1. Sebastian: After the crucial Mid East Summit in Sharm el-Sheik, can a Peace process be reconstructed with any chance of a successful outcome? My guest is the best known Palestinian commentator in the world today, a writer and literary critic based in NY, and the man who has won Respect, although perhaps at different times, from all sides in the conflict. Has he joined the terminal skeptics, or can he still see a way forward?
Edward Said, a very warm welcome to the programme.
2. Saïd: Thank you.
3. Sebastian: Intense international pressure on the Palestinians and the Israelis to reach [an Agreement]. Do you believe they’ve come up with anything that approaches a lasting [Agreement]?
4. Saïd: Not now. I don’t think so. I think the best that can be hoped is some sort of Disengagement.
5. Sebastian: So this is a band aid?
6. Saïd: It’s been a band aid for the last seven years, I think. In other words, I think the fundamental flaw in what’s been happening since 1993, since they signed the Oslo Accords on the White House Lawn, is basically re-adjusting the terms of Israeli Occupation. The Israelis have been there all along. They haven’t really withdrawn from much. They are still in Occupation of about 65% of the West Bank, 40% of Gaza.
7. Sebastian: And Barak has made more concessions than any other Israeli Prime Minister.
8. Saïd: That is, I know, the line, but I think.
9. Sebastian: But it’s true though, isn’t it? It’s not just a line.
10. Saïd: Well, I’m not really sure about that. I mean, Settlements have increased during his tenure more than they did during the first Prime Minister Rabin and certainly more than during Peres.
11. Sebastian: Isn’t it time to discuss Sovereignty in Jerusalem? Sharing it.
12. Saïd: Discussing is fine, but it isn’t quite the same thing as actually conceding it. The information I have of what happened in Camp David in July, which as you know came to a standstill already, a stalemate, was that in the end what they really wanted from Arafat wasn’t so much an acceptance just of the terms of Oslo, they wanted him to sign off on Jerusalem effectively, for most of Jerusalem, and to effectively end the struggle between the Palestinians and the Israelis. In other words, saying we have no more.
13. Sebastian: But all sides wanted that, didn’t they? I mean that’s what all the whole point of the final status Negociation is to end the conflict, isn’t it?
14. Saïd: Well, it would if the stated final status Negociation, in other words, what the contents of them, satisfied the core of the conflict which is the question of the refugees, the question of compensation and/or return, and above all, the question of Jerusalem.
15. Sebastian: Looking at what happened over recent days then, how far was this orchestrated by Arafat? To a great degree, wasn’t it?
16. Saïd: I think probably not. I tell you, one thing I think the Press has missed in the West is the large degree to which this Insurrection, I think really one has to call it as such, is an Insurrection against Oslo, and to a certain degree, against the whole Administration on the Palestinian side.
17. Sebastian: Undoubtedly incited by Hamas, by Islamic jihad.
18. Saïd: Hamas and Arafat are all on the same side.
19. Sebastian: But then on the context that the Hamas leader, Ismail Abu Shanab, said he’d had a meeting with Arafat and afterwards he said we discussed ways of developing this Intifada. That’s pretty direct.
20. Saïd: This is after it started, and People don’t always control Things that they say they’re going to control or try to use. There was an attempt to sort of lay the whole Intifada that began at the end of 1987, the First, the Great Intifada, and say this was all done by the PLO. In fact, it wasn’t. I think one has to understand that Palestinians are like other People, that they’re capable of popular Insurrections for reasons that hit very directly at the problems, the deep problems, of Palestinian Life.
21. Sebastian: Arafat is said to have come back from Camp David, he sat around in Gaza City, he will try to work out a strategy. Then he said, I want to light a fire and I want it to burn Israel. It was quite clear that this.
22. Saïd: No, I don’t agree with that. I think he was cornered. I think he felt. Don’t forget, I haven’t been in touch with him for several years.
23. Sebastian: You’re not on the best terms.
24. Saïd: No, we’re not on the best terms, because I disagreed with his policy, as a result of Oslo. But I really think he was a cornered figure. I think he felt that he made all kinds of concessions. He played, in my opinion, the American in the Israeli game, taking them at their face value, not realizing a. that the United States is not an honest broker. Anybody who has lived for 24 hours in the United States will tell you that the no. 1 Foreign Policy issue in American Politics is total support of Israel, regardless of the Consequences for the Arabs.
