Transcript: The Israeli & Palestinian Business Leaders Forum
The Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development in cooperation with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung
Wednesday, January 30, 2002
MR. DARWISH: Good afternoon. I welcome you all to this gathering today, and I wish to thank Saeb Erekat for being with us as well. In our meeting in December, Palestinian and Israeli businessmen discussed the role of the private sector in encouraging the peace process, improving the current atmosphere, and doing something to stop the deterioration that began more than a year ago.
In that meeting, both Israeli and Palestinian businessmen decided to continue in this process, and will continue in further meetings, to look for ways in which businessmen can assist the achievement of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
Today, a small core committee will hold a second meeting to work on an action plan for the future. All of you who are with us here today who are interested in supporting this endeavor are welcome to join.
There was a request from the Israeli businessmen to hear about the negotiations from a Palestinian viewpoint. We informed Dr. Erekat of this, and he is with us today to present and explain the Palestinian viewpoint on what has happened in the negotiations.
I thank all of you for coming, and I thank Konrad Adenauer for sponsoring this activity, and PMI, and Saed, for being here with us. And I now leave the floor for Dr. Saeb.
Saeb Bamya, who has been of great assistance to us in arranging these meetings, will introduce Dr. Saeb Erekat, and our friend Mr. Eytan will be coordinator. Thank you.
MR. BAMYA: I would like to express my personal appreciation, as a senior official in the Palestinian Authority and as a Palestinian citizen, to the Jewish-Arab Center and to the Palestinian Media Institute for their continuous efforts in bringing Palestinian and Israeli businessmen together, and also to express my appreciation for the efforts of Konrad Adenauer in supporting such important activities.
I believe it's now time not only for dialogue, but for coalition and alliance. We are all in the same boat. And as Dr. Erekat told us in a meeting of all the technical teams involved in the Palestinian side of the negotiations, that peace is not only a strategy and an option, it's the only option.
From his experience as chief negotiator on the Palestinian side, he believes it is possible to conclude a fair deal. It is possible to be in the same boat together and to live in peace as real partners. I hope that our vision will prevail and that we will struggle together in order not to let the extremists' vision prevail. We are an alliance, and we have to struggle together for peace for ourselves and for our children.
I give the floor to Dr. Erekat.
DR. EREKAT: Thank you very much. I begin by applauding all of you for still believing in meeting together. I know that times are difficult and it's a time to doubt, to question, to ask many questions that need to be asked all the time.
Saeb mentioned extremists, and this is relevant because, if they happen to belong to a certain set of mind which people like us would call extremist, they're the majority. I don't know who can define them or what definition they give themselves.
I think the concept of peace, the idea of peace, is not a job. It's not something somebody does as a negotiator. It's a belief. I have never in my life felt, in any of these negotiations, that I am doing the Israelis any favors in pursuing peace. I always knew that this is in the interest of the Palestinians. We are doing ourselves the greatest favor. I have tried many times to share this with my Israeli colleagues. This is something they must also do for themselves. There is nothing wrong with peace or the peace process or the idea of peace or Oslo or the signed agreements. These things don't have legs or eyes or stomachs or brains of their own. It's we who make things the way we want them to be.
In any relationships between humans -- whether individuals, groups, political units, states, business, social, economics, whatever -- things can go wrong. One of the main issues that we Palestinians and Israelis missed was that we provided many support systems for the peace process, but we did not provide it with a system of protection, and not because we didn't want to.
The two constituents have so much on their plate, so many expectations, that although we can work day and night and can achieve whatever you want, Israeli eyes and Palestinian eyes only see with clarity the things that have not been achieved. Things that are achieved are taken for granted.
We did not agree on a code of conduct. I was in South Africa recently with some of my Israeli colleagues -- Avraham Burg and Yossi Beilin and others -- and we met with the negotiators from the ANC and the National Party when their communications began as early as 1986.
I was struck by the fact that the first thing they did was to establish two principles. One was that communications and negotiations will never cease under any circumstances. And it was as bloody as bloody can get during those years in South Africa between whites and blacks, between the ANC and the National Party. But there was an agreement in principle that they would not shoot themselves in the head, they would not punish themselves if things went wrong by suspending negotiations.
Secondly, they agreed on how to strengthen the other side. I could not believe that the ANC, in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1999, 1990, was seeking ways to strengthen the National Party, their interlocutors in the negotiations. I could never have imagined this.
Why didn't I think of that? What was wrong with me, not thinking about how to strengthen this party with all its concerns, fears, worries and so on? And my Israeli colleagues asked themselves the same question.
One can sit here and start defending positions and so on. We will get nowhere that way. I don't really want to try to explain what went wrong or list the mistakes recommended by either side, or by the Americans or others. The question is, where do we go from here? How do we go from here?
I don't think Palestinians and Israelis are enjoying what they're seeing on the ground. I don't think they can live with this. They can be angry, frustrated, demonize each other, but what we're seeing out there is only the tip of the iceberg of what will come if we stop thinking about where to go from here.
I'm one of those who believes in life after peace. Many times I was asked, you were there during all those months of permanent status negotiations. Why didn't you respond to what Barak or this one or that one was saying? And I laughed. Would that contribute to my basic dream of enhancing peace?
I know that peace is doable. Many of you don't know that my counterparts and I have already drafted three chapters of the permanent status agreement. I don't know that many Israelis or Palestinians know that we had a time schedule by which we were supposed to finalize the draft treaty by April 30, 2001.
