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Nabil Shaath, minister of planning for the Palestinian Authority, is one of Yasser Arafat's top aides. He spoke from Cairo with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on April 8.

NATHAN GARDELS: What should U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's agenda be during his trip to the Middle East?

NABIL SHAATH: He should, first of all, stop the massacre of Palestinians and do what his president has demanded: Get the Israelis out now. Then, he needs to press for quick implementation of the Tenet and Mitchell plans so we can, at last, return to political negotiations on a final settlement based on the Saudi initiative, which is now the unanimously approved Arab plan.

Powell has to meet with Arafat. If he doesn't meet with Arafat, whom is he going to talk peace with -- with the man who started the invasion? He needs to meet with both parties. The only person who can speak for the Palestinians is Yasser Arafat. Crown Prince Abdullah and King Mohammed (of Morocco) told him this again when he met them on Monday.

In the meantime, Powell will have a new task: putting together an international peacekeeping force on the ground until the Palestinian police force, now destroyed by the Israeli invaders, can be rebuilt.

GARDELS: The Israelis have seized documents they say show that Arafat approved purchasing materials for suicide bombers and paid terrorists. What do you make of these documents?

SHAATH: The Israelis are not the policemen of Palestine. They have no juridical rights to search through anybody's papers and decide what is a crime and what is not.

Be that as it may, these papers don't prove anything. Two of them are about financial aid given to families of men that were not bombers, but people that Israel decided to kill through extra-judicial assassination. No court indicted them for anything. The amounts paid to their families posthumously were minimal -- $1,000 for five families.

Then there is this paper which shows a request for money to buy explosive materials supposedly addressed to the financial officer of the Palestinian police force. Yet, there are no markings or signatures of approval or disapproval by any Palestinian authority.

This is the smoking gun? The full proof of culpability and guilt claimed by the prime minister of Israel and the justification for his invasion? I don't think the world is so gullible.

GARDELS: If and when Powell meets with Arafat, he will say ''this is it, this is the absolute last chance to crack down on terrorism or we can't stop the Israelis from coming in again.'' What will Arafat say to Powell?

SHAATH: He will say that, despite what President Bush says -- because apparently he doesn't have anybody who keeps track -- I have spoken (ital) in Arabic (unital) several times, the last of which was Dec. 16 last year, calling for an end to all violence, especially suicide bombings.

Arafat will say he is committed to maintaining full calm and in fact was able to do that for 24 days after that December call before Israeli assassinations, killing and bombings ruptured his efforts.
Arafat will say that he is now in a hostage situation, cut off from the world, with his security apparatus destroyed in all the cities Israeli forces have invaded, his officers decommissioned and sent back to their villages. Any capacity for enforcement of anything has been destroyed, he will tell Powell.

To contribute anything to end to the violence, Arafat will say he needs first of all to be able to escape the siege and humiliation he now suffers. Then he will tell Powell what should be obvious: He needs his police force rebuilt again if he is expected to reestablish order and crack down on terrorists.

Finally, President Arafat will tell Powell that we are committed to the Saudi peace plan. We worked hard to get unanimous Arab support for it. It is an historic offer -- so far met with one response by Sharon: invasion.

Powell must be able to hear that message and understand it without continuing the daily demonization of Arafat by President Bush. Then there will be a chance to get out of this tragic mess.

GARDELS: Has Sharon's strategy to isolate Arafat and destroy his effectiveness backfired?

SHAATH: Absolutely. Arafat today is the most powerful leader in the whole Arab world. His constituency now is not just the Palestinians, but every one of the 300 million Arabs.

(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services
For immediate release (Distributed 4/8/02)