Q: Has the moment of truth arrived? A decisive battle with all its consequences, or a retreat from Beirut: how do you see the future of the PLO and the Palestinian people?
A: We have arrived at a final accord with the Lebanese government and with the American envoy Philip Habib on the departure of our forces to several Arab countries, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt, which have agreed to receive them. We do not exclude the worst: (Menachem) Begin and (Ariel) Sharon could try to surprise us. I have let them know that we have learned the lessons of Masada and of the Warsaw Ghetto, and that we are ready to sacrifice ourselves if necessary. I do not fear death; it is my adversaries who must fear the consequences. History cannot be stopped. The war has demonstrated that the Palestinians fight with courage and honor to attain their just purpose.
Q: But where will you go?
A: We have forces in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Algeria. The headquarters of the PLO was in Cairo until (Anwar) Sadat's visit to Jerusalem. It was subsequently transferred to Damascus, where I continue to maintain my official office.
Q: Does the passive attitude of the Arab world surprise you?
A: Absolutely not. I've expected nothing else since the collapse of the Fez conference. Several Arab countries have offered to receive our forces, but that is merely temporary. Where do we go afterward? The whole world ought to consider that problem at an international conference of all the countries involved, including the great powers, after the end of this war.
Q: You have made overtures in the direction of the United States without getting anything. Were you disappointed?
A: The United States is a great power, and we shall continue to try to influence American opinion. The United States will soon understand that it connot ignore the will of 4 1/2 million Palestinians.
Q: Many Israelis are asking themselves if the time has not come for a historical reconciliation between the Jewish nation of Israel and the Palestinian Arab people, the latter having accepted a "peace of the brave" similar to that of which Gen. de Gaulle spoke in regard to Algeria.
A: In the Israeli military establishment, is there a personality similiar to that of de Gaulle's? I strongly doubt it. That said, our national council adopted several resolutions on the opening of a debate with the democratic forces in Israel, and we are ready to establish relations with all those who recognize our right to self-determination.
Q: The Israelis are waiting for your official recognition. Are you ready to grant it to them?
A: Begin and Sharon have repeatedly affirmed that they don't need our recognition. They said that, even if we recognize Israel, they will never have anything to do with us. They treat us like Nazis, to a point that their actions in Lebanon in the camps of Beirut recall the behavior of the Nazis. I repeat what I said to (Rep. Pete) McCloskey: we accept all of the U.N. resolutions concerning the Palestinian question. We do not forget that Israel was created by a U.N. resolution. Israel, moreover, has everything; we have nothing, and yet it is we who are asked to recognize Israel, which for its part refuses categorically to recognize our right to self-determination. Whatever I have to say regarding recognition, I shall not say it under coercion, with Sharon's tanks surrounding us: I repeat: the question today is, more than ever, our right to exist and self-determination.
Q: Do you include the U.N. Security Council's Resolution 242 among those which you have accepted?
A: You undoubtedly know that this resolution considers our problem to be solely a problem of refugees. In 1977, the Carter administration proposed that we should accept this resolution while taking account of our reservations. We had accepted this proposition under three conditions: the opening of a dialogue between the United Nations and the PLO; the recognition of the rights of Palestinians to self-determination; the creation of an independent Palestinian state. It's hardly necessary to say that the dialogue broke down. Since then, our national council has adopted several statements about this resolution. Moreover, since when has Begin become the big defender of Resolution 242? Let's not forget that in August 1970, he left the Government of National Union to protest against (Golda) Meir's acceptance of Resolution 242, which, according to him, implied the withdrawal from all occupied territories.
Q: Certain Israelis affirm that you wouldn't be satisfied with a state in Jordan and the Gaza, and in such a case, you would constitute a menace to Israel?
A: Ridiculous! I do not understand these statements. Israel is the strongest military power in the Middle East. Can one be afraid of a Palestinian state that will need more than 20 years to be able to stand on its own feet? The Israeli military establishment believes that it will be able to rule the region, thanks to its technology and to American dollars. But how long? It will be necessary to search for coexistence with countries in the region and not imagine artificial problems. It is the Israelis who must find some solutions to the Palestinian tragedy, which they created.
Q: Your national charter gives ammunition to your political adversaries. Israeli children in school learn the words of this charter, which denies the right of Israel to exist, which does not recognize the Jews as a nation, and which affirms that armed struggle is the only way to have a state.
A:4 We have already affirmed several times, through our national council, that the armed struggle no longer constituted the only way. Many things have been said about this charter, and people have tried to interpret it in a tendentious manner. To put an end to these ambiguities, I propose today that we organize a conference after this war, bringing together Palestinian, Israeli and Arab thinkers to go to the bottom of all of the problems and to arrive at some conclusions. This conference could eventually be held somewhere in Europe under the aegis of an organization or a political party that would be chosen by mutual agreement. Among the Palestinians, there exists a clear evolution of understanding of the unexpected changes that occurred during the course of these past years. We are not frozen in these unalterable positions: it's Begin who is completely unyielding.
Q: Are you under the impression of having committed errors during this whole conflict?
A: Yes. We haven't been able to explain our cause to the Israelis; we haven't understood the Israeli mentality. Moreover, we don't have the means in the field of information to transmit our ideas to the Israeli people.
Q: And the (military) operations directed against the Israeli civilians?
A: I have always been politically and ideologically against those types of operations. While I understand the motivations of certain Palestinians, who have lost hope and resort to those methods, I have always been opposed. I'm telling you this in my capacity as president of the PLO, as much as chief of the Palestinian revolution. In fact, it is necessary to specify that, in certain cases, such as Munich, Maalot, and the Savoy (a hotel in Tel Aviv), the death of innocents could have been avoided if the Israelis had not opened fire. What Begin and Sharon did during the Lebanese war -- the indiscriminate bombing of Beirut, which last week caused some 500 civilian deaths -- will leave an indelible stain on the brow of the Israeli leaders.
Q: Have you appraised the attitude of the inhabitants of the territories occupied during the course of this war?
A: The Palestinians of the interior, from Bassam Chakaa to Karim Khalif, including Elias Freij and Rachada Chawa (respectively, mayors of Naplouse, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Gaza) and several others, demonstrated their devotion to the cause of our people in these difficult conditions.
Q: Finally, what do you have to say to the Israelis?
A: I find myself surrounded here, and I'm addressing myself to Israeli soldiers, as well as to the common citizens. And I'm telling them: stop -- military arrogance will not shatter us. I would like to say a word to Col. Eli Geva, that in spite of our differences, I appreciate his humanitarian position and his decision to refuse to participate in the assault of Beirut. His noble attitude is derived from true Jewish values. Peace will reign in the Holy Land, despite the arrogance of those leaders for whom brutal force is the only maxim in the life of nations. I invite the militants of the "Peace Now" movement, of New Outlook, and all those who recognize our rights to self-determination to come to Beirut to see the destruction and the suffering of the people. A day will come when the Israelis will be ashamed and will want to forget what their present leaders did to the Palestinian people in Lebanon during the summer of 1982.