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Interview With Hasan Abdel Rahman

Aired April 12, 2002 - 12:19   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: With us now from Washington, Hasan Abdel Rahman is the Palestinian representative to the United States. And he is our guest now from D.C. to get more reaction and perspective on this.

Sir, you heard John King talking about the really -- frankly, the tough language that is now being used by the White House. They are calling this act today a homicide. Is the Palestinian leadership willing, at this point, to listen to what Colin Powell has to say and to come out publicly and denounce terrorism and do it not just once, but repeatedly to work towards some sort of normalcy and a cease-fire in this region?


We have said in the past and we will say today -- we will reiterate what we have said. We want to cooperate with Colin Powell. But having said that, I believe that the president of the United States and Colin Powell's statements would have much more credibility and resonance within the Palestinian community if they had, with the same force, criticized what Israel has been doing in the Palestinian areas -- in other words, what you yourself reported and what "The New York Times" today reported and "The Washington Post": the mass graves, the murder of civilians in the refugee camps.


HEMMER: Sir, I am going to interrupt you here, just because the United States has said for a long time now, for the Israeli military withdrawal and the incursions, they are on public record.

At times, they say they should get out immediately, are the words from the White House. They have told the Israelis they do not approve of it, just like the U.N. has done, just like the Europeans have done. However, the suicide bombing continues.

My question again to you, sir: Is the Palestinian leadership ready and able at this point to denounce this and put an end to it?

RAHMAN: Well, as I said, we are ready. We are able. But we can do a better job if the United States treats the Palestinian losses in the same way it treats Israeli losses. I am saddened by what I see in the streets of Jerusalem. But because we have not been shown the massacres that were committed in Jenin in the same way -- I saw it today on Al Jazeera network. I did not see it on CNN. And the American public have not seen it. And I assume that the president of the United States has not seen the massacres and the mass graves that occurred yesterday, or the day before, or in the last two weeks in Jenin and other areas.

I am sure that the president of the United States will be as outraged when he sees the suffering of the Palestinian people. And he will understand what pushes certain Palestinians to commit those acts that we do not approve of, we do not like, and we do not accept as a way of resisting Israeli occupation.

But we understand...

HEMMER: All right given that -- let me pause one second here, because you are talking about massacres in Jenin, the northern West Bank town of Jenin.


HEMMER: We have heard this over the past 24 hours. We have talked to the Israeli government about it. They tell us it is a fabrication. They say the casualties there are much closer to 150 as opposed to 300 or in excess of that, according to the Palestinians.


HEMMER: Let me just finish here, please. I'm sorry.

We have reporters near the scene there. They're trying to work their way through that town. And, in fact, with consultations overnight last night, the Israeli government assured us that they would allow us in to the scene in Jenin. And, granted, it is a scene of devastation in that refugee camp. They tell us they will let us in as soon as they believe it is secure and there is no longer the possibility of loss of life from gun battles there in Jenin.

Now, given that, I want to get back to my point. Here is what the Israelis will say. They say logic serves only, sir, if you stop the suicide bombings, the military action would never have gotten under way in the first place. If A plus B equals C, then both sides have to do their part. And your part, sir, quite honestly, is to denounce the terrorism that we are seeing in the streets of Jerusalem today, do it publicly, do it repeatedly.

Why, then, my point again and my question to you, why not do it to get us somewhere toward a meaningful cease-fire?

RAHMAN: I think many people do not want to listen to what we are saying. I just said it. Yasser Arafat said it to the Arab summit conference. He said it on more than one occasion. Every Palestinian spokesperson have said it. People do not want to listen.

But saying it alone is not enough, my friend. We need to change the environment in the Palestinian territories. When you have the whole Israeli army keeping, one, 3.5 million Palestinians for one week prisoners or 10 days, when you have 150 Palestinian killed, is this a statistic or each one of them counts like and have a life and have a family, like an Israeli does?

We have to equate the Palestinian suffering with the Israeli suffering. Otherwise, you are not going to get anywhere with this, because if you treat Palestinian life inferior to the Israeli lives, Palestinian losses inferior to Israeli losses, this will antagonize the Palestinians, make them more angry, make them more hostile.

We can get to peace with Israel when Palestinian life is as sacred as the Israeli life. That is when -- and that Palestinian freedom is equal to Israeli freedom, because what takes Palestinians to the situation we are in is 36 years of one of the most brutal occupations in modern history. That is what turns people into suicide bombers, which we do not like. We do not like to see our children killing themselves and killing others in the process. We don't like it. It pains us. It aches us.

HEMMER: We are going to continue our conversation here. We are awaiting Ari Fleischer to come out and make his briefing there at the White House. When that happens, I apologize, but we will interrupt you.

But before Ari Fleischer does come out -- there is a shot of the room back at the White House in Washington D.C. -- I am told by Palestinians, by the scores here, that Yasser Arafat, back on the 16th of December, did go public denouncing terrorism and suicide bombing and essentially calling a halt to it. I am told, for about a three- week period, the violence essentially ended.

Why not do that on a daily basis every day?

RAHMAN: You know why? Because Mr. Sharon, that same day, he went and continued his targeted assassination, mafia-style execution of Palestinians.

He continued his incursions in the Palestinian territories. He continued his siege in the Palestinian territories. And he continued his attack on the Palestinian police, destroying not the infrastructure of terror, but the infrastructure of the police security forces. That is why he created a political climate that makes it difficult for Yasser Arafat to call on his people, because when your people are under attack, you cannot ask them not to defend themselves. When your police is under attack, you cannot ask the police to defend Israel and ensure the security of Israel.

Mr. Sharon has an agenda. I hope that the United States does not fall into his trap. Remember, you told me just a few minutes ago that the United States asked Sharon to stop his incursion and withdrawal. Did he pay attention to what the president of the United States say? Now the Palestinian people and the Arab people are asking the question: Who leads? Is it Sharon or Bush? Who is the leader of the superpower? Is it President Bush or is it Sharon?

HEMMER: Hasan Abdel Rahman, the Palestinian rep for the United States, sir, thank you for your time.

RAHMAN: Thank you, sir.

HEMMER: A spirited discussion, again, as the violence did continue today here in the Middle East.




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