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Outspoken: Interview with Abdel-Sattar Kassem

| 26 May 2005
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Once shot four times for criticising the Palestinian Authority, Abdel-Sattar Kassem, one of Palestine’s most noted political intellectuals, is again under fire. He spoke to Ian Douglas in Nablus about the past and future of Palestinian politics
Two weeks ago he turned his head and said, quite matter-of-fact, “My car was set on fire last night, perhaps you would be interested to know.” Abdel-Sattar Kassem is a picture of respectability. Born in 1948, white haired but burly, a professor of political science at An-Najah National University in Nablus and early runner in the recent Palestinian presidential elections, a virulent critic of the Palestinian Authority, Kassem is no stranger to the risks of the written word. He is author of over a thousand articles and a dozen books, the most controversial of which, The Road to Defeat , traced the deleterious effects, as he sees it, of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation on the Palestinian people, especially under the leadership of late President Yasser Arafat. Imprisoned by both the Israelis and his own government (the latter three times), he describes himself, while laughing, as a “continuous, relentless fighter”. We spoke at his home, beginning with why threats to his life have resumed.

Your car was set on fire, your life threatened. Why?
This is just part of a phenomenon in the West Bank and Gaza, one of the genius acts of Yasser Arafat. For 10 years, things have been solved in this way, and people have been frightened and terrorised by armed men who belong to the Palestinian Authority. It was the same in Beirut. I know because I visited several times. What I used to see was horrible. He used to terrorise people, gathering around him those ethically of a very low standard. All the time I thought this kind of behavior does not befit a revolution. On the contrary, it is suitable for surrender. He repeated the same experience here. I wrote several times about that. It deteriorated. I’m sure that Yasser Arafat was planning this, to make sure Palestinian society would not recover after he died–to ensure that his character remained here. You might not believe me because you do not know the exact details about this man. I followed him for more than 30 years. I always thought these kinds of people would never liberate Palestine.

When he came here I started writing, telling the people he’s a great liar. Don’t listen to him, he’s not going to make a state, he’s going to fragment society, pit brother against brother, and against his sister, his father. He was a very insincere man, very deceptive. Of course he always had a lot of money. He could bribe people–so many. They just receive salaries from the Palestinian Authority for doing nothing. In 1995 I wrote an article entitled “Democracy and Our President”. I made a comparison between Yasser Arafat and Hell; that he is putting democracy under his backside. So he sent somebody to shoot me, and they did.

What exactly happened on that day?
I wrote that article and it was published in a newspaper in Gaza that belongs to Hamas. At that time the editor was Imad Al- Qaluji, who became a minister afterwards. They came after him and beat him. He called me after and told me, “Now look, these people are going to shoot you.” I said, “Okay,” so I had bodyguards. I used to go the university with bodyguards, had bodyguards in my office, in the classroom, when I went to the market, and so on. I discovered that being with bodyguards turned your life into a terrible thing, so I sent them away.

On 28 August 1995 I was returning home from the university. As you know, it’s a five-minute walk to my home. Always I pay attention when I walk, but on that day I was absentminded. Suddenly I saw somebody in the street, near Al-Qasr Hotel. He asked me, “Are you Dr Abdul-Sattar Kassem?” I said, “No”. I looked around to see an open door. Nothing. The houses on my left were closed, and I discovered later that the owner collaborated by closing all the doors and windows. He grabbed my hand. I pulled my hand away and raised it to beat him. Somebody else came out and started firing. I was hit by four bullets, but remained standing. I got into a taxi and went to the hospital. I remained there for six days.

Believe me, that was a horrible day in Nablus. All of Nablus was there in the hospital. It was a public issue. It was there I found out that the one who shot me was named Maher Danden, living in Balata refugee camp. The one who guided him to me was an An- Najah University student named Muslama Thabit. The one who sent Dandem to shoot me was named Jamal Atirawi, an officer in the Palestinian intelligence, while the one who asked Jamal Atirawi to recruit a criminal was Tawfik Atirawi, then head of Palestinian intelligence in the West Bank. It was Yasser Arafat who ordered Tawfik Atirawi to recruit somebody. I learned all this immediately, because in Arafat’s office there was never any secret. I also learned that on that day one of Arafat’s aides asked him to call me. Arafat told him that if he called I would never answer the phone. He was damn right.

