Mahmoud Abbas: A President Speaks Out
Where is the situation going in Egypt?
What I notice and know [from] before [is] that the Muslim Brotherhood is the only party that is well organized.... [If] there will be elections tomorrow or the day after, the Muslim Brotherhood will win the elections.
And what will that mean for the Palestinians?
They have good connections with Hamas. They are the same party and of course they will encourage them to continue their policy, especially the split between Gaza and the West Bank. And of course they will encourage them to go ahead with their program concerning terrorism.
So if the Muslim Brotherhood wins, in your mind reconciliation between the PLO and Hamas is off the table?
If they feel the Muslim Brotherhood will prevail in Egypt, I think they will not go to reconciliation at all.
And that is one of the reasons Hamas has not responded to your initiative to sit down and talk?
They believe they have this emirate in Gaza [and that] it will be expanded to some other countries. Maybe they are looking to Egypt, to Jordan, to Saudi Arabia…. At the same time, they feel they can do something in the West Bank and they are doing [things] now, they are working. Every day, we put our hands on smuggled arms, explosives, money laundering, every day. They are working. But till now, they didn’t succeed.
What indications are you getting from President Obama regarding your initiative for the U.N. to confer statehood on the Palestinians in September?
Obama said [a year ago] ‘I wish to see next September a [Palestinian] state with full membership in the United Nations….’ Now it was not a promise but at least these are words from the president of the United States. And I don’t think that he will fulfill his promise, let me use this word. We hope that he will fulfill it. But if he doesn’t, it will be a disaster.
“Hillary came to us in the hotel and told us, ‘if he doesn’t accept, all the bets will be off.’”
After the vote, when you return to Ramallah, you’ll have to assert sovereignty in some way, otherwise it’s all just symbolic. How will you do that?
We will ask ourselves, what will be next? Can we continue in this situation or do we have to do something? And that something is not armed intifada.
What is it?
Many other things, but not armed intifada.
Can you give me an example?
No, I can’t.
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After September, we will see. I will not elaborate on this.
You’ve talked about resigning after September.
I didn’t say I will resign.
What did you say?
The only thing I said is that I will not run for reelection.
Was it a mistake not to begin direct talks with Israel after Netanyahu declared a settlement moratorium in December 2009 even if it wasn’t a total freeze?
We started proximity talks with the acceptance of the Israelis at the suggestion of the Americans for six, seven months. And when they invited us to Washington in September, what did they tell us? They said they would bring Netanyahu to Washington to accept the firm moratorium on settlement activities. On the first of September, Hillary came to us in the hotel and told us, ‘if he doesn’t accept, all the bets will be off.’ OK, very good. Weeks later they changed their minds.
Once Obama really pushed Netanyahu to agree to some kind of moratorium, and you said no to direct talks, one consequence was that it weakened Obama.
Because [Netanyahu] didn’t want to have a full moratorium. It wasn’t a moratorium. And we accepted proximity, OK? What is the difference?
Obama had used all this political capital to get the Israelis to agree to something. It wasn’t a full moratorium but it was something.
What is that something? If it was a reasonable thing, we would accept. But they didn’t bring anything reasonable. And It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze. I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump. Three times he did it.
Dan Ephron has been Newsweek's Jerusalem bureau chief since January 2010. Previously, he served as a national security correspondent and deputy bureau chief in Washington. His stories have also appeared in the Boston Globe, The New Republic, and Esquire.