If it's going to be objectivity you deal with, fine. If it's going to make us look like people in a Greek tragedy, just blaming the other side to show how good we are, fine. I could care less if anybody is pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli. My world has changed. My world is now divided between those who are for peace and those who are against peace.
I've seen Palestinians who have supported the idea of peace -- and I'm sure this is a mirror image of what's happening in Israel -- and it's good to complain about what's happening, and it's good to say that neither parties' peace camp is in existence anymore.
But is this the truth? I don't think so. We are experts in supporting fear. We are brilliant at that, at reaching Palestinians' and Israelis' basest emotions and fears. But I assure you that peace is our most basic need. And it will happen. It will come. When, I don't know. How long will the list of deaths on both sides be? Unfortunately, I don't know that either.
Let me just explain what I mean by believing in life after peace. You don't need to reinvent the wheel to produce an agreement once you know the basic ingredients. The theme was very clear-cut. We were working towards a two-state solution. We came into this peace process with a front-loading mechanism designed by the Americans that we should recognize the State of Israel on 78 percent of the land of Palestine, and we did.
President Arafat was the first Palestinian leader to do that, and for that I am proud. This was a real reversal. Never mind all the political nonsense we hear. There is a Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel on 78 percent of historic Palestine. Put it aside. Arafat did that, and he's now on record. There is a historical record that he made these concessions when all the previous generations of Palestinians failed to do so.
Why would he want to abandon this peace process? He signed it. Why would he want to abort the peace process and miss out on achieving a Palestinian state in return for this recognition which he already made, which was a historic reversal?
In Camp David, in the 57 sessions I held with my colleagues Gilead Sher and Shlomo Ben-Ami and others, in the King David, and then with the Clinton parameters, and then in Taba, the Israelis came to us and said, as far as territory is concerned, we want to accommodate 80 percent of the settlers -- not settlements, but settlers -- in three blocs. And we want to annex theese three blocs to Israel.
We thought about that. We said, That means modifying the 1967 borders. But you know what? Let's try. We said to them, Okay. Let's take your concept, and let me give you the following categories that I don't want you to do to me because I want a viable peace agreement.
One, if you take this 80 percent of settlers in three blocs, I don't want this to prejudice the water aquifers, I don't want this to prejudice the contiguity of the West Bank, and I don't want this to prejudice the Palestinian population. I don't want to wake up one morning and find that 50,000 Palestinians have become Israelis overnight. And we want to entertain the idea of a swap of land in size and value. We worked on maps, and we came a long way in this process.
Sometimes I cannot negotiate on the basis of the realities on the ground, the facts on the ground. I can't negotiate sometimes on the basis of the psychological or historical or religious or security needs of the Israelis. I also have interests to protect.
If I entertain this idea of territorial solution and you tell me you are accommodating 80 percent of the settlers, I expect that their natural growth, once you annex them to Israel, will be in Israel proper. No. We brought maps to show them that the built-up areas in the settlements is 1.8 percent. So if you accommodate 80 percent in three blocs, how much time do you need? There was a souk mentality, unfortunately.
At the end of the day, the Israelis' figure was eight percent of Palestine to be annexed, plus other things. We offered three percent, provided the categories I mentioned, and that's where we left off.
On security, the Israeli side came to us and said, We want to control the skies over the Palestinian state. We want 12 percent of the lands of the Jordan, the eastern border, to be under our control for a period of 30 years. We want three early warning stations in the south, west and middle of the West Bank, and we want five emergency locations connected with roads so that if a threat comes from the east, Israel will be allowed to go into these five emergency locations with the roads and take over this "Palestinian state."
One day they came to me here at the King David to answer a question. I asked, How do we define an emergency situation coming from the east? They brought a piece of paper like this (indicating) -- honestly -- and I told them, I don't want to harm Israel's relations with its Arab neighbors. I have seen this paper. Don't show it to anybody else. It will plunge you into a deep crisis with countries with whom you do not want to be in crisis.
Nations have pride and sensitivities. I hope to God that, one day, the Israelis will be able to hear "Palestinians" and not have it insinuate bad things, threats, emergencies. Maybe that will come one day. I don't know.
We came back with the following proposal:
1. Palestinian skies will be barred to any foreign air force, Israeli or others.
2. The territory of the Palestinian state will be a forbidden zone to any foreign troops.
3. Because, as Palestinians, we know about the uniqueness of a state with limited arms, we want to establish a new security system for ourselves. We will invite American, European and Japanese forces to station themselves on our borders -- not in Israel. If anybody wants to mess with us, they'll be messing with the United States, Europe and Japan.
Other than those forces provided for in the agreement, the skies and territory of the Palestinian state will be forbidden to any army or any air force or any military. Therefore, if a threat comes from the east, it will be countered by this international system which will guarantee the Palestinian state, and at the same time will guarantee the State of Israel.
Up to the last hour in Taba, my Israeli colleagues insisted on having full control over our skies, 12 percent of the Jordan Valley for 30 years, five linked emergency locations forever, and three early warning stations. That was the concept.
They forgot that we are Arabs and that we would be thrown out of the Arab League the next morning for this.
On Jerusalem. I sat with Shlomo and with President Clinton for three hours on the last night of Camp David, and Shlomo spoke of the external neighborhoods -- the B areas now -- that would be under Palestinian sovereiggnty, what he defined as internal neighborhoods that would be under Israeli sovereignty with functional autonomy to the Palestinians, and that the Old City would be under Israeli sovereignty but with a special compound for the Palestinian Authority.