I presume you spoke to him at some point during his life?
Never. And I never felt that I needed to or that I should. I always thought of him as an Israeli collaborator or Israeli agent. If you are a true leader and you want to build a country you will be an ethically integral person and you will work hard on productive projects, on the creation of friendships between your people, in strengthening social and political and economic ties, and so on. This man was doing completely the contrary. He succeeded where even the Israelis failed. He was very, very successful. During so many years of the Israeli occupation they were never able to divide society in the way Arafat did, or to create such an insecure atmosphere as Arafat did. Occupation itself means insecurity. But the insecurity made by Yasser Arafat was just more intense than that made by the occupation. I’m not exaggerating that.

So they tried to silence me, but I refused to stay silent. I continued writing. I wrote The Road to Defeat in 1998 and distributed around 1500 copies under the table. People were scared to buy the book. I’m not scared to publish the book; the people are scared to buy the book. And some are scared to read the book. You see, because of the dictatorship, people are cowards. They have learned this over centuries. This part of the world has been ruled in a very harsh and violent way. So people don’t have the courage. People are scared to read because they think the intelligence apparatus is everywhere, behind every curtain, and will say, “Why did you read that book? You’re going to prison for six months because you read that book.” This has been true in some Arab countries, like Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. It’s a sad part of the Arab tradition. But I was not scared. I wrote that book and published it.

In many parts of the world the word remains a danger to established powers. You seem to accept the dangers the word poses to the writer.
Some people write, but for me, I think I have the courage to say it as it is. I don’t go around it. When I used to write about Yasser Arafat I used to mention his name–Arafat. Some others would say “the Palestinian leadership”. Probably they mean the prime minister or a minister or the head of a security service, something like that. I used to just mention the name. Because of my frankness the Palestinian Authority gets angry. Sometimes outraged. And they sometimes tell me, “Well, don’t mention this, just say something around it.” I refuse. I should be direct and honest and state the right thing. And I refuse to be bought. I speak as an independent. I don’t want to be imprisoned by any organisation or to be the agent of any state. When I am free I can write what I think is right. That’s why they have been making so much trouble for me. And I have been making so much trouble for them too.

You believe in combining the activist and author, correct?
Yes. In 1999, I was the first signatory on the “Petition of the 20″. By then there was so much corruption. A few people decided we have to make a statement to the Palestinians. I wrote that statement. People were always scared to talk about Yasser Arafat as the source of corruption. I insisted that in that petition his name be stated. Twenty signed. And I told them–the people who met in the first instance–”Look, if we put Yasser Arafat in the petition, in the statement, we will be imprisoned, and that will make the statement very valuable. If we don’t mention Yasser Arafat they are not going to put us in jail, so that will make the statement worthless and meaningless. So we have to put Yasser Arafat there, and we will go to jail.”

It was distributed in the morning of 28 November 1999. During the night, the intelligence just roamed around picking us up. They came here around 10.30pm. I didn’t open the door. So they stayed down in the street. At 3am they came back, I opened the door and went with them. They arrested, I believe, nine people. Some of us were members in the Legislative Council. Arafat ordered that they should be arrested, but his aides advised him not to do so. So those who were not members were put in jail. Since we were put in jail all the mass media became very much interested in the situation and my prophecy was fulfilled. If they had not put us in jail nobody would care. Arafat was stupid, was very much stupid. So everyone started to talk about it. But the problem was, those who were not arrested did nothing to make the people move. You need a public movement. Nobody cared. According to the public polls, 70 per cent of the people said that we were right in our statement. But nobody went out in the street, demonstrating for our release. Only our wives did. That’s one of the problems that we face in Arab countries; they will tell you, “Yes, what you are doing is good,” but they will never support you. They only give you verbal support.

