October 30, 1992

Nabil Shaath (b. 1938) was an adviser to Yasser Arafat and was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the 1991 Madrid and 1993 Oslo talks. An academic and businessman, in the early 2000s, Shaath served as the Palestinian Foreign Minister; in 2023, he serves as an adviser on international and foreign relations to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

In this interview, and particularly in the 1988-1993 period when the PLO was recalibrating its politics and political relationships due to a series of events, Shaath’s tones were mightily conciliatory. The events buffeting the PLO in this period included the assassination of Salah Khalaf, a terrific loss to Arafat and the PLO leadership, the West Bank intifadah, King Hussein’s withdrawal from West Bank administration, the opening of the US-PLO dialogue and then its suspension, the failed international conference idea, the onslaught of Russian Jewish immigrants to Israel and some who settled in the West Bank, the Gulf War, and Arafat’s endorsement of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait that resulted in the expulsion of 350,000 Palestinians from Arab Gulf states. Candidly, Shaath gave Secretary Baker and President Bush credit for piecing together the Madrid conference, a place where the Palestinians participated even if in the Jordanian delegation.  For Shaath, conference diplomacy meant only a location for a ceremonial opening, with real negotiations continuing in bilateral and multilateral talks later. In 1992, he said that the time was ripe to end the conflict with Israel, based on United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of territory for peace being used as an outline for an agreement. Shaath never wavered from endorsing other UN resolutions on Palestine, namely that Palestinian’s right to return to pre 1948 Israel was necessary for negotiations to succeed.  (al-Jazeera August 16, 2003)

In 1992, he praised Yitzhak Rabin’s election as Prime Minister, giving a negative assessment of Israel’s recent Prime Minister Shamir, someone whom he said only wanted to choose the Palestinians with whom the Israelis would negotiate. Shaath explained the important meaning of elections for the Palestinians: to gain empowerment,  legitimacy for those elected, and to have Palestinians participate in democracy. The process of unfolding Palestinian elections began in late 1988 and carried through 1993 OSLO Accords signing and elections themselves into them taking place in January 1996. Those eight years afterward resulted in Arafat suspending the elected legislative council, where he once again truncated the evolution of a political system where he would have to share authority and power, with elected officials. In the decade of the 1990s, Arafat saved his control over the PLO by agreeing to negotiate with Israel, once again denying West Bank and Gaza and Jerusalem Palestinians a real voice in their self-determination. Any number of US Consul-Generals to Jerusalem in the 1980s and 1990s have gone on record saying what an obstacle Arafat was to Palestinian self-determination.  Arafat continued to implement his favorite definition of self-determination, “I determine by myself!” 

Ken Stein, August 11, 2023

Ken Stein Interview with Fatah leader Nabil Shaath, Arlington, VA

(30 October 1992)

KWS: [Unintelligible.] What was it after February of 1991 that put the Palestinians in a situation where they felt increasingly it was in their interest to get involved in this negotiating process? What were the factors that put them into the environment?

NS: Uh, the first thing was really the speech of, uh, President [George H.W.] Bush on the sixth of March [1991] in Congress, which followed immediately after the end of the Gulf conflict and uh, was really, I think, a decisive factor. Here was the Gulf War ending in what looked like a disaster. Uh, the PLO had taken a position which in other situations would have been, uh, good, but in this one it didn’t work out. The only, the only way it would’ve worked out had there really been a, a compromise reached that would’ve prevented the war from taking place. Then the PLO would’ve looked very good in the sense uh, the PLO committed itself behind a policy of attempting to mediate the problem between the Iraqis and the Americans and their allies, and between the Iraqis and the other Arabs who sided with the, eh, the American side. And uh, uh, since most of the mediators were closer to the American side, the PLO was well-positioned in that it was well-received in Baghdad, and, uh, it would’ve been an ideal party to compromise, particularly if a multiparty mediation unit was to be found. Uh, the PLO hoped it would be acceptable to the Iraqis, but also acceptable by the others in that it, it really adopted all along the position of a compromise, and, a, a peaceful solution. 

KWS: Mm-hmm.

NS: Of course, uh, the development of the war and the uh, the Palestinian popular support for Saddam Hussein, uh, seeing him as a man who’s boosting their, their power, their ability to nego— to negotiate with, with strength, uh, his seeming defiance of the United States, the major world power emerging at the, at the collapse of the Soviet Union.

KWS: Was it, was it their view — was the popular protest in the street in favor of Saddam? Was it as much a reality that this man was going to accomplish something for them or that the fact that he was just being defiant?

NS: Well, I think defiance was two-thirds of this, of the reason. But probably, some people were really willing to be deceived —

KWS: Mm-hmm.

NS: — and to think there is more than the defiance, that he may yet be able to pull this linkage thing. I mean, this idea, eh, that he will link solution of the Gulf problem to solution in the Middle East, which he talked about, starting the sixth day of the war.

KWS: But there was a gap between the popular feeling and opinion in the street and what the leadership actually believed would happen. No one, no one in Tunis actually believed that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in order to liberate Palestine.

NS: Yes, of course, but uh, but remember that the popular support in the streets, particularly inside the Occupied Territories and in the East Bank — in Jordan, that is — coupled with a ver — a strong, uh, sympathetic support by King Hussein to Saddam, uh —  The PLO in a way found itself trapped in between, uh, its own people and the competitor for their own people [laughs]. I mean, had the PLO not looked favorable enough to Saddam, the competition was, was double: the competition inside from the Islamic militants and the competition outside, in King Hussein.

KWS: Sure.

NS: And so, in a way the PLO had to look like it believes the linkage. It believes that, that, that the Saddam Hussein strategy would lead eventually to a solution in which his pulling out of Kuwait will be accompanied by some measure of support for a Middle Eastern solution.

KWS: Why did the March speech — what did the March speech do for the leadership in Tunis?

NS: Okay. Now, the March speech came after what looked like disaster. I mean, the, uh, the end of the Gulf War, the way it ended looked, looked like — and of course, the major problem faced by the Palestinians in Kuwait, both during the, the Iraqi occupation, and the great threat of them immediately after, which resulted in their expulsion, 400,000 of them, out of Kuwait. The uh, the obvious uh, ostracization of the PLO by the Saudi, the Saudi camp and the Egyptians at the time, and the Syrians — the Syrians being on the winning side, sort of, with all their competitive drives against the PLO —

KWS: Mm-hmm.

NS: — uh, the problems faced by the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories after 45 days of siege during the war, in which major economic catastrophes really had befallen them, and — all of this, I mean — and of course, the increasingly obvious demise of the Soviet Union and with it, uh, most of the support that could’ve been coming from quarters other than the uh, the Arab, the Arab oil side, which of course was on the — alienated by the, by the war. I mean, it looked like, eh, immediately after the war, it looked like it was possible that the, the whole issue might be shunted aside and uh, the prospects for peace might, might, might, might be declining on sheer account of the overwhelming, eh, change in power or, or, or, or obvious change in power, as a result of the Gulf War and as result of the unfolding end of the Soviet Union. I mean, the two came at the same time, uh —

KWS: The anxiety level in Tunis must have been high.

NS: Yeah, of course. Remember also, together with that — the, the night the war began we lost two of our major leaders, assassinated —

KWS: Mmm.