The real progress on Jerusalem happened here in the King David, and we came a long way. I am a Moslem who sends his children to a Catholic school in Jericho. That's my business, all right? If I fast for Ramadan, I don't want Jews to fast with me in order to respect me. I want them to respect the fact that I fast on Ramadan and that this is my belief. But I don't want them to believe in what I believe so I can say they respect my belief. Jews can believe in whatever they want to believe in, and I will respect that.
Nobody has ever attempted to dissociate Jews from their beliefs, their history, whatever. Why do they stand next to the wall and shake? I don't know. Just like they don't know why we kneel on our heads five times a day.
But there is no such thing as sovereignty over a memory, sovereignty over a faith. Sovereignty is a concept that relates a certain seat of authority with its people, the people among themselves, and this seat of authority with other authorities. Tangible things that you feel.
In the Old City, the Palestinians offered the Wailing Wall and the Jewish Quarter under Israeli sovereignty. Those 20 to 22 buildings in the Armenian Quarter, Jewish residences, we will accommodate also.
In the Old City there's an intersection that joins the four quarters. There we will construct a joint police station because we Palestinians want an open city. We want peace with openness. We don't want peace with you and then build walls between us.
Shlomo came to me one day and said, You want to entertain the biggest Yerushalayim in the history of the Jews. I said, Shlomo, what's this? He said, You want to recognize West Jerusalem. Fine. The Jewish Quarter. Fine. And he said, We have the stretch of settlements from Givat Ze'ev through Pisgat Ze'ev, Neve Yaacov, French Hill down to Gilo and so on. I said, What about it? He said, This should all be part of Yerushalayim. I said, This is part of the occupied territories and it's applicable to the concept of swapped land. You can talk about whatever you want in a swap of land.
When my Israeli colleagues said to me that they want sovereignty on the Haram el -Sharif, the sanctuary, I said, Do you ever intend to build the Temple Mount underneath it? They said, No. We are never going to do that.
I said, Fine. How do we undertake the creation of an international body of supervisors -- say five to twenty nations -- that the Palestinians will undertake not to dig or excavate underneath our premises of the Old City and it will be part of the municipality, and this will be one of the supervisors. We can say to the Israelis that we will preserve their heritage. I don't need to believe in what you believe in.
We were working on an engineering solution to maintain contiguity in certain areas of Jerusalem. With regard to the question of refugees, you got from me and put in your pocket a recognition of the 78 percent of land, right? You got from me what you got in terms of the concept of swaps and borders and security arrangements and so on. What do you want as Israelis?
They said, We want an end to the conflict and an end to all claims, once and for all. I said, Any peace treaty must provide for that -- an end to conflict and an end to claims. And we began working on the barriers. If you want to end claims, those are individuals. The barriers are between establishing Palestinian and Israeli concerns and interests and the demographic nature of the Israeli state.
We worked on many options, and many of these things were actually drafted. And the first evening we came to Taba, I sat with Gilead Sher who said, Listen, I don't think it's ethical to reach an agreement with you just two weeks before our elections. I said fine. He said, Let's work out a draft showing our negotiations. I said, We don't need to falsify what happened. We really made a lot of progress.
We came a long way, and I believe President Arafat and Mr. Barak should be congratulated for their courage. For the first time in our history, we succeeded in turning over so many stones in terms of Palestinian and Israeli issues -- Jerusalem, refugees, borders, all these tough issues.
At Camp David that evening, we set out the options very clearly. Either we go out and say it's a failure. Or we issue a communique that we made a lot of progress, and then we continue the negotiations. And President Clinton added his map. He has done more than anybody else, and I personally appreciate him. I will always cherish his contribution to Palestinians and Israelis. His heart is really there.
And he said, We have another option. Maybe we can reach an agreement on 1, 2, 3, 4, but leave these issues for further negotiations. The Israeli side refused to do anything without the refugee problem being solved. The Palestinians refused to do anything without Jerusalem being solved.
So we went with the second option of issuing a statement saying we made progress. And we did. And we also agreed not to point fingers, not to assign blame, not to score points with each other. And half an hour later, we saw Mr. Barak attacking us.
President Clinton later told me he was told that he should say this. Otherwise there wouldn't be a peace camp in Israel. Therefore, blame it all on Arafat. Fine. Cost-free to anybody who wants to flog the Palestinian leader or the Palestinian people.
Whether this month, next year, ten years from now, I don't think the future Palestinian and Israeli negotiators will need more genius than their predecessors. They will not have to reinvent the wheel. It's there. It must start with what we accomplished and build on it.
There are still concessions to be made by both sides in any negotiations, trade-offs between issues, trade-offs within issues. Negotiation techniques are vast. It's a huge business.
One of the points you sent me was about the Al Aqsa Intifada being pre-planned by Arafat. I have heard that so many times. On the 26th of September, I went with Arafat to Barak's home where we had a very nice dinner, and President Arafat said to Mr. Barak, Please sir, your Excellency, I heard that Sharon is planning a visit to Haram el-Sharif. Please stop him. Please don't permit him to do that. We have a situation on the ground that will explode. In three months, he will be the only one laughing.
I went to the States the next morning, to the State Department to see Madam Albright and Dennis Ross. I called all my friends in the Presidents of Jewish Organizations. I appealed to them to stop Sharon because some of us saw what would happen. In many cases, we know how things will begin, but we never know how they will end.
