An Interview with Arafat-Part II

At the end of April, after Arafat broke off the interview published in the June 11 issue of The New York Review, he went on another of his frequent tours of Persian Gulf capitals, where the PLO receives much of its political and financial support, this time to inform Arab leaders about the results of the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers. I was asked to wait for him in Tunis, where he arrived on May 13. The next afternoon Arafat was smiling and seemed relaxed when he greeted me, getting up from behind a desk at the downtown office of the PLO representative to Tunisia, “our embassy here,” as a PLO man matter-of-factly described it. I wanted to pick up where my interview had left off in Algiers, discussing Arafat’s “vision” of a Palestinian state. Before we could resume, he recounted in some detail the itinerary of his eight-nation tour in the Gulf. “Because of this,” he joked, “I am not married.”

(S.M.)

Q: Have you thought things out carefully about the nature of an independent Palestinian state? Would, for example, the PLO claim the right to lead this Palestinian state?

A: You have to remember that we are proud of our democracy and we respect our democracy. If our people want us to continue, we will continue. If not, they have the right [to select alternative leaders]. It happened in Britain after the Second World War, when they changed Churchill. Why not change me? They have the right to do it.

It was shown that democracy is one of the most important shields in our very long and very difficult march. As an example, after our departure from Beirut [in 1982], we faced some troubles because of Arab intervention and Arab interference [in PLO affairs]. They created some puppets, rebels, dissidents, and so on. Those who were trying to interfere inside the PLO, they were imagining that they could do the same as they had done in their own countries: a military coup, a violent coup. Our democracy protected the march. Because of our strong democracy, the democratic structure of the PLO, they failed.

Q: What relationships would this Palestinian state have with its neighbors, for example, with Jordan? You have noted that the Palestine National Council’s resolutions called for an eventual confederation with Jordan. Is it clear that this confederation would be established only after the creation of an independent Palestinian state?

A: It is not necessary. But this is the Palestinian vision. The details can be discussed.

Q: Could the confederation be established before the actual creation of an independent Palestinian state?

A: What are we gaining by speaking frankly? If they [the Jordanian government] will agree to deal with us on equal footing—to discuss the shape of the parliament, the shape of the government, our passports, our flags, the military troops, the national guards in the two [parts of the confederation], the economic structure of the country, the customs, the central …

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