Against a background of continued gun battles between Hamas and Fatah security forces in Gaza City, the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been speaking to Euronews about the problems facing the Palestinian people and the political tensions that created this situation.
He spoke before Friday’s clashes and before the discovery of a senior Hamas official trying to smuggle 640,000 euros into Gaza.
While in Strasbourg the Palestinian leader warned EU deputies of a humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian territories, if European financial aid is not restored.
EuroNews: Mr. President, how do you see the situation in the Palestinian territories? Is it realistic to talk about returning to the negotiating table when right now the area is in such crisis?
Mahmoud Abbas: The economic situation is undoubtedly very difficult, even catastrophic. Financial aid to the Palestinian people has been cut off for two months. The important thing now is to find the fastest possible means of restoring that aid.
With regard to the peace process, we call on the Israeli government and the Middle East Quartet – the EU, UN, Russia and the US – to work at getting ourselves and the Israelis back to the negotiating table on the basis of the road map.
And I think a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister is possible when he returns from Washington, so we can seriously debate this.
EuroNews: What has come from your visit to Strasbourg and what can you say about the EU’s position since Hamas came to power?
Mahmoud Abbas: The EU’s position with regard to Hamas is clear. That is to say that it cannot deal with Hamas as long as it fails to respond to Brussels’ three conditions – that is renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel and respect of agreements concluded with Israel.
That said, I would like to stress an important point: the EU has been given the task by the Quartet of finding a means of getting financial aid to the Palestinian people. And we hope that will be done in the quickest possible time to address the people’s needs.
Moreover, the European Parliament in general and the heads of the various political groups in the Parliament were very receptive to the need to continue to help the Palestinian people, because they are aware that the elections were democratic and the outcome is not important. For that reason, the financial aid must continue.
EuroNews: You met with Russia’s President Putin at the Black Sea port of Sochi this week. Did that help in the search for answers to the various issues?
Mahmoud Abbas: I think it was a very important and successful visit. My meeting with President Putin was excellent considering the close links between us. We have talked about ways of ending the crisis; Russia has a positive role to play.
We’ve also talked about direct aid. You know that Russia has given us tens of millions of dollars for projects that Moscow has approved. There’s also other aid in kind, things like training on the equipment used by our security forces, and general aid for the people.
EuroNews: Some commentators have talked about a Palestinian Authority with two leaders and overlapping areas of authority. Wouldn’t that be a repeat of what happened when you were Prime Minister and Yassar Arafat was President?
Mahmoud Abbas: When I was prime minister with President Arafat, there wasn’t a Palestinian authority with two leaders. The constitution clearly states that the government helps the president in performing his duties. The president is the head of state, by right, there aren’t two leaders. There is a president helped by a government and a leader of the government. The president is the chief executive in fact. I repeat there is a president helped by a leader of the government. That’s what existed in the past and how it should be now. I’ll say it again, there is that only one leader of the Palestinian Authority according to the constitution, and therefore we’ll follow that rule of law.
EuroNews: If, because of the suspension of direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, the Hamas government is not able to provide for the needs of the population, what will you do?
Mahmoud Abbas: I’ve said before and I say again, we — just like the international community — must give Hamas and its government more time.
It has come to power suddenly after having been the most radical opposition. For that reason it needs time to change its policies. The other thing is, we are about to have a conference of national dialogue which will address precisely these questions.
And we’ll consider the document agreed by Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoner in jail in Israel saying Palestinians should work to establish a state in the territories that Israel has occupied since 1967.
There are also suggestions from Palestinian business people and community groups on how to end the crisis.
This crisis needs a solution, but I don’t want to anticipate and speculate on what might happen. Every one of us has a responsibility to sort out this crisis.
EuroNews: Given the deterioration of the security situation in the territories, some parts of the media have talked about the possibility of proclaiming a state of emergency state, especially as the law gives you that right.
Mahmoud Abbas: It’s true that under the law we have the right to proclaim a state of emergency, but we certainly don’t intend to do that at the moment. We’ve put all the security services at the disposal of the interior minister to allow him to restore order, he’s in charge of that.
I spoke with the prime minister about this on Wednesday and I insisted on the need for coordinating the efforts of all the security services with the interior minister – including those that are linked to the presidency – in order to help the ministry re-establish order as soon as possible.