Our people still do not have the courage to face their leaders, although they are convinced that these leaders are cowards, and they are not the right people to lead. We have been facing the Israelis for years–not all of us, some of us–and we haven’t been able to face 100 corrupt people in the Palestinian Authority. This is probably true for Iraq too. If you look at Iraq, for so many years Saddam Hussein was a very absolute dictator; they didn’t resist him. But they have been resisting the Americans. Probably we need external occupation to make us move. Internally we have been a failure. I think many peoples in the world ask, why are the Arabs not rebelling against their leaders? They see that these leaders are very corrupt, they are US-Israeli agents and puppets, they have been wasting all the money, and so on.

Lately the Palestinian Authority has been arresting people from Islamic Jihad and other organisations. You are lucky, by the way, if you are arrested by the Israelis. The Israelis, within 18 days, will tell you why they are arresting you. And if they don’t have any reason they will release you. And if they interrogate somebody and if there is a confession, they will bring him to court, and he will be sentenced. But if you are arrested by the Palestinian Authority you might never know why they arrested you. And you never know for how long you will stay there. I was arrested in 2000. Nobody ever told me why I was arrested and I never knew why I was released. I stayed six months there. So I talked about these people–who are 11 now–in Jericho prison. I talked about them, and I published written statements they sent to me, about how they were treated by the Authority. The Authority didn’t like it, so they burned by car.

This 11 are related to the February bombing in Tel Aviv?
After the explosion in Tel Aviv on 25 February 2005 the Israelis arrested some Palestinians from Tulkarem area and a few hours later the Palestinian Authority arrested some others. My brother was imprisoned by the Israelis. They got him into court and they sentenced him for five months. He’s the imam of the local mosque. The Authority has arrested some others, until now they don’t know why exactly. They sent me statements about their treatment by the Authority, what they have seen in the Tulkarem jail and in Jericho. Even when we were in Israeli jails we used to smuggle things out. Always you are creative in the circumstances you live in. So they sent me these papers, I published them.

Apparently the Palestinian Authority did not like that. So an officer called me and told me they are not happy about it, and said in Arabic that you don’t know there are kata’eb–brigades. What he meant, I think, are the brigades of Shuhada Al-Aqsa. So I said, okay, but I told him, if you don’t like what I published, and you see that I made mistakes, send me what you think is right and I am going to treat you in the same way; I would just say, I received so and so from so and so, and that’s it. Or if you don’t like we can just go to court. So what he did, he just sent people to burn my car.

The officer who talked to me is the leader of Preventive Security in Tulkarem. So I suspect–strongly suspect–that he is behind burning my car. So it’s the Palestinian Authority that has done this. And it’s not strange or weird because the Authority has always spread confusion and insecurity in the Palestinian street.

Interesting that he mentioned kata’eb. Recently I interviewed Nasser Juma, leader of the Kata’eb Shuhada Al-Aqsa. He expressed similar views to your own about corruption and graft within the Palestinian Authority. Rather than a problem, I think you’d find allies there.
I am in touch with him, with Nasser Juma. And I am in touch with some others. But the problem is that Kata’eb Al-Aqsa does not have a unified leadership, so everyone can describe himself as Kata’eb Al-Aqsa. You never know who is truly a freedom fighter and who is not. When he talked to me about kata’eb I know he is talking about zo’ran –just street boys. So he probably just sent somebody from the institution, from Preventive Security, or one of his relatives. I don’t think that the true Kata’eb Al-Aqsa is involved. Actually some of them visited me in the afternoon, here, and they said they were ready to get their guns and open a front against these people. I said, “No.” The gun should have a code of ethics. It is there to defend the Palestinians, not terrorise them. I’m sure many in the Kata’eb Al-Aqsa are ready to resist that.

