BBC Newsnight
December 18, 2003
Transcript by PIWP

Kirsty Wark interviews Diana Buttu and Daniel Taub

Introduction read by Kirsty Wark.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has threatened that his government may disengage from the Middle East Peace Process, and act alone to ensure Israel's security. In what was billed as a major policy speech, Mr. Sharon said tonight that he remains committed to the American-sponsored peace plan, known as the “Road Map”, but he wouldn't wait forever for Palestinians to abandon the path of terrorism. He warned that if within a few months the Palestinians had not made reciprocal steps that he would take unilateral action. Israeli moves would include dismantling of settler outposts, and the accelerating the building of the controversial barrier in the West Bank, he said. But he vowed not to confiscate any more Palestinian land or build new settlements in Palestinian territory.

Kirsty Wark: Well, I am joined now by Diana Buttu, the legal advisor for the PLO.
Mr. Sharon says that they are not going to wait forever; why should they wait forever?

Diana Buttu: Well, he has had 36 years where he could have withdrawn unilaterally to the 1967 border, but instead Sharon, and in fact Israel, have for the past 36 years chosen land over peace. For the past 36 years, they have continued to build settlements illegally in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and then are surprised when after denying Palestinians their freedom for 36 years that there is a violent response. What Sharon… [interrupted]

Kirsty Wark: Are you actually saying that there should be no surprise on the violent response, and if this situation continues that … there is no reason that the violence will not continue. [note: KW didn't pose a coherent question here — it is not an error in the transcription]

Diana Buttu: Well, if we are going to look at peace and what the options are for peace, if Israel is truly interested in peace, then it will understand why it is that there is no peace in the region right now. And the reason is that for the past 36 years Israel has continued to deny Palestinians their freedom and occupied Palestinian territory, built Jewish-only settlements on those territories, and taken more and more Palestinian land. That is the underlying disease; the symptom of it of course becomes the violence. But if we want to address the issue of violence then we need to address the issue of the disease. And that is what Sharon is failing to do.

Kirsty Wark: Israel claims that they have foiled sixty attacks since suicide bomb of October 4th. That would suggest the Palestinian authority is not making any headway in disarming the militants.

Diana Buttu: Well, again lets look why these attacks are taking place… [interrupted]

Kirsty Wark: The Palestinian authority, I understand, is committed to disarming the militants. What you seem to be saying here is that that is not the problem.

Diana Buttu: Well, again that is not the problem. Lets look at the facts on the ground. The facts are that the Palestinian Authority at its height only controlled about 17% of the Occupied West Bank - that was at its height. Currently the Palestinian Authority only operates in parts of Gaza and in parts of Bethlehem. None of the suicide bombers have come from those areas. So what Israel is doing - Israel is now the power that is occupying these areas and is the power that is in control. But yet, anytime there is something wrong or anytime there is a violent situation the Palestinians get blamed, and more importantly the Palestinian Authority, who actually has no security powers in these areas, gets blamed. So again, I think it is time that we look back at the original situation - this is an occupation. There has never been a situation in which there was a peaceful occupation, and certainly this is not one… [interrupted]

Kirsty Wark: Ariel Sharon says that in a matter of months if there is no progress he then will go for a disengagement plan - and there will be separation. Now, if that indeed happens and if separation appears in a way to work, then who will care about Middle East again?

Diana Buttu: Well, again lets look at what he is talking about. Sharon is not talking about withdrawing to the 1967 borders. Sharon fundamentally has a problem, which is he wants Palestinian land but he doesn't want the Palestinians. He wants to cage in the Palestinians as much as possible. So, who will look at the Middle East again? Maybe no one will like to look at the Middle East again, but are we really to a situation that is just or are we simply looking for temporary solutions. And what Sharon is offering is a temporary solution, and [interrupted] not a comprehensive peace plan.

Kirsty Wark: Thank you very much indeed Diana Buttu.

Well, the initiative from the Israelis has gone down badly with the White House too which says that the US will oppose any unilateral action by Israel, and calls on Mr. Sharon to meet the Palestinian Prime Minister as soon as possible. The administration was, not surprisingly, happier with Mr. Sharon's commitment to the Road Map.

Joining us just in a couple of moments now from Jerusalem is a senior member of the Israeli foreign ministry - Daniel Taub. The Israelis have responded tonight to the Americans saying that they want to keep the Americans on board, but we now know from Scott Plattel at the White House that they are thoroughly opposed to any unilateral actions.

Kirsty Wark: Daniel Taub you join us now. Isn't it the case that you want to separate, you always wanted to separate, and this isn't about progress in the Road Map, this is about a fundamental desire of the Israelis.

Daniel Taub: That is absolutely not what we want, and that it is absolutely not what Prime Minister Sharon said in his speech today. It was remarkable, it is particularly remarkable, that you have a Prime Minister talking to the people who faced wave after wave of terrorism over the past three years, a people whose one third of their children, who according to a recent survey, personally know someone who was killed or injured in an act of terrorism, and he was telling them that we still have to reach peace and we have to try to comply with the Road Map. He was telling them that we still have to comply with our commitments in relation to settlements, and that we have to live up to the vision of Israel and the Palestinian state living side by side. All of this as soon as we have a Palestinian leadership that is prepared to fulfill the first line of that Road Map - which is to try and take on the terrorists and dismantle their organization.

Kirsty Wark: Well, lets deal with the settlements straight away. The deal would be no more settlements and withdraw from some. Now, the Road Map plan was that all settlements established after March 2001 should be dissolved. Forty-four were established after February 2001. Would forty-four settlements be disestablished as it were?

Daniel Taub: I think what Prime Minister Sharon was saying in relation to the settlements, as far as Palestinians is concerned, is very clear. We know that the settlements are not the cause of the current terrorism, unfortunately the terrorism started long before Israel had built a single settlement, and long before Israel was in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But what Prime Minister Sharon said to the Palestinians was that if it is the settlements is really what bothers you, and not the existence of Israel - which seems to be what bothers many Palestinians - if that is what bothers you, then call our bluff. Try and stop the terrorism, make some efforts, come back to the negotiation table, and we will comply with every commitment in the Road Map.

Kirsty Wark: Americans have made it very clear tonight from the White House that America opposes any unilateral action. Do you care about their criticism?

Daniel Taub: I think that we agree with the White House and with the International Community that our preference - our preference by a long shot - is to carry on with the Road Map. That is the only plan that Prime Minister Sharon said has been agreed by Israel, by the Palestinians and the international community. But unfortunately, the last three years, and 900 Israelis have been killed in acts of Palestinian terrorism, show us that we have to have a plan B. And what Prime Minister Sharon was saying is if the Palestinians don't come forward and do and promise to do everything in every single agreement that we have signed with them then this is our plan B. You can't say that we are not going to fight terrorism, and we are not going to let you do it either. If Palestinians don't do it, we'll do it in the most effective and humane way that we can.

Kirsty Wark: Daniel Taub thank you very much indeed.

00:46 introduction
03:28 interview with Buttu
00:43 introduction
02:58 interview with Taub