Transcript of a 1989 Interview with Abu Iyad

Abu Iyad (Salah Khalaf) was the Vice Chairmen of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and was second in command of Fatah from its early days until his assassination in Tunis on January 14th, 1991. He is an important figure in Palestinian politics, but he is almost unknown in the non-Arabic speaking world, especially amongst the current generation of folks concerned with the Palestine issue. His book, “My Home, My Land” is a well worth reading account of the Palestinian national liberation struggle up to the late 70s, but it is out of print and a new copy might cost you upwards of 130$.  I think it tells you something that the personal memoir of the second in command of the PLO during the years of the Revolution is out of print, while hundreds of books about Palestine are published every year. Therefore, I thought it would be relevant to transcribe this interview, which is almost totally unwatchable due to the slowness of the live translation, so people can read it and understand the perspective of the PLO in the late 80s.

The interview took place July 23, 1989

Interviewer: Good evening and welcome very very much to the program Conversation Abu Iyad, who is responsible for joint security for the Palestine Liberation Organization, we are talking  in Tunis and in many sense he is regarded as the number two man responsible for the PLO next to chairman Yasser Arafat and is long associated with it, and Abu Iyad welcome very very much to Conversation.

Welcome also to the audience in New York city, and at the outset I would like to congratulate you at the annunciation of the new State of Palestine  after all these long years.

After the long struggle, are you more optimistic now in these days about the eventual establishment, legitimate establishment, of a state of Palestine after this 40 year long struggle. In general what is your feeling towards the ultimate possibility of a legitimate State of Palestine?

Abu Iyad: For a start we have always been optimistic and we have turned even more optimistic particularly singe the Palestinian peace initiative has started taking place and my view is the co existence of two states, one next to each other, in the region is the dream that is near coming true.

Interviewer: Do you feel that the recent statement by Secretary James Baker of the US that Israel and Mr Shamir should give up the idea of a broader larger Israel is a significant statement and perhaps signals a change in American policy?

Abu Iyad: My belief is that there are a few elements in the American policy that have had a relative change in this sense, in this sense the declaration of Baker is a relative change and it is the first time that such a statement about Israel and the necessity of its given up its dream of a greater Israel is uttered particularly in front of a Jewish audience. And we have faced such declaration by a very positive attitude.

Interviewer: The statement was made in front of AIPAC, a very powerful Jewish lobby in the United States and Israel could not exist, could not have existed, without the support of the United States. Why do you think that the United States has, over the long years, developed such a tie to Israel, against what many even Americans see as against their own national interest?

Abu Iyad: Of course there is a strong influence of the Israeli lobby in America, and the support that has been brought by the United States to Israel is easily explainable and the reasons are in fact quite well known. The obey is quite powerful in the administration, the congress, and what we take now for a reality is that president Bush is trying to get the Arab point of view closer to the Israeli point of view and vice versa. This is particularly delicate because president Bush does not want to have any clashes between all the points of views going in the congress, between congress, state department and administration concerning the foreign policy

Interviewer: Particularly in the congress, the AIPAC has a very strong influence. Do you see a clear distinction between the policy of the US at a government level, particularly conservative period, mr Reagan, mr Bush, and the thinking of a possibility of a different thinking of the American people. Can you make a distinction in your own mind between the Government and the people

Abu Iyad: Of course we consider that as regards the American people, this people has never been reached seriously by the Arab and Arab voice, or by a Palestinian voice. And we make a very clear distinction between american administration on one side and the American people on the other side, as we make a distinction between the R administration and the Bush administration. To us it seems that president R was not as much of an executive, where as we feel that president Bush is a president who takes views and puts them into practice.

Interviewer: That is encouraging, and perhaps this interview will help Americans get another view of events, we hope that it might. (Abu Iyad nods)

The intifada has now been going for a very long period of time. Great suffering is accompanying the young people with stones and so forth, tremendous struggle. Do you think that the intifada is the expression that has prompted, or helped to prompt the dramatic changes that have occurred in November, with the annunciation of the new state and so forth. Should we give credit in a certain sense to the young children and to the intifada in Palestine for the dramatic political changes that have occurred in recent months?

