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Rozhovor s palestinským velvyslancem v ČR, Dr. Mohamedem Salaymehem

AMO AMO / Ed. 15. 2. 2016

AMO: A new round of direct Palestinian-Israeli peace talks was launched this past September. What is the purpose of this peace attempt when its similar predecessors failed? How does this peace initiative differ from them?

S: The purpose does not differ from other negotiation which actually started under the Oslo Accords in 1993. Unfortunately, the Israeli government wants to start from the very beginning, following every election. But I can say that we have made very good progress through the negotiation with Olmert and Livni. For that we have asked the Israeli government to continue negotiations, and not to start new negotiations, but to build upon what has been achieved with previous governments. And of course under the construction of the current Israeli government, with Lieberman, Shas, Netanyahu as the most radical, the interest lies in starting negotiations from the very beginning. Of course, the Israeli government has not abided by the 90 day settlement freeze, but have continued with the construction of settlements. This construction of settlement on the occupied territory is illegal according to the Security Council and the Geneva Convention on 1949. The occupying power, Israel, cannot change the structure of the occupied land. Now, after the number of settlers has increased to about half a million among two and a half million Palestinians, the situation is very dire. There is no more land for the Palestinian state.

In these negotiations we will focus on one issue – the borders. Of course, the Israel will not accept [the borders]. We asked the American administration to give us the borders of the state of Israel to recognize, because they have asked us to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. If the Israelis do not want to give us the borders of a Palestinian state, so let us give the borders to an Israeli state. As we solve the problems of the borders, settling the issue of the settlements will be very easy. So those settlements inside the Palestinian territory will be stopped under Palestinian law. And other settlements on the Israeli side will then be an Israeli issue.

AMO: Do you accept the scenario of extended moratorium on the Israeli settlement construction by 90 days in which the mutual borders will be defined?

S: First we have to decide about the borders and then we will negotiate over the settlements. These 90 days were dedicated to two issues: borders and security. We have not been able to reach an agreement with the Israelis in these 90 days. They have continued to construct settlements. Now there is an appeal for another freeze, for which the US is promising many rewards to Israel, including F-35 jets. This will be the last appeal for a freeze of settlements from the US. Of course, inside the Israeli government there is no consensus about this and Netanyahu, is asking for a written guarantee from the United States. But the negotiations proceeds between Israel and the US, not between us and the Israelis. They are negotiating about the price of the new moratorium, but no one is asking the Palestinian side.

AMO: If there is a binding clause, that within these 90 days of settlement freeze, the borders between Palestine and Israel must be defined, would this kind of agreement be acceptable for the Palestinians?

S: This is what we are asking for, to define the borders. But Israel will not give us the borders, because the Israelis want to control the Jordan Valley between Palestine and Jordan. It was the same situation we were faced with in July 2000. The Israelis wanted to control between Palestine and Jordan because of the threat of Saddam Hussein. Now, that this threat no longer exists, they are still seeking to control this area, which is fertile and gives the Israelis about one and a half billion dollars in profit from fruits and vegetables.

We do not expect a lot, but this proposal is offered to us, we will negotiate. This is our task to settle one of the most complicated issues of the borders. Until now, neither the Israelis nor the Americans have given us any concrete answer about the new phase of negotiations and have actually not agreed upon it among themselves. The American administration wants to promise Israel control of the Jordan Valley for 10 years, which we would not accept. We accept defining the borders without the participation of any Israeli soldier on Palestinian land, which means the Palestinian land according to the borders of the 4th of June 1967.

Israel is claiming the danger of no security. We are looking at our security, not Israel’s. Israel is the occupying power. We are ready to accept international forces between us and Israel; we accept NATO forces and even American forces between Palestine and Israel. We want security of us.

