Hizballah Chief on Peace
Exclusive Interview with His Eminence Al Sayed Hassan Nassrallah, Secretary General of Hizballah in Lebanon. Conducted by Antoine K. Kehdy, February 2, 2000.
MEI: From the perspective of Hizballah, what are the major issues to be addressed during Lebanon-Israel peace negotiations?
Nassrallah: In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
First of all, we have a point of view regarding the Madrid Conference as a whole and the basis on which the conference was convened. We continue to maintain that point of view. The whole process is unjust, and it cannot culminate in what they call a comprehensive and just peace.
From the moment it was launched, the Palestinian territories occupied since 1948 were relinquished and thus excluded from the peace talks. The Arabs sitting at the negotiation table in Madrid conceded those territories. This is why we consider the peace talks, since the beginning, to be unjust. I wanted to clarify this first, so that our starting position will be known before answering any questions.
What has happened on the Palestinian-Israeli track justifies our reservations and our fears. What has happened until now is not only an abuse of the Arab’s right to the 1948 lands, but also an abuse of their right to the 1967 lands - which are in the process of being abandoned.
On the Lebanese-Israeli track, from our national point of view,
Lebanon should first recover sovereignty over all its territories, without neglecting any. Second, all Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails should be released. Otherwise, the Israeli-Lebanese settlement will have no value. Third, Lebanon has the right to ask for compensation for all the damages and harm which have resulted from Israeli aggressions against Lebanon during the past decades.
Furthermore, Lebanon has the right to ask for punishment of those Israeli officials who should be considered war criminals. Some of the Israeli attacks in south Lebanon were not military campaigns. The massacre in Qana, as well as other massacres perpetrated in the South, should be considered war crimes. These massacres did not happen accidentally or by coincidence, especially regarding Qana. People in the south believed that they were under the protection of the United Nations and UNIFIL. This is one of the main issues that Lebanon is planning to raise, and must raise.
The next issue, which is no less important than the previous ones - if not more important, is the issue of the Palestinian refugees. Lebanon can not enter into any settlement with anybody based on the granting of Lebanese nationality to the 300,000 or 400,000 Palestinians who live on Lebanese territory. There is no way that such a thing can happen. The Lebanese public and official consensus on this issue is to reject the granting of Lebanese nationality to those Palestinians. Settling the Palestinian issue in this way must be totally rejected because of the special circumstances of Lebanon, in addition to its complex confessional structure.
Any settlement that does not take into consideration the issue of the Palestinian refugees endangers the process and will prove to be a time bomb which can explode at any time. That is why we consider this issue to be equal in its importance to the liberation of the Lebanese territories.
Resolving this issue is not only in the interest of Lebanon, but also in the interest of the Palestinians themselves. The Palestinians themselves do not wish to live the kind of life they are living in Lebanon.
MEI: Does Hizballah has any intention to cooperate with the Lebanese government to contribute to an agenda for the negotiations?
Nassrallah: No, there is no such cooperation. Hizballah’s mission is to fight in the south of Lebanon.
MEI: For the first time, a Lebanese president has indicated a correlation between the positions of the Lebanese government and those of the resistance in the South. Will this have a positive impact on the negotiations?
Nassrallah: The Lebanese government knows very well the positions of Hizballah since we have not kept such things a secret. However, Hizballah is in no way ready to enter into discussions of peace or of negotiations. Nor does Hizballah want to weaken the position of Lebanon in the negotiations. Instead, although it rejects the principle of negotiation, Hizballah constitutes a factor of power for the Lebanese in the negotiations.
MEI: Do you think that Iraq and Iran, as well as other Arab countries, should enter the negotiations with Israel along with Lebanon and Syria, so that these negotiations may be more successful?
Nassrallah: Backing from Iraq and Iran - as well as any other Arab or Islamic country - for Lebanon and Syria during this crucial phrase is of major importance. In this way, Lebanon and Syria would have more strength to face the political, economic, moral and social pressures from Israel that aim at weakening them. This would allow them to defend at least their minimum basic needs during these tough negotiations.