NS: — uh, Abu Iyad [PLO Deputy Chief and Head of Intelligence Salah Khalaf] and Abu Hol [PLO security head Hayel Abdul Hamid]. And Abu Iyad was really a major loss, a major loss — because he was a stabilizing factor in the PLO. He was a uniting factor. And he, and he is more and more taking the pos— the posture of a, of a very reasonable and extremely wise and sound man. So, their, their loss also contributed to a feeling of, uh, disarray, a feeling of, uh, doomsday, that uh, things really looked from, from that angle extremely anxious. Of course, yes, [Yasser] Arafat remained defiant all through it, I mean, he, he, ah, did not betray any feeling of anxiety. But, of course, the anxiety was there. 

KWS: Mmm.

NS: And so, when that speech came on the sixth of March, it looked like maybe that war after all, despite all of its threatening sides, may have quickened the pace towards a peaceful process rather than detracted from. And, uh, and the man who sensed this most was Yasser Arafat himself. I remember the — I was there when, when the speech came and [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine founder] George Habash was there and all the leaders, [Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader] Nayef Hawatmeh was there, and, uh, almost all the leaders of the major PLO organizations were, I think, in his room, in Yasser Arafat’s room. And uh, Yasser Arafat was elated. He was quite happy about it. There was a lot of, uh, sullen admission that “it’s surprising,” by people like George Habash. But of course, George Habash did not want Abu Ammar [Yasser Arafat’s nickname] to make any endorsement of that speech. But uh, Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and Yasser Abed Rabbo, uh, and many other Fatah leaders, and myself, of course, we all opted for an endorsement, for a favorable response by Yasser Arafat, eh, coming out of the executive committee of the PLO. And it didn’t take long actually. Really, we responded within one day of the speech, uh, quite a favorable response.

KWS: How did the response come, in a private letter or — 

NS: No, no, no. It was a public announcement by the PLO executive committee, that uh, uh, we looked favorably upon this and we hoped that it will lead to a real, just, lasting solution to this problem. Uh, we were not so sure how to, what the mechanism is exactly going to be, but certainly, Arafat immediately took the position of positioning himself as favorable to that engagement, to that new policy shift. And so, in a way, the sixth of March speech ended what could’ve been months of hesitation on where to go and that process. Actually, more time was spent on the next move, which was a much more treacherous and difficult move to make, and that is, to accept that Secretary [of State James] Baker should be allowed to meet with a Palestinian delegation from inside the Occupied Territory alone. That took much more time to debate. But the, uh, the debate on whether to respond positively to the George Bush statement came almost immediately. I mean, it took no more than, maybe six hours to debate. And it was basically George Habash that had delayed it for a while, but uh, he acquiesced in the language in which this was couched.

KWS: Tell me about the discussion about, you know, should they or should they not meet with Baker. 

NS: Okay, now that was the second stage. And uh, that, in that lay a different type of decision. Because here in the first one, whether to go forward supporting a peace process or not, there was much less opposition. I mean, it’s just — and George Bush obviously said the key words — that uh, I mean, here you are, the need for stability in the Middle East requires a peaceful process and that the peaceful process, they are the basis of the twin goal of, uh, uh, fairness and security. He made, really, fairness uh, equal to security in seeking a peace process. And, uh, even though he didn’t say all the right words — he didn’t say self-determination — but he talked about the political rights of the Palestinian people and, in the same vein, he talked about the, uh, the security of Israel. And so, the words that Bush used on the sixth of March really did not require much persuasion to sell to the executive committee of the PLO — except for the, the sullen feeling that the United States had just ended what was a major attack on an Arab country, destroying the infrastructure of an Arab country, destroying probably thousands of people killed in the desert and so on. So, there was a real, uh, uh mood of uh, sullen anxiety and grief. And also, it looked like here was the United States succeeding in the first time, and not only immobilizing public opinion against an Arab country, but also succeeding in mobilizing a major part of the Arab, uh, wealth and uh, might behind that effort. And so, many people simply, uh, had, uh, one point against supporting the Bush statement. And this is the feeling of anger against the United States and its, its major drive to destroy an Arab country, I mean, regardless of the merits and demerits of the occupation of Kuwait, and that was — I don’t think that was really the issue, the issue — 

KWS: When did Baker first meet with the Palestinians in the territory?

NS: Well, I am not exactly, uh, uh — You’re a good man on dates because, uh —

KWS: How I, I, I — 

NS: Very close, very close, very close after the sixth of March. I mean, I think it was, uh, within a month of the sixth of March when the second decision came. And that is whether the Palestinians in the Occupied Territory should be allowed to meet with Baker to start a peace process. That decision took three days to take. And uh, and twice during that decision, Arafat, eh, sided with the opposition and then came back and sided the opposition and then came back, and finally, it was really, I mean, very frankly, it was really a Fatah decision, not a PLO decision.

KWS: What persuaded Arafat?

NS: And all the non-Fatah people voted against that decision. I mean, it finally was basically Arafat and his Fatah which really united around this case. In all, the Fatah had to present the — in the Palestinian leadership councils, the executive committee, etcetera, uh, finally stood on one side, pushing Arafat to stand up and allow this process to continue.

KWS: Was it internal Palestinian PLO politics that made him make the decision?

NS: Uh, no, it was PLO politics that, uh, supported him taking what looked like a right decision. I mean, the, the position here was not really party, party line in its merits and demerits, but it became party line in the final vote. Uh, the merits and demerits, uh — 

KWS: But in order to preserve the influence of Fatah within the organization, they had to stand as one.

NS: Well, okay. I will bisect that decision —

KWS: Okay.

NS: — into two parts. The first part, I mean, why was the decision important and why was it a serious thing and why it split people. It was important because here was a mechanism proposed to carry out the Bush statement of the sixth of March and therefore, it was an opportunity that should not, could not have been missed, particularly by a pragmatist like Arafat. It looked like real opportunity. The secretary of state of the United States is resuming shuttle diplomacy in order to carry out a policy statement made by the president six days after the end of the war. And — but the problem was, obviously, umm, distrust in the United States. Why would the United States insist on meeting people from the Occupied Territory alone, without any relationship to the PLO, not any obvious relationship to the PLO? Eh, and everybody interpreted that as an attempt to destroy the PLO and to create a, uh, an alternative leadership. And that really brought back memories of the village leagues and uh, the multiple —

KWS: Right. [U.S. Special Envoy Richard] Murphy in ‘87 —

NS: All of them.

KWS: — and [U.S. Secretary of State George] Shultz —

NS: Exactly.

KWS: — Baker’s first plan — 

NS: Exactly.

KWS: It was repetition.

NS: So, so it looked really very threatening on that, on that account. And uh, Arafat almost had to really say that uh, I mean, in the absolute — although he didn’t really mean it in, because nobody forgoes his organization’s role — but I mean, he had to say the historical statement: “If I had to sacrifice the PLO to save the Palestinian people, I’d save the Palestinian people.” I mean, he made that statement in, eh, in, in sort of rebuttal of the, uh, statement that uh, “We’ve got to preserve the PLO because in the PLO lies the aspirations of the Palestinian people and their identity and as well as their independent entity.” But Arafat said, uh, “I think we should, we should take that risk, that, uh, we trust these people in the Occupied Territory. They will not attempt to create an alternative leadership. And come what may, they will remain loyal to their cause and to their organization.” And, so he, his argument was that “Yes, we distrust the United States in that, in that regard, but we trust our people.” But he had to make that categorical statement, however: “If I had a choice, I’ll be for the solution of the Palestine problem rather than for a solution of the PLO problem.” Uh, so, in that sense, he had to go to the extreme in facing the opposition. The opposition, of course, felt the correlation of the two factors, felt that the United States, one, was trying to destroy the PLO; two, was not really serious in solving the Palestine problem to our satisfaction. So why take the risk of losing our entity if we really have no assurance of getting back a Palestinian, a Palestinian land? Uh, but this has always been the assumption of the opposition. The opposition’s assumption always that up ’til now, not one proposed solution of the Palestine problem had enough credibility to be worth taking the risk on the entity of the PLO. I mean, this, this is really, these are really, the arguments on the two sides.