I’m unclear about how far this is all characteristic of the Palestinian Authority at a structural level, or it’s the legacy of one man, Arafat.
All the mass media supported Yasser Arafat; even Al-Manar, which belongs to Hizbollah, never talked against Arafat. But now, after the people started to the see impact of his policies, they start now to realise that these policies were made by him. Most the time people used to say, “Well, the bad people are his aides, but he’s a good man. If he knew that his aides are bad he wouldn’t keep them.” But of course that was a kind of ignorance–naiveté. A leader might make a mistake in a couple of his aides, or three, but not all of them! And even when he discovers that one of his aides is corrupt he will bring him to court or just fire him, or do something. But the tradition of Yasser Arafat was that whenever he saw that someone was reaching a level of excellence in corruption he would upgrade him. That was his behavior. If someone proved that he was a son of a bitch, he was promoted! But, his legacy, I think, will stay not more than a couple of years.

What is your view on the Oslo Accords?
In 1967, 1968, Israel told the Arabs, “Well, look, you want a solution to the Palestinian question? Okay, we want a solution. But the solution comes only through bilateral, direct talks with Israel.” That is, every Arab state should sit down at the table with Israel and talk directly about the problem. The outcome of the negotiations will be the solution. And the Israelis told us that they are interested in an Arab authority in the West Bank and Gaza, because they are not interested in ruling other people. They are interested in their own security. So they needed a Palestinian authority, or an Arab authority, to run the daily life of the Palestinians.

Arafat and his people always said that those who accept the Israeli solution are traitors and they should be shot, they should be hanged. We accepted all of that in 1993 with the Oslo Accords. And Arafat considered that an achievement. That was very stupid on the side of our people. The Oslo solution was offered in 1967. And Golda Meir talked about it in 1973. In 1977, Menachem Begin, then prime minister of Israel, offered us autonomy. In 1981, Sharon, when we was minister of defence, proposed autonomy. We could have saved our lives, our homes, our trees, and avoided so many atrocities. What Arafat achieved over the years was but to lead the people from one defeat to another, from one frustration to another, until the people were ready to accept the Israeli solution of 1967-8.

Arafat portrayed himself as a hero and as a liberator by signing the Oslo Accords. But he just led the people to gradually accept the Israeli solution. Nobody in 1967 was ready to recognise Israel or shake hands with Israelis. We needed so many defeats to realise that the Israelis are the supermen of the Middle East, and so Arafat led us there. In 1993, psychologically, the people became ready for the defeat, to recognise the defeat, and we did.

But this was on the back of the first Intifada. How can we say that people were ready to accept defeat when they were out throwing rocks?
In 1988 the people were fed up. That Intifada was not an Intifada of public awareness. It was an Intifada of the inability to see any future, to see anything. The people were so frustrated that they went out into the streets. Why? The PLO was doing nothing for the people. The Arabs were disregarding the Palestinian question and were engaged in the Lebanese question. The Americans and the Soviets did not pay attention to Palestinians. We felt that nobody was left to support us. I was very active during that Intifada. Four times I was imprisoned by the Israelis, under administrative detention. I spent a couple of years in Israeli jails, through 1988, 1989 and 1990.

You would seem to be in a no man’s land: critical of the occupation yet critical of the Palestinian Authority. But you’re saying that there is a link between the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel, therefore to be critical of the Authority is not what the Israelis want to hear.
Exactly. They need to have the people supporting the Palestinian Authority because this is their chance to have peace. And if you look, during the Al-Aqsa Intifada, they did not dismantle the Authority. In the mass media everyone was saying they are against the Authority. That was a big lie. What the Israelis did was to hit the chairs and the offices, and they did not hit the people, the persons–the individuals. Nobody from the Palestinian Authority was killed.

What they did–in hitting the chairs, the offices–was to make the Palestinian Authority popular. Attacking the offices of the Authority was part of the mechanism of deepening the Authority’s grip on the Palestinians. For example, one day Ahmed Qurei was at an Israeli checkpoint and a soldier started shooting in the air. So in the mass media they started shouting about Qurei–the Israelis shot at his car, they tried to kill him! That was not true. We are sure that was something planned just to give Qurei a push. They elevated his popularity. Even Arafat, when he was put under siege: I personally said many times–so many times, openly–in my articles, that Arafat could never be shot by the Israelis. He will die an ordinary death. Nobody is going to shoot him because he is protected by the Americans and the Israelis. And the Israelis elevated his popularity by putting him under siege. Afterwards they came to think that Arafat was worthless. And we know that if the Israelis extract all they need from somebody, they just put him in the trash. Arafat was just put in the trash basket.

