Wallace Quizzes Arafat On Violence

Leader Says American Weapons Killing Palestinians

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, reports 60 Minutes' Mike Wallace, has changed dramatically since the two last met 11 years ago.

Arafat is 71 now, and his lower lip has a noticeable tremor from an early stage of Parkinson's disease.

He seemed uncharacteristically vulnerable as he asked for international intervention to help stop the bloodshed in Gaza and the West Bank during the Nov. 1 interview.

"I am begging you to help me to stop this tragedy," Arafat said. "I am asking the American people, I am asking the whole international community, to save the peace process."

For five weeks, both sides have been locked in a vicious circle of death.

The Palestinians march to bury their dead. Then, enraged by the funerals, they begin to throw rocks and some fire guns at Israeli soldiers, who fire back, killing more Palestinians which leads to more funerals.

When asked what he hopes to gain from the daily death of young people, Arafat responded: "I am killing them? I am killing them?"

When asked about getting the youths off the street, Arafat said: "Get them off the streets? They are under siege."

"They are resisting against this shelling and this bombing and these artilleries and these airplanes who are shelling them day by night," Arafat said. "They are killing us with your weapons - American weapons. They haven't their own weapons. Their helicopters are American helicopters; their tanks are American tanks. The artillery are American artillery. Why you are not advising them to put it down?"

Arafat blames all the recent violence on Ariel Sharon - Israel's hardline opposition leader - who five weeks ago made a point of visiting a key Muslim holy place in Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Arafat said he knew about Sharon's visit three days in advance, and tried to head it off because he knew it would trigger clashes.

"I had asked (Israeli Prime Minister) Ehud Barak and asked others why Sharon is insistent to come in this delicate time," Arafat said.

"(Barak) kept silent. I raised this question to President Clinton to try with me to convince Barak not to give him the permission to go to visit," Arafat said.

Arafat said he also told the European Union, the Vatican and Arab leaders about the planned visit.

The day after Sharon's visit, Palestinians began pelting Israeli soldiers with rocks. The soldiers fired back, killing four Palestinians, so a new round of violence had begun.

"I am asking for quick international forces...to protect us, to stop this war. The massacres against our people," Arafat said.

To prevent a war, President Clinton tried to forge a peace agreement last July at Camp David.

When that failed Mr. Clinton placed most of the blame on Arafat for not accepting Israel's concessions.

It was reported that Israel offered more than 90 percent of te West Bank for a Palestinian state, instead of the 40 percent now under Palestinian control; the elimination of some Israeli settlements; and Palestinian sovereignty over Muslim and Christian sections of the old city of Jerusalem.

Arafat said, "I am sorry to tell you, this is not accurate."

He then pulled out his Camp David notebook. Although there is no official version of what was discussed at Camp David, Arafat said that Israel had insisted on maintaining ultimate control of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, including the Haram al Sharif or Temple Mount, as well as Muslim - and Christian - sections of the city. He said he could never accept those terms.

"The sovereignty will be for Israel," he said. "Who can accept this in all over the world: Muslims or Christians? I told President Clinton clearly and overtly, and also to Barak, 'Do you want me to betray the Christians and Muslims?'"

Mr. Clinton did not reply, Arafat said.

The Palestinian leader said he told Mr. Clinton, "If I will betray, no doubt (some)one will come to kill me."

Arafat said that even though President Clinton wanted him to accept Barak's proposals at Camp David, nonetheless, Mr. Clinton remains popular among Palestinians.

The Palestinian leader said he has confidence in Mr. Clinton, adding, "I respect him because he is working hard and he is still working for the peace process. And all our people like him the same as me."

Arafat will ask Mr. Clinton at a White House meeting this Thursday to pressure the Israelis to resume the peace process. So far, in the past five weeks, at least 15 Israelis have been killed and reportedly more than 140 Palestinians - but Arafat puts the Palestinian death toll at over 220, and says more than 8,000 have been injured.

That's as many deaths in a month as the Palestinians suffered in a year in the intifadeh, or uprising, from 1987 to 1993.

Arafat told Wallace in their first meeting 11 years ago during the intifadeh, "We are fed up with this bloodshed. We are looking to have peace for our children and also for their children. Otherwise we have to blame ourselves and they have to blame themselves and the next generations will not respect us. This is an historical chance. If we lose it, we are criminals."

During their second interview, Arafat said, "I am still repeating this slogan."

But 11 years later, the rocks have been flying again, the bodies have been dropping again, and again Arafat is insisting that he wants peace.

He said he wants what he and Prime Minister Barak agreed to with President Clinton almost three weeks ago at the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh - that the Israelis pull their troops back from the outskirts of Palestinian towns, and that the Palestinians stop their violent demonstrations.

But instead of peace, after the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement, the violence and the rhetoric intensified on both sides.

So Barak called "timeout" from the peace process, and Arafat responded, "He can go to hell."

During the interview, Arafat defended his comment by saying, "What he is saying against me? I'm a dangerous man, not only against Israel, but against the Jews all over the world."

On Wednesday, elder statesman Shimon Peres, who won the Nobel Peace Prize with Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin back in 1994, met with Arafat and both sides agreed finally to back off and try to live up to the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement.

But that was easier said than done, especially since extremists on both sides seem beyond government control.

For example, after the Peres-Arafat deal, the extremist group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for a car bombing that killed two Israelis in Jerusalem.

But still, Arafat remains hopeful.

Asked if he thinks he will live to see a peaceful Palestinian state next to Israel, Arafat responded, "This is what I'm hoping, and to live together beside the Israelis... in a peaceful agreement."

  • Chris Hawke

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