MEI: What is Hizballah’s perspective on the issue of the "seven villages?"
Nassrallah: We have asked the Lebanese government to claim its right to recover control over these villages because we consider them to be Lebanese. Therefore, they should be returned to the control of the Lebanese government. If the French granted them to the British, who granted them to Israel, this agreement has no legitimate legal validity.
MEI: What would you say to those who assert that, in 1923, these villages were attached to Palestine, and that Yasser Arafat considers them part of Palestinian territories?
Nassrallah: This is a complex issue that should be studied in depth. What is important to us is that they be taken back from Israel. If they are returned as part of a Palestinian state, then the issue would be subject to discussion, but if President Arafat is claiming these villages just to give them back to Israel, then that would be an act of excessive treason.
MEI: In the event of a Lebanon-Israel peace treaty, will the Resistance enter the former "security zone?"
Nassrallah:You mean in the South?
MEI:Yes, in the south of Lebanon.
Nassrallah: If, by resistance, you mean Hizballah and all its cultural and social institutions, these institutions will, of course, be present there. All the displaced inhabitants of this region have ties to Hizballah. These people will return to their homes, to their fields, and to their villages. Hizballah and the Mujjahidine are the original inhabitants of that region, and they will, for sure, go back to that region whenever it is freed from Israeli occupation. However, let it be understood, that once that region is freed, Hizballah will not exercise any security measures there. That is indisputable, because the region will be under the sovereignty of the Lebanese government.
MEI: Will Hizballah have a political or social presence in the liberated area similar to its presence in Bekaa?
Nassrallah: Hizballah will be present in the South, but it will not have any security power, because Hizballah is a resistance movement that aims at liberating the occupied territories and is not a substitute for the government.
MEI: How should the government of Lebanon approach the Palestinian issue during Lebanon-Israel peace talks? What can realistically be expected on this issue during the talks?
Nassrallah: Lebanon must stick to its demands because this issue, even if it lasts a hundred years, cannot be resolved at the expense of Lebanese interests.
MEI: What might Lebanon propose to resolve this issue?
Nassrallah: If you are asking for my point of view, I would say that the Palestinians should go back to Palestine. If you tell me that, subsequent to some bilateral or multilateral negotiations, or if some international body proposes to take the Palestinians out of Lebanon and distribute them among Syria, Iraq, Canada, Australia or other parts of the world, I would say that this might be a solution to the Lebanese problem, but not to the Palestinian one. The Palestinian issue should be considered a regional problem of greater importance than any other. How can they talk about a just and comprehensive peace if this peace is going to keep four million Palestinians from returning to Palestine and disperse them all over the world? Would the Palestinians accept such a solution? Would they accept forfeiting their land? So, from our point of view, we are asking not only for the Palestinians to leave Lebanon, but for their return to Palestine.
MEI: What do you expect the position of the Israelis to be regarding the return of the Palestinians? How do you expect them to respond to the Lebanese government at the negotiation table, given that this issue is of major importance to Lebanon and is totally different from the issue of the Palestinians in Syria?
Nassrallah: Lebanon has a greater weapon in its hands than the Israelis. Israel has problems in Lebanon and is suffering human casualties and moral damage. The Israelis are humiliated in Lebanon and want to end their occupation of Lebanon. Thus I believe that Lebanon can acquire all of its rights.
The destiny of the Israelis is to leave Lebanon. If they stay in a piece of land that we consider to be Lebanese, we will persist in our resistance until it is freed. Once the Israelis and the Lebanese sit at a negotiating table, the Lebanese will link the solution to the Israelis’ problem in the South with the resolution of the issue of the Palestinians in Lebanon. Lebanon will stipulate that they will accept an end to the crisis in the South, provided the Palestinians are allowed to return to Palestine. Since the Israelis are desperately seeking a solution to their problem with Lebanon, Lebanon should take advantage of this.
MEI: Do you think that Arafat might interfere in the negotiations between Israel and Lebanon regarding a solution to the Palestinians in Lebanon?
