Fatah Negotiator Discusses Obama's Speech

Originally published on May 24, 2011 5:04 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Earlier this week, we heard from a senior official of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. Hamas has signed a unity deal with Fatah, the Palestinian nationalist movement that governs the West Bank, and it's led by President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.

Well, today, we're going to hear from one of Fatah's negotiators. Mohammad Shtayyeh joins us from Ramallah on the West Bank.

Welcome to the program.

MOHAMMAD SHTAYYEH: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And I want to begin by playing for you what President Obama said yesterday about the Fatah unity agreement with Hamas. Here's what he said.

BARACK OBAMA: The recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?

SIEGEL: He's referring to Hamas, and I wonder, is it your understanding that Hamas will make some unmistakable statement that it recognizes Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, or if not, how can you negotiate on behalf of them?

SHTAYYEH: Well, the negotiations are conducted in the name of the PLO. Hamas is not a member of the PLO at the moment. And secondly, what is agreed upon is to have a government that is not a Hamas and Fatah partnership sort of government, to have a government of independent personnel and independent ministers whom to be agreed upon by the two parties, but none of them is affiliated by any parties.

SIEGEL: But Hamas could run candidates and win seats in a new government ultimately without joining the PLO, couldn't it?

SHTAYYEH: No. Hamas is not going to run any candidate. Hamas will nominate people who are 100 percent independent people, and none of them is a Hamas affiliate. Fatah will enjoy a veto on any candidate who might be a Hamas affiliate.

SIEGEL: Do you think Hamas should change its position on its recognition of Israel and plainly come round to the PLO's position on Israel?

SHTAYYEH: Oh, by all means. I mean, obviously I would like very much to see Hamas becoming identical to our political platform, because at the end of the day, we would like to live in peace, and we do (unintelligible) another chance for talks.

This is something that's very new. Hamas is now saying exactly what we are saying, that we want an independent state on the borders of 1967. And I think the Israelis should realize that the occupation is hurting them in the same way that it does hurt us.

And at the end of the day, if the whole region is moving towards political participation, freedom of speech, freedom of movement and so on, it's the Palestinians who need all this before anybody else.

SIEGEL: Mohammad Shtayyeh, in the coming weeks and months, Israel is obviously going to be pressed to describe what territorial concessions it will make. That's going to be a politically tough demand for them to comply with.

The tough demands being made of the Palestinians concern Jerusalem and any right of return. Is it time for Palestinians, leaders that is, to say out loud and in public that they know they're not going to get the mass repatriation of Palestinians to Tel Aviv, Haifa or elsewhere in pre-'67 Israel or that they're going to permit some Israeli presence in Old Jerusalem, which the Al-Jazeera leak showed they were willing to negotiate? Is your side prepared to get public and face some very tough decisions of your own?

SHTAYYEH: Well, by all means, we are always public, and we said that we are ready to accept an independent Palestinian state on only 22 percent of what used to be called Palestine. So the compromises are there.

Now, when it comes to the issue of refugees, the most important issue is that the issue itself, the issue of refugees, has to be settled on the negotiating table. Otherwise, it will be a remaining issue, and it will be a thorny issue. And then, it might be an issue of - that might really cause an explosion of any future political agreement. So it is much better to really settle all issues, including the issue of the refugees as well.

SIEGEL: Mohammad Shtayyeh, thank you very much for talking with us today.

SHTAYYEH: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Mr. Shtayyeh spoke to us from Ramallah on the West Bank. He's been a member of the Palestinian negotiating team.

Today, at the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the same issues with President Obama. On the Palestinian right of return, Netanyahu referred back to the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. He said that Israel had absorbed Jewish refugees from Arab countries then, but the Arab countries had refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees. And now, he said Israel's future as a Jewish state would be wiped out by accepting Palestinian refugees.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: And I think it's time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly, it's not going to happen. The Palestinian refugee problem has to be resolved. It can be resolved. And it will be resolved if the Palestinians choose to do so in a Palestinian state. That's a real possibility. But it's not going to be resolved within the Jewish state.

SIEGEL: Prime Minister Netanyahu, speaking with President Obama today. We have more on their meeting elsewhere on the program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.