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Sunday, 26 May, 2002, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
Interview with Saeb Erekat, Palestinian chief negotiator
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: SAEB EREKAT, Palestinian Chief Negotiator MAY 26th, 2002
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: As the crisis in the Middle East continues the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is facing a new problem - that of his diminishing popularity among his own people. The latest opinion poll indicates that rarely has he had less support, he's not in imminent danger of losing power yet because he's got double the support of his nearest contender but there are growing demands for democratic reform, and that's something Israel wants as a condition for peace talks. I'm joined on the telephone from Jericho now by the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. Good morning.
SAEB EREKAT: Good morning David.
DAVID FROST: Are you sympathetic, is Yasser Arafat sympathetic with this pressure for more democracy in the Palestinian Authority - I see in that poll this week 91 per cent support current drive for democratic reform. Do you support that too?
SAEB EREKAT: Absolutely, absolutely. It was President Arafat who actually declared these sweeping reforms and you know reform to us as Palestinians is our way to nation building while the continuation of the Israeli occupation is Sharon's way and Israel's way to the potential destruction of this nation state. And as far as, you know, the Israelis are asking for reform, I don't think that Sharon cares whether we as Palestinians are ruled by the boy scouts or Attila the Hun. What we need now is to create the right atmosphere for elections, presidential elections, ... election and local elections, local government elections. And in order to do so we are urging the international community, we have a steering committee composed of the US, European Union, Canada, Norway, Japan, who are helping us technically in these elections and financing these elections.
DAVID FROST: And you, just coming in on that, you really support international aid, international involvement in any peace process - you've got to have that have you?
SAEB EREKAT: Absolutely, we've got to have this and we've got to have them involved in our, helping us in the elections for instance. We need to have monitors, we're not an independent state, David, now if I'm going to declare the elections three months from today I need to begin voters registrations. People cannot move from place to place now because simply the West Bank and Gaza have been divided into 12 cantons, surrounded with ... buffer zones, each town with checkpoints, nobody can leave, nobody can move in, and we really need the help of the Americans, Europeans and others in order to ensure that we create the right atmosphere for these elections. And at the same time as I am speaking to you now the Israeli tanks are entering Bethlehem ... every day, every hour on the hour the Israelis are entering our towns, villages and refuge camps. They say to you and the world that they're fighting terror - that's not the truth. Sharon is fighting to maintain his occupation, Sharon is fighting for more settlement, Sharon is fighting to undermine the Palestinian Authority, the ... Palestinian Authority, and to replace it with an Israeli civil administration.
DAVID FROST: Right. Let me just come in there - last time we spoke you said in doomsday words that "David I don't know whether there is a Palestinian Authority any more." There is now?
SAEB EREKAT: No, I'm saying that we have been devastated in terms of our abilities, in terms of our infrastructure. The World Bank just came out with a report now, only in three weeks of Israeli ... the cost of damage to the civilian infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza is more than 600 million dollars. And this is the damage assessment, and of course the security apparatus, all branches, have been totally destroyed. This is why we've been urging the Europeans and Americans to come to our help, to have the damage assessment, in order to rebuild.
DAVID FROST: And in one other point from the poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research also says that 83 per cent of Palestinians do believe there is corruption in the Palestinian Authority. Do you accept that?
SAEB EREKAT: Well I don't, I don't accept that we're perfect. I think there are mistakes being committed, I think it's our job to try to do our best in order to bring about a system of accountability transparency, continue the separation of power and I think the best way to achieve is through direct presidential, legislative and local elections and the rule of law. And I think we need to do a lot to improve ourselves, yes mistakes were committed, I'm not saying that we have perfect government but at the same time we have to say that we are open saying that we are in the ... of ... reform and we need the help of the international community on that.
DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed for joining us, next time we hope to be able to see you once again as well. Thank you very much.
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