25. Sebastian: Why would the President then, like President Clinton, invest so much of his Prestige in his Office if it was going to fail instead of bring about a solution?
26. Saïd: He has a startling incomprehension of the Arab and Islamic World. He has no connexion with it, never did, knows nothing about it. He is a Born Again Christian. He’s a Fundamentalist Zionist. And number three.
27. Sebastian: So you’re saying he hasn’t come to the table with goodwill at all? You’re dismissing all his efforts?
28. Saïd: Yes. I think the notion of goodwill and Politics is a rather rare Commodity.
29. Sebastian: He’s failed, did he?
30. Saïd: He came in very successful. He got them to sign. You remember, the picture of Clinton holding Rabin and Arafat on either side, bringing them together. I described it at that time like a Roman Emperor bringing two vassals together to sign, and that’s what he did. Did he bring together the Peoples? I don’t think so. He certainly didn’t bring the Palestinians. Many of whom were very skeptical at that time, weren’t listened to. I was one of them. Others were hopeful as Palestinians under Siege and under Occupation for 33 years.
31. Sebastian: But the Violence now. Are you saying that you don’t think.
32. Saïd: This is the result of the Occupation.
33. Sebastian: You don’t think Arafat incited it?
34. Saïd: Absolutely [not]. That gives Arafat Powers.
35. Sebastian: If you don’t mind my saying so.
36. Saïd: Let me just finish. If you don’t mind my saying so, this is to reduce the Palestinians to the level of puppets. People, we’re talking about sentient [homosapiens], who feel Hunger, who feel the pangs of Unemployment, the inability to move around, watch their Land being eaten up. Listen, I went.
37. Sebastian: Sentient [homosapiens] who can lynch two Israelis in the middle of the street.
38. Saïd: Look, Mob Violence is horrible. Let me just, let me finish what I was saying. Mob Violence is terrible no matter who does it, but a hundred Palestinians have been been killed 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Israelis. All of it regrettable. All of it unnecessary in my opinion. All of it horrible. There’s no such thing as a nice Death, any more than it was nice to watch.
39. Sebastian: But this is.
40. Saïd: A 12-year-old Palestinian kid being shot by Israeli soldiers. 30% of the Palestinian kids.
41. Sebastian: Not intentionally.
42. Saïd: Listen, if the camera can see them squarely, see the boy and his father squarely within their lenses, for the period that it took to kill them 40 minutes, it must have been intentional. There was nobody around them. There was a Wall. They were killed. They are enemies.
43. Sebastian: Israeli soldiers were lynched on the street
44. Saïd: There’s a Culture. It’s terrible. I don’t approve of Mob Violence, but the context is one of military Occupation. Just think of what the French did to Calabria. Just think of German pilots who fell during the Battle of Britain here and what happened to them. I mean, this is not a natural situation. It’s not like People are going around gratuitously committing Violence. There is a military Occupation by Israel, there are Tanks, there are Helicopter Gunships, there is Hunger, there is Confinement, there is, above all, a Dispossession.
45. Sebastian: What use then is the Violence? What use has it been?
46. Saïd: It’s hard to tell. Violence isn’t always thought out in terms of what it’s going to bring, but it demonstrates Dissatisfaction. In this context, I think it demonstrates the unviability of a solution that leaves out the question of Justice. This is a People that has been done an Injustice since 1948. Our Society was destroyed. This is one of the hardest.
47. Sebastian: I keep coming back to the Violence of today. If Arafat is not in control, what’s the point of talking to.
48. Saïd: No Leader is in control. Who is in control in Serbia? Nobody. There was a general dissatisfaction that removed Milosevic.
49. Sebastian: That someone came to the surface.
50. Saïd: Somebody came to the surface, and something will come to the surface. This is.
51. Sebastian: There was an Election.
52. Saïd: There was an Election but it still.
53. Sebastian: There was clearly a candidate.
54. Saïd: But he didn’t want to leave. So we’re talking about a general Insurrection.
55. Sebastian: So what is the point of the Israelis talking to Arafat then if he’s not in Control of anybody?
56. Saïd: Well, who’s in Control of the Israelis? It’s an Israeli Army that is there.
57. Sebastian: Apparently, it’s the elected Prime Minister.
58. Saïd: Yes, but he’s there as an Occupation Force designed to hold on to Israeli Annexed Territory and to hold on to civilians, to keep down civilians.