There’s no credence to the idea that Arafat was poisoned?
No. Why should they poison him then? They could have poisoned him when he was a revolutionary in Beirut. Once they ordered a Syrian plane to land in Israel while it was making a trip from Cairo to Damascus. Why? Because they thought George Habash was in that plane. Arafat was always there in the sky, before the Oslo Accords, and they never harmed him. And when his plane crashed in Libya, the Americans became hysterical. They mobilised all of their technological might to find Yasser Arafat, and they did. They told Qaddafi about the location of Arafat and Qaddafi rescued him. But at a certain point for the Israelis, Arafat became useless, worthless. He was unable to offer any more services. They needed somebody else.

If the logic holds that Israel destroyed the infrastructure but left the individuals alone in order to bolster the popularity of the Palestinian Authority among Palestinians, why did Sharon publicly back Abbas before the presidential elections?
Ah, but Sharon realised that he made a mistake. That’s why afterwards he ordered his cabinet members not to praise Abu Mazen at all. He made such a statement and it was published by the Israeli mass media.

Now look, about Yasser Arafat, when there were elections in 1996 between Netanyahu and Peres, an Israeli officer called me. He used to work in Tulkarem and he always used to interrogate me. He called me and said, “Do you think if Netanyahu wins he will shake hands with Yasser Arafat?” I told him “Yes, he will.” Not only shake hands, he is going to sit down, at the same table, and talk with Yasser Arafat. He said, “Are you sure?” I said “Yeah.” He told me that Netanyahu is saying on his platform that he is not going to sit down with Yasser Arafat. I told him that Netanyahu does not have the black briefcase in his hand. The black briefcase is still in the hands of the prime minister. There, there are secrets. And Netanyahu will, afterwards, sit down with Yasser Arafat. He said, “Okay, after the elections we’ll see.”

So, after the elections–two weeks after the elections–Netanyahu called Yasser Arafat, over the phone, and they talked. He called me, that officer. He said, “Yeah, you are right!” I told him, “No, I am not right. I told you that he’s going to sit with him at the same table.” So a few weeks later Netanyahu was sitting with Yasser Arafat on the same table. So the officer called me. I told him, “Well look, you are an army officer; you don’t know anything! You are a dumb person! I have been following Yasser Arafat and your leaders for three decades. I’m good at this now!”

Actually, I made so many prophecies, and all of them came true. For instance, I predicted the recognition of Israel. I wrote that in 1979. In 1982, I told an assembly at An-Najah University that the PLO was going to recognise the Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. There was uproar in the assembly, but it came true. And I told them that Arafat is going to come to the West Bank and Gaza, and he came. That he’s going to bring corruption, and he did!

You said something to me recently that was quite startling; that the occupation is humanitarian compared to the Palestinian Authority. You’re serious?
What we have been getting is worthless. Under occupation we had it better. For instance, under occupation I used to travel in Palestine, to go to Hebron, to go to Gaza, even to go to Haifa–in my car! After Oslo I couldn’t. I lost that privilege. Before Oslo the Israelis never used tanks or airplanes or helicopters against us. After Oslo they started doing so. Before Oslo I didn’t have 1000 governmental employees who are doing nothing. We had few employees, with the Israelis paying their salaries, and they were more efficient than the Palestinian Authority. And the social fabric, the ethical fabric, was much stronger than it is now. People think that we have gained something? No. We are not in a better situation; we are in a worse situation. So those who are weak and not interested in surrendering to the enemy must wait. Of course we should not wait doing nothing. We have to prepare, inside and outside. Now things are getting tight. The Americans have a tight grip on the area. The Israelis are very strong militarily. But there is the other side of the coin: the underground Arab and Islamist organisations are improving their methods, and their style, against the enemy. So I think in the near future, yes, we are suffering, but they are going to suffer too.

