He never uses the word “betrayal”. It is neither his style, nor his way. But what Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh proclaims in this interview granted to Reset DOC, with the precious collaboration of Osama Hamdan, is something far more significant in terms of relations between the Palestinian leadership and the countries of the Arab League. “We note”, Shtayyeh says “that the decision taken by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to sign peace agreements with Israel marks the end of the Arab Peace Initiative and, in fact, condemns the Arab League to a role of absolute marginality”.
Prime Minister, today the official signing of the peace agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain takes place in Washington. How are the Palestinians preparing to experience what the President of the United States, Donald Trump and the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, have called an “historic day”?
An historic day? Perhaps it will be so for Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu, certainly not for the Palestinians and Arab peoples who have always supported our cause against the Israeli occupier. September 15 will be remembered as a dark day in the history of the Arab nation and the Arab League.
You urged Arab countries not to send delegations to today’s ceremony.
It is the least one can ask for. A clear, solemn gesture of disassociation from a choice made by the UAE and Bahrain, which benefits only Israel and, for internal political reasons, the United States. What we consider not only unacceptable, but offensive is that the authorities of the two countries signing these agreements with Israel have had the impudence of putting the Palestinians in the negotiations. No one has given them a proxy to represent us. As for the claim that it was these same accords that blocked Israel’s plan to annex parts of the Occupied West Bank, it is an insult to the intelligence of anyone who still has a shred of intellectual honesty and a sense of reality.
What then is your interpretation of events? It is undeniable that the plan, which should have been operational from the 1st of July, has been shelved.
It was shelved for a fundamental reason: the Coronavirus. In the face of the pandemic that has hit the world and which the Israeli Prime Minister has shown he is unable to deal with, as stated by Israelis themselves, the implementation of the annexation plan would have been madness even for his most ardent supporters. Those agreements have nothing to do with stopping the annexation plan. But the gravity of the two Gulf countries actions does not only lie in having instrumentalized the Palestinian question to justify the unjustifiable. What is even more serious is that in those agreements no reference is made to the apartheid regime that Israel has established in the West Bank and to the embargo that has been making the lives of 2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip impossible for over 12 years. A word, a hint: nothing at all. Just as there is no mention of an issue that not only concerns the Palestinians and Arab peoples, but over one billion Muslims…
What are you referring to?
To the status of Jerusalem. A wound for the whole Muslim world and, let me add, for the Christian world too. Of course, neither the Arab Emirates nor Bahrain will go so far as to establish their embassies in al-Quds (ed. Jerusalem) once they open them but this in no way diminishes the responsibility they have assumed: the leaders of these two countries will shake the hand of an American president who has moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something that none of his predecessors, Democrat or Republican, has ever done. And they will shake the hand of an Israeli prime minister who has praised this choice because it formalizes the “Judaization” of al-Quds! They will shake hands with a prime minister for whom Palestinians do not exist as a people and have no rights to their land, and who by pursuing the colonization of the Occupied Palestinian Territories has erased any possibility of achieving a peace based on a two-state solution. This solution, which also reflects the UN resolutions as well as the Quartet’s Road Map for the Middle East (US, Europe, Russia, and the UN), no longer holds up because Israel decided, with the support of the White House, to make it impossible. These are the facts, not propaganda. No Palestinian leader, not even the most willing to compromise will ever be able to endorse or sign a peace deal that cuts Jerusalem out! What we ask is that the international legality that Israel has trampled on repeatedly is respected in Palestine as well. That UN resolutions designating East Jerusalem as part of the Palestinian Territories occupied by Israel after the Six Day War, be respected. That the principle of “peace in exchange for territories” enshrined in those resolutions, be respected. It is not the Palestinians who have challenged international law, we are the victims of an apartheid regime that would makes South Africa pale in comparison.
President Mahmud Abbas has asked the Arab League to clarify a stance against these agreements and Trump’s “Plan of the Century”. Requests that remain unanswered.
All that remains then, is to take note and act accordingly. The government that I have the honor to lead has asked President Abbas to reassess the Palestinian Authority’s relations with the Arab League. The League has become a divisor factor rather than a unifying one.
In light of what is happening today, what remains of the Arab Peace Initiative?
Today, the Arab Peace Initiative dies, as does the Arab consensus, and it is our duty as Palestinians to emerge unified out of this crisis.
Prime Minister, there are many, and among them many who are also fighting for a just and lasting peace, that criticize Palestinian leadership because it seems to only know the word “No”, thereby condemning itself to marginalization.
It is an unjust accusation, a partisan narrative that does not take into account the events that have marked the last thirty years. The line of dialogue has been typical of the Palestinian leadership since President Arafat signed the Oslo-Washington Accords with the then Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin. It was September 13, 1993. And that was a historic day. If those agreements have not been respected, the responsibility is certainly not ours. I do not mean that we have been immune from mistakes, that there have been, but in these 27 years the Israeli colonization has gone on without interruption, as has the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem. By signing those agreements we have said many and demanding “Yes”. Yes to a Palestinian state on a small territory, Yes to the sharing of Jerusalem as the capital of two states. Yes to a compromise that called for sacrifices for both parties. Shaking hands with Yasser Arafat was a man who had fought the Palestinians for a lifetime, but who understood that a peace in security, Israel could not reach by force of arms. For shaking hands with Arafat and signing those agreements, Rabin was murdered, not by a Palestinian extremist but by a young Jewish man. Of course, we have repeated everywhere that peace and colonization are irreconcilable. But we are not the only ones to say so.
And now, what will you do?
Now our battle for freedom will continue. In all possible forums. We ask that Europe not withdraw from the “two-state” line and to behave accordingly. The Palestinian people are a proud people, proud of their history and identity, who have paid a very high blood toll to see their right to national self-determination realized. This fight will not stop. Anyone who believes that the stabilization of the Middle East can happen without the creation of a Palestinian state is cultivating an illusion, a tragic illusion. And whoever signs those agreements today is not helping the Palestinian cause, on the contrary they are weakening it. And, above all, does not contribute to the pacification of the Middle East, because there is no peace without justice. And this peace is not present in today’s ceremony at the White House.
Cover Photo: Nasser Nasser / AFP
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