59. Sebastian: But he’s much more prepared than any other Israeli Leader to make concessions.
60. Saïd: I’m rather skeptical about that. When it comes down to it, every Israeli Leader has said to his People, this is the continuation of our Control. We’re not. He still calls them Judea and Samaria. He’s trying to hold on to them, repackage them in another form. Israel has no intention of allowing a Sovereign, Occupation-free Palestinian State. They want to hold onto the large Settlements, they want to hold on to the access Roads, the Settlement Roads that go to across, they want to hold on to all Jerusalem which is about 30% of the West Bank.
61. Sebastian: I come back to this question, What difference is the Violence going to make? The Violence isn’t going to help anything. We have a hundred People dead from the Palestinians.
62. Saïd: More than a hundred Palestinians, you’re right.
63. Sebastian: Who has benefited from that?
64. Saïd: I think we should feel some sense that the present arrangement is not working. There is a popular sense of Injustice and Oppression felt by every Palestinian, no matter whether that Palestinian is inside the Occupied Territories or elsewhere. And the general sense of frustration at the American-Israeli Control of a situation because of a vast disparity in Power. We’re talking about the Violence of the weak and of the oppressed. We’re not talking about the Violence of Helicopters.
65. Sebastian: Is this Arafat paint them that way, though?
66. Saïd: No, it’s a fact. It’s not painting.
67. Sebastian: You get People out on the Streets and they face Israeli Tanks. They look like losers on the Street.
68. Saïd: People have been out in popular Insurrections for centuries, and this is one of them.
69. Sebastian: And they’ve been called out as well, haven’t they?
70. Saïd: No, they haven’t been called out.
71. Sebastian: You know they have been incited out onto the Streets.
72. Saïd: That’s so irrelevant. People are not puppets.
73. Sebastian: You have Hamas Leaders calling.
74. Saïd: Tim, People are not puppets. They don’t go out on the streets to wreak Violence on.
75. Sebastian: They respond to Incitement, don’t they?
76. Saïd: No Incitement is needed. The Occupation is Incitement. The Control. Listen, I’ve been there several times.
77. Sebastian: What’s the point of Arafat signing a Truce then? If you can’t deliver.
78. Saïd: He’s going to try. Those are questions you should ask Arafat. Don’t ask me. I’m not in possession either of a Truce Mechanism or of a Crowd-control Mechanism that you seem to wish he has. I’m simply telling you that from the very beginning, this Peace process was flawed, because it refused to address the essential issue which was the Dispossession of the People in 1948 and a continued military Occupation since 1967 that has destroyed the Palestinian Economy, that has destroyed a whole Generation of People whether through [Murder] or through Deportation or through Imprisonment.
You talk about releasing prisoners. There are still over 2,000 prisoners in Israeli jails. The Israelis have wreaked Violence on the Palestinian Economy, on our People, on our Institutions. They just blew up Arafat’s Headquarters the other day with a Helicopter Gunship.
79. Sebastian: More Violence than Arafat himself has wreaked over your own Economy?
80. Saïd: Much, much, much more. Much more.
81. Sebastian: You yourself have pointed out the Corruption that is at the heart of the Palestinian Authority.
82. Saïd: By support from the US and Israel. They have supported the Palestinian.
83. Sebastian: Palestinian Leadership.
84. Saïd: No, they’ve co-opted them, let’s say. But in the end.
85. Sebastian: [Unclear]
86. Saïd: No, I wouldn’t say that. I would say that what they’ve done is they’ve made an Agreement with Israel to continue to rule over the Palestinians in the best way they thought possible. I think it wasn’t the best way.
87. Sebastian: You said in 1997 that Arafat has lied to the People, that he is bringing an end to self-determination. He’s deceiving them into believing that he acts in their name and interest.
