Escaping Arafat's Shadow

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TIME: President Bush wrote Israeli Prime Minister Sharon a letter saying that in a final deal, there will be no right of return and there will be adjustments to the 1967 borders and the status of Jerusalem.

ABBAS: President Bush doesn't have the right to prejudice final-status issues. These issues should be discussed in the final stages, not now. He can't make commitments on behalf of the Palestinian people. It is our right to say yes or no.

TIME: To get a final-status agreement, do you think you will have to make unpopular decisions, unpopular compromises? ABBAS: I promise any compromise will go to a referendum. People will accept it or not.

TIME: Do you think you can achieve a deal in one five-year presidential term?

ABBAS: I have to do it because after that I won't be President anymore.

TIME: Yasser Arafat was a symbol for Palestinians around the world. Do you see yourself as a different kind of leader?

ABBAS: There are differences in our ways of thinking. I want to put everything on the table, and you can take it or leave it. Even when I was running for the elections, many friends advised me not to. But I said, "No, I have to tell the people everything. Either they'll elect me or not."

TIME: Are you worried that might anger people? Are there threats against your life?

ABBAS: Everybody is under threat. We are Muslims. We believe that when life comes to an end, it comes.

TIME: It's risky just to be a Palestinian?

ABBAS: It's risky. But it's also risky to be an American. You remember the Twin Towers. So if you believe in God, you won't be afraid.

TIME: You were born in Safad, in what is now Israel. How did it feel when you went back for a visit in 1995?

ABBAS: Very sad. It's my country. I know every street and store. But now I'm not allowed to be there. That's life. I'm not asking for Safad. I'm not asking to return there.

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