Nassrallah: I hope that he will not, I wish that he stays away, because the experience that Arafat has in negotiations is desperate. Arafat has no advantage at all. He is more a beggar of peace than a negotiator. Whenever he feels helpless, he visits officials around the world. He visits Clinton, Chirac, Blair, and then he goes to Moscow. He also visits some Arab countries, he goes to Cairo and visits Mubarak. He does not have any options, he lacks any weapon in his hand.
MEI: Do you think that the Lebanese and Syrians might sign a peace agreement with Israel without reaching a comprehensive peace, that is to say, without resolving the issue of the Palestinians in Lebanon?
Nassrallah: From what I know, the President, the Prime Minister, and the Speaker of the House in Lebanon - all of Lebanon’s institution as well as its people - will not enter a peace agreement with the Israelis without finding a remedy to the issue of the Palestinians in Lebanon.
MEI: Are you concerned that after an agreement is signed, resolving the issue of the Palestinians would take some additional time?
Nassrallah: What we are asking for is a solution, not a magic solution.
MEI: If a solution was reached, what would the future hold for the Lebanese citizens who live in the occupied zone and currently work in Israel? Would they be allowed to find jobs within Lebanon?
Nassrallah: First, what these Lebanese citizens are doing is not justified on any level. It is against Lebanese law and it violates all religious principles. We have always been against any normalization of relations with Israel, and we consider that what those Lebanese have been doing is a form of normalization with Israel. If they claim that they are obliged to work there, it is as if they are saying they are obliged to be agents. However, when the occupied territories are freed, those Lebanese citizens would be allowed to work inside Lebanon - like all Lebanese citizens - but first they should appear before a Lebanese court. What they have been doing in Israel could be a breach of Lebanese law, and that should be looked into. After the Israeli withdrawal they would be considered normal citizens who could work in their own land, and they would have no excuse to work in the occupied territories.
MEI: You seek the liberation of the Lebanese territories but reject any normalization with Israel?
Nassrallah: I am against any reconciliation with Israel. I do not even recognize the presence of a state that is called "Israel." I consider its presence both unjust and unlawful. That is why if Lebanon concludes a peace agreement with Israel and brings that accord to the Parliament our deputies will reject it; Hizballah refuses any conciliation with Israel in principle.
Now if a government concludes peace with Israel, what would I think about that? I would consider the liberation of the territories a victory, while confronting the normalization of relations with Israel. As for our armed activities, I would not say anything and would decide accordingly. When a peace agreement is concluded between the Lebanese government and Israel, we would surely disagree with the Lebanese government about that, but we would not make any turmoil out of it.
MEI: In the context of a comprehensive agreement, how would you assess the ability of the Lebanese army to keep the peace on the frontier with Israel?
Nassrallah: We reject the notion of the Lebanese army being transformed into a frontier guard.
MEI: Will the Lebanese army be able to assure security inside the liberated zone?
Nassrallah: Are you asking if it has the capability? You would have to ask the army high command, I cannot give you any information about that. That is not a logistical problem or an issue of manpower. You would have to assess the political and internal facts at that time. These issues are as important as the logistical readiness of the army.
MEI: In Jezzine, for example, the Lebanese army has not yet entered, why not?
Nassrallah: It is not that the army is not ready, it is because the army fears a trap there.
MEI: Might the same trap exist in the South?
Nassrallah: At the appropriate time the issue should be studied very carefully.
MEI: What are the other factors that should be considered regarding the deployment of the Lebanese army?
Nassrallah: The presence of the army in southern Lebanon and on the frontier is not a question of the readiness of the army itself, but rather a number of circumstances that constitute the base of the decision to send the army to that area.
For example, the Lebanese army now possesses the military equipment and the number of soldiers to enter the Palestinian camps. Why hasn’t it done so? Because the issue is not one of military readiness, it is an issue related to political decision-making as well as the political circumstances in the country.
MEI: Do you foresee a continuing role for UNIFIL after a peace treaty is signed?
