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Text of report by Saudi-owned leading pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat website on 20 December
[Interview with Palestinian [National] Authority President Mahmud Abbas, Abu-Mazin, by Ali Al-Salih and Nazir Mujalli, from Ramallah: "Abu-Mazin: To My Knowledge, Hamas Leaders in Gaza Want Reconciliation Because They Are Suffering, But the Leaders in Damascus Do Not Want It"]
As it has been the custom for years, there was no specific date, not to mention hour, for the interview with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas (Abu-Mazin), which has been conducted every year since the time of late President Yasir Arafat. When you ask for an interview with the president, you cannot hope for more than an agreement in principle, and they would ask you to come to the city in which the president is located, which normally is Ramallah.
When you arrive in Ramallah, you are asked to be ready, and to wait for a telephone call from the president's aides; when the waiting becomes long, you contact them to ask as you become worried, and you do not feel calm until you secure a date for the interview. They stress to you that the interview will take place within a day or two, and they ask you to be ready, because the interview will take place at any moment. When you hear this, you feel a bit reassured, but apprehensions continue to haunt you until you receive a telephone call that gives you the order to move immediately towards the presidency headquarters. This happens minutes before the hour of the meeting.
In this respect, this interview with Abu-Mazin was no different. We waited and waited, but not as long as we used to wait to meet the late President Yasir Arafat, which is a long story. We used to interview Arafat since 2001 until one month before his "death" in 2004, as Al-Sharq al-Awsat was the last newspaper to conduct a lengthy press interview with him. The waiting was not only longer, but more worrying and sometimes unnerving, because there was a possibility that the interview would not take place.
You stay in the hotel, and you wait for that telephone call, and when it comes -usually late at night -you take yourself to the presidency headquarters. You wait in an adjoining room. You wait, but your presence in that room which is only meters away from the president's office is no guarantee for conducting the expected interview. You might wait until after midnight, and then you go away disappointed, and hoping to conduct the interview the following day, or rather the following night. The attempt is repeated on the following day, and it might not succeed, but you might win dinner at the president's table, and meet a number of senior ministers and officials around the dinner table.
I do not remember ever conducting an interview with President Arafat before midnight. As for the era of Abu-Mazin, the situation is different, at least with regard to the hours in which the interview is conducted, which are the early hours of the evening, and the interviews are characterized by some kind of formality.
This interview, which might be the last conducted by Al-Sharq al-Awsat with him as a president if he insists on not becoming a candidate, and if the elections are held, of if he adopts a sudden decision to resign, was no different from the previous ones.
After waiting for days, the expected telephone call came, and the day was fixed, and the decisive call came to say that the president is waiting for you, and you should move immediately.
The security measures around the presidential headquarters are strict as usual, but not as strict as the Israeli measures. You confront the new refurbishment of the headquarters, starting with the entrance, which now is managed by electric barriers operated by a young man in a uniform, naturally in addition to the military guards. The entrance will take you to a wide courtyard from which you see the courtyard of President Arafat's mausoleum, which is lit by searchlights.
The courtyard is packed with motorcars, motorcars of the PLO officials, who were meeting at a session of the PLO Central Council in the principal meeting hall at the presidency headquarters. The cars are parked even on the heliport in the courtyard.
One of the aides accompanies us to the place of the interview across a big hall to the right of the main presidential office in which Abu-Mazin usually meets his guests. The door of the hall opened, and we found ourselves in the middle of the Central Council session; from there we went through a door to the left of the rostrum of session chairmanship into a small hall that took us to a room in which Abu-Mazin was sitting down behind a small desk. In front of the desk there were two chairs and a small table. Abu-Mazin uses this office to rest, and to receive his guests during his attendance of the meetings held in that hall, which was modernized after it was destroyed by the Israeli Army during the siege (2002-2004).
As usual Abu-Mazin welcomed us, and stressed jokingly that we have three minutes for the interview. We did not waste time, and started the interview that continued for 56 minutes of continuous questions, and spontaneous answers in Palestinian colloquial devoid of formalities. The following is the text of the interview:
[Al-Salih and Mujalli] You reached an agreement with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as (former US Ambassador to Israel) Martin Indyk said at a lecture in Israel, convinced the former Palestinian Chief negotiator Ahmad Quray (Abu-Ala) not to sign with Olmert because he was accused in corruption cases?
[Abu-Mazin] This did not happen. No intervention by Tzipi Livni took place. It is true that there is some sensitivity between them, and that they do not like each other, but I had nothing to do with this issue, and I did not intervene (in their disagreements). I used to see hints and insinuations, but I had nothing to do with this. I used to negotiate with Olmert, and there was no back channel. We used to sit down all together, and then I would sit with Olmert alone, and talk about the details.
[Al-Salih and Mujalli] Would it have been possible to reach an agreement with Olmert alone?
[Abu-Mazin] I believe it would have been possible that I go up a little, and he comes down a little. It was possible to find a solution. He said that he would give me 100 per cent.
[Al-Salih and Mujalli] This is important and fundamental?
[Abu-Mazin] He said 100 per cent. He would take from this side, and I …