You’re sympathetic with the Islamist movement?
I sympathise with the Islamist movement, but differ on certain cultural and social attitudes, particularly on the limits imposed on the freedom of women. Why? This is an Arabian tradition, not an Islamic one. Personally I think that societies that will advance and will achieve tremendous progress should be free societies. They [the Islamists] have that dogmatic, stupid thing, that if you are not part of us then you are not a true Muslim. They are not ready to cooperate with non-Muslims, like Christians. So what I see is a kind of narrow-mindedness. There are so many things that belong to the past, to backwardness. I think should read Islam in a deeper way, although we agree on political issues.

What is your vision of the future prospects of the peace process?
Internally, I am very much interested in having free Palestinians who can express their thoughts, who can work and participate in decision-making. If we are not free we will never be able to free our land. Unfree people cannot free anybody. Corruption should be eliminated. We might not be able to eliminate it 100 per cent. But we can make progress. We can advance. We have to be honest in using public money, and also in providing information to our people. Our people are misled. They don’t receive the right information, or at least they don’t receive all the information that they should. So we have to make tremendous changes, not only reforms. Reform is not enough. We need tremendous change in the social, economic, political, cultural and social spheres, and I have my platform and I have a clear idea what should be done.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is one point, and if it is fulfilled the whole question will be resolved: the right of return. The Palestinians should return to their homes and property in Palestine of 1948. Otherwise I’m not ready to talk about anything else. I don’t want a state–I don’t need it. We have 22 Arab states. That’s good enough. I want the right of return, that’s it.

So, expanded Arab representation under a single system?
Exactly. We are talking about democracy. We are not talking about sectarianism. We are talking about democracy and human rights. There are international resolutions supporting the return of the Palestinians. There are international conventions. And there are universal principles at stake. So there is no logic, whatsoever, to talk about issues which are of very minor value. The most important issue is the refugee problem. They are five million people who have been suffering for a very long time. For 57 years and they have been living in these filthy refugee camps. First, solve this problem. Before any negotiations between warring states they solve the human issues first. They release the prisoners, they settle the question of the refugees and then they start the negotiations–in all cases, except for the Palestinian case. Once they are back they can talk with the Jews and the Jews can talk to them, and they can find a solution. I’m not ready to talk about a state, or the recognition of the State of Israel, or the recognition of UN resolutions and so on. Talk about human rights. That’s it. That’s the solution for me.

I’m sympathetic, but the Israelis will never agree to it, so the conflict remains unresolved.

Then the international community should not be tailored according to the wishes of the Israelis.
I agree, but practical solutions have to be possible also.

If we want to talk about practicalities, why was it practical in 1917 to start bringing the Jews into Palestine who afterwards kicked the Palestinians out? Why was that practical and it’s not practical to have the Palestinians back, although housing in Israel occupies only 13 per cent of the total land area? There is enough space. So what we are talking about is not practicality. We are talking about international bias against the Palestinians. And that bias, I’m sure, is controlled by the balance of power. If we get stronger, I’m sure the international community will start to talk logic. But now, as long as we are weak, yes, everyone will be talking about the right of Israel to remain a pure Jewish state. So it has nothing to do with practicality, it has to do with the balance of power.

So how will the Palestinians shift the balance of power?
If you look at military developments in the area you will find that the Palestinians, lately, have been very effective against the Israelis. In 1967 we were unable to throw a stone at the Israelis. In 1987, 20 years on, we made an Intifada, and the stones were flying everywhere. Afterwards we used new methods, for instance kidnapping and killing soldiers. Then we started having guns, started to shoot at the checkpoints, killing Israelis here and there. Then we started to see martyrdom operations against the Israelis, and that was effective, security-wise. Militarily speaking, we are still very weak. But we can inflict much damage against the security of Israel. Our methods and means developed over the years. Egypt, for instance, the biggest Arab state, couldn’t manufacture a rocket. The Palestinians in Gaza could. It doesn’t hit the right target, that’s true, but once you create such an instrument you will be able to make improvements in the future. So we will develop, I am sure. And I am sure that our Palestinian people are going to develop chemical instruments–to make a chemical weapon doesn’t require sophisticated technologies. We will do it. One day we will do it and we will make real threats to the Israelis.

