Sir David Frost: It has been more than a month since BBC journalist Alan Johnston went missing in Gaza. Despite repeated calls from the Palestinian Authorities for his release it is still not known who is holding him and why. British officials have even held a face- to-face meeting with Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister. I am joined now by Ismail Haniya's spokesman and general right-hand man, Ghazi Hamad. What is the latest news is about Alan Johnston?
|Ghazi Hamad, the spokesman for the Palestinian |
prime minister, talks to David Frost
Ghazi Hamad: I think we have now maybe full information about his place and where is he. But you know that we have some consultation with the British government in order to [decide] how can we treat this problem. Because really we want to solve this problem peacefully, without victims, without injuries. We want him to be saved without harm. But I think we as the security forces are working day and night in order to release him, and I hope that in [a] couple of days we can finish this tragedy.
DF: Which government department or minister do you deal with in Britain to try and make this happen?
GH: All the time we contacted the office of the British consulate here in Gaza and also with the British consulate himself. And I have talked with him yesterday, and I give him all the information and all the consequences, and also the action and the thought of the government. Also we consult him [about] how can we also do some procedures in order to release and to save the British journalist. And I think he also did call us from time to time to ask about the situation and about the circumstances of the journalist.
DF: But it does mean that from what you have just said that you are pretty confident you know almost exactly where he is at the moment, but that you don't want to endanger his life?
GH: Yes, we still believe that [the] people who kidnap[ped] him, maybe they are dangerous people, but we think they have no political background for this kidnapping. Until now we as a government did not receive any demand from these people [for] money or something like that. They still keep silent. And this might be trying to find some channels to talk to him, to talk to them, to convince them to release [him].
But you know that there are some groups that denied that they have kept Alan Johnston. But I think we have information, and we are also trying now to filtrate this formation in order to make [a] correct decision to save and to release him. But you know because we don't want this man to be injured or harmed we have to take some precautions, and some steps in order to guarantee his life and to save him peacefully without consequences.
DF: Well we will all pray that your efforts will come to pass in that way peacefully. Of course at the moment there is also the proposed prisoner exchange deal for the Israeli Corporal Shalit, and you have suggested 1400 people who you would like to be released in return for him, and so on. Do you think that is going to happen?
GH: Yes I think there is [a] big possibility, but this depends on the Israeli side. If Israel really deal[s] positively with the list of names offered by the Palestinian side, I think this will open the door for [an] opportunity to achieve [a] compromise, to achieve the deal.
But we know that Israel they have a sensitivity for some names, or the majority of the names of the detainees, because they make kind of a classification and discrimination between the prisoners. This is a tourist, this is not tourist, there is blood on his hand. I think they should not believe in this way.
We as Palestinians we don't take care for the criteria's and the parameters of the Israeli side, because we look to the prisoners as fighters, as Palestinians. There is no discrimination between Hamas or Fatah or any Palestinian faction. So, and you know that Israel has released detainees with a deal with Hezbollah before I think one or two years, and they released people who killed Israelis. And also in 1985 they released about 1500 people. Many of them [had] killed Israelis and made some military operation.
So I think it is not time to waste time to talk about declassification between the prisoners. So I suggest if Israel deals seriously with the demands of the Palestinian side, I think [in a] couple of days we can finish all this operation.
DF: It has to be 1400 people released for one though? You are prepared for negotiations, are you?
GH: Yes, I think it is not easy to receive a positive answer from the Israeli side the first time. I know that this will take hard negotiation. And I think that the big battle is in the list of the names, because I know that the Israeli side they will be very sensitive from their people from the Knesset, from some families not to release these people.
But I think now if Israel entrusted now to release Shalit, and I think they should forget all these criteria's and parameters, and should look forward that we want to achieve a compromise. You know, if they are concerned about one soldier, we have 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails. So we as a government we try to help and we try to contribute; with contact with Egyptian, with the Palestinian faction, especially with Hamas, in order to, to push him to finish this in a very short time.
DF: Condoleezza Rice has said, as you know, that she thinks a peace deal can be reached between the Israelis and the Palestinians by the time that President Bush leaves office in January 2009. That is less than two years. Do you think in less than two years there can be a complete deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
GH: I think the problem is not the problem of time. It is a problem of if there is serious intention or not. I think that the picture is very clear. There is [occupation]. We want as a Palestinian to put [an end to the occupation]. They can do it in one year, they can do it in two years, they can make it in 20 years.
But I think sometimes [the] United States, because they put in their mind that they want to support Israel, they want to support [the occupation], they don't want to help the Palestinians. So I think this will take 30 years.
But because we believe that the United States is not serious to be an honest mediator, and also try to bring the people to the serious steps, so I think that we as a Palestinian now, as a government also, we said that our demands are clear; we want a Palestinian independent state, we want the right of return for the refugees, we want Jerusalem as the capital for Palestine. We want to put [an end to the occupation].
I think if there is serious negotiation[s] between the Palestinians and the PLO by President Abbas, we can achieve a solution in a very short time. I think it is enough that we have wasted more than 13 years in negotiation without nothing.
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