June 1, 2010 - 12:00am

Full transcript below.

CNN May 31, 2010,

Rick's List with Rick Sanchez

SANCHEZ: I want to bring in Ghaith Omari, former adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, advocacy director, American Task Force on Palestine. Thank you, sir, for taking time to join us.


SANCHEZ: Did you -- did you get a chance to listen to my interview with Michael Oren moments ago, the -- the -- the Israeli ambassador?

AL-OMARI: Yes, I did. I did. I listened to that interview.

SANCHEZ: He seemed to be saying -- he was not at all apologetic. As a matter of fact, he said that his soldiers were simply defending themselves. They showed up on a ship. They tried to stop it first with warnings. It didn't stop. Then their soldiers went on board. He said that they fired paintballs. The paintballs didn't work. They came under attack, so they had to return fire, and that's the reason those nine people were killed. That's his story. You say what?

AL-OMARI: I think the whole operation was shoddy and badly planned from the beginning until the end. It was treated as a counterterrorism operation, while it's blatantly not. This is a crowd-control operation. They used excessive force. There was no preparation for it. And what's even more galling, to some extent, putting aside the human cost of it, is the spin we hear afterwards, trying to gloss over these deaths, gloss over a tragic situation, and try to kind of divert the attention towards a concocted terrorism link. I think it's important for Israel to face up to it, to do its own internal, credible investigation, to present credible information. Otherwise, Israel will find itself facing an international investigation, which would put it in a very difficult position and would embarrass many other U.S. allies in the region.

SANCHEZ: A lot of people are surmising from what they know in this case that this was in many ways a way of implicating Israel, in other words, that those folks on the ships knew that Israel had a chance to overreact, and they were going to be caught on video. Was this in any way a setup, as far as you know?

AL-OMARI: I doubt -- and, of course, I don't have information on this, but I doubt that it was a setup. No one goes into this operation or this kind of aid mission expecting to be killed or wanting to be killed. I think there is a matter to saying that this is a political provocation. However, you don't deal with political provocations by killing nine civilians. You deal with political provocation by political means.

SANCHEZ: Well, let me ask you about what Israel says they found on the ship. They said that, you know, it wasn't just humanitarian supplies.

AL-OMARI: Mm-hmm.

SANCHEZ: They said they found things that could be used as weapons, not necessarily weapons, per se, but everything from slingshots to lead pipes to marbles, things that could be used in the streets of Gaza, for example, and that's one of the reasons that they perceive this to be not a humanitarian mission or solely a humanitarian mission. What's your response to that, sir?

AL-OMARI: Again, I'm -- we're not privy to all of the information. And that's why we do need a credible investigation to tell us all of the facts. However, I still maintain that this kind of, if you would call it, weaponry does not warrant the degree of violence that the reaction unfolded in.

SANCHEZ: So, you believe they -- you believe they overreached; you believe they overreacted?

AL-OMARI: No doubt.

SANCHEZ: You believe, even if it was OK for them to stop the ship, because they had questions with it, though some argue that's not the case because it was in international waters, once they went on and they began shooting and ended up killing nine people, injuring 30, that's where I hear you saying you believe they went too far. Is that your argument?

AL-OMARI: Yes. I'm not condoning stopping this aid convoy. But what I'm saying is, if that's where Israel wanted to go, it should have dealt with it in a more professional manner, in a more crowd- control type of way. However, ultimately, I believe that aid should get into Gaza. The Gazan civilians are suffering from this -- this siege. Hamas is benefiting from the siege,. unfortunately, the continuation of the siege. And these kind of actions that we're seeing from the Israeli government strengthen Hamas and weaken those who are calling for peace and those who are calling for closer relations between the Arab world and the United States.

SANCHEZ: What comes of this at this point? I know, look, you -- I was just talking to my colleague Ben Wedeman.

AL-OMARI: Mm-hmm.

SANCHEZ: And he seemed to be indicating that there's a lot of information that still needs to be gathered in this case.

AL-OMARI: Mm-hmm.

SANCHEZ: But what would you expect the rest of the world to do? And, perhaps most importantly, if you could have a meeting with President Obama -- this has got to be a very sticky situation for him -- what would you tell him to do?

AL-OMARI: I think, in terms of advice to President Obama, the only advice I can give is, you have to continue the pursuit for peace. Unless we have peace, a two-state solution, Palestine alongside Israel living in peace and security, these kind of incidents will continue to happen. Palestinian civilians, Israeli civilians will suffer. So, my advice is continue with the peace process with even more vigor.

SANCHEZ: But does this push back the peace process? I mean..

AL-OMARI: Oh, most certainly.

SANCHEZ: It does?

AL-OMARI: Most certainly. It will be the first serious challenge to the nascent peace process. And it's a test for American diplomacy here. We have Senator Mitchell, who is involved in this. And this will be probably the toughest test so far to the success and to the efficiency of American diplomacy. And I think the president's and America's reputation in many ways and diplomatic credentials are at stake here.

SANCHEZ: You're very kind, sir, to take us through this and share with us your perspective on this, your side of the story as well. Be well. Hopefully, we will have an opportunity to talk about this once again.

AL-OMARI: Thank you, Rick. Thank you for giving me the chance.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017