KWS: Yeah. This is Algiers, umm, Palestinian radio. Uh, this is ahh, [unintelligible], umm, on April 18. He said, the quote: “U.S. Secretary of State, James Baker, during his meetings with Palestinian figures from inside the Occupied Territories did not broach the subject of an independent Palestinian state or the PLO’s participation in the proposed regional conference. He emphasized that the Palestinian situation, in general, was suffering serious divisions as a result of erroneous position adopted by the PLO toward Iraq with regard to its occupation and return of Kuwait. He said that the PLO has lost its credibility at both the Arab and international levels.” Now, was Khaldi al -Fahum  (Palestine National Struggle Front) opposing Arafat representing what Baker had told Palestinians inside the territory? Would Baker had told the Palestinians, that the fact that Arafat had taken the wrong side and that was one of the reasons that among many, why, why the Americans had to talk to inside, Palestinians on the inside? Besides which, the Israelis weren’t going to talk to the PLO. I mean, that’s a rather — Khalid a;- Fahum’s statement is a rather blunt admission — 

NS: No, it is not a blunt admission. [Unintelligible] statement was just being hostage of the Syrians, had to say this. The Syrians had taken a position against Iraq. Khalid al Fahum’s position,  real, real position, that she had said to everybody that he was really with Iraq and against the American invasion of Iraq, but there was nothing he could say or do except to follow through with the Syrian policy.Khaldi al-Fahum [laughs], Fahum was just really being the eternal hostage of Damascus. And Damascus was on the Saudi side. So, he had to say that what’s wrong with the PLO is uh, is not only accepting to see Baker, but having taken the wrong side that led to its demise, so it had to take — 

KWS: Alright, let me give you another quote. Asharq Al-Awsat said, end of April, “Informed sources revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat said that an approach supported by Arafat emerged inside the Palestine central council” — this is 27th, April — “which tried to persuade the participants to accept the regional conference idea and regard it a form of an international conference because as long as Europe, the Soviet Union, and Arab states attend it. But most of the council members rejected the idea on the grounds that Europe would attend it as an observer and not as a participant, and because that regional conference excludes the PLO and Palestinians in Jerusalem from participating. The first was in dealing with the peace initiatives and the Baker plan. In that regard, the PCC rejected the regional conference plan for three reasons: because it eliminates the UN role, because it overlooks Europe and China, and because it excludes the PLO peoples, Palestinian people from a legitimate representative.” That’s accurate.

NS: Oh sure. These were, these were the arguments that being offered. The arguments were on Palestinian representation, on, on role of the PLO and the attempt to sideline the PLO and eventually, on this question of balance of power. I mean, that’s a long question, but uh, quite a long answer. But, but people, by and large, could, uh, not see how we couldn’t get a peace process during the uh, before the Iraqi crisis. That we had some semblance of power. The Soviet Union was still partly there and uh, the uh, the Iraqi strength and Syrian strength was there. The Arab oil money was in our support. How, how come that, with all the signs of, of power in the equation of power, we couldn’t get a, a real peace process? And now, without any of these supporting power factors, we have a peace process, unless this peace process is just designed to fuck us up. [Laughs.] This, this, this whole argument of the balance of power, people could not really see that there is an opportunity. They always analyzed opportunity in terms of obvious, uh, material strength.

KWS: Mm-hmm.

NS: I think probably if there is anything that I have introduced to it, I hope the right direction, to the whole Palestinian movement, is a new analysis of the, of the New World Order. In other words, pe— What I kept hammering is that we are not necessarily weaker today than we were before the Gulf War and the end of Soviet Union. I provided a whole, uh, historical answer that people accept finally, and that, that is, in the final analysis, we are weaker in terms of the material strength of our allies, but that material strength was really not used since 1973 in any way in our favor. I mean it was there, it was potential, but it was unreal. And when 1982 came it did not stand the test of reality. So, you couldn’t consider that this might was behind us when, when it was crucial to use it, it was never used. So why, why cry over spilled Soviet milk when it was never really for our, for our — 

KWS: No way of consuming it. 

NS: No way. Anyway — And so —

KWS: I understand.

NS: And so, most of these points of strength that you claim existed before the demise of the Soviet Union and the Gulf War was not really for us. It was not really martial-able, it was not really usable, uh, for our goals. And the test was 1982, I mean, what better test — 

KWS: Sure.

NS: — did you need than 1982? One. And two, that it’s true, that in the general sense, our general support has waned, but that is the general support of the Arab camp. That the Arabs together are weaker than they were and they had less international support than it is, although I argue ag— against how important that support was anyway.

KWS: But you could — but credibly so. The Palestinian or the PLO presence within inter-Arab constellations by the Spring of 1991 was much weaker than it was in ’90. It was much weaker than it was in 1982. 

NS: Sure.

KWS: Much weaker than it was in 1977.

NS: Sure. But at, at the same time, I argue that Israel was much weaker than it was before then. That is in the final analysis you have to look — we had been weakened, yes — but in the final analysis, Israel also was weakened, considerably, and I argued that it was weakened before. Its value in the overall strategic U.S.-Israel relationship has dropped significantly as a result of the end of the Cold War and the American presence in the Gulf. With American presence in the Gulf, eh, Israel could not claim it had a long arm support of the United States’ interest in the Gulf area.

KWS: Nabil, in all due respect to your argumentation, both the PLO and Israel may have been weakened by 1991, but Israel was not cut off. The PLO was. You had your legs taken out from under you. 

NS: [Unintelligible.]

KWS: Israel was still getting 2.5, 3 billion dollars a year, whatever it gets.

NS: Okay, but I would want to separate here between the PLO and the Palestine cause. And that’s why I think, if you separate between the two, you could’ve accepted to go the way we didn’t. That is, truly we felt the PLO was weakened, but not the Palestine cause. And the, and the way we understood that the way we explained that, is that, at the end of the Gulf War there was a different equation for the United States than the equation before. Eh, not any more in need of a citadel that faces the Soviet Union. And not in need any more of a major bastion of American democracy on the soil of the Middle East to face the spread of communism. And not any more in need of an, a powerful ally that might help with the total oil, the oil interest protection in the Middle East. That the United States was not any more in need of such an antagonist in the name of, in the shape of Israel. That it wanted to pre— to preserve and support and protect Israel, but not use Israel the way it, it had used Israel before. And therefore, the United States’ interest lay much more in stability, in a milieu in which Israel can be absorbed as a part of that Middle East, rather than as an antagonist to the other countries of the Middle East. That the quest for stability in the Middle East required an American attempt to cut the roots of that instability and that is the reason why the United States was more interested in a fair solution that will lead to stability. That peace would lead stability and would lead to Israel being protected without being antagonist, protected as being an accepted partner in the Middle East.

KWS: Do you think Secretary Baker and Bush were eager to get involved in the negotiations in March and April? I mean, would you describe them as anxious to get involved or anxious or anxiety-ridden?

NS: No, no, no. We felt that Bush had many reasons why he wanted to get involved besides this general strategic reason. I mean this general strategic reason is really behind the continued determination of the United States. That before the 19th, before the sixth of March speech, the United States was really never anxious enough to put all its persuasive powers behind a peaceful settlement, not, not since, not since the Camp David days. And I think there are some similarities between Camp David and what’s happening today. Camp David came as an end, as a result of the 1973 war, as a result of a major conflagration in which — and — that, that threatened both Israel and the oil interests of the United States, at least there was some anxiety about the two. The, the Gulf was involved in the Arab oil boycott and the possibility that, that multiplying oil prices, and the anxiety about the stability of oil supplies, and at the same time, the security for Israel as a major ally for the United States. These two were involved and the United States had to step forward — 

KWS: That’s a credible analogy.

