose between settlements or peace. I hope that he chooses peace. He cannot condition us with 3,000 housing units...

AMANPOUR: Well, hold on a second. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that he's made, quote, "unprecedented concessions." What offer has he made on this settlement issue?

EREKAT: Well, I think what we heard from Mr. Netanyahu is he wants to continue building 3,000 housing units, he wants to exclude Jerusalem where 59 percent of the construction takes place, and he wants to exclude public buildings and infrastructure. If this happens, it means, Christiane, that in 2010-2011, he will build more settlements that were built in 2008-2009. So I -- I think Madam Clinton should know these figures, because they're...

AMANPOUR: Did she bring this Netanyahu position to Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas?

EREKAT: No. She said that the United States considers settlements as illegitimate and the United States rejects and doesn't accept the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel.

AMANPOUR: Except for the fact that, even though President Obama made a complete halt on freeze -- a complete freeze on settlement activity, a hallmark of his policy, they're now softening their tone on that, to the point that Hillary Clinton today has said what Prime Minister Netanyahu's done is unprecedented, and that means more settlements.

EREKAT: Well, what I think we -- we all have choices, Christiane. Now it's 19 years later. We have accepted and recognized Israel on 78 percent of historic Palestine (ph) and accepted to have our state on the remaining 22 percent of the land.

Now, it seems to me that Mr. Netanyahu wants to partition this 22 percent. If this is the case, this is a non-starter.

AMANPOUR: I'm going to play you what Prime Minister Netanyahu said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: This is a new demand. It's a change of policy, of Palestinian policy. And it's -- it's -- it doesn't do much for peace. It doesn't work to advance negotiations. It actually is used as a pretext or at least as something, as an obstacle that prevents the re-establishment of negotiations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

EREKAT: That tells me something, that Mr. Netanyahu did not read the roadmap of the Americans, which he claims to have accepted, because in that roadmap, Israel has an obligation to stop settlement activities, including natural growth. So it's not a Palestinian demand, even. It's not a Palestinian precondition.

Now the issues of Jerusalem, border, settlements, we're supposed to negotiate. Now he's dictating the outcome of these issues by settlements, by -- by fait accompli policies.

AMANPOUR: OK. Where does this go now? Is there any likelihood in the next few weeks, before Palestinian elections, of -- of -- of the Palestinian president sitting down with the Israeli prime minister, direct negotiations?

EREKAT: I think -- I think we all have...

AMANPOUR: No, but is there any prospect of that happening?

EREKAT: With this, the continuation of 3,000 housing units that Netanyahu intends to continue, and to exclude Jerusalem, I think this is going to be a non-starter.

AMANPOUR: A non-starter?

EREKAT: And I think, further than that, 19 years later, I think President Abbas must ask himself the question, if the Israeli government insists in continuing with settlement activities and dictation and fait accompli policies, is the two states possible anymore? Because the land that I'm supposed to have my state on, the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem, is being eaten up by settlements and wars.

[15:05:00]

And maybe -- and maybe it's time to -- Mr. Netanyahu, he made the choice. He had the choice between peace and settlements, and he chose settlements. And Abu Mazen must make the choice.

AMANPOUR: Between?

EREKAT: Between continuing following in order his dream and our dreams and our ambitions to achieve a state and the fact on the ground that Israel is undermining the two-state solution. And maybe we should go to see other options. Maybe the one-state solution is the option now.

AMANPOUR: Well, as you know for Israel, that won't be -- that's also a non-starter, a one-state. But let me ask you about Abu Mazen, the president of the Palestinian Authority. He's basically floating the notion that he will not context the next round of elections. He's said that he doesn't want to see -- he might not seek the presidency, nor, indeed, run in the elections. Is that right?

EREKAT: Yes. And I don't blame him. To be honest with you, I don't -- I don't blame him at all. Not to...

AMANPOUR: Is this a ploy, or do you believe this will happen?

