Ali El-saleh
Asharq Alawsat (Interview)
September 28, 2011 - 12:00am

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas looked very pleased hours after he delivered his historic speech at the United Nations General Assembly [UNGA] and submitted the application requesting full membership for the state of Palestine. This pleasure and happiness are justified. President Abbas disappointed those that cast doubts on his seriousness of going to the United Nations prior to presenting the membership allocation to UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon and delivering his speech. Up until the last moment, many people, including Arab officials according to Abbas, thought that the Palestinian president's step "is no more than a tactic to raise the ceiling of the Palestinian stand". The Palestinian president was also very pleased with the reaction of the politicians, diplomats, visitors, and journalists that attended the session. The hall and its four-level balconies were packed as President Abbas was accorded seven standing ovations. He was also pleased with the reaction and telephone calls that he received after he delivered his speech, including phone calls from Hamas leaders that officially rejected the speech and even the idea of going to the United Nations, describing this as a "unilateral step". At any rate, the atmosphere among the members of President Abbas’s team en route to New York was devoid of any tension despite the enormity of the event and the daring step that defied the United States that repeatedly stated that it rejects this step. The correspondent of the American Fox News network that accompanied President Abbas on his trip to New York was amazed at the lack of tension on board the Palestinian president’s airplane, saying "I expected a tense atmosphere but the atmosphere was totally different. Everyone was happy as if they going to a party". Immediately following his return from the United Nations building, President Abbas told Asharq Al-Awsat "I am very pleased; I pray to God for success". He added: "I feel pleased now although I was very worried last night (the evening before the speech)". The speech was drafted by several Palestinian officials who spent long hours during the flight from Amman to New York and many days prior to that until the last minute when his motorcade left for the United Nations building. Abbas’s pleasure was doubled when he saw his third grandson Ammar, his son Tariq's son) who came specially from Canada where he is going his higher studies to be close to his grandfather in these historic moments. It was indeed a historic day and a major accomplishment for President Abbas that elated millions of Palestinians, Arabs, and supporters of the Palestinian cause in the world.

The text of the interview is as follows:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How did you feel when you were received in the hall by a three-minute standing ovation?

[Abbas] The people were affected by the Palestinian atmosphere; there were also fears that our stand may change at the last minute. People were hoping for this change; that is why we were warmly welcomed even before I delivered my speech. At the United Nations, we offered hopes to the people. I was very pleased to notice that the audience was very attentive. At the same time, however, we do not wish to give them high expectations.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you face any obstacles before you left for the United Nations?

[Abbas] Many Arabs and Europeans rejected the idea of going to the Security Council. Several Arab countries wanted to present an initiative. We will seek to develop any Arab or foreign initiative.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you feel about the statement issued by the Quartet?

[Abbas] I will give my opinion only after I return to Ramallah and discuss it with the leadership. We will announce our opinion afterward. We were presented with a French initiative and we will consider it. We will also consider the Arab initiative and the new European initiative. As for the past European initiative, we should reject it.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Arab initiative, I mean the initiative that was adopted at the Arab summit in Beirut?

[Abbas] We should safeguard this initiative; we should not ignore it. We should give it more importance and focus on it because it incorporates a complete political solution for the Middle East. The Israelis have not yet realized the substance of this solution.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it possible to deal with any initiative that does not set [the borders of] 1967 as a reference point and does not reject settlement construction activities or call for a halt to such activities?

[Abbas] We will not deal with any initiative that ignores these two points.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How will you deal with the financial crisis that might exacerbate in view of the sanctions that the US Administration may impose because of the step taken to go to the United Nations?

[Abbas] The crisis exists and we are resorting to all means to meet the priority requirements of the budget.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the first priority?

[Abbas] The payment of salaries is more important that repaying the debts.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will there be changes in the economic policies?

[Abbas] We are working to change the scopes of economic action in the PA. In other words, we want to promote industrial and agricultural productive projects. That is why we are asking for amending or opening the Paris agreement.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the status of the reconciliation? Are efforts being made to reactivate it following months of suspension after the reconciliation agreement was signed in Cairo on 4 May?

[Abbas] Of course, we care about the reconciliation and desire to implement its articles.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There was talk that a government would be formed after the September UN bid. What is the status of this goal?

[Abbas] We are proceeding in the efforts to bring about reconciliation but there was a misunderstanding regarding the government and its formation. I still hear people talking about a national unity government and senior politicians used to ask about a national unity government. I found myself driven to explain to them that the government will not be a national unity government but a provisional government made up of independent technocrats.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you go to Gaza as you have said?

[Abbas] We will hold thorough talks with Hamas not only about the reconciliation but also on all the scopes of Palestinian action.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Were you surprised by Hamas's stand that rejected the United Nations bid?

[Abbas] They were opposed from the beginning to what they describe as a unilateral action in submitting the application.

Certain observations were made that did not see the true stand. In general, however, I received much support from Hamas officials (Abbas mentioned in particular Nasiraldin al-Shair, a West Bank leader who was the Minister of Education in the national unity government that was formed after the Mecca agreement in March 2007).

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What happens now after the Palestinians submitted the application for full membership and demonstrated their seriousness to the Arabs first and to the Europeans and Americans second?

[Abbas] All the options are open, including the return to the UNGA to seek recognition of Palestine as a non-member state. This point is very important.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] One year from now, will you be called the former Palestinian president or the president of the state of Palestine?

[Abbas] Yes, I do not rule that out. I have repeatedly said that I will not run in the elections again. If elections are held, I will not participate in them. This is definite even if the Palestinian state was formed within one year whether with a state or without a state.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] That means we definitely say that there is no hope or possibility no matter how remote that you may change your mind, submit to the wishes of the masses, and run again for a second presidential term? It won't be the first time that you’ve submitted to the people's demands.

[Abbas] Yes, there is no possibility that I may change my stand.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it possible for you to support one candidate against another or will you be the father of all and not intervene?

[Abbas] I do not know who will nominate himself. However, it is certain that if there are many candidates I will stand with the best qualified and the most beneficial.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you support new faces for the presidency or will you support the members of the old generation despite their old age?

[Abbas] We definitely support the renewal of blood.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the accomplishments that you wish to be associated with as a former president?

[Abbas] Of course, I wish my name to be associated with independence.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you accomplish what you were planning to accomplish when you took over office in 2005

[Abbas] I accomplished a lot but a lot more is still to be accomplished. I brought security to the people and a modest economic prosperity. However, I did not accomplish independence for my people.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who is the leader or official on whom you set high hopes but who let you down more than others?

[Abbas] I do not wish to answer this question.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who is the leader for whom your respect rose because his deeds were equal to his words?

[Abbas] I do not wish to answer this question either.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you ever think of saying what you thought of a leader but did not due to protocol and diplomacy?

[Abbas] I sometimes had stands but my position does not allow me to divulge my opinion. I have opinions but it is not my business to say so and so is good and so and so is bad, like in the case of the Arab Spring.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] If you were asked to classify the Israeli leaders on the ease of dealing with them or negotiating with them, where will you put Netanyahu?

[Abbas] Unfortunately, Netanyahu would come in the lower categories because he holds difficult political stands that are almost ideological. He is the most hardliner among the Israeli leaders I have known starting with Yitzhak Rabin (who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist for signing the Oslo agreement in 1995), Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Tzipi Livni. You could give and take with these.


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