I wanted to touch on this aspect of the negotiations so you'd know that we did not fail. Our negotiations never failed. On the contrary. We made much progress. We turned over so many stones on these issues, more than any Israelis and Palestinians have ever done before. We have come a long way, and we can finish. It's doable.
How do we get out of the current crisis? When I meet my Israeli colleagues in the army, in intelligence or wherever, whatever chance I get, I tell them, If I were an Israeli, there are two things I would not do. I advise them. Free of charge.
One, I will not win this war. I don't want to win this war if winning this war means your kids will take over the Jabalyah refugee camp again and Jericho again and Nablus again, and gratify this victory of Israel 2002 or whatever.
And the second thing I would not do would be to allow Palestinians to get used to their current living conditions. It's easy for you to get angry and put up a roadblock and prevent fuel from reaching Nablus, then in another two or three weeks, Hebron or Gaza. When the Palestinians don't have cooking fuel, maybe they'll use wood to cook with.
Once this changes, the next day something will appear on the head of the woman cooking with wood. There will be many changes. And as long as you can't change the fact that Tel-Aviv is 50 kilometers from Ramallah and Ramallah is 50 kilometers from Tel-Aviv, I would not do that under any circumstances.
You may get angry. You may want to feel that you must show them and tell them and -- okay. If this is what you're going to do, all right. If, at the end of the day, your intention is to weaken me, you are successful. If you want to make the voice of Palestinian moderates a voice in the wilderness, you're doing a good job.
For 34 years, Palestinians were under Israeli occupation. I was 12 years old when the occupation came to my home town. I was writing graffiti on the walls and cutting wires. At that time, nobody in my neighborhood told me that there was any alternative.
Today we are trying to tell the Palestinians that there is an alternative called peace. It is fragile. It sounds desperate, like wishful thinking. That's in the current circumstances when Israelis and Palestinians are burying their dead. But there is an alternative.
I am a father of four. It makes my heart ache to know that Israeli parents are afraid to ride buses or let their children ride buses. It makes my heart ache to see Israeli people die of suicidal bombers and so on. Just as much as it makes my heart ache to see Palestinians killed and die.
I can offer the Palestinians a new infrastructure for electricity or communication. Business can offer them liberal and encouraging laws. I can offer things on the ground here. But once the site of a Palestinian harbor or radio station or school or hospital or factory or farm is destroyed, the other alternatives are very dreadful. I don't think anything justifies the killing of one Israeli or one Palestinian. I say that from the depths of my heart. We have an obligation to stop this.
This is not just a fight about shooting or injuring people. This requires, above all, reviving hope in the minds of people who seek the better life with Allah that they are forbidden to have day to day. I cannot compete with that feeling. Everybody can contest whatever I say, but nobody can test Allah's will. With that I cannot compete.
We have a situation which is deteriorating by the hour, and I don't think we've seen the worst yet. There's a difference between people who claim to be tough negotiators and people who are nonnegotiators. Those who have put preconditions on negotiations throughout the history of conflict resolution -- you can take it for granted, and regardless of the preconditions -- it means they don't want to negotiate.
Once Palestinians put preconditions on any negotiation, it means they don't want to negotiate, and once Israelis put preconditions on any negotiation, that means they don't want to negotiate. Because what does it cost to negotiate? It's the cheapest way. It doesn't cost anything. Negotiating in frustration for five years is cheaper than exchanging bullets for three minutes. The truth is that we now have an Israeli government which has suspended all forms of negotiations since last March.
With regard to security cooperation, we have always said we are willing to convene any security meetings on a bilateral level for the exchange of information immediately. But how can you –
By the way, Sharon is the last person on earth I would like to sit with. Don't ask me why. But you chose him. He's your democratic choice. I respect that. I will never say it's irrelevant. You know why? Because if I say he's irrelevant, I cannot hold him accountable. Once I begin the process of saying Arafat is irrelevant and the Palestinian Authority is irrelevant, and once I begin the process of making Palestinian kids do what I want them to do in terms of their security obligations while they're looking up at the skies and seeing F-15's and choppers coming –
We don't have a single Palestiinian police station, intelligence station, national security station, that is not bombarded. My Ministry of Local Government had plans for zoning and infrastructure, and it all came crumbling down in Ramallah. I don't know what to do with my engineers.
Okay. They want to erode my ability to function and reflect my impotence to the Palestinian people and say everything we gave you in peace we take away? Fine. Do it. And you're doing a good job. But don't hold me accountable. If I am irrelevant I have no accountability, because if you're irrelevant, how can you be accountable? That's the inherent contradiction. We are not talking about a national IQ that has dropped to 13 all of a sudden.
Palestinians and Israelis are solely responsible for getting themselves out of this crisis. We can do it alone and we must do it alone. It is our children we need to protect out there. You're not doing me any favor by joining me in the negotiations, and I promise you I'm not doing you the favor.
The world has changed around us. General Zinni came here twice. He never failed. He did not fail. He got acquainted with both parties. He got the trust of both parties and he began a good process. Then, at the peak of the crisis, he's out. I can't understand this. Usually a third party's role is, when you have a real crisis, they come. Now they leave at the peak of crisis and come back when it's resolved?
What does this reflect? That the administration is sitting down and calculating its internal politics and interests. To them it's cost-free to shrug off Arafat and the Palestinian Authority and not take on the pro-Sharon lobbying in New York.