EREKAT: No, no. Abu Mazen -- Abu Mazen is one of the most decent persons you could encounter in your life. He's not one of us. He's not a bargainer. He's not asking (inaudible) now he had committed all his obligations. He stood all his life for the two-state solution. He had recognized Israel's right to exist in peace and security. And in return, what he sees is more settlements, more of his land being eaten up, more dictation. What he sees is an Israeli government that wants to condition Jerusalem and borders and settlements without negotiations and then blaming him, assigning blame that he doesn't want negotiations.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about, obviously, a major complicating issue in terms of what the Israelis say and, in fact, now what the Palestinians are saying. The Goldstone report, from what I gather, Abu Mazen was asked, pressured by various people, including the United States, not to move this along from the Human Rights Council and that he got a considerable amount of support from other Arab countries and other -- other -- other nations not to. And now everybody's saying, no, you're wrong, you should have brought it to the Security Council.

EREKAT: Well, it was really a very special cast in Arab and regional and Israeli and American politics. Goldstone report was there. There were 57 nations discussing this thing. There were a Palestinian-Arab-Muslim proposal. There was an American proposal. Abu Mazen thought we did not have the votes, so it was the motion of postponing the issue...

AMANPOUR: To postpone bringing it to the Security Council.

EREKAT: Bringing it to the Security Council for three months or six months was brought up. Everybody agreed, and then everybody said we do not agree. So Abu Mazen was extremely under attack in the Arab world, in Palestinian circles, and he...

AMANPOUR: But are you saying they had supported him?

EREKAT: Well, nobody objected to the notion, and all those present in the Muslim bloc, the Arab bloc, the (inaudible) bloc, nobody objected to the notion of postponement when the Pakistani ambassador read the motion. But once the public opinion was an uprising against the postponement, everybody said, "It's Abu Mazen who did it, not us."

AMANPOUR: So does he feel betrayed by his own fellow Arab leaders?

EREKAT: He has this feeling, yes. Yes, he feels betrayed by Arabs, Israelis, some Palestinians, and to a certain extent by Americans.

AMANPOUR: And to a certain extent by the Americans?

EREKAT: Yes.

AMANPOUR: In terms of the -- the -- I mean, I just want to ask you point blank. I heard you say this week something about a third intifada, and I want to know whether you really mean that and that this very, very crucial and difficult moment right now is going to be calmed down, or do you think that there will be violence erupting?

EREKAT: I don't (inaudible) erupt. I don't want violence to erupt. I have spent my life in building a Palestinian peace camp, Christiane. This is not a job that I do. This is a life commitment. I don't want my son to be a suicide bomber. I don't want my son to be killed in conflict. I want peace. I want a two-state solution.

What I said was, the Israeli provocations in East Jerusalem, you remember 2000? This is like pouring fuel to the fire, and we urge them to end it, because we don't want -- because, you know, desperation will lead to desperate acts.

AMANPOUR: Abu Mazen said that there was -- he was close to making an agreement with Prime Minister Olmert. Is that true?

EREKAT: That's true. We never came so close.

AMANPOUR: And yet he didn't go forward.

EREKAT: No, that's not what happened. What happened was, Olmert gave a map. Abu Mazen gave a map. And for the first time, we had a very close map. We're talking about the high 90s, in terms of percentages of the West Bank and the swaps of land. We agreed to go to Ashant (ph) and on January 3, 2009, to lock in this agreement with Secretary Rice at that time. What happened, Olmert decided to go to Gaza, attack Gaza, and then he had the scandal at home.

But I think -- this is why what we're saying to Mr. Netanyahu today, why do you want to eat the apple (ph) from the start? Why do you want to reinvent the wheel? Why can't you have a public statement saying, "I will resume negotiations where we left them on December 2008"?

[15:10:00]

AMANPOUR: OK, now let me ask you right now, given the unlikely nature of direct negotiations, do you think there will be sort of a go-between activity, indirect negotiations between the Palestinians and -- and the Israelis, perhaps leaving settlements aside, talking about territory, maps?

EREKAT: Well, look, I think, at the end of the day, the required decisions are not required from Americans or Europeans or Arabs. Decisions must be made by Palestinians and Israelis. What we want Mr. Netanyahu to stand up, to stand tall and tell his people, what they -- what they need to hear, we tell him there was an Israeli government and we came so close with it. Mr. Netanyahu, do you accept to resume negotiations where we left them in December 2008? Because we cannot go back to point blank zero.

