Mahmoud Darwish, a well-known Palestinian poet, resigned from the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993. His most recent book in English is Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982 (California, 1995). The following excerpts are from an interview with Mona Naim in Le Monde, March 12-13, 1995.

You have been opposed to the Declaration of Principles, but you have not joined any active opposition to the accord. Why?

My opposition to the terms of the accord is a measure of my attachment to a real peace. The accord does not lead to such a peace, but to a breakup of Palestinian society and its interests. I have not said that I would oppose the accord, but only that I cannot accept it. It’s all the more difficult now for me to oppose it, since it has now become a fact and one does not deny facts. Struggle over the accord should not call for its failure but for the improvement of the processes of negotiations with Israel. The opposition must demonstrate that the terms of the accords are not the limits of the Palestinian cause, or of Palestinian rights.

My hesitations and reservations pertain to the approach and not to the principle or the objective. I have said clearly, and I maintain still, that the accord does not initiate a good trajectory toward peace. Nor does it constitute a path for those who call for peace. The terms are not attractive enough to bring along the Arabs. It pains me to say that the image of a Palestinian ghetto that I saw profiled in my reading of the accord has in part been verified.

How do you explain the greater and greater number of Palestinian candidates willing to become “martyrs”?

The difficult situation that Palestinian society is passing through today has pushed some Palestinians to despair. But despair is a destructive force. The “martyr” phenomenon is, for all intents and purposes, a new one in this context. A Shi‘i conception of death — a model we connect with south Lebanon — has been transferred to some Palestinians, and it must be reckoned with.

Fear of this phenomenon is pushing the Israelis to find a political solution, not just a security solution, to the Palestinian problem. Until now, the Israelis have confined themselves to a discourse of security. They do not speak only of the security of Israel, but that of individuals. They hold Yasser Arafat responsible for the security of each Israeli citizen. But there is no country in the world that can guarantee the security of the citizens of a neighboring society.

The problem of the new Palestinian attitude toward death can only be changed if we open the doors of life for people. The suicidal mentality does not stem from some theoretical rejection of a solution. From this point on, the principle of peace has taken root in the spirit of all Arabs. It is a new fundamental fact, an historic moment. When people have a sense of really living in their country, and not under occupation, when they are permitted to live in freedom, then death will no longer be a goal unto itself.

What will happen if Yasser Arafat is forced out of power?

The irony of history is that Israel has adopted the old Palestinian formula — namely, that no solution is possible without the PLO. It has renounced its hoary taboo in order to replace it with another one. But the new weight of the PLO works to the detriment of the Palestinians of the occupied territories.

Yet I have always believed that the principal role in the negotiations should fall to those on the inside. It should have been the case, in the first stage, that the autonomy be ruled by the Palestinians on the inside and not the PLO, which represents a people and not a territory. The PLO could have supported this government with its political, economic and moral “cover,” while continuing to manage the whole of the Palestinian dossier. The PLO’s leadership should have remained viable for the Palestinians in the diaspora, dealing with questions of self-determination and the right of return.

The PLO is not a goal unto itself, but a political tool for satisfying the rights of the Palestinian people. Yet [now] it is placed in an equivocal juridical situation: It is to pilot the accord, and Yasser Arafat is at one and the same time the head of the state of Palestine, head of the PLO, and head of the autonomy. I don’t know how these three functions can be reconciled.

The PLO continues to say that it is the reference point, but at the same time it is the government. In other words, it is its own reference, and this is a juridical ruse that fools no one. It is necessary, therefore, in order for the PLO to take up its appropriate juridical and constitutional space, that Palestinians define for themselves the priority task of organizing elections. It is only then that the problem will no longer be posed in terms of the potential absence or withdrawal of this or that leader.

How to cite this article:

Mona Naim "An Interview with Mahmoud Darwish," Middle East Report 194-195 (July/August 1995).

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