88. Saïd: Yeah, I think at that time, that was true. Absolutely.
89. Sebastian: And now?
90. Saïd: Now, I think when he went to Washington in July and he realised what was required of him, he felt, number one, that he had to face his People, his Regime, which included the Regime of the Peace process, has failed to deliver. The Standard of Living has come down, the GDP has come down, Unemployment has risen, Poverty is to be found everywhere, People are on Strike.
91. Sebastian: Abuse of Human Rights.
92. Saïd: The whole business. Of course.
93. Sebastian: The truth of the business.
94. Saïd: Terrible. With support of the United States, by the way. As an American-Palestinian, I’m deeply ashamed. That Al Gore went to Jericho in 1996, in March of 96, he recommended the State Security Courts. This is done at the behalf to the Israelis and the Americans, who want Arabs put in Jail in order to satisfy their Security problems. In the meantime, there’s a million Palestinians inside Israel, Citizens of Israel, who are treat as blacks in South Africa were. We have an Apartheid Regime. This is a religious State that rules People by Religion. If you’re a Jew, you have Privileges. If you are not a Jew, if you’re a Christian or Muslim and an Arab, you have lesser Rights or you have no Rights. This is an untenable situation.
95. Sebastian: You see this in far more bleak terms now than you ever have.
96. Saïd: Yes, I’m afraid. I’m afraid their situation has gotten now, where there is a polarization of opinion on both sides. The Israelis have this, in my opinion, ludicrous Idea that they are being victimized. They’re one of the most powerful Armies in the world. They have 200 Nuclear Warheads. They have the largest Air Force in the Region. The largest and most powerful Army. They actually say.
97. Sebastian: That’s when. They haven’t done a millions of what they took to. When Arafat says, you’ve War on us.
98. Saïd: I’m sure regretful-
99. Sebastian: It’s not true, is it?
100. Saïd: I’m sure regretful for that. What they failed to do, which has been the policy from the very beginning, is the Hope that in the end the Palestinians would give up and go away. After 50 years of being beaten on the head, Palestinians would say, Okay, we’ll accept anything. I think I Arafat almost did that in 1993. He realised that the only way he could continue, was to try and work with them. Look what it got him. It got him very little. Before his own People, at the end, he had to level with them or show them. He couldn’t. He couldn’t sign the final document, which would have literally sold them down the river. I’m his commonsense stopped him, because he had to go back and deal with them. What was required of him was essentially to annul the Palestinian Cause. The fact that we’ve been without compensation, without restitution. The oldest refugee and largest refugee problem in the World today unresolved.
101. Sebastian: Who is there to speak to?
102. Saïd: There’s always very young.
103. Sebastian: When Prime Minister Barak talks about a partner for Peace, who is there to speak to?
104. Saïd: Well, I think.
105. Sebastian: Among the Palestinians now?
106. Saïd: I think now his man is Arafat, there’s no one else. There’s a younger Generation of Palestinians. I think we need a period of Evolution. I think we certainly need a commission of inquiry. We need a Force to protect Palestinians who are virtually unarmed, compared to the Armor and Air Force of the Israelis. I think we need an honest broker which could only, in my opinion, be the UN. I don’t think the US can play the role, because in US Politics Israel is a sacred cow. You cannot criticise it. Hillary Clinton, Clinton’s wife, is running for Senator in New York. A year ago before she ran, she said, The only solution is a Palestinian State. She’s been forced to eat her words on a daily basis. She and her competitor in the Republican party, who are competing for the senate seat in New York, are in a daily contest to prove who is more pro-Israel and anti-Arab. It is that simple.
107. Sebastian: Who can end the Violence now? Who can stop.
108. Saïd: I think the UN can.
109. Sebastian: Who can stop the Violence?
110. Saïd: I think the UN can. An international as opposed to the American.
111. Sebastian: Weren’t you suggesting a Peace Force?
112. Saïd: I think something like that. A Peace Force, yeah.
113. Sebastian: If it comes to that?
114. Saïd: I think the Palestinians need protection, absolutely. The problem is that the last time there was an international Peace Force run by the United States was in Lebanon in 1982. We had the Massacres of Sabra-Shatila. They actually were here.
115. Sebastian: Palestinians don’t need protection, if they stay in their houses and don’t run into the streets, do they?