AMANPOUR: You say you came very close during the Bush administration.

EREKAT: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: So who have been better negotiators or facilitators, the Bush administration or the Obama administration?

EREKAT: Well, I -- I think Obama did not get his chance yet. It's really unfair to speak of President Obama and to jump to premature conclusions. President Obama has made it very clear that establishing a Palestinian state is a national American interest, and we want him to stay the course. We have no quarrel with Mr. Obama.

We have a real quarrel with Mr. Netanyahu. Will you accept to resume negotiations on all core issues where we leave them in December 2008? Question, yes or no, Mr. Netanyahu?

AMANPOUR: So far he's saying no.

EREKAT: If he says no, then he can do (inaudible) stance saying that he wants to negotiate and, you know, he wants to discuss things and we're saying no. If this is what he wants to achieve, this will not save lives of Israelis and Palestinians.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Mr. Erekat, thank you very much, indeed.

Next, the beginnings of an eco-city in the heart of the Persian Gulf. How the region is planning the transition from oil to renewable energies. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: It's a vision of a carbon-neutral future rising out of a city-state paved with petro-dollars. Just outside Abu Dhabi, this new enterprise will take advantage of another of the Persian Gulf's natural resources, the sun.

This will one day be Masdar City, which means "the source," and it's scheduled to go online in a few years as an eco-city, housing 50,000 residents. It'll cost an estimated $22 billion.

Joining us discuss the future of an oil-based economy is Helene Pelosse, director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency, which will one day be based at Masdar. And we also welcome Majid Jafar, executive director of Crescent Petroleum, a privately owned oil company based here in the UAE.

Thank you both for joining us. Helene, first, can I ask you, why has IRENA been based here?

HELENE PELOSSE, INTERNATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY AGENCY: Actually, it was a competition, and I think the UAE did a very good campaign. And they explained about the commitment of moving from, you know, a country based on oil to a country based on renewable energy. They add that commitment of moving -- of getting 7 percent renewable energy in that portfolio in Abu Dhabi. And they...

AMANPOUR: By when?

PELOSSE: By 2020.

AMANPOUR: Realistic, achievable?

PELOSSE: I think it's -- yes, I think they will get there. They will get there.

AMANPOUR: And what do you think, Majid? This whole notion of renewable energy, is that achievable? Is it realistic in the next -- in our lifetime?

[15:15:00]

MAJID JAFAR, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CRESCENT PETROLEUM: Well, Christiane, I actually think that looking at renewable is something separate from traditional forms of energy is the wrong way of looking at, and it's actually all about energy sources and the energy mix, and the gradual evolution from where we're at now, in a fossil fuel-dominated world, which will continue for some decades to come, into a world using various sources of energy, and I think Abu Dhabi and other energy leaders, energy-producing leaders, by taking that step and planning ahead, it makes perfect sense, because they're already leading in current forms of energy supply, and it makes sense to be planning ahead.

AMANPOUR: It -- it makes sense, but there are also absurdities associated with it, too. Abu Dhabi, the UAE, is one of the most energy voracious beasts in -- in the region. I mean, huge desalination, all the air conditioning, all the construction, all that's going on. Is that not a conflict, as you seek to try to reduce the carbon footprint here?

PELOSSE: I think it's not a conflict; it's about vision. It's basically the signal to (inaudible) Abu Dhabi. It just means that you cannot rely only on energy of the past to power our future, so we need to get there. That's a vision; that's the goal. But, obviously, there will be different steps. And I agree with Majid: It's about transition process.

AMANPOUR: Is there a place that you can look at now and tell us it's worked or it's working?

PELOSSE: Definitely. Take -- there are some places in Denmark where you have already, you know, entire community totally powered by renewable energy. So 100 percent renewable energy, that's there. And some other cities. And, for example (inaudible) in Germany, they are getting there. You have special, you know, neighborhood totally powered by renewable energy. It's not just about utopia. It's about (inaudible) future.

