Said Hassan Nasrallah Q&A: What Hezbollah Will Do


The Washington Post
Sunday , February 20, 2000 ; B05

The guerrillas of Hezbollah, or the Party of God, have fought one of the world's high-tech armies to a bloody stalemate in southern Lebanon, where they seek to drive Israel out of the nine-mile-wide "security zone" it has occupied since 1985. As the death toll mounts--seven Israeli soldiers have been killed there in the past month--the Jewish state is under increasing pressure from its own citizens to withdraw.

In this interview, Said Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretary general in Lebanon, says the weakness of Israel's position offers a chance for Lebanon to not only regain control of its territory but force some kind of solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees. If Israel pulls out, he promises that Hezbollah will end its "security" activities there. But he refuses to say whether Hezbollah, whose history includes bombings and the taking of hostages, will halt all activities against Israel, its archenemy.

Following are excerpts from the interview, conducted earlier this month by Antoine K. Kehdy of Middle East Insight magazine, where the text will appear in full in March.

From the perspective of Hezbollah, what are the major issues to be addressed during any future Lebanon-Israel peace negotiations?

Lebanon should first recover sovereignty over all its territories, without neglecting any. Second, all Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails should be released. . . . 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. . . .

The next issue, which is no less important than the previous ones . . . is the issue of the Palestinian refugees. Lebanon cannot 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. . . . 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.

In the event of a Lebanon-Israel peace treaty, would the resistance enter the former "security zone" in the south of Lebanon?

If, by resistance, you mean Hezbollah 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 Hezbollah. These people will return to their homes, to their fields and to their villages. Hezbollah and the mujaheddin 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, Hezbollah will not exercise any security measures there. That is indisputable, because the region will be under the sovereignty of the Lebanese government. . . . Hezbollah is a resistance movement that aims at liberating the occupied territories and is not a substitute for the government.

How should the government of Lebanon approach the Palestinian issue during Lebanon-Israel peace talks?

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, 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.

What do you expect the position of the Israelis to be regarding the return of the Palestinians?

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. . . .

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 [of Lebanon] with the resolution of the issue of the Palestinians in Lebanon. . . . Since the Israelis are desperately seeking a solution to their problem with Lebanon, Lebanon should take advantage of this.

You seek the liberation of the Lebanese territories but reject any normalization with Israel?

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; Hezbollah refuses any conciliation with Israel in principle.

Now if a government concludes peace with Israel [over our objections], 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.

Once a peace agreement is reached, and after the Lebanese army regains control of the security in the south, would Hezbollah disarm or possibly transform into an auxiliary national guard of some sort?

The real question is, once Israel withdraws from the south, will Hezbollah continue its military actions against the Israeli presence in North Palestine? Or should Hezbollah 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 Hezbollah in the coming phase? Will the military resistance stop once the Israeli withdrawal is complete and the international frontier is reestablished? Actually, the high command of Hezbollah has made a decision not to answer that question, or any question related to it, for the time being.

If at the end of the peace process the Palestinian problem in Lebanon is left untouched, what will the attitude of Hezbollah be with respect to subsequent Palestinian resistance activities against Israel emanating from Lebanon?

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--cannot 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.

Western countries have often associated Islam with terrorism. What is Hezbollah's perspective on this and what message would you like to convey to the American public and policy makers about this?

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.