NEWS CONFERENCE BY THE PALESTINIAN DELEGATION TO THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE TALKS
Time: 1 p.m.
Location: Ritz Carlton at Pentagon City
December 17, 1992
HANAN ASHRAWI (Palestinian delegation spokesperson): Good afternoon everybody. The Palestinian delegation is outraged, and appalled, and wishes to express its extreme concern and alarm at the very serious and dangerous turn of events, especially in view of the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court decided to allow the deportation of 383 Palestinians into southern Lebanon, knowing full well that this is a violation of international law, of international humanitarian law, of Palestinian rights, and a direct blow to the principles and the objectives of the peace process.
What makes matters worse is the fact that the Supreme Court, in taking this decision, had not even decided on the legality of the deportation orders, but decided to go ahead and implement it, and then continue discussions on the legality. So they suspended the "ordinice" (phonetic) and the court injunction is now not in effect.
We view this as a very dangerous development. It will contribute to the destabilization of the occupied territories and the region. It will increase, it will continue to erode the credibility of the peace process and cast serious doubt on Israeli intentions and commitments to this process.
We had tried everything possible to prevent the carrying out of this order. The moment we heard that there was a possibility of doing back to the deportation policies which Rabin said he will not pursue, we alerted the Israeli delegation, we were in touch with the co-sponsors, with the American side here, with international human rights organizations.
We alerted European countries, Arab countries, to the danger of such a development and such a deterioration, and unfortunately nothing availed because the Palestinians are currently being deported into southern Lebanon.
As you know, the Lebanese, also at the specific request of the Palestinians, have declared that they will not receive deportees, the borders are closed, so now the Palestinians are being deported from Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory into Israeli-occupied Lebanese territory, in the so-called security zone in souther Lebanon.
We feel that the peace process now is at a critical stage; it has been dealt a very serious and fatal blow, and we feel that there has to be a total reconsideration of the whole process. In view of Israel’s persistence, and creating an unstable and painful and violent atmosphere in the occupied territories, while preventing progress in negotiations. This lethal combination of willful human rights abuses, and stalemate or lack of progress in negotiations has led to an escalation in violence, and has led to further conflict, and has eroded the credibility and the support for the peace process.
This morning we will be discussing this move and its implications, and we have with us Dr. Nabil Shaath, who is the political adviser to the delegation. As you know, he is the political adviser to President Arafat. We have with us also Mr. Faisal Husseini who is the head of the Palestinian team, and you all know Dr. Haider Abdel Shafi who is the head of the Palestinian delegation. Dr. Nabil Shaath.
NABIL SHAATH (Palestinian delegation political adviser): (inaudible) expressed the, the outrage with which this deportation decision was met by everybody. I’ve been in direct contact, almost hour by hour, with President Arafat, who had really refrained from making any public pronouncements, awaiting the decision of the Supreme, Israeli Supreme Court, hoping that it may have righted this decision by the Israeli cabinet.
Now that this order is out, and the 383 people out of 400 and some people who were taken from their homes, without any resort to any legal action, were bound, their feet and their hands, blindfolded, and kept on buses for 18 hours on the Lebanese-Israeli border. A extremely outrageous and inhumane action, that can’t, could not have possibly been legalized by the Supreme Court. There is nothere is no law that legalizes deportation (inaudible) to really belabor the legal aspects, but article 49 of the Geneva conventions is absolutely clear.
Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territories this is the name Geneva gives to the people in any occupied territoryto the territory of the occupying power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive. And therefore, there is no rule of law that allowed taking people out of their country, and throwing them out.
We are all very sensitive to Jewish fears, and therefore of Israeli fears of security. But if there is anything the Palestinians are sensitive about, is throwing them out of their very homes. This has been the tragedy of Palestine since 1948; then 1967; then 1982. And everybodyone of the wars that Israel has actually waged against our people, it is the fear of deportation, the fear of losing one’s roots, the fear of being thrown out of one countrytransfer, ethnic cleansing. This is a, this is a war crime by the Geneva conventions, a war crime that cannot possibly be pardoned.
