Palestinian Authority Faces A Fraught Path To Peace In Gaza

The war in Gaza is unfolding between Israel and Hamas, but the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, is also involved in efforts to end the fighting. The Palestine Liberation Organization's diplomatic representative to the U.S., Maen Areikat, speaks with Robert Siegel about the causes of the conflict and the possible consequences of a cease-fire.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

While the war in Gaza is between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian authority is also engaged in diplomatic efforts to end the fighting. It's based on the West Bank and it's led by President Mahmoud Abbas, who's also head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Earlier this year, Abbas' Fattah movement and Hamas announced a unity government, a move that Israel vehemently opposed. We're going to hear now from the Palestinian Liberation Organization's Chief Representative to the U.S. Maen Rashid Areikat, welcome to the program Ambassador Areikat.

MAEN RASHID AREIKAT: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Hamas is asking for the blockade of Gaza to end. Would the Palestinian Authority, would President Abbas, accept the condition that Gaza would be permitted no rockets, no weapons that could reach Israel if the crossings were to reopen?

AREIKAT: I think the issue is much more complicated than that. You people have to remember that the Gaza Strip is still technically under the Israeli military occupation, although they pulled out their settlers and soldiers in 2005. The Gaza Strip is under siege, Israel controls their land crossing points, their air space, their territorial waters. So, you know, it will be very difficult to talk about an end result such as disarming factions and preventing attacks without really addressing the political issues that have led to this confrontation in the first place.

SIEGEL: Maen Areikat I want to read your quotation from an unidentified Egyptian official in a Reuters story this week. It's about Hamas's rejection of the Egyptian cease-fire proposal. He said, that was happening in Gaza - I'm quoting now - "is part of a regional conflict between Qatar, Egypt and Turkey. Hamas ran to Qatar, which Egypt hates most, to ask for intervention and, he said, ultimately there will be an agreement similar to what Egypt had offered but with Doha's signature, meaning Qatar." My question, are Palestinians right now paying a price for regional rivalries that have very little to do with their own problems?

AREIKAT: I hope not. I hope that all Palestinians will be smart enough to know that we should not be pulled into this regional polarizations and differences and alliances. We Palestinians have always suffered from changes, dynamics within the Arab world and President Abbas, two days ago, when he delivered a statement in Ramallah, he made it clear that we should be very cautious about not being dragged into these political polarizations.

SIEGEL: But if the Egyptians said to the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, are you prepared to come back to Gaza and to make security guarantees there so that you will make sure that Hamas does not rearm? Is the PLO prepared to do that? Does it have the capacity to do that at this stage?

AREIKAT: Well, the interesting aspect of all these ongoing efforts is that President Abbas today acts as the president of the Palestinian National Authority which is formed with the approval of all the political factions. That gives him a moral mandate to speak on behalf of all the Palestinian people and I believe that any future agreement to end this conflict that is going on in Gaza today will involve the Palestinian Authority in whatever arrangement that will be made in the Gaza Strip.

SIEGEL: But even though he's the head of that government, President Abbas didn't order the rocket barrages out of Gaza against Israel and he doesn't seem to be in the position to stop them.

AREIKAT: Well, absolutely. Our position on this is also very clear. Of course we were still in the process of discussing other aspects with Hamas when this whole thing started. And, you know, the formation of the National Consensus Government was supposed to be the first step in order to address all other issues. Very difficult issues, including security, including, you know, the civilian employees that Hamas hired during the rule of Gaza including reforming the PLO. Very, very, very thorny issues that we were about to start discussing when this whole episode started. So, you know, we hope that in the future once things calm down we will be able to talk all these issues.

SIEGEL: Ambassador Areikat, thank you very much for talking with us today.

AREIKAT: Thank you sir.

SIEGEL: Maen Rashid Areikat is the cheif representative in Washington of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

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