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Nabil Shaath, the minister of international cooperation of the Palestinian Authority, is a close aide to Yasser Arafat and the de facto foreign minister of the PA. He spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on Dec. 2 from Gaza.

NATHAN GARDELS: In the wake of this suicide bombing onslaught against Israelis, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that this is "the moment of truth" for the Palestinian Authority to bring an end to violence. Is this the moment of truth?

NABIL SHAATH: It is not only a moment of truth for the Palestinian Authority but also for the government of Israel. But a moment of truth is only important if it is grasped.

The question is really how to stop this cycle of retaliation which brings on waves of killing, one after another. The moment the Palestinian side cools down, the Israelis start assassinating and killing. When the Israelis cool down, then extremist Palestinians start hitting back.

I was shivering with fear over something like this happening two weeks ago when the Israelis went haywire, assassinating a key Hamas leader and killing five Palestinian children with an explosive planted on the path the kids used to go to school.

These incursions were a rampage. Yet, when we talked to the Israelis and said that Arafat was trying to stop the violence, they said, "No, no, no, not enough. The only way we have been able to stop the attacks on Israelis is by assassinating Palestinian leaders. Palestinians only understand maximum force."

Well, now we see the folly of this harsh Israeli policy, which they are only repeating again with the attack on PA headquarters in Gaza. It doesn't stop the extremists, it inflames them. Both of our extremists, on the Israeli and Palestinian sides, are self-fulfilling prophets of violence and doom.

The only way to stop this now is though American intervention to sit the two sides down to stop the retaliation of one side against the other, treating any retaliation as an aggression. Everybody must be held accountable by impartial monitors on the ground.

GARDELS: The PA has imposed martial law after the suicide bombings. Will that include arrests of leaders of Hamas and Islamic jihad?

SHAATH: Yes. Arrests are underway. It will mean the imposition of the same kind of undemocratic rules that the Israelis apply to the Palestinians -- holding people without bail or a court order on administrative detention, detaining people for incitement, dismantling organizations at will, freezing bank accounts of groups suspected of supporting terrorism and so on. In other words, we will use the British law from colonial times that Israelis use against Palestinians, not their own people. And we will use it against extremists on the Palestinian side.

GARDELS: Some Israeli leaders seem to have concluded that not only is Arafat unwilling to stop the violence but unable to. So, they have tried to go around him to negotiate cease-fires and other deals. Will that work?

SHAATH: This is another silly policy of Israeli leaders today. If this were such a successful strategy, there wouldn't have been the (28) Israelis killed over the weekend. This is but another example of the folly of the strong.

The Israelis have tried this before with village league leaders and all kinds of pseudo-personalities they think can replace our leadership. It is the same folly as if we said, "Let's wait to deal until Yossi Beilin (Israel's leading dove) becomes prime minister of Israel." That is not going to work.

(c) 2001, Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services
For immediate release (Distributed 12/3/01)