And therefore it is something that will have dealt a fatal blow to the peace process. There is no justification. In fact if there was anything that have kept us in this peace process, despite all the difficult rules of the process, is the, is the hope that during the process settlements would stop, deportation would stop, and actually the United States did proceed on several occasions, particularly the one last January in which the United States went to the Security Council to obtain a resolution from the Security Council to stop the deportations then of only 11 people, that the Shamir government has ordered, and actually were reversed.
These deportations were reserved immediately. Make us expect an immediate American action to reverse these deportations and to bring these people back to their homes immediately. And without that, it would be very hard to say what will save this peace process. As it is, this peace process have been, to a great extent, stationery, because of lack of progress, because of lack of enhancement by the sponsors, because of procrastination by the Israeli-occupying authorities. And now with this action, we are facing a very grave danger to peace itself in the occupied territories.
We have, we have only taken now the decision to stop immediately from going to the negotiations, and we have not, our delegation have not gone to the negotiations today, in protest of this crime. But decisions regarding the total peace process will be taken later when the delegation will move tomorrow, to Tunis, to meet with the Palestinian leadership, and discuss the fate of the total peace process.
One thing is very clear, though. That without reversing this decision, all other matters will be very difficult to consider. And there are other matters, very important ones, regarding this process, that have to be done. But now we have a sine qua non. We have a very important requirement: reverse that crime immediately and bring those people back home. Thank you.
ASHRAWI: Faisal Husseini.
FAISAL HUSSEINI (head of Palestinian delegation): From the beginning, when Mr. Baker came to the area, and the Israeli government is trying all the time to attack, to (inaudible) the possibility of any real peace process, that was from the beginning. Until now, no one, no government succeeded in making such a statement which can andwhich can look for the Palestinian people, that those organizations who were thinking, and talking about a peace process, the peace process, as something not serious.
No one helped those people, and those organizations like Mr. ShamirRabin, by taking this step. By taking this step he is already opening the grave for this peace process. This is not only an alarm; it is an extremely real dangers that we are facing, that the whole peace process fears, and if we tried all the time to tell everyone, to make it clear for the Israelis, that if they would go on dealing with these ways of unrespect of human rights, of international lawso this area will turn to be a real junglenow we are living completely in such a jungle.
If this step will not be stopped, and if those people will not go back to their homes, or at least to their land, I believe that it will be completely impossible to face any way of continuation of our negotiations or this peace process.
It is a very sad thing to reach to such a point, that we find ourself instead of having more steps toward comprehensive peace, that we are entering this new phase of a real jungle. Our concern is the lives of all those people who will be a victim of such a situation, not only the Palestinians, but also the Israelis.
I would like to make clear here, that the policy of Mr. Rabin, by escalating the Israeli attitude toward the Palestinians, whoever they are, caused for a more critical situation of violence and defending, and self-defending, which is causing what we are seeing now inour area. Any people who will start feeling that the only law which is going on, the law of strength, the law of jungle, he will protect and he will defend himself as if he is living in a jungle.
We are coming with this appeal for everyone, and every state which have any concern about the Middle East, to take action, to make whatever can do to stop this Israeli attitude, because we believe that the results will not only cover the occupied territories, it will be even over and more outside of the occupied territories. It will cover more than one state in the Middle East, and those who will pay price, it will not be only one people, not only the Palestinians, not only the Israelis, but I believe the whole people of the Middle East. Thank you.
ASHRAWI: Dr. Haidar Abdul Shafi.
HAIDAR ABDUL SHAFI (Palestinian delegation spokesperson): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. For some time we’ve been looking forward to meeting with President Bush, the author and the initiator of the peace process, to review and appraise the peace process after this long interval, especially that the peace process has been in an impasse, right from the beginning. We are very srry that we met under the shadow of this monstrous resolution of the Israeli government that is tantamount to mass deportation because this actually affects the life not only of 400 Palestinians but at least 2,000 Palestinians. And actually it is a matter of transfer in my opinion and maybe it is a prelude towards what they have been talking about as a measure that they wish to take and that is transfer.