That's their business. I don't think we should ask them to be more Palestinian than the Palestinians or more Israeli than the Israelis. They said they're willing to help. Nobody can help us if we don't help ourselves. And this insanity must be broken somehow, somewhere.
We have seen that, even at the peak of any siege or any closure or anything else you try to do, you still manage to get Palestinians to come to your streets and kill themselves. And you want to reach the point of declaring that this is a peace process?
You want to kill Arafat? Sharon will kill Arafat. I think he's preparing for that moment. Mark my words. I am a person who has never held a gun in his hands. But you may hear one day that Saeb Erekat was killed while trying to stab an Israeli. It will happen. We have seen political blindness to worse things.
What do you do? What do you do with us? This Authority is the only guarantee for you, for your security, for peace and stability, like it or not. These are the facts of life. Stop thinking of wars, of security, of this and that. Give people hope. Revive hope in the minds of your neighbors. This is the shortest way to peace and security.
Today, people are asking me, Why are you doing this? Why do you continue going to lecture? Do you get paid for speaking your mind in Gaza and Rafah and Jericho and the American Colony and Tel-Aviv and Strasbourg and South Africa?
I do it, but not because it's a job. Six years ago I sent my daughter to a Seeds of Peace Camp. She was 12 then. She is 18 now, studying in her second year to be a lawyer. I sit with her and say I made a mistake. This is the worst thing that could happen to me as a Palestinian.
I belong to a region where our prophets were reviled and not believed. The majority of the people did not believe in the prophets till after their deaths. What happened to Moses? This is relevant to the thinking about decisions.
We are right. I am right. Yes. When I tell my colleagues that the only option for Palestinians is the peace process, is negotiations, I mean it, not because it sounds nice, but because it's the truth.
You want to kill the Palestinian Authority? Go ahead. You can do it. Sharon can say, We want peace. I will make concessions, but we don't have partners. Is that the line we want to hear? Nobody will help us if we don't begin to help ourselves.
The Americans are nice. They will facilitate. But they will not negotiate on our behalf. We don't want them to. We don't want them to make the concessions that the Palestinians and the Israelis must make. It is we. Enough being spoiled. Enough being angry at each other. We've been in this movie before.
Peace is doable. It will come. And if there's a partner, it's me. That's it. It's we. Palestinians are not perfect. Palestinians are not one face, four names and that's it. Your Palestinian neighbors have their plate overloaded with things and mistakes and many, many, many empty fictions. Do we sit down and calculate today that we're going to make six mistakes? We don't do that. But they happen.
This is the only way out, and this is why I keep calling upon my Palestinian friends. Many of them -- not all of them -- have to be honest.. Sometimes they feel sorry for me. Sometimes they think I'm crazy. But the only way to stop this is through a meaningful dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis.
I want the day to come when my security colleagues will sit with their Israeli counterparts -- I've been to their meetings. You destroyed these buildings. You had these suicide bombers. You did this. You did that. I remember 1996, when we used to sit down together and the first thing was to say, Okay. This needs to be done. In order for the Palestinians to do it, we need 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. This needs to be done by you, and we know that if you Israelis want to do it, we need to provide the following.
We can save lives as partners by reviving security cooperation, a genuine exchange of information, genuine cooperation -- by the way, bilaterally -- because the situation is really urgent. And we don't need to reinvent the wheel. We can immediately sit down tonight and, in two hours, put down the mutual obligations that were specified in Mitchell and Tenet and begin the process.
Thank you very much. Sorry it took so long. I'm willing to take your questions now.
MR. BIDERMAN: Thank you very much, Dr. Erekat. It's impossible to summarize such a rich presentation.
DR. EREKAT: You don't need to summarize. Everybody listened.
MR. BIDERMAN: Peace is a state of mind. The real barriers are not between Israelis and Palestinians, but between those who are fighters for peace and those who are against. The circle must be broken.
Sometimes we feel as if we're in a time machine, in a conflict between the Middle Ages and the third millennium. We're in a time machine. We have Washington again, and Moslems and Rumfords (sic) and Cheneys.
As an Israeli who grew up here when Arabs would not recognize Israel's right to exist, I personally appreciate the Palestinian recognition of Israel.
DR. EREKAT: It stands. It will stand.
MR. BIDERMAN: For me, that was a dream come true. Another time machine is going back 30 years when there was nobody to speak to. No partner. It's part of our legacy, I'm afraid. We should do something ourselves. That's why we initiated this businessmen's forum in order to start a dialogue. Like you said, we ain't seen nothing yet.
DR. EREKAT: We have not. Trust me on that. We have not seen the worst yet.
MR. BIDERMAN: I am very much afraid of the two-word idiom in English -- too late. Some Israelis are fearful of the hidden agendas of Palestinians about the future of Israel. That explains some of the concerns. Some Israelis may have concerns about the real agenda of the Israeli government and the discussions in the papers about a big plan to throw more Palestinians out.
I don't think time is on our side. I fully agree. I don't think we can seek security and say peace will come, if not now, in the next generation. We don't have this luxury. This process must be started between these partners.
Three weeks ago, I saw a photograph of Pakistanis and Indians, prime ministers and ministers of defense, in a meeting trying to resolve differences. It was very strange, because looking at the pictures, they all looked so similar. And I am certain that the rest of the world looks at us the same way. We appreciate our differences, but frankly, I think Israelis and Palestinian have far more in common basically than we do with Americans or Europeans. We should remember that.