JAFAR: What's exciting about the Masdar City concept, it is starting from scratch and building a 21st century city, not based on 20th century assumptions of cars and fuel and power, starting from scratch and saying, "Given what we know now and given the challenges of global warming, how would you design a city from scratch?"

And Abu Dhabi, instead of doing it on a small scale in a lab, is attempting to do it on a citywide scale. And the benefits and the learnings from it could actually affect the whole world.

AMANPOUR: And from what I've read, it seems to be going back to the traditional -- the traditional models, not big, wide boulevards, but small, sort of shadier lanes, not huge high rises, but lower. Tell me some of the characteristics that will make it an energy-sensible place.

PELOSSE: I think you have to have a look at, where are you going to have the (inaudible) some water or so to cool down the city? So I think you're totally right. It's also looking back into the past, but also with the newest, the latest technology to do that.

And I think it's very important, again, that Masdar, we bring that to -- to life, and we show that it's feasible, possible, and that it could be duplicated some other places in the world. The Chinese are going to build up, you know, several cities of millions of people. If we have a model which works, then it can be also expanded over the -- over different places in the world.

AMANPOUR: Do you think you can expand this kind of model to China? I mean, you just talked about cars. And I think you said there's going to be something like a billion cars in the world in the not-too-distant future.

JAFAR: That's right. We can't -- we can't confuse the fact that we're still in a fossil fuel-dominated world and that will last for some time.

AMANPOUR: How long?

JAFAR: It's a transition.

PELOSSE: It's a transition.

JAFAR: I mean, as I said, it is a transition.

AMANPOUR: But how long do you think fossil fuel will dominate the energy?

JAFAR: In, say, 2030, which is the timeline people are using for planning...

AMANPOUR: So about 20 years?

JAFAR: ... it will still be dominant, and oil will still be the dominant fuel, but there is a transition towards natural gas and others sources, renewable sources, but we will still have to add between now and 2030 the equivalent of two Saudi Arabias in oil production capacity, and that's not going to be easy.

Having said that, energy demand is driven by technology and economics and scale. And...

AMANPOUR: You say technology. I mean, I was talking to some energy oil experts who -- who were here who are saying that, in fact, we're all complaining and worrying about -- or many people are -- where the oil is and is it going to dry up, but the technology is so sophisticated that, if you could only excavate 1,000 feet 10 years ago, or meters, now you can go 10,000 meters below the sea.

JAFAR: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: So maybe there's an endless reservoir that we don't know.

PELOSSE: Yes, but what's going to happen up there?

AMANPOUR: But are we really committed to what's going to happen up there?

PELOSSE: I think we don't have the choice. We need to do something. What about our kids, our grandkids? Do you want to -- do we want to -- to pass them on the debt, the burden of climate change? What kind of Earth do we want to give them?

AMANPOUR: I mean, I can agree with you, but oil-producing companies, oil-producing nations...

JAFAR: Well, I mean, I'll tell you -- I'll tell you, as -- you know, as an oil man, that I don't personally think we will produce our last barrel of oil.

[15:20:00]

We didn't leave -- as someone said, we didn't leave the stone age for lack of stone. And we need to start planning ahead before that transition.

And government policy is extremely important. We mustn't forget, we entered the oil age when Winston Churchill converted the British navy 100 years ago, at the time of the First World War, to oil from coal. And that, combined with -- with automobiles, is why we've had a century of oil- dominated economy.

It's not going to change overnight, unless someone cracks nuclear fusion, but it will be an issue of transition, and planning early is vital.

AMANPOUR: You -- you mentioned nuclear. France, where you come from, is one of the most successful users of nuclear energy. It's clean. It's there. I know it's not renewable, but it's clean. Are you for nuclear energy to -- to solve some of the terrible global warming?

PELOSSE: I think we need to -- I mean, to get there, to fight -- tackle climate change to get there, we need to use low-carbon technology, definitely. So some country might go from nuclear, but I just want to make the point that, even my own country, France, with 78 percent electricity coming from nuclear, we are going to move for renewable also. It means right now we are 10 percent, and we want to be at 22 percent in 2020. So you see, it's not just -- you know, it's really about bringing up your renewable energy, even if you have some nuclear power.