Now we of course discussed this issue with President Bush. I think he is in agreement. He is certainly angry that this measure has been taken and that the United States government has already made contact, urging Israel to rescind this terrible resolution. Also we had a chance to speak with (inaudible) on the peace process and the fact that it made no progress. We recall what President Bush said right from the beginning, that peace can only be established on the basis of fairness and justice and that the terms of reference of this peace process is Resolution is 242 and the principal of territory for peace.
And we stated our position in the light of this long period without any progress and we said that really the terms of reference are so obvious, so explicit, that it will be very strange if anybody tried to or were unable to recognize where the obstacle lies. And of course we said that it is obvious that Israel is refusing to adhere to the terms of reference Resolution 242which stipulates that the inadmissability of acquiring territory by force and it emphasizes withdrawal. So it is there to offer. There is the question of the fact that Israel during these 25 years while the world was busy with other thingslet us put it just at thathad established illegally and illegitimately (inaudible) on the ground and that’s actually where we have accepted the interim period so that we can deal with this (inaudible) that was established in the proper manner and in our concern for establishing a just and stable peace.
And we affirmed to President Bush that the declared stand of the United States describing its role as a catalyst is not going to be enough. This situation (inaudible) in terms of power and military competence between Israel and the Palestinians certainly is not going to lead us anywhere if we are left along because Israel takes advantage of its military power, takes advantage of the fact that it is in control of the disputed area and that there should be something more. And why not be something more as long as the issues are so clear as stipulated in the United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338.
I think President Bush expressed his understanding of this and he said we must look around to see what can be done in this sense. That certainly makes us hopeful. But nevertheless, this Israeli resolution of deportation certainly clouds the whole picture more than ever and unless it is rescinded and those people are brought back, I agree with my colleagues here that express their fears and frustration that really in effect if no measure is taken to reverse this one, it’s going to be a death blow to the peace process.
The Israelis have been trying to justify this terrible resolution on their part. This morning an Israeli friend called me early in the morning and said they propagate here the rumor that they have adopted this deportation resolution with tacit consent from you, the delegation because it is taken against the party that is opposing the peace process. What is the fact about this? And of course, I told him the fact that this is a lie, that there is no truth in this and that we are protesting and denouncing this resolution on a matter of principle and irrespective of who it is taken against and the question of opposition to the peace processwe are taking care of that very well on our own and certainly Israel is just playing an unfair game in claiming all this. So this is the situation and indeed, we are frustrated and at this moment personally I don’t seeI’m very pessimistic.
ASHRAWI: I would like you to know that the Palestinian leadership will be asking for a Security Council meeting to discuss this as Dr. Shafi reminded youResolution 736, which was taken precisely to condemn Israeli deportations and to tell of Palestinians and to call upon Israel not just to refrain from continuing the policy of deportation but to return all the deportees. It has not been complied with and this is actually direct defiance of the will of the international community and of a very specific U.N. Security Council resolution. We will be glad to take your questions. Please indicate your name and media affiliation and at the same time indicate to whom specifically the question is being addressed.
Q: I was wondering in light of these (inaudible) have you considered making a political statement, for example, refusing to return back home until such a move has been reversed or any some such measure?
ASHRAWI: Well, I will tell you you do not deal with exiles by self exile. It is our right to go home and we’re going to be home. We will stop in Tunis for consultations and for a meeting with the PLO leadership and then we will go home. We insist that we should go home actually.
Q: The extremist Palestinian group that claimed responsibility for killing the Israeli soldiers has wanted from the start to destroy the peace talks. Have they now achieved their goal and does that disturb you?
ASHRAWI: Well, I think that what has destroyed the peace process are the Israeli actions, the persistent violation of human rights, the continuing going against the principles and objectives of peace. We have been warning repeatedly that you cannot be part of a peace process when you are willfully and deliberately victimizing a whole people or waging war against a defenseless people. There are other ways of dealing with issues. Just because we have different points of view on the peace process does not mean that anybody who is opposed to the peace process has to be punished or deported. We are a democratic society as Palestinians. We have political pluralism. We have different points of view and everybody should have the right to express his or her opinion and position. I don’t see the Israelis deporting all their opposition or all the Israeli people who are against the peace process. So I think the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of Israel.