116. Saïd: You mean, eat grass and.
117. Sebastian: No, I mean.
118. Saïd: Have to throw stones?
119. Sebastian: Don’t attack Israeli Border positions. The more it’s done.
120. Saïd: It’s not Israelis Border positions. It is Israeli Occupation forces who are deep in Palestinian Territory. That is the problem.
121. Sebastian: One was attacked essentially, as the Agreement was being signed in Sharm al-Sheik.
122. Saïd: Good, I think it’s important to attack Occupation Forces. Wouldn’t you attack an Occupation Force in your Country? Of course you would.
123. Sebastian: You’ve changed.
124. Saïd: I haven’t changed at all.
125. Sebastian: This is the man who was preaching Reconciliation.
126. Saïd: I am still preaching Reconciliation.
127. Sebastian: In the beginning. Where’s the Reconciliation? You are.
128. Saïd: Have Reconciliation and have People attack Border posts?
129. Sebastian: Asking People to attack him in the posts?
130. Saïd: I’m asking People to attack Occupation Forces, absolutely. I’m not a pacifist. I deeply believe that Occupation, Apartheid has to be resisted. This is what we’ve been given from the Israelis. I certainly believe in Reconciliation. I’m trying to think of a way that rises a little bit beyond the.
131. Sebastian: You’re openly advocating Violence.
132. Saïd: No, I’m not openly advocating Violence. I’m simply saying, One has one’s Duty as a Citizen to resist Occupation. It may be nonviolent Resistance, certainly. I’m for that, if it can be done. For any Violence that will resist Occupation and Apartheid. It was the ANC position. Nelson Mandela says.
133. Sebastian: Some trying fine. The stone throwing is fine.
134. Saïd: No. I’m not interested in the details of it. I’m not in a position to be.
135. Sebastian: To holy Jewish sign.
136. Saïd: Oh, no. I’m against attacking anything. I’m simply saying that Occupation and Apartheid have to be resisted, by whatever means bring about their end. If-
137. Sebastian: That’s the same thing as-
138. Saïd: No, it’s not the same thing.
139. Sebastian: Looking to maintain Violence.
140. Saïd: It’s not the legitimising them. It is simply not. It is delegitimising Apartheid. It delegitimizing Occupation. That’s the main political struggle for us. We haven’t done enough. The cause-
141. Sebastian: Why, because the Politics haven’t worked?
142. Saïd: No. This is part of Politics. This is a political Campaign. We haven’t, this is where I think Arafat was Wrong. I think we have to appeal to the World. I think, certainly, the drama of the last two weeks has shown that what you are dealing with is not a Peace process, but a continuation of the Occupation.
143. Sebastian: Fact that the Prime Minister did what the Palestinians wanted.
144. Saïd: Repackaging.
145. Sebastian: Palestinians wanted.
146. Saïd: Well, I, you know. What are you telling me? That Palestinians voted for him? I mean, most Palestinians can’t vote anywhere, because of their condition as refugees. It’s the State of.
147. Sebastian: You certainly didn’t want them in the Oslo, did you?
148. Saïd: Well, I certainly don’t want any of them myself. I’m not a Israeli citizen.
149. Sebastian: It was their best chance, wasn’t it?
150. Saïd: Well, you know, History is very dynamic. I think.
151. Sebastian: He came to these.
152. Saïd: [Unclear] and all the same.
153. Sebastian: Mandate to settle. To make a settlement.
154. Saïd: Yes, one that soothed Israel’s interest, which may not necessarily coincide with Palestinian interest. Therefore.
155. Sebastian: He put his own political.
156. Saïd: It seems to be.
157. Sebastian: Position at risk.
158. Saïd: Well, he’s a poor politician. I mean, he’s a man, in my opinion, without sufficient Imagination, without the Compassion and Generosity that is in the end going to be needed. What Israel has to do, Tim, is to acknowledge it’s Responsibility for the disaster that we call the Nakba of 1948. No Israeli Leader - a few Israeli Individuals have - but no Israeli Leader has faced up to that past. You cannot deal with a dispossessed People that is still alive, still there, still watching the ruins of their own History, parade before your eyes and say, we have no Responsibility for this.
159. Sebastian: You keep going back to History. What about the Present?
160. Saïd: The present day.
161. Sebastian: There’s no historical, exclusive historical claim. I have seen the Palestinians know that you’re a Jew. You said that yourself.