Again, I thank you for your very insightful remarks. Dr. Erekat will welcome questions from the audience.
MR. BOCIEN: I am involved in a joint venture in the Palestinian area with a Palestinian partner, and we are still in operation.
DR. EREKAT: I salute you.
MR. BOCIEN: My personal position is that I am for peace. I would like to know the meaning of the word Jihad for a Palestinian, and what you see as the meaning for an Israeli.
DR. EREKAT: I was hoping I wouldn't be asked this question. I'm asked it all the time.
MR. COHEN: I grew up here, and I more or less agree with everything you said. But you still left us at a point where there is no solution. We are two hours away from signing an agreement. Why aren't we signing this agreement? One part of the equation, as we're supposed to talk about business later on --.
DR. EREKAT: Not with me. I don't know anything about business.
MR. COHEN: -- trying to analyze this situation from a business point of view, you do a lot of business with people in the world. In a way, we are entering into a kind of business agreement as well, with the kind of agreement you are trying to sign with us. In many situations in business, just five minutes before you sign, everything shuts down and no business is concluded, and it's not because the person on the other side is bad or more stupid than you. You just don't succeed in getting into the same mood. You feel that if you go into partnership with him, you're not sure it will work out, and you simply don't want to do it.
When you look at the personalities right now that are supposed to do the signing today, it's very hard for me to feel like doing business with Sharon. And I have the same feeling with respect to Mr. Arafat.
The question is, in order to get to these two hours you speak about, what should we do? Should we have other people instead of them in order to get to some kind of better trust and understanding or a different point of view? Because I find it very difficult -- and I speak only on the Israeli side -- to see Mr. Sharon signing those arrangements that look extremely logical from my point of view.
MR. DIMITRI: Two questions, if you'll allow me. First, the Israeli reaction after the latest suicide bomb in Jerusalem wasn't as loud as we have been used to after other such bombings, such as the Dolphinarium and others. Is that a change of strategy, or is there a way of rethinking how to deal with this issue in the Israel government? What's the PNA's position on this? Second, is there a strategic plan for the Palestinian National Authority to pressure Sharon to come up with a political proposal through the people in Israel -- because we know this is probably the main factor that would affect such a thing -- and push him to do such a thing?
MR. ZIV: Many people on the left wing and some people on the right wing have many hopes and plans for separation. Each party does this for its own political objectives. For example, the left thinks it's a way to put the settlers behind the fence. Some of the right wing thinks they can acquire some security this way, or just start things that would create a dynamic that would improve things.
I am actually encouraged by the fact that the Palestinian Authority opposes this plan, but this brings more votes for the right wing. Can you elaborate more on the political reasons why you oppose separation?
We understand that the Israelis here are generally not the ones who support the Israeli government. They are not against, but not part of the solution, or we would not be here. All the people here, as far as I know, have been very vigilant peace warriers for years. I myself, since 1967.
But the position we find ourselves in now, you and us, is one in which nobody trusts each other, unfortunately. What do you suggest to do? I understand you say, okay, let's go sit and negotiate. But on the Israeli side, they're asking not for seven days of peace, but for one day of peace. Let's have one day of peace and give the leaders who trust each other a chance.
I am not one who says Arafat is irrelevant. But I read all the books by the people you mentioned -- Gilead Sher and Ben-Ami -- who said that, unfortunately, all the people who negotiated, you and all the others, can do nothing without Arafat's okay. He's the one who with the last word.
And as much as we are pro-peace and anti-settlement and opposed to everything that stands in the way of the possibility of peace, unfortunately we cannot trust Mr. Arafat when we see him on TV calling for Jihad, Jihad, Jihad, and let me go be a Shahid in Jerusalem. How can you expect Israelis to believe in him?
MS. KREIMER: Going back to the statement about the ANC and the National Party, what would it mean now for us to strengthen the Palestinian side -- a group of business people especially -- and what would it mean to look for Palestinians to strengthen the Israeli side?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I was happy to hear you mentioning negotiations and communication. There has been a lack of communication or miscommunications or the absence of opportunity to challenge communications between the Palestinians and the Israelis for a long time. How can we work out this problem?
DR. EREKAT: I didn't understand the question.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: There is a lack of proper communication between the Palestinians and Israelis. The media on both sides channel only the local message. Israeli media and Israeli politics channel their messages to the Israeli community. The Palestinian media channels only the Palestinian Authority's message to the Palestinian people. Nobody from either side has been channeling the other's perspectives, how the others see the message. How can we overcome this problem of miscommunication or absence of mutual communication?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: (In Hebrew, translated by Ms. Kreimer): The speaker spoke of the past and the present, but no one has spoken of the future. We have to define what the damage is to both sides of the present situation. At a time when Europe is uniting and the Middle East is splitting apart, we will get to Jahaliya. In Bangladesh, they're developing modern industries. How do we get back to negotiations that can allow development in this part of the world?
MR. BIDERMAN: Assuming there's a real risk of catastrophe, and Palestinians being the weaker side, without putting the blame on either side but accepting the principle of each one being responsible for himself, should the Palestinians consider adjusting their strategy, not because it's right or wrong, but because there is a risk that a continuation of this dangerous path may lead to unimaginable catastrophe which will be more painful, in the short run, for the Palestinian people?
Second, do you see any need to address Israeli public opinion more effectively than has been done so far?