Q: To the whole delegationdo I understand, in (inaudible) of all of you correctly in that if it is not rescinded, the deportation order, you (inaudible) advise against returning to the peace table?
HUSSEINI: Well, I think I made clear that the decision as to the future lies with the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization, that as a delegation we have recommended and received consent from our leadership not to go to the negotiations today and not to set any dates for future negotiations during January. Any decision beyond that will have to be entirely the responsibility of the leadership of the PLO.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the decision taken (inaudible) about your recommendations.
HUSSEINI: We have recommended that we don’t go today to the negotiation. I don’t think that would have been at all possible for us or any of the Arab delegations to go today to the negotiations, or to set a near date for these negotiations. A lot depends on what happens during the coming three or four weeks. We do not expect there will be any meetings before Mr. Clinton’s inauguration. So we do not expect there will be any meetings anywhere before the end of January or the start of February. Now, during this period many actions could be taken. I think if the United States takes its responsibility as sponsor seriously as well as (inaudible) its actions on questions of deportation seriously, the Security Council could take an action that can lead into reversing that. We do not feel that these decisions are a fait accompli. These decisions can be reversed and should be reversed.
On the basis of what happens during the next month, one should I think take the decision regarding the long-term prospects of the peace process. So far I think the Israelis have dealt it a very, very hard blow. Now, what will happen during next month I think will determine very much whether this peace process will have a chance of continuing after January.
Q: My question is to Dr. Shafi. When you met with President Bush and you characterized the Israeli action as a war crime, did the president agree with that characterization? And you told us that he was very angry about the deportation. As well as you can recall, what did he say on the subject?
SHAFI: He didn’t express adjectives, but I think he’s in agreement on what is stipulated in the Geneva Convention, and it is the Geneva Convention that considers the measure of deportation as a war crime. It is a collective punishment that gets to the level of war crime.
Q: He said that, in his opinion, it is a violation of the Geneva Convention?
Q: I would like to ask whoever would want to answer this. I can understand why you are very concerned and outraged with this decision, but I really think you haven’t given us enough (inaudible) for why you think this is a real blow, as you said, or a death blow to the peace process. Just a few days after, after the Israeli soldier was killed, you said that this should serve as an incentive for the peace process. (Inaudible) the situation on the ground is so grave and should be reversed? Why shouldn’t this action by the Israeli government prove the same thing by the same token?
SHAFI: Well, first of all, we think thatyou know, the peace process has been not going along, and this was of course a source of trouble for us as a negotiating delegation, the credibility has been dwindling. And of course any measure that could add to this situation certainly is going to be very, very serious. We’ve been managing among ourselves and with the people back home and in the states continuing to emphasize the importance of keeping with the peace process in all this. But, you know, there is a limit to this matter. And certainly this act comes as a terrible blow where we feel it has, you know, it has ignited the emotions of the people in such a manner that it makes it really impossible for us to come back to the negotiating if no measures are taken to raise the hopes of the people in the peace process.
And that’s where probably, if the Clinton administration would want to come and start new ground rules, start something new, this peace process as it is, it has exhausted, in my opinion, its possibilities, and we need to have a new start. And if that is arranged, maybe it would be a reason for us to go to the peace process.
SHAATH; May I add something here? There is really a difference between random actions and a concerted state action. There has been random actions before, including this insane Israeli who killed the Palestinian workers, as you all recall, and there have been many actions of people doing actions that are very grave but reflect a serious malaise that should be solved by addressing yourself to the peace issue really and substantially.
But here this is not a random killing, this is not like somebody who really has acted out of revenge or out of insanity or out of anything like that. This is an action that took actually 48 hours between the Cabinet decision and the supreme court decision. Mr. Rabin had ample time to reconsider that decision. Four hundred people out of a population of 700,000 in Gaza is equivalent to 150,000 Americans in terms of American population. This is a very, very large numberin fact, the largest ever deported by any Israeli government, including that of Mr. Shamir. And therefore the matter is really entirely different from the random killings here and there, which we condemn on both sides.