Abu Iyad: The intifada has indeed changed things on many levels, on a Palestinian level, on the level of the Palestinian people, on the level of the way of thinking of the leadership of the PLO and as well as on an Arab level, and we can even add on a world level. And if I was asked about the deep profound reasons for the holding of the PNC in Algiers, and the deep reasons for the resolutions made there, I would say the direct reason for this was this generation, which is the generation that has lived the occupation for twenty years. This generation by taking up stones has at the same time the initiative to push forward the process of liberation.

Interviewer: The young generation would not allow that Israel, backed by the US, a great power, could impose its will against the will of the people of Palestine. They simply were not willing to accept the idea that Israel had in a certain sense “won”.

Abu Iyad: My belief is that this generation which have been struggling for already 19 months now, and this generation is fundamentally optimistic, and this generation is convinced that it can win against the logic of Shamir which is a logic of force and of domination.

Interviewer: Do you see a distinction between the current political leadership, Likud, Shamir, can you see nuance between the political leadership in Israel and the Israeli people?

Abu Iyad: Obviously as true it is for all peoples of the earth, this rule is good for the people in Israel and we make a clear distinction between the logic developed by the leadership in Israel and the people in Israel, and indeed there are peace movements who are developing a new kind of speech and a new kind of arguments which is very different from that of the leadership in Israel, and we are aware of the existence of such a movement, and we encourage it.

Interviewer: Since the struggle, 40 years, since 1948, has been going on, many in Israel have tried to change the facts on the ground to create a situation that would eliminate, or not make possible an Arab state in Palestine. Some Jewish or Israeli people have said the philosophy of the Arab peoples of Palestine was to make it so there could be no Jewish state of Israel. Now the idea is firmly in the minds of the PLO and in the minds of the greater Arab nation increasingly, that it is possible now for there to be two states.

Abu Iyad: To speak the truth formally, we did not believe in the possibility of the co-existence of two national states, but very frankly since 1974, and during all our PNC sessions, we have declared our belief in such a possibility, and more particularly during the 1988 session of our PNC, that this on the defence and necessity of the application of international legality, particularly the resolutions 181, resolution 242, resolution 338, now in order to defend the historical necessity of the coexistence of two states. But unfortunately the Israelis are not hearing it on the same ear, up to now.

Interviewer: There has been a change through time, do you think there has been a change through time by the Israeli leadership, or perhaps the broader Israeli community, not only in Tel Aviv but in New York?

Abu Iyad: Yes there is a change but we consider that such a change is relatively slow in comparison with the importance of the Palestinian Peace Inaitiative as it was announced and supported by the Arab Nation back in Morocco. Unfortunately we can not say that such a change really of such importance has taken place in the minds of the Israeliens. As of the other Jews, such as the Jews in the United States and in New York, we have developed very positive relationships with them, but we still consider that their actions are not enough in comparison to our efforts and the way we are open to it.

Interviewer: There has been much suffering by the Palestinian People, particularly recently. Beatings, broken bones, young people maimed by almost fascistic reaction by the israeli army and armed forces against the Palestinian people. There must be a great deal of ill feeling, bad feeling, directed against the Israelis by the Palestine people given the long history of persecution by the Israeli forces. This will be a difficult process to heal these feelings, there must remain people who feel great hurt and anger at the Israeli entity still.

Abu Iyad: What, given the talks we have had with the US administration, this is precisely the subject that we have been discussing with the American representatives. The Palestinian people suffering very heavily from the Israeli fascist practices. Much more than from the Soldiers, the suffering do come from the settlers, who are those who are established there permanently, and who bear the weapons, and who react much more violently towards our population. Consequently it will become more and more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to go about peace and convince our people of ht necessity of peace as you see that daily our children, our women, the most terrible suffering, consequently from these practices. This makes time, not really work for the processes of peace and what I say is that it is an emergency now to move by any means possible to put an end to such practices. Can you imagine that during one  year there has been no education in our territory. Can you imagine that workers will have to move to go to their work because they are Palestinian are obliged to wear special signs that do remind of the days of the yellow star under the Nazi domination during the second world war. So as I say, if an end is not put to such methods it will be in effect more and more difficult for us, the Palestinian leadership, to convince our people for the necessity of peace.

