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Saeb Erekat, Palestinian senior negotiator
Saeb Erekat, Palestinian senior negotiator
Chris Patten, EU external relations commissioner
Chris Patten, EU external relations commissioner
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: SAEB EREKAT, Palestinian Senior Negotiator & CHRIS PATTEN, EU External Relations Commissioner APRIL 21st, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: As we've been hearing in the news, the Israeli army has pulled out its troops from some more West Bank towns. Apparently they've withdrawn from Nablus and parts of Ramallah. But Israel says it won't lift the siege around Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah until he hands over men they want to question. In our last programme we spoke to the former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and this morning we're joined by the EU Commissioner, Chris Patten, and, telephones permitting, in a moment or too also we'll hope to talk to the Palestinian senior negotiator Saeb Erekat. Chris, you, you feel strongly about the situation, when he was here a week or two ago, it was two weeks ago, it was the last programme but two weeks ago because of the marathon - just to fill you in on what's been going on while you've been in Brussels - and in fact he said that Israel, as he would, has acted with restraint and only had done what was necessary and so on and so forth, but that's not your reading of it.

CHRIS PATTEN: No, but I first of all think we all have to recognise just how appalling the suicide bombing has been. We've had to face terrorism in this country but we've never had to face anything as dreadful as those suicide bombers and I think we've been right to criticise Arab leaders for not having, themselves, criticised that suicide bombing without any reservation, because it's awful. That said, I don't think that the way the Israelis have gone about dealing with it is going to give us peace and Israel security in the long terms.

DAVID FROST: Right. Now I'm going to interrupt for a moment there and we can talk to Saeb Erekat now, he's on the line, and then we'll come back, as we were planning to do, in a moment. Mr Erekat, are you there, Saeb Erekat?

SAEB EREKAT: Yes, David, I'm here.

DAVID FROST: The news of a UN investigation, not quite clear how wide ranging, but a UN investigation of the facts about Jenin, does that come as good news for you?

SAEB EREKAT: Absolutely. We welcome this decision, because ignoring the facts or lying about them, or trying to cover them up, doesn't mean that they exist, that they don't exist. We believe a big massacre was committed in Jenin and the old city of Nablus and we hope that the Secretary General of the UN will immediately form this commission, mandated with mechanisms so we can see a report submitted to the Secretary of the Security Council as soon as possible. Because we really want to see the reactivation of Chapter 7 of the charter and I think the only way out of this state is to have international peacekeeping forces on the ground immediately.

DAVID FROST: And one other point that talking, Chris Patten was talking there about the suicide bombers before you joined us, what is the explanation there - is it - Chairman Arafat and yourselves, is it that you can't stop the suicide bombers, you're powerless to do anything or that you won't?

SAEB EREKAT: Well David I don't feel, I don't know if we have an authority out there today. I think Sharon destroyed the Palestinian Authority, he destroyed our command centre, our communication centre, our ministries, even the civilian infrastructure was taken out. I heard you speaking about withdrawals today from Jenin and Nablus, I think this is a game of defeat, they are changing the status of Palestinian areas from 'A' areas which areas under Palestinian total sovereignty and control into 'B' areas where Israel will have the over-riding security responsibilities. Which means that they're out of ... but they can enter it tomorrow, they're out of ... but they can enter it today, or they're out of Nablus. So they have the over-riding security responsibility - I don't think we have agreements any more and I don't know what we have in terms of our authority out there - I don't know if we have an authority or not any more. This is why to Chris I would say we need a damage assessment immediately because what Sharon did so far, I think he began a problem not solved one. I think he has fuelled the fire. I don't think he would have solved the problem of suicidal bombers, which we condemned, which Arafat condemned so many times, through the unleashing of his military might, this disproportionate use of force against people with no army, no navy, no air force, such, such wrath, such destruction of the Palestinian way of life, you know - in the education, in the health, in the local government, in the water, in the ...

DAVID FROST: Right, well we thank you very much for joining us, as we always do, and hopefully next time we'll see you in vision as well, but thank you very much indeed. Now there was a very dramatic phrase there, he said it twice, I don't know whether there is a Palestinian authority any more, Sharon has destroyed it.

CHRIS PATTEN: Well one of the things I think we should all be very critical of is that the Israeli defence forces have made a deliberate point of systematically destroying all the Palestinian Authority's ministries, all their structure of government. So that, for example, they've destroyed the Land Registry, so it's going to be very difficult for people to know whether they have title for land. They've destroyed the Ministry of Education, they've destroyed the Ministry of Finance, and, you know, that has nothing to do with trying to deal with suicide bombers. It's got a political purpose, it's purpose is to destroy what exists so far of a quasi-viable Palestinian state, a government, and if you don't have a Palestinian government, if you don't have a Palestinian authority, the only alternative is Palestinian anarchy. And that's why what Mr Sharon has been doing is so fundamentally against the long term interests of Israel.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of what happens next, what should Britain do? What should the EU do and what should the President do?

CHRIS PATTEN: Well I think they should all work together. I think it was very important that ten days ago the UN, the Russian Federation, the European Union all got together to support Colin Powell's very, very difficult mission to the Middle East. We all have to work together to try to get the Security Council resolution implemented, end to violence, withdrawal of Israeli forces, but we also have to get back to the Mitchell Commission, to the Saudi peace plan - you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know what has, what has to happen in the Middle East, it's a question of trying to give people the political will to make it happen.

DAVID FROST: And what more can we do - I mean the EU is a great financial supporter, and indeed most of the things you've listed as destroyed were probably originally paid for by the countries of Europe.

CHRIS PATTEN: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well the most important early thing, I think, is to get in humanitarian assistance. It's very difficult to start talking about martial aid while things are still being destroyed, I mean the important thing about martial aid is it didn't start until the bombing had stopped, and I don't think you can start talking about reconstructing the Palestinian Authority when Israeli defence forces are still destroying. But, to follow up what Saeb Erekat was saying, we do want to do very early with the World Bank damage assessment to see what needs to be done, but I think if we're going to rebuild, there first of all has to be a political settlement, for once and for all.

DAVID FROST: And nothing can go on with Iraq or other things until this is resolved, do you think?

CHRIS PATTEN: Well, I think one of the real tragedies of all this is that the Israeli government have hijacked the campaign against terrorism and I think they've given some people the excuse for disengaging for that campaign. We want a settlement in the Middle East, we want it very rapidly, it's going to be much more difficult to deal with Saddam Hussein while that crisis continues.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed Chris, always a joy to see you. Chris Patten.


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