NS: — to isolate Egypt.

KWS: It’s a credible —

NS: And therefore, cut out, by isolating Egypt, the Arab — America could secure its oil interest better and secure Israel better. In 1980 — in 1991, a similar thing happened, again involving the two: the oil interests and Israel. Israel was hit by the Patriots [sic; U.S. Patriot missiles intercepted some but not all Iraqi missiles launched at Israel]. It was really threatened by something that it was never threatened by before. But here, the situation of the world is changed again. Egypt, Egypt was not part of the struggle, but there were sources of anxiety in the area and there was also a role that the United States had played that had to be somehow corrected, somehow adjusted, somehow amended. The United States did not want to look like the, the conqueror of the Middle East, like the, just like the country that destroyed Baghdad or the country that destroyed an Arab country in pursuit of its oil interests. It had to look like the maker of war and the maker of peace, exactly like in 1973. In 1973, the United States had to put all its might behind Israel and had to save Israel militarily, and look for a while like a, such an ally of Israel as would really have caused the demise of the Egyptian drive on Sinai and the, and the, the destruction of a major part of the Egyptian effort to liberate Sinai. And so, the United States, having looked like a part of the war had to look like part of the peace immediately after for many, many obvious reasons. One of them was to protect its oil interests. I mean, you cannot separate the two. Whenever there was a major conflagration in the area with Israel, there was an oil interest directly involved.

KWS: Why did the PLO — I don’t want to get away from — why did the PLO begin to endorse a process in which all of its preconditions and all of its values and all of its claims on what the negotiations would look like and how they would take place both in terms of procedure and substance, one by one, one after another, it looked like it was relenting, relenting on each one of these issues. So, by the time you got to October, it was, it was [Yitzhak] Shamir’s conference. There was nothing left, there was nothing remotely similar to what anyone in the PLO talked about six months earlier or even 18 months earlier.

NS: Yeah, well, I, I — 

KWS: What — why did you keep on saying yes?

NS: Okay, let me — these were the negative factors. I was talking now about the positive factor, why it was positively in our interest to join that peace process: Because of our analysis of the overall situation. That there was a window of opportunity. That window of opportunity, uh, was caused by a changed United States’ interest in the area, eh, something similar to the Camp David. And a greater interest in shaping this area in a way that would bring stability and therefore, that would tend to help most the Palestinians more than anybody else, in that sense — possibly the Syrians. But I mean, in a situation in which the United States had nobody to pay but the Palestinians, if it were to attend to fairness that would end the intifada, that would end the use of Palestine as an excuse all the time. I mean, this Iraqi thing looked so classical as — so long has the Palestine problem existed, all of, of the players in the area will always use Palestine as a pretext to push goals that are not necessarily have anything to do with Palestine. I mean, he, he — 

KWS: No question about that.

NS: Okay. And, and, and therefore, here was a window of opportunity. And that window was signaled best with the speech of, eh, Bush on the sixth of March. I mean, here the man, eh, was saying something that he didn’t have to say, given what our plight looked like. I mean, uh, I mean he didn’t say it just to win the support of the, of the PLO. It was an indication of a changed American priorities. And, uh, with these changed American priorities, there was a window of opportunity. Now this was the positive side. The negative side is that we were in bad shape [laughs]. I mean, uh, we were, uh, all our sources of funds have been cut off from the oil region. The Soviet Union’s — the buckle was becoming even more [laughs] and more pronounced. What few — two months or three months after this thing, the [Gennady] Yanayev coup took place [actually, in August 1991] and, and immediately after it, it looked like the Soviet Union was collapsing totally. So, anybody with any hope that the Soviet Union would rise still and would uh, would give us support ended immediately. Iraq was being humiliated by one measure of sanction after the other. And it looked like this had nothing to do with whether the Iraqi forces were in Kuwait or not. It was an attempt to divide Iraq and conquer Iraq and destroy any vestige of national pride in the Iraqis. Jordan remained under siege, and therefore the Palestinians in Jordan really were in bad shape. The Palestinian economy under occupation was reeling as a result of the war and the siege and the cut off of funds and the immigration of Palestinians from Kuwait who had really contributed something like 25 to 30 million dollars a month in direct contributions. The, the Syrians, one of our major detractors in the Arab rank, were on the side of the victors [laughs]. I mean, this, there were, there was the Damascus meeting —

KWS: [Unintelligible.]

NS: — in which the PLO was not even mentioned — 

KWS: That’s right.

NS: — and, uh, the Egyptians were still, still in bad relations with us, almost total ostracization. Very bad treatment of the Palestinians in Egypt. The aligned, the aligned were in bad shape and Europe was cowed, literally cowed, by the United States. The participation of France and England, particularly France, at the last moment was a major switch on the French, eh, attitude prior to the war. And it looked like Europe was totally, uh, accepting, uh, American domination of that area’s policy. Japanese were pulling out of the area, fast, paying their dues. I mean, it looked like, it looked like, I mean — 

KWS: The titanic. A political titanic.

NS: Exactly. So it looked like, I mean, on the negative side, that if we really delay too long, the Americans were capable of martialing Arab support to destroy us, not only Israeli support or — 

KWS: Is it fair to say that you were bordering the possibility of becoming a footnote to history?

NS: Yeah, surely.

KWS: I mean, I don’t want to put words in your mouth.

NS: No.

KWS: I mean, you’ve  painted a rather dark picture here.

NS: No. I mean, I was painting, I was — I painted you both pictures.

KWS: No, I mean the other side —

NS: Had it, had it not been — had it been just the, the, the, the bad scenario picture, it would have really created some defiance, because see — If you are only faced with, with, with risks, then many people could simply say, “But whatever you do you are going to be crushed.” I mean, if it was just an attempt to derail a major blow against you, it wouldn’t have helped you very much to have accepted anything, because then the blows would have come anyway, whatever you do. It was like the [unintelligible] story of the, of the wolf and the, uh — But people really saw in the, in the, in the Bush speech both an opportunity and a threat. I mean, it wasn’t just a threat. The PLO was used to seeing threats. It was 1982; it was a very clear situation. 1970— 1971 was a similar situation. We’ve been through situations of threats before. And you, your position towards a threat-only situation is defiance, because — People could argue that nothing you can do to improve your situation if you don’t have any bargaining chips to make you make any gain out of this.

KWS: But you had no bargaining chips.

NS: We had. We had. The bargaining chips is the chips I’ve already talked about, namely the Palestinian intifada and the Palestinian defiance in the Occupied Territory really meant that the Palestinians were not going to accept, eh, anything and were not going to really be totally, uh, oppressed and— or suppressed, and that they were going to be a cause of instability always in the region. So long the Palestinians have Occupied Territories presented this situation of defiance, which the Israelis were really not able to deal with, not able to, to crush, and less able to crush after the Gulf War, really in terms of the changing world and the, the, what’s happening in South Africa, the Berlin Wall, an increasing, uh, quest of people’s rights even as a facade of the New World Order [laughs]. I mean, it looked like the Israelis were less capable of suppressing the Palestinians after that war than they were before the war. Forget about the PLO. 

KWS: When you get down to it, Nabil, by the summer of ‘91, your best card was your people in the territories.

NS: True.

KWS: Because — 

NS: Even, even in March 1991.