Interviewer: it’s difficult to have human understanding, very very difficult for that to be realized. Do you think the actions of the Israeli government are the actions of a paranoia, or a reaction that is to use a term psychologically unbalanced, and that they are in a sense feeling a great sense of insecurity, in terms of their own position, perhaps which causes them to act so irrationally?

Abu Iyad: To my mind Israel lacks courageous historical leaders. This is the central problem of Israel. What we have witnessed in Israel is a certain sort of competition, unfortunately not for peace, but a competition for war. Jews have indeed suffered in the past and even in the recent past, but this has never been our responsibility, it has been the responsibility of others, the Nazis, the fascists, all those who prosecuted the Jews. But to my mind this has created a sort of lack of confidence in oneself in Israel. And I consider that the Palestinian leadership is full of confidence in itself and that is precisely why it has taken this initiative of peace. And I am sure that Israel, if historical, courageous leader appears, Israel in the middle or long term will be capable of reaching this self confidence and take a new initiative towards peace.

Interviewer: It is ironic that the Jewish people who suffered so with yellow badges under the Nazis, under the fascists, and were scapegoated, scape goats, by European powers and so forth, should assume this kind of an attitude towards the Palestinian people, a scapegoat attitude towards the Palestinian people, towards the Arab people, particularly the European Jewish people, attempt to de-humanize in their mind the Arab people. This view and attitude creates very bad inappropriate feeling not only towards Palestinian but towards the whole of the Arab nation.

Abu Iyad: I think there are two main complexes, psychological complexes in Israel. The first is lack of self confidence and the second one is a complex of fear. The only means to get out of this crisis is again to see the emergence of a new historical leadership, that will come to think differently of things. Talking about security for instance which is one the complexes of Israel. Israel thinks the only way for it to survive is to be strong, have higher technology, armament, and army. But Israel only imagines this in a state of war and never in a state of peace. Whereas it is quite possible and realistic to say that a state can be strong and live in a state of peace as well. One important question that must be asked fundamentally is: does Israel want to be a state that is part of this region, or does Israel want to be a burden for this region? And again, if Israel gets rid of this complex of fear, of this complex of lack of self confidence, if it is liberated of these complexes, if it stops having no leadership in fact, because you can’t see any real leader in Israel, we see a very scattered leadership which is not talking much sense as a matter of fact and does not have a solid general political line as regards this issue. Well then this issue would be overcome, then this would be possible.

Interviewer: Again, the Israeli people have suffered a great deal, they emerged from the 2nd war with many people saying “never again will we be weak”, this is the perception that they have. Many of them felt that they were establishing the state of Israel to protect themselves against ever again being vulnerable to the broader world. There sense was they were small numbers in a very large Arab world. They felt a sense of animosity towards them, being European, and rightfully so, not following the words of Martin Buber and other thoughtful Jewish philosophers and so forth, but trampling on the rights of the Palestinian people rather than living with the Palestinian people, that Martin Buber and others would have said was the first order of business. Given this fact that they have done these things, and have lived this sense, they feel a sense of animosity directed sat them, a very strong 3 or 4  million numbers of people, against a massive Arab nation, of many hundreds of millions, and I’m wondering if you can address that sensitivity that Jews in Israel and in the United States can feel: a besieged group by an Arab nation that is basically feeling animosity towards them.

Abu Iyad: Your question is again related to this Israeli complex, which tells that Israel has never been and will never be accepted in the middle east region and Israel is exposed to the danger of being thrown out of the region any day by the Arabs. Now what we have seen is that Israel has experienced war four times. What we are asking in fact that Israel try at least once. There are international warranties as regards the Palestinian inactive for peace. Along these warranties the most important are those of the five members of the security council. What we are asking is for Israel to come within the frameworks of an international conference, and not be afraid of exposing all their fears to us in front of the international community and with such warranties. What Israel has been trying to do up to now is to make pace with the rest of the Arabs, often separately and with no consideration whatsoever to the Palestinians. This is absolutely wrong, and no peace is possible without the Palestinians. No peace document will have any value if there is no first and foremost the signature of the Palestinians at the bottom of it. So, one last thing I will like to add is that Israel may win ten wars against us. Maybe sure that it will win ten wars against us. But it does not expect to lose one war against us. So what I say is that Israel must commit to this future for peace.

