'The Tanks That Shelled My House Were American'

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Wednesday, 10.30 a.m., EST

Can Yasser Arafat afford to accept President Clinton's invitation to go to Washington?

"Most of the voices I'm hearing from the Palestinian side are raising doubt about the wisdom of Arafat's going to Washington right now. The Speaker of the Palestinian parliament was saying today that Arafat spoke to Clinton a few days ago in Sharm el-Sheik, so what would they have to say to each other now that they hadn't already said. But Arafat loves these trips and he doesn't want to turn his back on President Clinton, even though President Clinton is melting. So I wouldn't exclude the possibility of Arafat's going to Washington."

How do ordinary Palestinians view the U.S. role in the crisis?

"In the eyes of the Palestinian man and woman on the street, the Americans are becoming the enemies of the Palestinians. Today I was in a house that had been shelled by Israeli tanks in the neighborhood of Beit Jalla. The woman of the house said to me, 'I consider it was the Americans that shelled me, not the Israelis.' I asked why. She said 'The tanks that shelled my house were American, given to Israel free. And the ammunition. And America is paying the soldiers their salaries.' And you've seen the American flag being burned at a number of demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza. From that point of view, Arafat going to the U.S. now would not be appreciated by many Palestinians."

Is President Clinton's invitation a timely intervention?

"No, to people here it looks as if he's lost his ability to read what's written on the walls of the Middle East. He speaks to Arafat and Barak every day by phone — what is he hoping to achieve by bringing them to Washington? I think this sometimes he creates his own confusions about the situation, and then tries to act if those confusions are facts. So he imagines that he's going to convince Arafat to move just a little bit further on some negotiating point, and then he'll be able to convince Barak to move just a little bit further, and so on. These are policy confusions. The U.S. knows everything that's going on in the Middle East through the CIA, and yet from the President on down, they still don't understand it. So there's no decisive American position which says to each side, you take the following steps to stop this rubbish, and don't call us until you do. Instead, the message of America is not clear, and everybody is interpreting it according to their own interests."

What's the thinking on the Palestinian street about how to move forward?

"The violence has created this chaos in which everyone imagines himself to be a leader and entitled to make decisions. People are angry because they don't believe this peace delivered anything to them. But they're also afraid because the idea of an economic separation from Israel will leave many people with no way to feed their families. The most important problem, though, is that Palestinians haven't heard a word from Arafat about whether to continue the intifada or not. He hasn't told them to fight on or to stop fighting. This is the tragic side of the story. The Israelis are clear. But on the Palestinian side there is this vagueness. People should be told that stoning will not give you a state. These lists of martyrs are simply a great human tragedy. And nobody will say because the Palestinians paid this great human price, we should give them more land for their state. This is not how history functions. Unfortunately, nothing like this is happening. Which is why you and I will continue talking about this crisis for a long time to come."