KWS: Because all the tangible, political, inter-Arab, international attributes which you may have at one time had since ’74, since Arafat at the U.N. [his address to the General Assembly took place November 13, 1974], had now dwindled almost nothing.

NS: Yeah sure, but that’s. I’m saying, if you would read my articles I addressed to the central council, I gave only two reasons why we should go into this thing: One, the defiance of our people, and two: U.S. interest and stability. [Laughs.] These were the only two reasons I gave for the whole process. There are no other cards — we have, we have only two cards, a negative one and a positive one. The negative one is that we’re, we’re going to defy [laughs] and we are going to say, “We will not let this stability ever to be achieved so long as the Palestinian people’s um—”  

KWS: What did the Palestinians on the inside who negotiated with Baker do to create a sense of umm, ease with Tunis, that this was not going to be an alternative? What process unfolded that assured you, I mean, here you had — for the last three or four years when they always talked about Palestine and Palestinians, the inside, the outside, people in Tunis went crazy. I mean, you saw red. I mean, absolute red, and “this was the first step toward the ultimate demise of us as an organization. They are going to get rid of us period.” What was it that satisfied your worst fears? What, what, what did you see demonstrated to you that gave you the positive reinforcement that you were a co-equal in this evolving diplomacy?

NS: Well, I mean, there were some uh, objective methods and some personal methods. I’ll start with the personal. I mean, the people who rose to the top, Faisal Husseini, basically and his colleagues, Hanan Ashrawi, [unintelligible], all of the people who rose to become a major Palestinian operative, representatives of the area, were extremely dedicated, loyal uh, disciples of Yasser Arafat. 

KWS: No one had to check their passports?

NS: Huh?

KWS: No one had to check what was stamped on their passports — PLO was stamped on their passports. I mean, passports in quotation marks.

NS: Exactly. I mean, these were people who really looked to Arafat as a father and who looked to the PLO as the, the root, the origin, the support and the entity and the identity. They were extremely loyal people who listened to every order on the telephone: “Do this.” They do it. “Don’t do this.” They won’t do it. I mean, they were — they accepted to really be treated on strict orders and at times that they, they, uh, they wouldn’t even argue what looked like silly things. They acted with such dedicated obedience as to really have thwarted any doubt in Yasser Arafat’s about their allegiance. So, on the personal matter, eh, they were, they did their extra best to be, eh, loyal and to be committed and to carry out instructions. 

KWS: And not allow anyone to conceive of the possibility that this is [unintelligible].

NS: Absolutely. So, on the personal matter, uh, this was very important. But also, objective matter. Remember, these people [laughs] were more scared of their constituency, really, than of Yasser Arafat. The constituency was coming out of the Gulf War — the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, coming out of the Gulf War — angry, anxious and really feeling battered. Forty-five days of total siege in their homes and, and to them, uh, one thing only they could stand fast on to show defiance of the United States and that was their commitment to the PLO. If Faisal Husseini — 

KWS: I understand.

NS: — showed any sign of wavering, he’d have been eaten alive.

KWS: At home.

NS: At home. And so, it was both the, the commitment of the individuals and the pressure from the street, which was obvious, very clear.


KWS: What was it about Baker? Umm, was it the environment; was it what they, what you were working under that forced you to work with Baker or was it Baker’s personality, his persuasiveness, umm, his ideology? I’m trying to still grab a handle on it. I still haven’t figured it out. I mean, this is not a man who knows much about the Middle East. This is a man who, you know, he knew how to spell the word “camel” before he went to the Middle East, never had any exposure to it. But what — 

NS: Well, a mixture of all of the above. I mean, uh, it was an objective situation in which, eh, we really wanted to find a way that would not jeopardize the Palestinian people even further, that would give an opportunity where none looked like existing. So, there was an objective factor why the mechanism chosen by Bush after his speech required that we communicate with it and support it in order to get something out of that new policy position. There was objective conditions. There was both a positive and a negative side of it. The bad situation of the Palestinian people and the possibility of a New World Order coming, a window of opportunity coming out of the changes as a result of the Gulf War and the demise of the Soviet Union.

KWS: Which to you meant something tangible in the [unintelligible] territory.

NS: Yeah, sure, sure. But also, I think, the way Mr. Baker operated — uh, he was serious, well-prepared, not always sympathetic. I think his first two meetings he was much sterner and, uh, in fact threatening, than he was sympathetic, but gradually, he grew more sympathetic, in the sense, uh, more positive than just negative. He would listen to phrase such as, “You don’t know how bad it is when we cross the bridges.” And he would ask, “What bridges are you talking about?” And they would say, “The Allenby Bridge and such.” And he says, “What’s this got to do with it?” So, we decide to meet the people who go out and then must go through humiliation. So, the next time he comes through the bridge to see what, what is this bridge phenomenon in the mind of the Palestinian. They would tell him, “You don’t know how it looks like when you go up, uh, the Jericho way or you go up the [unintelligible] way,” and so on. “You see all of these growing, mushrooming settlements eating out the heart of our land.” And he’d say, “What do you mean?” and he takes a car immediately, in about two hours and goes around to look at the, uh, uh, settlements.

KWS: The landscape.

NS: And uh, they would, they would tell him, “Even in the, in the heart of, eh, Christendom, in Bethlehem, eh, you will see the, the, the Israeli boot, the might of the Israeli army, even around the Church of Nativity, and you will see this and you will see that during Easter.” And he would uh, within two hours, he would take a car and go, almost without escort to see alone, Bethlehem. 

KWS: Mm-hmm.

NS: Even when the mayor of Bethlehem was not willing to see him, unless instructed by Yasser Arafat. I mean, so he would go out and come back and say, “I know what you mean. This is the first time I see it, but uh, I realize that uh, I never really understood what this whole thing was all about.”

KWS: Mm-hmm.

NS: So, eh, he done many things like this that, uh, that gained him trust among his interlocutors. Uh, to them he never lied. To them, he was not a manipulator. He, he stated it the way it was. Uh —

KWS: But what if they said, “Look, we want a comprehensive peace,” he would say, “Look, I can’t promise you a comprehensive peace. Don’t ask me for something I can’t give you.”

NS: Yeah, even on settlement issue. Even on the settlement issue. He sympathized very much, he reiterated U.S. policy against it, but he said, “I cannot promise a total end of it now. And you have got to negotiate in order to do that.” Eh, I mean, he never made promises that he could not deliver, but he, eh, he kept prodding them towards a process that will end in their empowerment and in their, in their, eh — 

KWS: Is it fair to say that Baker took the position that if the Palestinians got involved in the process, that they would remain hooked and they’d stay hooked and they’d stay attached to it and even if they didn’t get all that they wanted, that Baker believed that a process had a dynamic and once in the process no one was going to run from it. Is that, is that, is that fair?

NS: But this process argument existed even from the Kissinger days. The question of the value of the process was always there, but the Palestinians were never invited to be part of the process. 

KWS: Mm-hmm.

NS: I mean, uh, in Kissinger’s day he sold this idea of process to the Egyptians, tried to sell it to the Jordanians, but he couldn’t. And sold it to the Syrians, only part of the way. But he, he never invited us to the process.

KWS: So, the fact that you were invited now was pretty heady.

NS: I mean, we’re invited to be part of that process and we were recognized as an individual, separate, independent entity. And eh, and eh, and he really treated us like a separate entity. And in many cases, he spent more time and effort with the Palestinian delegation than with all the Arab delegations combined. 

