Ambassador Mohamed Shaker, a former Egyptian diplomat who recently spoke at Truckee Meadows Community College, is vice chairman of the Egyptian Council on Foreign Affairs. He previously served as Egypt’s ambassador to Britain and has specialized in nuclear arms issues, a volatile subject in the Middle East. This interview was conducted two weeks ago, just after George Bush’s dramatic endorsement of Ariel Sharon’s now-faltering plan for Gaza, Jordan King Abdullah’s resulting cancellation of a meeting with Bush, and the assassination of two Palestinian leaders.
Let’s talk about the events of the last few days. Both Ariel Sharon and George Bush have uncertain political futures, but you now have their commitments on the annexation of West Bank lands and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. If they leave office, do those commitments go with them or will you have to live with that?
No, I think it would be very difficult to live with that. First of all, President Bush said he doesn’t want to preempt the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis but still went ahead and said the Palestinian refugees cannot go back, that there are changes on the territories that could not be changed now, and therefore the settlements built inside the West Bank, some of the settlements, would remain there. So he’s in fact prejudging the outcome of the negotiations … The Israelis now say, “These are guarantees given to us by the Americans.” Some of them [the Palestinians] would like to go back to their homeland. Maybe the majority would not go back, but to do away with the principle, I think, no Palestinian and not a single Arab government can accept that. Number two, the settlements, keeping the settlements in the West Bank untouched, the second promise by President Bush—it’s first of all against Security Council resolution 242. It also contravenes the spirit and the text of the roadmap that has been carved by the quartet—the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. And so it was very badly received in the Arab world. We need the explanations. It’s really complicating the peace process.
Do you believe Israel is running out the clock on the right of return?
The refugees left in the ‘40s—in ‘47, ‘48. And, yes, most of them now maybe are old or died, but their children know they have a home, and they have property they have lost. And how to expropriate this property and how to be compensated for the loss of their property, it’s another issue. So it’s a very complicated issue. It doesn’t bode well for the peace process to give promises like that, that you are preempting the outcome of the negotiations … How many will go back, how many will be allowed to go back to Israel, and how many could be resettled elsewhere? Give it to the negotiating parties.
Talk to me about the use of assassination by Israel.
I think it’s a shame that a government of a state uses such a tactic to assassinate leaders of other people. If you died in a battle, it’s something else, but to target two persons and liquidate them, that’s really very bad for the whole process. And I think Sharon wants to provoke more violence by that, so at the end he says, “No, I have not done anything, the Palestinians are violent people.” They’re not violent, they’re occupied. They are resisting occupation. Yet the Hamas has committed the same sin in attacking civilians, suicide bombings in killing innocent people here and there. But the bulk of Hamas is resisting Israeli occupation, foreign occupation, and they have the right to resist. So I think in the killing of these two leaders, Sharon has the intention of provoking further violence in the area and then using this as a pretext not to do anything.