Q: Did you tell President Bush that your recommendation today means there will be no more peace talks while he is in the White House, and if you did, what was his reaction?
ABDEL SHAFI: No, we didn’t say this because when we were at President Bush, still the court ruling was, was not there, and certainly there was no reason that we should tell Mr. Bush this, at the, at the moment that we met with him. And still, as I said, if new, new arrangements are taken, and in the light of what has been going for the last 30 months, arrangements that’s satisfactory for us, that are promising, that can prevail on the road obstacles that are there. Certainly we would be willingand what I mean to say is that nobody should doubt our sincere, and serious commitment to the peace process.
Q: Dr. Shafi, if I may follow up on some of your earlier comments. I’m trying to skip ahead a little bit for a minute, thinking in terms of what would happen to the peace process and to this delegation participation in it, if the Israeli decision is reversed. Doesn’t thatwon’t that lend strength to the Hamas group which I presume the PLO would not find a useful thing? In effect, will this decision, regardless of whether (inaudible) make it difficult to, if not impossible to continue the peace process?
ABDEL SHAFI: I think there is harm that has happened, and that cannot be limited, and there is harm (inaudible). I mean this very act, in itself, has set a very dark record, that will be really hard to erase, and definitely would fuel opposition to the peace process, and will give a lot of legitimacy to their claim thatlook, even the peace process did not prevent something like this. And one does not need a universal outrage to correct something like this happening every time. So I agree with you: some damage has been done. But some other damage can be corrected, and I think it’s very clear, that whether these people are pro-Hamas, or pro anything, they are Palestinians and the PLO is taking their case all over the world, is fighting for their return, is fighting to stop their deportations. They’re our people. None of these people have been taken to any court of law. There has been absolutely no legal action taken about them. These are arrests of people who have had no chance of even defending themselves.
And therefore the people in Palestine will see that the Palestinian leadership on that matter will, will fight for the right of Palestinians everywhere, and whatever their beliefs are or their connections are. What is important from now on is to move positively, and not just by (inaudible) negative action. If we move positively on the human rights issue, if we move positively on the, on the settlement issue; if we act real seriously on the table to bring the parties together, and make them follow the rules of the game clearly; if the United States replays its role as a sponsor seriously in breaking the impasses; all of these would be seen by our people as positive, that the peace process have produced something, on the ground as well as on the table.
The question now is to really stop the deterioration. Having done that, I think we should move into the positive, and that I think will make the peace process something that the Palestinians will cherish and will support wherever they are. My answer to this, I mean (inaudible) is we don’t see our, the thing that guides our work, and that guides our steps, is whether Hamas is going to win or not win. Really, I think we are accountable to the Palestinian people as we are with the different affiliations. And the moment we feel that the Palestinian people, irrespective of their affiliations, are no more trusting, or are no more with this peace process, certainly we shall not come back to the peace table (inaudible) that the people are still have confidence, and have hope in the peace process. Even though Hamas has gained this or that, we certainly will come back to the peace table.
Q: I want to ask a two-part question and probably Dr. Shafi can answer the second part (inaudible). You all said that it depends whether Israel’s expulsion could be reversed or not. Now I don’t need to say that so far, never did Israel reverse such an action. So you know that it’s not going to be reversed. Can you then tell us what will you be recommending? Will you be coming to the talks, one? And two, Dr. Abdel Shafi, when you talked to President Bush, did he promise that his delegation at the United Nations will, first of all, support a (inaudible) Security Council meeting? Two, will the United States support his views that this is a violation of the Geneva convention?
ABDEL SHAFI: First, I don’t believe that Israel will not withdraw from such a step, and even in the past, in certain conditions, they turned back, like the decision of deporting the 11 people. We are living in a new atmosphere. There is a peace process. There is an international interest, and there isthe United States and other states are concerned about the peace process, and we have this peace, and these talks, and the credibility, not only of the Israelis or of any other side, but also the credibility of those who are sponsoring the peace process is there, and they must do something. So we believe that the atmosphere can help, a real step toward forcing Israel to withdraw from such a step.