AMANPOUR: And then the last big question in all of this is, no matter how committed you may be, what about the Chinese and the Indians, who are always looking for more places to get, what, fossil fuels out of the ground?

JAFAR: I mean, it -- it is a big challenge. But -- and -- and the big growth in fossil fuel demand going forward will be from developing countries. In fact, it's reducing in the OECD, in the developed world. Having said that, today, an average American is using 10 times what somebody in South Asia uses.

So getting the right balance and the right agreements in place between the developed world and the developing world is what it's all about. You can't hold back progress, but you need to be thinking of the global impact, as well.

AMANPOUR: Is it -- what were you going to say?

PELOSSE: Yes, I think India, they have a vision (inaudible) they want to build up 20 gigawatt capacity in 2020. China is becoming the first producer in PV panels. So I think this country...

AMANPOUR: PV panels?

PELOSSE: Yes, I think those countries are getting there. China...

AMANPOUR: What is that?

PELOSSE: Photovoltaic panels, sorry. China wants to build up a plan -- a solar plan...

AMANPOUR: Which is solar panels.

PELOSSE: ... solar plan, solar panels to be able to provide 3 million people with solar energy. So they are getting there.

AMANPOUR: They're actually doing quite well in their explorative technology, aren't they, on this whole issue?

PELOSSE: Yes, exactly. China is the first producer for, you know, heaters for -- to get hot (inaudible) they are the number one worldwide. So I think those emerging countries are getting there.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that Copenhagen is actually going to bear any fruit or even do a minimum of what people hope it will do? And will that affect the search for renewable energy?

PELOSSE: I think the search for renewable energy is something -- I mean, it's not going to stop anywhere.

AMANPOUR: But isn't it political, as well? Doesn't it need a huge amount of government infrastructure to regulate this?

PELOSSE: Well, that's why we have IRENA, because we want to cooperate on international level. Just, you know, what's the best way to get there? How can we learn from the success story? We have some success story worldwide on that, so we need to share them and move together into that direction.

AMANPOUR: And -- and what do you think when you look at Copenhagen? Is this going to work, another -- you know, finally an agreement on climate change, and -- and how will that affect...

JAFAR: Christiane, I mean, I think, as I said, government policy and worldwide government policy and cooperation is going to be key. And it's about, how do you balance the needs of the developing world to get where the developed world already got without making the same footprints, without making the same -- causing the same damage? And it's a moral issue, and it's an ethical issue, and an economic issue, and it's not easy.

But -- and -- and the failure of previous rounds has been because of, in effect, the developed world not being flexible enough and vice versa, perhaps, and -- and somehow meeting both those needs.

AMANPOUR: Majid Jafar, Helene Pelosse, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.

JAFAR: Pleasure.

AMANPOUR: And you can join the conversation on the issue of energy in the Middle East by going to our Facebook page at facebook.com/amanpourcnn.

And next, another pressing issue facing this region in urgent need of attention. Our "P.S.," when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:26:00]

AMANPOUR: And now for tonight's "Post-Script."

The Arab world needs to create some 50 million new jobs within the next 10 years to accommodate its young and growing population. That's according to the U.N. Development Program. Easy, right, with an oil boom on top of still huge reserves, like right here in Abu Dhabi?

But not so fast. Listen to the lamentable state of education throughout the Arab world, even here in the oil-rich emirates. Some 60 million Arabs are still illiterate; two-thirds of them are women. And 9 million Arab children don't attend classes.

The World Bank's Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister, sums it up: "If we are to create the jobs," he says, "then we have to start with education, and not just any education, but one that enables them to be employed by the private sector in the modern world."

That's it for now. Thank you for watching. We'll be back tomorrow here in Abu Dhabi with an in-depth look at the role of women in the Persian Gulf. We have two voices from a new generation of female leaders. For all of us here, goodbye from CNN's new production center in the United Arab Emirates.

END