Nassrallah: These forces have not fulfilled their duties. Why, we do not know. The Israelis are now able to enter any Lebanese village at any time, arrest or kill anybody, and even perpetrate massacres right under the eyes of UNIFIL. This is what happened in Qana, where the massacre took place inside a UNIFIL position.
MEI: Once a peace agreement is reached, and after the Lebanese army regains control of the security in the south, would the resistance disarm or possibly transform into an auxiliary national guard of some sort?
Nassrallah: The real question is, once Israel withdraws from the South, will Hizballah continue its military actions against the Israeli presence in North Palestine? Or should Hizballah first disband its military units and submit its arms and then decide? Should they enter the army as the disbanded Lebanese militias did? We would say no, because the resistance is nobler than the militias; the resistance fought for the liberation of the whole country.
What is next for Hizballah in the coming phase? Will the military resistance stop once the Israeli withdrawal is complete and international frontier is reestablished? Actually, the high command of Hizballah has made a decision not to answer that question, or any question related to it, for the time being.
MEI: Following a peace with Israel, what is your vision for southern Lebanon? What should be done by the Lebanese government and the international community to rebuild what has been destroyed in the south?
Nassrallah: The South and West Bekaa need just about everything, that is the simplest answer to your question. These regions, as you know, have been devastated and destroyed and needs to be rebuilt on all levels. But it is important to note that not only the South and the Bekaa were devastated by the conflict, the impact of the war affected all of Lebanon on the economic and security levels.
The Lebanese government alone cannot deal with this tragedy. Lebanon needs real assistance in this area, not just media attention. Ten billion or 20 billion dollars can do very little to undo the devastation in those parts of the country.
I think that the United States is very responsible for the damages inflicted in those areas. In the eyes of the people there, the US was responsible for the whole war, since all the devastation that took place in that region carried out by Israel resulted from American helicopters, bombers and missiles. Israel’s attacks were facilitated by means of the unlimited American support it receives. Let us not forget the three billion dollars that Israel receives every year in military support from the United States, in addition to the billions that it receives in economic assistance.
So even if the Lebanese government does not say it, all the Lebanese people know that the US is a partner in what happened to the south, and thus it should assume the responsibilities of that war.
The international community should accept responsibility for what happened in Lebanon, and the international institutions and the European Union should all help Lebanon recover from the residue of the war. But we do not want financial aid programs that will make Lebanon submissive to the countries that provided aid. We have suffered great losses, lost martyrs, and been subject to massacres, but more important than receiving bread and assistance is sovereignty and the independence of all of Lebanon.
MEI: Had Hizballah made any assessments of the damages that occurred in the South?
Nassrallah: We have not worked on this yet but whenever we decide to do so, we can help the government on this issue.
MEI: What role has the US Ambassador played in Lebanon through his meetings with Lebanese officials and tours of Lebanese regions?
Nassrallah: The Ambassador interferes in Lebanese internal issues in a way which goes against all the slogans the US advocates. While the US proclaims its respect for the national sovereignty and independence of Lebanon, it interferes in many internal matters, which harms Lebanese unity. The Ambassador is playing a negative role in Lebanon and constitutes a political cover for the Israeli occupation.
MEI: If at the end of the peace process the Palestinian problem in Lebanon is left untouched, what will the attitude of Hizballah be with respect to subsequent Palestinian resistance activities against Israel emanating from Lebanon?
Nassrallah: Although individual operations might continue to take place in Lebanon as well as in Palestine, such individual operations - which might take place due to the dissatisfaction of one or the repudiation of another - can not change a whole equation in the region if a settlement is reached.
But to be clear, if Lebanon, Syria, and other Arab countries conclude peace agreements with Israel without settling the issue of the Palestinians in a just way, the future of the region would not be one of peace at all. The Americans are surely mistaken if they think they can make peace without finding a real and fair solution to the Palestinian issue.