ASHRAWI: In our experience there have been three individuals who were returned after deportation, including the gentleman on my left. So I don’t think it’s impossible. And even if there’s no precedent, it doesn’t mean that this is not the time to make a precedent. But I feel that the gravity of the move is in the fact of the decision having been taken. I mean, after the fact, people can start trying to get the decision rescinded, but the mere fact that Israel took this decision and actually proceeded to deport people explains or shows, demonstrates to us beyond any doubt, that Israel is willfully violating the 4th Geneva Convention, Palestinian human rights, and the terms of reference of the peace process. It’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to persist in negotiations when you have such violation. I call on Dr. Abdel Shafi to answer the second part of your question.
Q: May I just follow up on (inaudible)it’s really a follow-up. The Israeli decision is by definition reversible; I mean it’s a deportation for two yearsso it’s kind of by definition reversible. Just without trying to split hairs, would that satisfy you, that kind of built-in reversibility in the Israeli decision?
ABDEL SHAFI: It doesn’t satisfy us at all. We still consider it a terrible violation of the human rights principle. Actual| the second part of the questionI raised this matter, mentioned it, when we were getting up to leave, and there was no comment, except, I mean, nodding his heada nod of approval that this matter is going to be raised in
a meeting of the Security Council. And I trust that the stand of the United States will be a positive stand, because always the United States has had a principled stand with respect to the question of deportation.
ASHRAWI: Actually they did vote for a resolution, 736, as you know.
Q: (Inaudible) people are still in exile.
ASHRAWI: I can assuse you that the American side told us that they were trying everything possible to prevent the carrying out of this order, that they told the Israelis in no uncertain terms that this was counterproductive, negative, and unacceptable. But the Israelis are not known to listen to advice even from their patrons and best friends.
Q: Some of the Israeli observers here were quite puzzled by the fact that the deportation decision was taken anonymously by the Israeli government (inaudible). Do you feel somewhat betrayed by these people (inaudible)?
ASHRAWI: With the exception of the justice minister, David Levy, you know, he did not vote for it; he voted against it. To do him justice. Well, certainly this is a tremendous let-down. I understand that right now there are serious reconsiderations taking place within Meretz, within the supporters of Ma’aretz and within the parliamentary bloc of Meretz and the cabinet members of Meretz. It goes against the Meretz position and principles, and it seems to me they took a position of expediency. They had to choose, as I said, between the lesser of two or three evils. But I think the best way of dealing with evils is just not to choose among them but to refuse all the evil alternatives and to suggest that they should refrain from carrying out any of the alternatives.
We have ongoing discussions; we will discuss with Meretz what has happened. We are intensely disappointed with the fact that they did vote in favor of deportation. And I think that there are very serious attempts being made not just to reconsider, but self-criticism among the Ma’aretz people.
SHAATH: I just would like to add to that that the fact that Shulamit Aloni voted with the decision is an extremely disturbing thing to all Palestinians. All Palestinians who consider that there are brave Israelis even within this cabinet, that would have an unquestionable position on human rights, regardless of whether it is the human rights of Muslim fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists, or Christian liberals. We thought this was an absolutely unquestionable matter. Believe me, that many, many Palestinian leaders asked me the question first: is it true that Shulamita Loni voted with the decision, and when I said unfortunately yes, they repeated the questionyou might not have heard us, we mean Shulamit Aloni. I said, unfortunately yes.
Now, I’ve heard a lot of explanations why did she do that, and apparently the Meretz ministers were given far worse alternatives than the deportation, which really makes me shudder, if that is the case. I hope this is not because of the fact that they think that Muslim fundamentalists have less rights, less human rights, than anybody elseI hope so, because this really is very disturbing, very disturbing. What about afterwards? Rabin going to make genocide in Gaza? I don’t know, I really don’t know what are the options.
ASHRAWI: I think time is up. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. We’ll let you know of any further developments.