KWS: What did that do to the other delegations? What did — 

NS: Well, uh, obviously even through Madrid, we created some jealousies, but, uh, these were not very serious, I think. The more serious things were on the objective factors of who was going to get what. The kind of individualized attention that he gave the Palestinians did not elicit aggressive opposition. Chuckles of jealousy, maybe. [Laughs.]

KWS: Mm-hmm.

NS: But, not, not much more. I think people realized that the situation, the Palestinian situation was not really something to be envied. [Laughs.]

KWS: What kind of guarantees or assurances did he ultimately end up providing you before the process began?

NS: Well, they are all in the letter of assurances. I don’t know if you have seen the letter of assurances — 

KWS: No, I haven’t.

NS: I will give you a copy of it so you will — They are very clear. The letter of assurances, uh, uh, is very encouraging and it is a letter that we negotiated with the Americans. We must have written half of it. 

KWS: Mmm.

NS: And it went back and forth, back and forth. The American negotiated with us the letter of assurances to the “T”, to the dots, whereas they will not allow us to negotiate the letter of invitation. The letter of invitation was imposed on all the parties without negotiation, whereas our letter of assurances, was negotiated extensively, with long meetings with Baker, with [Dennis] Ross and his people. And so in a way, during these six months we engaged the United States in very serious negotiations. And obviously the fruit of these negotiations is what the United States is going to do about its letter of assurances.

KWS: Did you see this as a resumption of the dialogue, in a certain sense?

NS: Very obviously. Very obviously. We pushed it. — [Unintelligible], this is Ken Stein, this is [Unintelligible].

[Man]: Nice to meet you.

NS: Umm…

[Woman and man speaking in Arabic, NS replying.]

NS: We developed rituals at the beginning of every meaning, Faisal and Hanan would start by saying to Baker, “We have a message from Chairman Arafat and he says, ‘This and this and this and that.’” And the first time he was angry, he said, “Why don’t you forget about Arafat and concentrate about the cause?” The second time, he was silent and did not make any answers. The third time, he said, “What did the chairman say?”, and they say, “This and this and this.” So, he said, “Tell him, ‘This and this and this and that.’” So, one way of providing that linkage was through these messages, delivered every time by Hanan and Faisal to, uh, to Mr. Baker. Secondly, the uh, the public messages that Hanan and Faisal were always delivering to the chairman, back and forth, that the Palestinian delegation sent it immediately within 45 minutes of the end of the meeting, the minutes of the meeting, with Baker and Arafat, responded saying, “Do this and do that,” and so on. Thirdly, the intervals it took, eh, refusing to accept their invitation list, until a [PLO] Central Council meeting met, refusing to accept the letter of assurance until a council meeting met. So, there were many interruptions which was obvious the Palestinians were all waiting until the Central Council will meet. Or the, or the, or the PNC met — 

KWS: Such as the one that met on October 17 to accept the invitation.

NS: Exactly. And Hanan and Faisal were brought into that meeting uh, well, we didn’t photograph them, but it was obvious that they came and they actually came with the permission of the Americans and the support and the protection of Baker. And uh, the American ambassador in Algeria, eh, was in touch with them all the time that they were in Madrid. 

KWS: Mmm.

NS: And so, it was made clear to Baker and to everybody that here is a situation where the Palestinians will not take a decision unless the PNC took that decision. And so, there were many things along the way — 

KWS: Ratification processes — 

NS: Exactly — that created this linkage very clear in the mind. And Baker, as things went by, were realizing recognizing that the PLO was playing a positive factor, not a negative factor. So he was, uh, a, a little less anxious that the PLO might defeated the process.

KWS: The Israelis winked at all this and they just sort of let it go by.

NS: Well.

KWS: No, but they did. They winked at it. They knew what was going on.

NS: There was nothing that they could do besides what they’d done. And what they’ve done is that they inflicted rules that as you said were not really, eh, to our liking. But, in these rules lay the foundation for some of their negation. Uh, that is, uh [laughs], we negotiated with Baker every little protocol element of Madrid. For example, that uh, Haidar [Abdel-Shafi] would get a separate chair equal to the chairs of the Israelis and the Jordanians and the Americans and so on, that he would get exactly an equal time in his speech and an equal time for rebuttal, that, uh, Haidar would get a motorcade equal to that of Mr. Shamir.

KWS: In other words, all the symbols — 

NS: Exactly.

KWS: — had to be parallel. Equal footing, if you don’t mind me using the term.

NS: Absolutely. And he had to be met separately with [Spain’s] King Carlos and, uh, the foreign minister, that I had to be uh, in, eh, in Madrid with my team, the Americans help provide us with a secure telephone, [unintelligible] a secure telephone to Arafat from Madrid, eh, that Hanan and Faisal, both from Jerusalem had to be the most apparent part of the Palestinian delegation — Hanan was the spokesperson and Faisal really made most of — The Americans would not abide by Israeli instructions as to whom they would meet, and so, the Palestinian delegation was basically, Jerusalemite in nature. 

KWS: Mm-hmm.

NS: Uh, Haidar was not part of the delegation that met with Baker in Madrid. Baker met in Madrid basically with Hanan and Faisal, although one protocol meeting with Bush was made. Bush met, met with Haidar. 

KWS: Mmm.

NS: But with Haidar was Sameh Kanaan who was a Fatah fighter who had sixteen [sic: 13] years of Israeli jails, and had just been out of jail recently, and with a Jewish mother on top of it. [Laughs.]

KWS:  Nablus [where Kanaan was from]?

NS: Yes. So, Sameh Kanaan went with Haidar really as a symbol. Uh, I mean there were many symbols involved here and I can count another hundred, but all of them attempted to substitute or to supplement or to add on factors that emphasized the unity of the Palestinian people. The unity of the people in the Occupied Territory with outside, the unity of the people at the delegation with their leadership. We were, we were — 

KWS: Engagement of Palestinians from Jerusalem.

NS: Exactly. We were airlifted to Algiers every day, every night. I mean, Arafat sent us a Moroccan plane and an Algerian, and a Tunisian plane to shuttle us every night to meet with them. So, the whole delegation went to Tunis twice and to Algeria once during the meetings of Madrid.

KWS: What’s the air distance? Two hours?

NS: Two hours. And so really, I had no sleep whatsoever. 

KWS: Yeah. Mmm.

NS: Uh, and also in the speech, the speech of Haidar, which reiterated Yasser Arafat’s speech in the United Nations about the olive branch — 

KWS: Who wrote the speech? 

NS: The speech actually was written on three steps. The first speech was written by [poet] Mahmoud Darwish —  

KWS: Mm-hmm.

NS: — in Arabic. Hanan Ashrawi took that speech and put it in her beautiful English. Uh, and then I, and then I added at least fifty percent to that block. So, if you really want to know all the shapers, Darwish, Hanan Ashrawi, and Nabil Shaath [sic: Mamdouh Aker also contributed]. I wrote the final speech because Hanan really was — her speech was mostly the, the beautiful reincarnation speech. I mean, her speech, if you really look at the core of her part of the speech was really totally non-political, it was almost like the reincarnation of Christ: The Palestinian people have risen. I mean, this, her part of the speech was this, this attempt at, at portraying the rise of the Palestinian people. I had to add a lot of other political factors [laughs].

KWS: And Darwish?

NS: Darwish’s and Hanan Ashrawi’s were similar in nature. 

KWS: Mmm.

