After waiting for several hours at a hotel in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Fox News correspondent Rita Cosby was whisked to the heavily fortified PLO headquarters, where armed guards with machine guns patrolled every few feet. Following is a partial transcript of her interview with Yasser Arafat:
RITA COSBY: How did you feel, though, about the Bethlehem … when you were not allowed to go for the first time to attend Christmas Eve mass in Bethlehem?
YASSER ARAFAT, PRESIDENT, PLO: I am very angry, and especially – it – again it is the old (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of loaves and humanitarian and religious standards.
COSBY: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that he would not let you go because you have not done enough to fight terrorism. What is your response?
ARAFAT: I am not receiving orders from him. I am doing what had been agreed upon and what I had committed in my last speech, which was a very important statement. And the reaction now from the international sides and international partners, including the Americans, the Europeans, Russia, the United Nations, China, the Arab countries, had supported completely what I had decided and what I had done.
COSBY: You recently closed the offices of the terrorist group Hamas. The world is wondering why you did not do that sooner.
ARAFAT: Not to forget, they were – when we arrived here in our Palestine, they were officially working. They had – they were controlling, according to the orders of the Israelis, 700 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in working in all abilities from the kindergarten (ph) to the Islamic university.
COSBY: But they have been a terrorist group for some time.
ARAFAT: Not to forget that when I made a big effort in '96 and it is not – I squeezed and I arrested a part of them.
COSBY: But just recently, there have been, in the 15 months of this Intifada, there have been many attacks. Why would you have to wait until then to close their offices?
ARAFAT: No, no, no. I didn't wait. I didn't wait.
COSBY: But you just closed their offices recently.
ARAFAT: Because this is not – I can't close these offices before making the emergency – state of emergency because we are a democratic – we are living in democracy and we are – so we can't make this step until we declare a state of emergency.
COSBY: I understand you recently wrote a letter to President Bush. He also sent a letter back to you.
COSBY: Tell me the contents of those letters.
ARAFAT: It was very important letters because what had been mentioned, it is clearly obvious, concerning the state of Palestine, which he had mentioned also in the United Nations. He was the first speaker, you remember, and he mentioned it. So it told that often, for all of us internationally who followed after that, mentioning the same line. And I have to thank him for what he had mentioned and what he had wrote (ph).
Also, he had mentioned to me that he is looking for more efforts in what I had declared. And I told him that I am – and I had promised him I would follow up and this is what I have done.
COSBY: What do you think of bin Laden?
ARAFAT: I am against what – if he is behind that terrorist activities, it's a big crime.
COSBY: But you say if he is behind it. Are you convinced he is behind it?
ARAFAT: It is not my job. This is – the American intelligence services has to say it, not me.
COSBY: Does this climate of high unemployment, of desperation, does it create a climate for more terrorists, more suicide bombers?
ARAFAT: What do you think this very difficult situation will push? Especially in the hearts of those who are facing the starvation, facing the unemployment, facing this siege, facing the tragedy of their families – the poverty of their families. Some of them, they didn't find food to eat. What do you expect from them? In spite of death, our people are still patient. But patience has limits.
COSBY: Are you worried about being assassinated by your own people, by extremists?
ARAFAT: Not to forget, you are speaking with General Yasser Arafat. It's true that I am an engineer. But also I am a general. And I am religious. I believe that no one can approach me except God.
COSBY: Do you support the talks that are going on with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and you ...
ARAFAT: Yes. I had support – I had started it, not to forget. And we are ready to be very positive if they are ready to offer something concrete.
COSBY: I'm going to meet with Ariel Sharon tomorrow. What message would you like to send to him?
ARAFAT: Let us return back to the peace process for our children and for their children. The peace of the brave which I have signed is my debt, part in our love for Rabin.