DR. EREKAT: Concerning the concept of Jihad, I think we have a deep cultural difference here. I don't find it my job, as a professor of politics, to go into the meanings of Jihad, small and big. It doesn't serve any purpose.
To you, Jihad means something bad. To Moslems and Palestinians, the word Jihad means something good for their children, boys and girls. But it doesn't necessarily mean that in the cultural gap. I don't think Arafat meant Jihad the way you understood it, and that's the truth.
MR. BOCIEN: What do you understand a Palestinian understands when he hears the word Jihad?
DR. EREKAT: The bigger Jihad is patience, building the society, steadfastness. The smaller Jihad is fighting. The same thing applies to martyrdom, which holds a very high place in Islam. And it happens to people who are underdogs or who have been treated unfairly. That's the concept, the insinuation of the concept.
MR. BOCIEN: It doesn't mean war against us?
DR. EREKAT: No. Not when Arafat speaks about it. But I can't convince anybody about that, to be honest with you.
MR. BIDERMAN: You're doing a very good job.
DR. EREKAT: With regard to Rani's question about a solution, why we came so close and did not sign, we always say that we don't interfere in Israeli internal affairs and the Israelis say they don't interfere in our internal affairs. They say it for public consumption. In reality, we are the internal affairs of the others.
That day in October when I heard that there would be elections for Prime Minister, I asked, Why do that? We knew that Barak came to Camp David with no government. We knew many people had left him. Still, even with your laws, we have till May for general elections. Between October and May, there's time. We can finish. Why hold elections in February? Honestly, what was needed at the end of the day was time.
MR. COHEN: Fine. That was then. But what do we do now?
DR. EREKAT: As far as Arafat and Sharon are concerned, I witnessed that. One day, Sharon saw me walking by and grabbed me to come sit down. But one day, I was sitting with Clinton and Netanyahu and Ehud and so on, and then Sharon entered. Arafat stood up and extended his hand to him like this (indicating), and Sharon refused to shake his hand. That was in October 1998, long before the Intifada he's blaming everything on.
So there is something with Sharon. What do you want? This wasn't born last year when Sharon was elected as Prime Minister of Israel. It's not up to me to come and test where Sharon belongs or why these people say these things. Many times I see him calling us Taliban and Al Qaeda, and I leave him a message that you can say whatever you want about politics. You can attack me personally. You can say that my politics stinks, they're no good, dishonest, whatever.
But after all, there is something called human decency, and I can't sink to that level as some Palestinians or Israelis do when describing each other. Arafat and Sharon were elected. I don't have expectations that Arafat and Sharon will sign a permanent status agreement. We want to begin the process.
About the future, I said something about Mitchell and Tenet. I do not overload my expectations. I do not exaggerate them. But we need a process to begin. Under current circumstances, ask anyone, nothing will change. There is the absence of a process, of a mechanism to enable people to communicate in a civilized manner.
It's so easy for Israelis to think that Palestinians are no good, they're bad, they're terrorists, kill them; and for Palestinians to think the same way. You don't need to explain anything when you get to that point. You're using your fingers, not your brains.
About the Israeli reactions to the recent suicide bombings -- which we condemn, by the way, in the strongest possible term. We don't condone the killings of Israelis or Palestinians under any circumstances -- I don't know. So far, I'm still a Palestinian, so I don't know why Israelis react one way or another. Sometimes, the Israelis sound to me like a group of cats outside my window. When they scream, I don't know whether they're making love or fighting. Many times it confuses me. Sometimes I expect something logically to happen and it doesn't happen. So sometimes you stop expecting anymore.
On the strategic plan of the Palestinian Authority, the only strategy we can afford -- because sometimes I touch my head. Sometimes I think, do we have a sign on our foreheads saying Stupid? You can say anything you'd like about Arafat, but he's not stupid.
Take the ship issue. From day one we heard about it, fine. We contacted the Israelis and said, Can you come meet with one of us, and please, if you have any information, let's just get to the bottom of this. No. General Zinni came. How about a trilateral commission to get to the truth? No.
We have a problem of accountability with you and with the United States. Anything we say will not be believed. I asked the Europeans. I asked the Russians. Nobody want to touch it. Okay. So I'm guilty till proven innocent. I can be hanged, and then after my hanging I'll be given an unfair trial.
Is Arafat going to take on Israel with 50 tons of weapons? I saw with my own eyes the Khomeini of Iran in private with his Koran saying about Arafat and his colleagues, kill them all, and now we're in a strategic alliance. I don't think these people want to do anything other than rid us of the Palestinian Authority.
I'm not saying there aren't some Palestinians -- I asked General Zinni, How many persons were caught involved in espionage for the Soviet Union? Does that implicate your entire nation? I'm not saying who did it or who didn't. I need to know the truth. Sometimes it's free of charge. What is it?
So the only strategy for us, till today, is to continue our commitment to the peace process and to the December 16 speech of President Arafat. Do Palestinians see through Arafat's eyes and hear through his ears and speak with his tongue? No. No. Honestly.
When people tell me that Arafat wants this and Arafat wants that, Arafat is my President. He was elected, and I work for him as my President. My job is to tell Arafat that these are the options you have, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. We meet, and that's how decision-making is done. If I don't like something I can give in my resignation.
Why do you insinuate that we deal with Arafat in this way? We don't. He listens, and he better listen to us. And that is the truth. I work for President Arafat just like Gil worked with Barak. And I have more guts in front of Arafat than he had in front of Barak.