I want to give you an example that I think the American public will understand and truly appreciate: Just imagine a peaceful American family owning a house with a garden, a well, and a small doghouse. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, this Zionist appears, attacks, and takes over. After great efforts by the family to return home, they are told that the ground upper and lower floors will remain totally occupied, and that the occupier is only ready to negotiate over the kitchen and the bedroom. Finally the original family ends up living only in the doghouse, and only with restrictions: the owner cannot come back with his whole family - only with his wife - and his children have to find somewhere else to live. This story symbolically describes what is actually taking place right now. How could anyone accept such a reality, tell me?
After reaching agreements with Israel, the Arabs would still not have Jerusalem. The Israelis will create a "Greater Jerusalem" and give Arafat a part of its artificial surroundings and falsely call it "Holy Jerusalem." The colonies in the West Bank, would remain as they are. The top of the mountains would remain as they are and would link the colonies one to the other. The water streams would be under the control of Israel. The frontiers of the Palestinian entity would be Israeli. Some divided and dismantled territories would constitute the Palestinian State, which would be only a part of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
This entity would be fragile and weak, and its economy would be dependent on that of Israel. The Palestinians would be nothing more than employees of Israeli employers. Such a state would lack sovereignty. And how many refugees could return to that land, if they had to return to Palestine?
This settlement is being imposed on the Palestinians because of the weakness of their leadership and as result of severe conditions in the Arab world. When these conditions and circumstances change, the settlement resulting in this kind of Palestinian State would change entirely.
So, even if Lebanon and Syria reacquire control of all their territories, that would not be a solution to the Palestinian issue; the struggle of these two countries with Israel is part of the wider struggle for Palestine. In this way we would be solving an issue which results from this struggle, but not its root cause. After all, why was the Golan and South Lebanon occupied in the first place? Why did the Arabs go to war in the first place, and what is this conflict all about? It is obviously about Palestine, which was unjustly and illegally acquired. Remember, not all of what Arafat accepts can be accepted by the Palestinians themselves. Do you think the Palestinians will accept the arbitrary, unfair, and unjust settlement the Israelis are giving them?
MEI: What kind of government do you envision for Lebanon after the peace?
Nassrallah: An alternative inside Lebanon is not easy to find. Among the officials we have, there is no great alternative.
MEI: Would Hizballah, after a peace agreement, become a political party that exercises its power in Lebanon, or would it seek to exercise power on a regional level?
Nassrallah: The arena for Hizballah’s work is principally Lebanon; we are not ready to extend our work to other countries. However, we will cooperate with parties and movements in Arab and Muslim countries on common issues.
MEI: Western countries have often associated Islam with terrorism, what is Hizballah’s perspective on this and what message would you like to convey to the American public and policy makers about this?
Nassrallah: It is regrettable that the American public, at a time when modern means of communication are readily available, lacks true and complete information from genuine sources with regard to Islam. True information is hidden due to the obvious and well-known orientation of opinion makers.
In truth, the most conspicuous examples of terrorism are the actions undertaken by Israel in occupying Palestine and other Arab territories, its aggression against peaceful civilians and civilian installations, its destruction of villages and water sources, and the tremendous damage which it aggressively inflicts. All of this is done under the full protection of the American administration and with its help in the form of funds, weapons, and political support. Truly, this is the terrorism. We are involved in legitimate resistance which is fully justified. This is what all people do when their land is occupied.
Nevertheless, because we resist Zionist terrorism, we are described as terrorists and Islam is linked with terrorism. The American people would know these facts if not for the orientation of the media which has been propagated by Zionist information organs or those associated with them. It should be clear from history that Islam is the religion of peace, dialogue, and co-existence. But it is also the religion which defends dignity and protects rights.
Unfortunately, some judge Islam on the basis of their experience with Muslims who have done harm to Islam. In every nation, and among the followers of every religion or belief, there are some individuals who do not adhere to, or conform with, the teachings and stipulations of their true religion or belief. But we should not judge a nation or religion or belief on the basis of a few. This is inconsistent with any objective methodology.
Source: Middle East Insight