Your response surprises me. I expected you to underline the importance of education, of inner strengthening.
No, this is a struggle. It’s a twist of arms. You have to equip yourself with the necessary power. If the power of the other is overriding, as in the last year when Israeli measures have been very effective, leaving the Palestinians crippled, you need time to think; we need time to think what kind of instruments we should to develop to face Israeli measures. It’s expected that so many Palestinians will be killed, homes will be demolished, trees will be uprooted and lands will be confiscated. All of that is expected. That’s because we are weak, not because we are not educated. Education is good. It is a very necessary element, but it’s not decisive. Only might is decisive. Education can improve your might but it cannot impose a solution.

So what we are saying about education, well, that’s good enough, but it’s not enough to liberate our land. I am sure that the Israelis are not going to accept the refugees back. So they must be defeated, to have the refugees back. In the foreseeable future I am sure we are not going to defeat the Israelis. But in the far future, Israel has no chance to stay in the area. Strategically speaking, Israel is small in area, small in population, and no matter how it is developed economically it remains small. The best and the most effective instrument that Israel has to stay in the area is the weakness of the Arabs. We are weak. This weakness is due to internal problems, not to external powers, because we have so many filthy, stupid Arab regimes; they are dictators, they are very corrupt people. One day there will be change in Arabia–in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt, in Syria and so on. I am not talking about in 10 years or 15 years, but it is coming. It may seem that we are taking steps towards this moment, but this moment is rather taking steps towards us. It is inevitable.

What will happen to Israel?
Israel will remain alien in this Arab region. It will always be an aberration. That is why it and the United States are so interested in normalising relations with Arab countries. They understand that this is the only way for Israel to stay in the area. They themselves realise that military might is not a solution. The stronger is not the strongest. And if you are the strongest now, it is not assured in the future. Strength or might is something relative. Empires fall. Others arise. History is in a state of flux. The Arab states are around 14 million square kilometres. The Arabs are around 300 million people. The international community is advancing. We are not an exception. We might be slower than other nations, but someday we will push forward. And once there is a new future for the Arabs there will be a deteriorating future for Israel.

If I were Israeli I would accept the return of the refugees, for the safety of Israel 50 years from now. But they think only with their muscles, not with their brains. That’s their problem. They are buying the animosity of the Arabs and the Muslims. The current situation is also the solution of rotten regimes. It’s the solution of Yasser Arafat, of Hosni Mubarak, of King Hussein, and so on. It’s not the solution of the peoples of the area. If you want to remain here in the area you have to build friendships in the area. The behaviour of the Israelis and the Americans does not facilitate friendship. The kind of normalisation that they are talking about is not going to happen. They want us to accept Israel as a part–an organic part–of this area. It’s a joke. Under these circumstances it will never happen.

They have nuclear arms, they have tanks, they have rockets, and that is the only thing that keeps them here now, along the weakness of the Arabs. If the Arabs are not weak they are not even going to be able to use the nuclear bombs that they have. They are going to hit Damascus, Amman, Cairo? In other words, they are going to commit suicide. So, I’m not in a hurry. I know there are so many atrocities that the Palestinians have been suffering for 57 years, but that’s no justification for us to accept Israeli conditions. If we make a solution now, while we are weak, the solution is not going to be in our favor. I strongly think that it is unwise to negotiate from a position of weakness. If you are weak, wait. As long as you are weak there are no negotiations, actually. That’s why I believe the Palestinians are not negotiating with the Israelis. The Palestinians are asking the Israelis to give them certain things. That’s the difference.

The interviewer is visiting professor in political science at An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine.

This article was first published by Al-Ahram Weekly, 26-1 June 2005, Issue #744:
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We negate and we must negate because something in us wants to live and affirm — Friedrich Nietzsche