But this is stereotyping of Arafat. We may agree with him. We may disagree. He may scream and shout and get angry at certain of our positions, and we may present our case and leave the room and go home, and take the phone off the hook for four days sometimes. We are human. If somebody taught you in the Israeli schools that Palestinians are perfect, we're not. We're not.
On separation, we ask the Israelis what they mean by separation, because what do you call what we have today around each village and the refugee camps in the West Bank? There's literally no movement. I don't want to tell you about how I got to this meeting here today. Sometimes I tell myself, you have so little dignity. Just sit in your house and don't leave.
But what can you do? What can you do in separation? Separation, to us, means unilateral steps whereby Israel will suffocate the Palestinians, destroy their economy, destroy their infrastructure and their livelihood, under the pretext of security.
Okay. Let's have an agreement on separation. Why can't we discuss this? Why can't we sit down and see what can be done? What I hear from Landau -- you have some ministers now that I don't know what to say about Israel anymore. I heard of a minister in the Israeli Cabinet whose son got in a fight with another boy in school and he goes and beats that child. God. What can I say? But it's none of my business.
They don't need to humiliate Palestinians under the pretext of separation. Palestinians will never accept Israeli occupation. There is this way that we are killing them. Don't accept occupation, but we will end the occupation through a meaningful peace process, negotiations, and we will do it. It's doable. This is the line.
There are other Palestinians now who look at the humiliation, at the suffering and despair and the desperate situation on the ground, and they say there's another way. And these angry ideas about war and this and that prevent Palestinians from coming to us, and it just adds to the complexities.
There is no trust. That's true. People don't trust Arafat. Okay. Tomorrow morning, I'll begin a campaign in my home town of Jericho. I'll order the imam in the mosque to start reciting bad things about him. I'll order the local radio station to start saying bad things about him. I'll order the school teachers to start lecturing about him. And then I want him to go to Jericho and see how many people will trust him.
They don't know him. Public opinion is not something inborn. It's something we create. It's fashionable in Israeli society today that those good Israeli candidates who can get the most votes are those who can inflict more suffering on the Palestinians, who can harm the Palestinians and show how strong and tough they can get.
By the way, don't think that, when I stand in Jericho or Nablus or Gaza, I am popular for what I'm saying to you. Believe me, I'm not popular. My ideas are not popular. Many Palestinians feel sorry for me. I was a professor to some of them. People come and say to me, You don't even own a private car. Go back to the university. This is the truth.
So there is a systematic campaign against Arafat, begun by Mr. Barak, who wanted to prove to the Israelis that it wasn't his mistake. The only time Barak agreed to meet Arafat was when Saeb Erekat ran after him in Camp David one day when he was walking by. I said to him, Ehud, you're from the Middle East. He's 71 years old. Go have a cup of tea with him. And I brought him to have a cup of tea.
I made the tea, and they talked about the weather in the morning and in the afternoon, sunshine and then windy, and that was the discussion between the two brave leaders who wanted to conclude an agreement in Camp David.
Then Barak comes and says we made an offer. I wish to God I could see this offer. I wish to God Barak would reduce it to writing. He never did.
I know the world is changing around us. People are sick and tired of Israelis and Palestinians. They want to help us, but nobody will help us unless we help ourselves. The Americans will be the happiest people on earth if tonight they hear that the Israelis and Palestinians are meeting and producing a road map for the next step tomorrow.
And the Europeans the same, because we know we are now the obstacle to many things that are changing around the world. Look at what's happening in Cyprus. It's happening all over. North and South Sudan.
You can do anything unilaterally, but in negotiations you need a partner. That's the truth. That's the truth about the future. The future lies in our ability to communicate, to sit down and use all the damage control mechanisms and crisis management abilities that we have.
That's how we begin. We have to begin somewhere. But in spite of all the things we've done, now we're just back to the point where we don't trust them and they don't trust us. They want to destroy us. It's bringing us to the point of catastrophe.
That's the popular Palestinian sentiment on the streets now, that after we have recognized them, after they told us they stand next to us for peace, they fooled us. And now they won't negotiate with anybody and they will break our necks.
I don't like going through these old points because the Palestinians blame me. If they don't blame me with their words, they blame me with their eyes or with the statements they tell me. And the soldiers blame me. They tell me, We don't want to do this. You failed.
I think we should do more with the Israeli population. You should do more with the Palestinian population. That's where we make the difference. If this peace process goes down, if Arafat goes down, if the Palestinian Authority goes down, if the Palestinian voices of courage, wisdom and farsightedness are silenced, what's happening out there now will be just the tip of the iceberg of what's yet to come.
Once I was having a discussion with Itzik Mordechai in Martin Indyk's home. I said to him, You know what? I am a professor of political science. I did major research for many many years, and I found out that the majority of Jews will not convert to Christianity or Islam, and the majority of Christians and Moslems will not convert to Judaism. What do you do with them? You're supposed to protect your people, not tomorrow, not at the next elections.
Honest to God, ladies and gentlemen -- and with this I will end -- I respected Rabin so much. He was a Prime Minister who was thinking of Israel's interests 200 years from today. Later Israeli Prime Ministers only care about the eight o'clock or the nine o'clock news.
We need to make it happen. We need every voice. If our Israeli colleagues are willing to meet, we are unconditionally sanctioned and mandated by Arafat immediately, tonight, anytime, to begin a process of communication, damage control, any mechanisms possible to start breaking this cycle. Thank you very much.
MR. BIDERMAN: Thank you very much.