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25/8/03

A PALESTINIAN VIEW
More violent than before

an interview with Qais Abu Layla

bitterlemons: Recently, it has been said that the ceasefire cannot be over, that Palestinians have no other choice right now, and that even Hamas doesn't really have a choice.

Abu Layla: I think that there is a chance that a ceasefire could be agreed upon once again, but this is not the only possibility. A new ceasefire will have to have better guarantees in order to be respected by both sides--especially by the Israelis--and in order to be convincing for the Palestinian movement and the Palestinian people. Otherwise, I think that the present cycle of violence will continue and perhaps become more violent than what we have seen over the last three years of the intifada.

In spite of that, I believe that the option of a negotiated settlement is, in the final analysis, the only option that could end this struggle. For the time being, I think that the conditions for this option have not yet matured, mainly because Israelis have not come to the conclusion that they have to address the main needs and rights of the Palestinian people, even within the framework of the roadmap.

bitterlemons: Do you support the roadmap?

Abu Layla: I have a lot of criticisms of many of the provisions of the roadmap. From the beginning, I thought that the unconditional acceptance of the roadmap by the Palestinian leadership, even before it [the roadmap] was formally presented to both sides was an error--not because the roadmap should have been rejected, but because this opened the way for the Israeli rejection of the roadmap through its "comments" on the text.

Now the roadmap has become a general framework for strenuous negotiations between the two parties, and without the international supervision that was promised in the text itself. The whole time framework that was included in the text has exploded, leaving the Israelis in complete control of the development of the process and therefore capable of dictating the terms. This makes the roadmap an Israeli solution, rather than an international compromise between the two parties.

I think that there are positive aspects within the roadmap that could be a basis for the future of a negotiated settlement, especially the call for an independent sovereign Palestinian state and the call for an end to the occupation of 1967.

bitterlemons: What is your impression of the government of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas?

Abu Layla: The attitude taken by the present government towards the negotiations on the roadmap is basically incorrect. I think that they have drifted along with Israeli and American attempts to undermine all of the positive aspects of the roadmap and to turn the present process into a series of security dictates. This has weakened the popular base of the present government and may gradually lead to its collapse.

bitterlemons: You were one of those who called for Palestinian national dialogue with Hamas. Do you think that there have been positive results of this dialogue, and how can this dialogue continue?

Abu Layla: There was a positive result of this dialogue in that, for the first time in the history of the Palestinian movement, there was unanimous agreement on a ceasefire with Israel. This did not occur even in 1980 or in 1981 in Lebanon. All the ceasefires that were declared by the Palestinian leadership had people that opposed them and sabotaged them.

Now, for the first time, we have a general consensus on this ceasefire on the bases that were developed by the different factions, which are actually the same terms included in the roadmap itself. Even those factions that are against the roadmap have actually adopted the same terms for the ceasefire that were included in the roadmap.

This was a step forward and I think that this could have been a sound basis for continuing dialogue in order to arrive at a common platform for a unified national command to include all of the Palestinian factions, and also the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization.

bitterlemons: You are a political leader. You said that it is possible that the violence could get much worse. Personally, how do you feel about that? Is the prospect of a very violent turn of events worth it?

Abu Layla: Personally, I feel very much distressed, of course. I think that what we are actually asking for and what we are fighting for is a peaceful settlement that is based on recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to an independent and sovereign state within the borders of 1967. If the Israelis agree to that, and if the Americans actually press the Israelis to meet this Palestinian demand, I think that we could have a very simple and very short way out of this continued violence.

I do not feel comfortable with the continuation of violence and war, but this is an option that has been forced upon the Palestinian people. They have to fight to the end. If they have to do it through military means, then they will--despite the hardships.

But they will do it not because they want to fight, but because fighting is necessary to reach their goal of a peace that meets their national aspirations, and the aspiration of independence. -Published 25/8/03©bitterlemons.org

Qais Abu Layla is a member of both the politburo of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Central Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.








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