162. Saïd: My solution is to share. My solution is coexistence and sharing. That’s why I say that the Israelis have not acknowledged that part of History, which resulted in the Destruction of Palestinians.
163. Sebastian: Also that was on the table of Camp David. That wasn’t an attempt to share?
164. Saïd: History is a way of understanding the Present. You can’t shave it off and say, It’s not relevant. Of course, it’s relevant. Of all People, the Jews have the most say about History, because their History has been such a tragic one. It’s really absolutely symmetrical. If there was some way to bring about some understanding and recognition and acknowledgement by Israeli Jews of the fact that they are living on Arab Land, that every Israeli House or Israeli Settlement. Moshe Dayan said it openly in 1976, We are perfectly aware. He said that, When we came here, this was an Arab country. Every House we live in was once an Arab House. Therefore, this History, which is barred and invisible, have to be made known. There has to be some Responsibility for it. That is the way I think there could be a Reconciliation and understanding. It doesn’t mean that the Jews have to leave, it doesn’t mean that the Jews are all to be destroyed or moved away. It means that there’s a common History of suffering and there’s self-Destruction in this instance.
Sebastian: In July on the Lebanese Border,
you were photographed throwing a stone at a Israeli Border post. Why?
Saïd: It was a moment of exultation.
First of all, it was nobody there.
Sebastian: You throw stones for
Saïd: Yes. To the end of an Israeli Occupation,
absolutely. I think it was a common gesture. A lot of People were doing it
there. There was nobody inside.
Sebastian: Do you regret it?
Saïd: No. I don’t regret it, not at
Sebastian: Regret the controversy.
Regret the fact that it’s-
come and go.
Sebastian: Spoils your Reputation in
Saïd: Perhaps, I don’t know. I did a
big interview in Israel in August with Ha’aretz. I discussed it there. I’m
perfectly capable of discussing it.
Sebastian: What signal do you think that
send? I mean, here you are, the best known Palestinian commentator in the World
today, and you’re throwing a stone on the Border post.
176. Saïd: I think it would signal what I’m saying, what I’ve been saying for 30 years. That there can be no Peace or Reconciliation between Israeli’s and Palestinians unless there’s an understanding of the other’s History. The Party that has suffered the most requires from the Person who has cause that suffering or the Party that has cause that suffering some acknowledgment. The denial will not do.
177. Sebastian: It requires also the renunciation of Violence finally, by the Palestinians, doesn’t it?
178. Saïd: I think if you categorise it as Violence, you must talk about the greater Violence. The greater Violence is out of the Israeli Army. There’s no comparison. Throwing a stone is not the same as having a Helicopter gun ship fire missiles at civilians from the air. This is the Immorality of War that the United States have led the World in. I’m afraid the Israelis have learned the lesson all the well. Firing Tanks at villagers.
179. Sebastian: Israelis claim there was proportionate response. All be it condemned by the Security Council.
180. Saïd: Right. Condemned by the Security Council, condemned by the entire World. If this is something that cannot be tolerated. Enormously powerful Armies firing at civilians.
181. Sebastian: Do you understand the Palestinians are using these images? That these are the images they want to put themselves in that position, to show themselves as the losers, to focus world attention on them.
182. Saïd: Using images how?
183. Sebastian: You know what they’ve been doing now?
184. Saïd: I’m not quite sure I understand your meaning. You mean they expose themselves to Death so they can appear on British Television? [Bernard-Henri Levy. Woody Allen. Bill Maher.] I think you must take them for more fools than they could ever possibly be. These are People in the line of fire. These are People, actually heroically resisting, a brutal military Occupation, which is without parallel in the late 20th and early 21st century. I think instead of admiring their Heroism, by saying that they’re inciting Violence for no purpose whatever, except to appear on Television is really a trivialisation, a banalisation of a truly horrendous situation. I think what one should be led to ask is, Why has this happened? Why are People so desperate and so resistant against a Regime of such brutality. Such a denial of their Rights to self-determination as to do this. I think that is the real question.
185. Sebastian: Edward Said, it’s been a pleasure having you on the program. Thank you very much, indeed.
186. Saïd: Thank you.