Interviewer: That Israel has not committed to this future for peace, or accepted the spirit of this change, perhaps signal or shows the fact that they do not, the current leadership does not want feeling perhaps strong feeling perhaps militarily strong, victor, they do not want to give land, West Bank, they simply do not want to do that, they will avoid an international peace conference, bringing these issues to the realm of international law, because it would lead to a condition they fundamentally do not want to accept.

Abu Iyad: Regarding this question of force, feeling of force, of Israel. Even if Israel had tenfold the amount of force that it has, Israel and its citizens will never feel really secure, and it will never feel it is living in peace. If we take the example of the peace treaty that as signed with Egypt, we can not really talk of a state of Peace, we can talk of the provisional stopping of a war, but we can not speak of real peace for this simple reason: that the Egyptian people will never accept a status quo in which the rights of the Palestinians are not respected and put into practice. And the right of the Palestinians is self determination, the right to a state on the occupied territories, at least on a part of its original land, which is supported and recognized both by the whole of the Arab nation and which is demanded more particularly and more practically by us, the Palestinians. So, what is necessary now we ask of Israel is to sign a peace treaty with the Palestinians and not with anybody else. Which is the only means of warrentying the right of Israel to exist, because we Palestinians are the only real depositories of giving such a right to Israel.

Interviewer: There is no one else for them to negotiate with, they must negotiate… We’re running a little long because of the translation. The state of Israel was founded in the early stages by many Askhenazi, many European Jewish people who came in a certain sense with European values, European views. The population has much more sephardim, oriental jews, who make up more and more of the population of Israel itself. Do you think that these people who have more experience of this part of the world. Do you think the changing nature of the population in Israel might make it possible for Israel to be more amiable to the sensitivities of this region of the world, rather than inordinately having European values as the Ashkenazi did?

Abu Iyad: Sorry, I did not get the meaning of the question.

Interviewer: well, I don’t know how to elaborate, perhaps we can let it go. But it seems to me that the Ashkenazi from Europe, that they [the sphardim] might be able to feel more part of the middle eastern milieu, and not perhaps being so tied to West, or seeing Israel as an extension of European or Western Colonialism.

Abu Iyad: So this issue of the Oriental Jews, as a matter of a fact there are two stages, of historical change, taken, their existence. The first period, because of ill treatment, or the fear of ill treatment, many of these oriental Jews have chosen extremism, right wing extremism. They supported Likud. But apparently the new generation is feeling that it belongs, more, much more, in this region. And this is a factor that may…to get closer and may help.

Interviewer: The recent Arab summit where all of the Arab Leadership was ready to accept Yasser Arafat as the president of the Palestinian state. Are you more and more confident that there can be the heartfelt and meaningful support of the broader Arab nation in recognizing the obvious leadership of the Palestinian [Liberation] Organization, and also that Palestine is the core issue to the settlement of conditions and in this region and cannot be overlooked the just needs and aspirations, support from the broader Arab nation in your view become stronger?

Abu Iyad: We are satisfied with the results of the summit, which towards the initiative that came out of the PNC of Algiers, and if it means one thing it means that the Palestinian peace initiative is no longer a Palestinian peace initiative, it has turned out into an Arab Peace Initiative.

Interviewer: And if I may say so sir, an Arab peace initiative and to the degree that is possible perhaps through this television and perhaps other means of expression, a more worldly felt as it were where people could support you in that again. Again we’re out of time, I’d like to congratulate you again and all of the leadership and the people of the PLO, the Palestine people, in the annunciation of your recent state, a stunning example of the events that have taken place recently and to congratulate you on all of the long struggle, the forty year struggle, and to wish you the establishment of a just and durable Palestinian state in the region where it justly belongs.

Abu Iyad: Thank you

Interviewer: And again I would like to thank you again on my own behalf, for offering your perceptions and perspectives to the people of New York and the people of the word.