NS: Both poetic actually, quite poetic. And I wanted to keep some of that poetic aspect. I mean, because I felt that it was an important part of that historical moment. Particularly that I had written the speech that Arafat gave the United Nations in 1974. I knew that in these historical moments there was some poetry that you had to bring out. But then, I had to — I included everything political in that speech I wrote. And included the reference that made most of the comments and most of the press: the acceptance of the transitional arrangement. I mean, up to that moment, no Palestinian speech has ever recognized that we accept a transitional arrangement. I added a whole paragraph on this in the speech. Ahh, I added paragraphs about, eh, the linkage of this process to the, the long-term Palestinian political process for independence and for reconciliation. Many of the reconciliation with the Jews aspects I wrote. I mean, it was something from my, my old work, you know, not just looking at the Palestinian rights, but about the link between the Palestinian rights and the reconciliation between Palestinian Israelis and the Jewish dilemma. I wrote those words. 

KWS: You saw, you saw Madrid as a mere stone in a, in a body of water that you were in the process of crossing. Because, if in fact you had given all these things to the Israelis — what essentially, what they wanted in terms of procedure — if in the speech you talk about, we are accepting transitional arrangements, you are essentially sending a message that this process is going to continue because we have already accepted what we are going to negotiate about.

NS: Sure. Sure.

KWS: I mean, so, the notion of getting into a process was already in the minds of the leadership, was already in your mind, and there was no question that Madrid was just a, a turnstile?

NS: Absolutely, absolutely.

KWS: There — was there any notion that the Madrid conference would be a place where you would negotiate?

NS: No, it was finished. I mean, by then, we knew that Madrid was just the ceremony that would usher in the process. I mean, all dreams of an international conference, uh, had died by then. 

KWS: A place where you would negotiate something.

NS: Yeah, I mean, it had died with the death, uh, of the Soviet Union. I mean, let’s be very frank. 

KWS: Mmm.

NS: I mean, what the hell, why were we asking for an international conference? We wanted some balancing factor against the overhel— whelming presence of the United States. That balancing factor could have only come from two parties.

KWS: You could’ve said over-hellish, too. 

NS: [Laughs.]

KWS: But Sigmund Freud is deeply imbedded in your mind. 

NS: [Laughs.]

KWS: [Laughs.] I heard what you didn’t say.

NS: Yeah. So, I mean, this was, this had died with the Yanayev. The Yanayev thing was very important. It was almost really like the rude reminder that if any of you had any hope that the Soviet Union would rise again to be a countervailing world power, forget it.

KWS: In other words, the August failure was just unbelievable. So, what did you think when Baker and the Soviet prime minister in Jerusalem came down in October, on October 17th or 18th, I forgot what it was — 16th. And said the United States and the Soviet Union are going to issue [unintelligible] invitations. I mean, what went through the minds of the leadership at that juncture. I mean, we come to the river and now we are going to cross it, and there is no turning back. 

NS: Yes, I think, uh, the October episode was the most traumatic, really. Because in October, the chairman really realized that was all not a joke, and was serious. And I think part of the, uh, reason for that is that he still doubted that this thing would fruit into anything concrete.

KWS: Really, even that late date?

NS: Yes. Up to September, up ’til August, certainly, up to the Yanayev episode. He felt this was really, had a one percent chance of success, but 99 percent protection from evil. [Laughs.] So, okay, let’s [laughs]— 

KWS: That is a wonderful way of putting it. [Laughs.]

NS: So, so, let’s do it. I mean, let’s do it — I mean, and a one percent chance of success. But then after August and with the coming of September and with this thing becoming closer and closer, he started realizing that it is serious. And so, for the first time, he brought in all the old papers of the last six months and started to read them carefully. Up ’til September, he had really relied on us, on aides — and on Faisal and Hanan, played a very major role in, in the day-to-day negotiations — but now, it looked like, we’re really — 

KWS: The real thing.

NS: The real thing has come. 

KWS: Mmm.

NS: And of course, he didn’t like what was writ. He didn’t like — none of us — like the uh, the representation clauses about Jerusalem. Because up ’til then we had hoped really that Faisal and Hanan would be up front. The elimination of Faisal and Hanan on their Jerusalemite background came only in the end of September. So, suddenly we were, we were facing the possible loss of all our experienced, up-front leaders on the, on the negotiating team. Secondly — and, and the implication to Jerusalem, although as you’ll see, the letter of assurances takes care of that, theoretically, at least. And then there was the question of the continued rule of the PLO and would we stay in the shadows or, or otherwise, the Palestinians on the outside and their role — this was, negotiations. The, uh, the degree to which we can believe in the American threat to withhold loan guarantees to get the Israelis to stop settlements, and many other factors, many other factors. This question of the Jordanian-Palestinian team and what extent we can really, uh, forge a separate Palestinian entity, which we were by the way. I mean, the Jordanians to us now is like the Lebanese or the Syrians. I mean, we rarely do anything together except coordination and, uh, I mean, we are now on our own totally. I mean, this myth of the Jordanian-Palestinian joint delegation just ended, de facto and visually. We were able, by the way, de facto to change more than rules. I mean, uh, the rules of the uh, the mechanism. I mean, now it is very clear to the Israelis and to everybody that there is a Palestinian delegation headed by the PLO, led by the PLO, with insiders and outsiders, and Jerusalemites and, uh, separately from the Jordanians. And I mean, all of these rules have, have, have dropped by. And therefore, now the problem is substance; it is not any more the attempt to obviate, the attempt to absent — these I think are finished, for all practical purposes. But then Arafat had to deal with all of these in September and October. And had to deal also with forging the united Palestinian [unintelligible] and had to deal with his opposition, inside and outside. All of these had to be done in September or October. So, they were frantic months, uh, and all the difficult decisions had to be faced. But finally, it prevailed. The PNC was not difficult at all.

KWS: Did anything really happen between October and Rabin’s election?

NS: Uh, that’s a different matter. It was very good by the way, a very good period for us. So far, Shamir has been the better, the better partner.

KWS: [Laughs.] I won’t tell anybody you said that. Why?

NS: Because, while Shamir was at the helm, he was so stupid and so arrogant and so behind the times. I mean, he was really like a [unintelligible] in a sense [laughs], trying to buck the changes, the winds of change. 

KWS: Mm-hmm.

NS: Like [unintelligible] or whatever [laughs]. I mean, he was, he was defying the United States, eh, his strategic ally, supporter and so on, so stupidly, so obviously, building a settlement every time Baker would go to the Occupied Territory — and uh, defying the United States on the loan guarantee issue, defying the United States. All we needed to do was really to be forthcoming, to attempt to negotiate in good faith and to stay in the process. I mean, that was basically what was required for us since he really did not attempt any negotiation with — since he did not come with any, uh, concessions of any sort.

KWS: Nothing was demanded of you.

NS: Nothing was demanded of us, except to be forthcoming — 

KWS: And to be there.

NS: And be there. [Laughs.] And while we were there, forthcoming in good faith and all that, presenting agendas and papers, very seriously, diligently working at it, knowing that Shamir is not going to accept any of it — it was obvious, that helped Baker and Bush keep their resolve on the loan guarantee. And by keeping that — I mean, I am saying helped; we were not the only factor, there were other factors — but by keeping American resolve on the loan guarantees, Shamir dug his own grave. I mean, this was obviously — it was that issue more than anything else that ended the reign of Likud. Because Shamir defied the ally at a time when that ally was at its strongest —

KWS: Mm-hmm.

NS: — and its least vulnerable to Israeli blackmail on Iraq, Israeli blackmail on Syria, Israeli blackmail on Egypt or Israeli blackmail on the Soviet Union. I mean, Shamir could not point to the Americans that, “You need me so much for this or that and therefore, you have to accept all my demands on, uh —”  

KWS: Nabil, am I stretching, but is it fair to say that in the six months from Madrid until his defeat, he helped create the de facto recognition of an independent Palestinian delegation?

