“When one of the parties involved outlaws six Palestinian NGOs committed to defending the human rights of people living under occupation and when Israel’s Prime Minister continuously states that as far as he is concerned there is no peace agreement contemplating the creation of an independent Palestinian state, faced with such an indisputable reality denounced by United Nations agencies as well as the most important international and Israeli NGOs, the Unites States cannot restrict itself to speaking of its role as a ‘mediator’. This because there is nothing to mediate between the oppressor and the oppressed, the occupier and the occupied, but there is instead a need to take action so as to reinstate international law and legality in Palestine. And that is what we believe we must ask President Biden for.” These were the words spoken by Mohammed Shtayyeh, Prime Minister of the of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in an interview with Reset DOC before leaving for a diplomatic tour of Europe.
Prime Minister, more than one hundred days have gone by since the Bennett-Lapid government was formed, the first after more than a decade of Benjamin Netanyahu’s political dominion. Has enough time gone by for a first assessment? Progress or failure?
Failure, definitely. And I am not expressing an opinion based on ideological prejudice or as a matter of principle. Unlike the Israelis, we Palestinians do not divide the Israelis into the good and the bad ones and we do not look for obliging interlocutors who do not exist. We have negotiated with left-wing, right-wing and centrist prime ministers. It has been a long story with important events, some also hopeful, but sadly the current scenario is not one that that makes one inclined to feel optimistic. We assess the opposing party on the basis of what it does and everything the current Israeli government is doing sets it in total continuity with its predecessors. The new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, has multiplied statements supporting the Israeli settlements, and as if that were not enough he has reiterated that the creation of an independent Palestinian state is not on the cards and as far as he is concerned, it never will be…
But in the “government for change”, there are politicians less linked to the settlers’ movement, such as Defence Minister Benny Gantz…
You are speaking of the minister who decided to outlaw six Palestinian NGO’s which have never had anything whatsoever to do with terrorism or armed resistance. We are talking about associations that defend Palestinian children held in Israeli prisons under administrative detention, associations that defend the rights of Palestinian farmers whose land has been expropriated. Is there anything “moderate” in all that?
If in your opinion there is no substantial discontinuity between the current government and those led by Netanyahu, do you see any discontinuity between the Biden administration and that of his predecessor at the White House, Donald Trump? I remember that the most important Palestinian leaders sighed with relief when they heard Trump had been defeated. Were you wrong?
Absolutely not. During the four years of his administration President Trump and his closest advisors on Middle Eastern affairs took no action and made no statements that did not support the unilateralist policies of his friend Netanyahu. The summation of this attitude was the so-called “Plan of the century” (the plan involving Israel’s annexation of the Jordan valley set out by the Netanyahu government in 2020, Editor’s Note), which luckily has been definitively shelved. As far as the current administration is concerned, we have observed a change of tone and that is a positive signal. President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken have announced a series of plans that are expected to re-establish an atmosphere of trust between the PNA and the United States, trust that was totally lacking during the Trump presidency.
Which commitments are you referring to?
The reopening of the American Consulate in East Jerusalem as well as the offices of the PLO (The Palestine Liberation Organization, Editor’s Note) in Washington, and reinstating aid also for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (Unrwa) as well as hospitals in East Jerusalem. We want bilateral relations with the United States that do not depend on relations with Israel. The Palestinian leadership is waiting for a U.S. executive order that considers the PLO as an essential partner in the peace process, which means abolishing all hostile laws including the one that considers the PLO a terrorist organisation.
Prime Minister, a delicate question sounds necessary due to indiscretions and rumours circulating in Ramallah as well as in Tel Aviv. Will the Palestinian Authority concede to Joe Biden and Naftali Bennett something it always refused to concede to Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu – to abandon the project of a national State in exchange for promises of economic development?
Never. Never. Allow me to add that I consider such rumours, intentionally circulated, as an outrage to history, to the courage and determination shown by the Palestinian people since 1948 to date. No one is concealing the painful conditions affecting the lives of millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and even more so in the Gaza Strip. Such suffering, however, is caused by the occupation regime imposed by Israel and, unfortunately, endorsed by the international community. I would challenge anyone to create economic growth under occupying forces that even withhold the water resources essential for the development of our agriculture. A regime that expropriates the most fertile Palestinian land, that prevents the creation of those industrial hubs set out in the Oslo-Washington Agreements. Our freedom is no longer for sale. Our pain cannot be quantified. Our rights are not goods to be auctioned. When we envisage a Palestinian State next to the State of Israel, we also envisage economic cooperation between the two nations and shared projects. An active proximity. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with bargaining over our national cause. We do not feel we are a population that will be the recipient of aid. We want to build our economy, live of our own work and studies. Our universities form people of excellence in all fields, but so as to succeed our young must emigrate. We have projects, ideas, competences. We are only asking to be put to the test.
And what would you ask of Europe?
To be coherent and follow up regards to positions taken and set out in dozens of documents and official statements. Europe has stated that it is in favour of peace based on a two-state solution, it has repeatedly condemned the colonisation of the Palestinian Occupied Territories. But what has it done to implement these declarations of intent? What has been done to stop Israeli colonisation that renders unrealistic all two-state solutions?
Are you hinting at sanctions?
On this subject I would simply observe that Israel is one of the countries that has violated the most UN Security Council resolutions. Other countries that acted in the same way not only suffered sanctions but even war. We ask Europe to make a gesture of great symbolic importance and having powerful political impact…
Unilaterally recognising an independent Palestinian State situated on the territories set out in the United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. Does anyone remember the Oslo-Washington Agreements? The Quartet’s Road Map for the Middle East (U.S., UN, EU, Russia, Editor’s Note)? What we are asking is for Palestine not to be declared a free zone as far as respect for international legality is concerned.
Prime Minister, for years the Palestinian institutions have been out of date, including the Legislative Council and the presidency. The first and last elections were held in the Territories over fifteen years ago and, furthermore, were won by Hamas. Then nothing more. Elections were planned and then postponed every time, increasing the gap between the people and the political leadership. Is this not a sign of weakness on your part and, to be brutal, a way of remaining in power?
You touch a nerve there and one that deserves an undiplomatic response. I could tell you that organising free and fair elections is not easy when there is no freedom of movement or assembly, when many of the possible candidates are detained in Israeli prisons. It would be difficult for anyone. But that is one part of the truth. The other part concerns our own delays, problems in bringing up a new generation of leaders to replace the “old ones”. And yes, there are also forms of opposition hard to overcome. But change is necessary for the future of Palestine.
The great leaders of the planet recently met in Rome for the G20 gathering. Many important issues were addressed concerning the right to health, to a habitable planet and to fair company taxation for billions of people. Palestine seems far away from the agenda. Do you feel forgotten?
No. We have established important and direct relations at various levels with many of the nations that met in Rome. Most of the member states of the UN General Assembly have recognised the State of Palestine. The Palestinian Authority is a member of the United Nations’ most important Agencies. We do not feel forgotten, but we are aware that the future of Palestine lies above all in our own hands and in a resistance that is not lacking.
Osama Hamdan contributed reporting from Ramallah.
Cover Photo: Nasser Nasser / AFP.
If you like our analyses, events, publications and dossiers, sign up for our newsletter (twice a month) and consider supporting our work.