NS: Absolutely, absolutely.

KWS: By doing nothing, he made it comfortable for the United States to exist with you.

NS: Absolutely.

KWS: And not to say, “Oh no, you can’t deal with the PLO, you can’t deal with fax machines.”

NS: Absolutely. But also, the loan guarantees. The loan guarantees were a very powerful issue [in] our camp. This was the only thing we would, we had threatened boycott of the peace process. The only thing. I kept a very strict vigil never to mention the word “You withdraw,” or “You will stop,” except on the loan guarantee issue. And the loan guarantee issue did Shamir in. Because it was on the, on the, on the, based on the loan guarantee issue that [Yitzhak] Rabin won over [Shimon] Peres and the Labor party. It was on that basis that the Labor Party felt that it may win for the first time and therefore, an elective—, an electable person, rather than a more desirable person like Peres. And therefore, Rabin’s entry into, into the race was absolutely to America’s liking. Bush wanted Rabin in. 

KWS: Mmm.

NS: He felt that Rabin was the only guy who could get the Israeli public to accept a peace process. Once Rabin was in, it was a shoe-in [laughs] for, for Rabin, because from there on, Shamir faced nothing but economic difficulties and strife, problems from the immigrants from the Soviet Union with no jobs and no opportunities, nothing, eh, dwindling of immigration from the Soviet Union to a trickle. Ah, very serious problems with his constituencies. And eventually, his total loss in the election. So, all of this was achieved while we were in this peace, this peace process. And the other thing that was achieved was off the table not on the table, but it was important. In a way, in a way — and I don’t want this used against Rabin — but in a way, we helped Rabin come in. We really helped Rabin win these elections. And we helped Baker keep his resolve. And we helped this whole process. Helped. I’m not saying that we were the actor, We, with our position, stance, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, we deprived Shamir from any excuse to defy that equation on the basis of our intransigence or what have you. And uh, I fought a big battle here to keep it that way, because our position was sometimes really, you know, says [laughs], “What the hell? If we are doing fine, why should we rock the boat in any direction? We are doing fine.” And we kept doing fine until Rabin came, actually. The coming of Rabin so far, his potential has not been achieved, He has not yet really come to the table with any serious breakthrough, but at the same time, Rabin has now a public image in the United States that Shamir never had. So, he has his loan guarantees back and he has — I mean, there are several factors. Rabin, so far, has been the winner. And he has not paid its price yet.

KWS: Well, he is not going to pay any price until after the U.S. elections.

NS: Okay. I just go to the bathroom.


KWS: Umm, the last question has to do with the election.

NS: American elections?

KWS: No, your election.

NS: Oh, our elections.

KWS: What did, what is that you want to come out of these elections? I mean, what is the goal? What is the, the objective of them?

NS: The goal is really three: empowerment of the Palestinians, and the elections is really a major tool of empowerment. Here, Palestinians are taking power to run their country through an elective process, an elective process is a legitimizing process for that power. 

KWS: Mm-hmm.

NS: Second, is uh, legitimacy. And that is, once you have an elected body, nobody can say, “Who represents the Palestinians?” anymore, particularly they’re represented by — they have had all the blessing of the PLO, and all the paraphernalia of PLO legitimacy as well. And so, you’ll have an elected body that would make it difficult for any change of government in Israel to abort the process. You’ll have a body that can still carry with it the seeds of its own legitimacy.

KWS: It will transcend whatever happens in Israeli politics.

NS: Exactly. Uh, and, and that also can deepen the sense of, uh, importance, of a source of authority. As that is the source of authority. That is, this body will be accountable to the people but at the same time representative. This accountability and representativity, I mean, becomes very important in legitimacy. And thirdly, it’s really a very important tool of Palestinian commitment to democratic principles in the formation of their government. Uh, I know some people are afraid that it might lead to disunity instead of to unity, afraid, but I think overall the experience of Palestinians with rep— representative democracy, whatever its shape was, whether Palestinian unions, or Palestinian national council, or otherwise, it will always be in favor, it will always be in favor. And in rallying people around and in, and opening channels for discourse and I think this, this thing would be very important in that regard.

KWS: Five years ago when you drove with me to Plains [Georgia, where President Jimmy Carter lives] you were apoplectic about elections.

NS: You mean for or against?

KWS: You were against. Absolutely against, apoplectically — 

NS: Ahh, no, no, this was a different election, it was just totally different. This was the Shamir plan. All he wanted — 

KWS: No, no, ’87. Shamir plan was ’89.

NS: ’87?

KWS: When you drove, when I drove you to Plains, we talked — 

NS: No, that was not ’87, that was ’89.

KWS: Was it ’89?

NS: The first time I ever came to the states since ’82 was January ’89.

KWS: Shamir’s plan was May, but that is okay.

NS: No, but when I came to visit the President, it was probably May or June. So, we were talking about the Shamir election — 

KWS: I see, I stand corrected.

NS: And I was head— headstrong against it. 

KWS: [Laughs.] That is an understatement.

NS: Yeah, it meant two things. One: Shamir was really attempting to abort a central election by turning it into almost a referendum to choose people who would negotiate with him, and this was the whole Shamir plan. -That these were elections just simply to get the representative who will, uh — 

KWS: This was a larger village league. (Israeli sponsored WB Palestinian groups to support and work with Israeli administrators in 1983- active when Carter visited in March 1983)

NS: Exactly, exactly. And it was basically municipally-based which he came through later and explained — it was just a municipal election, nothing else. No, no, I mean, I was against this whole Shamir approach in opposition to what we then were suggesting, which was a total peace plan in which you will have a, uh, elections for a central council under United Nations supervision. If you looked at the Palestinian plan, it was really, an [unintelligible]-like plan, where Shamir was suggesting something totally, to my mind, was abortive of the whole process.

KWS: How do you foresee the executive working in tandem with this elected authority? The same way you have been working with Hanan and Faisal, in the same sort of manner?

NS: Ideally, ideally, and I think that this would be the best way — this whole elected assembly would become part of the PNC. So, it would have two roles. It will have an internal role and a role within the PNC as part of a, a bigger council representing the Palestinians.

KWS: Or you can have an upper house and a lower house.

NS: Surely, surely. And so, eh, I see that this council would still be accountable to an upper council of some sort, whether they are member of it or not. And that would be the transition period. But after the transition period, I see the PLO as vanishing. I don’t — I mean, once you are, once you have a Palestinian state in place — or a confederation in place, the PLO has to then become inside, and the inside will totally govern the outside, whereas now — 

KWS: You just have to give up the “L.”

NS: Well, the whole thing will change. The PLO at best will become a Jewish Agency, sort of.

KWS: [Laughs.] What a great title of a book! [Laughs.]

NS: Really.

KWS: “My dream of the future, the PLO as a Jewish Agency.”

NS: Eh, it will become the Palestinian agency of the Palestinians outside who need, really, continued supervision until they have a chance to be repatriated to their state and to their homes. And until that happens, the outside will remain in control, all through the transition period. The PLO will remain in control.

KWS: When are you going to come visit us?

NS: Well, I would love to even during this period. I mean, if you could arrange any day where I could meet you and the president before the 19th of November, I would do it any time. I really, I have transmitted my honest opinion and my honest adherence to your president. 

KWS: Are you —

NS: And I talk about him everywhere, in fact.

KWS: Are you free next week?

NS: Any time, you just tell me when and I, I’ll come.

KWS: I’ll check when I get back.

NS: I remember I came to visit him at times, 1989, when he wasn’t even as involved, but I always had in my mind his role and his potential and his stature. So, any time you tell me —