AMO: Under the principle ‘land for peace’ the Palestinians should refrain from violence against Israel in exchange for the sovereignty over the Palestinian lands. According to the political head of Hamas, it does not approve of the resent Palestine-Israel negotiations and calls for armed resistance. in the past, Hamas has increased violent attacks against Israel during the peace negotiations. Does the Palestinian Authority [Palestinian government in the West Bank] have any means to avoid the Hamas’s possible violence against Israel which could undermine the peace talks?

S: Israel officially declared last year to be the most peaceful year in the history of the occupation. The Palestinians have implemented all commitments in Jerusalem. In the Palestinian territory Hamas itself has not launched any rocket for over a year.

The violence comes from the Israeli side. If you follow how many Palestinians were killed in the West Bank alone over the last year…and we are talking about the West Bank, a territory negotiating with Israel. From midnight until 6:00 a.m. they control the Palestinian territory. According to the Oslo accords they withdraw from Palestinian cities, but now they occupy the Palestinians. So, it is not a pretext for violence; the occupation itself is the highest degree of violence. It has become an international cliché to blame Hamas for everything, as was the case in 2008/2009 . These so called rockets of Hamas, home-made rockets, 7000 of them, killed 11 people. Israeli forces killed 1350 people, wounded an additional 5000, and demolished 15 000 homes. This is what to focus on, not the opinions of Hamas, but the actions of Israel.

We are going through negotiation, in the Palestinian Authority. We were negotiating for 13 years , from September 1993 until June 2006. Israel offered nothing to the Palestinians. There are two scenes in the Palestinian political arena. One is for negotiations, the other is for armed resistance. The collapse of negotiations means the victory of radicalism on both sides. The Israeli policy by itself creates radicalism in the area. You see, recently 500 Palestinian homes in Jerusalem have been demolished.

Hamas is not a danger. How could Hamas lose in Gaza? When people see that the negotiation part of the West Bank is blooming, that the people are living in peace, economic prosperity and freedom, then Hamas can lose. People living in Gaza will demand the same things that their brothers [in the West Bank] have received from the negotiations. Hamas is committed to peace and at the same time, to the recognition of the Palestinian state based on the borders of June 1967.

AMO: How do you evaluate the withdrawal of the Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005? Do you see it as a positive step?

S: Israel is still engaged in the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip covers a small area of 365 km2, with a population of 1.5 million people, which is blocked by Israel from the outside. It is a detention of the Gaza population. It is easier to bomb Gaza from the outside, rather than occupy it from the inside, because the latter would be more dangerous for the Israelis. As well, according to statements from cardinals in the Middle East, Israel is misusing religion to justify the injustice, to kill people, to demolish their homes…to have settlements? What would be the purpose of that?

AMO: Since the June 2007 Hamas takeover of Gaza, the Palestinian territories are divided into two administratively separate parts: the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, governed by separate governments. What is the biggest obstacle for the intra-Palestinian reconciliation?

S: In 2006 we had been negotiating with Israel for 13 years without the imvolvement of Hamas,without any results on the ground. And since Hamas was democratically elected in 2006,Israel claimsHamas to be an obstacle to the negotiations. The Israeli religious parties look at Palestinians asforeigners living in their own land. They do not recognize the Palestinian rights for self determination. Even in the Goldstone report on war crimes and crimes against humanity they [the Israelis] asked to remove these two sentences, which were calling for self determination and for the independent Palestinian state. This is an issue of responsibility of the international community to avoid dealing with a double standard.

AMO: Let us imagine that the Palestinian state has already been established, how would its administration look like?

S: Of course it will be a democratic state.

AMO: Yes, but Gaza is controlled by Hamas and the West Bank is controlled by the Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organization. Since 2007 neither side has made real commitments to share the power within a single unified Palestinian administration. Is there any possibility of federative administration of the Palestinian state?

Why confederation? Negotiation with Hamas is the only way. Talks are to be resumed In the coming days. We are waiting for the results of the Reconciliation Council which is meeting in Ramallah. We agree with Hamas on most aspects. The most complicated issue is the security issue – who will control the security forces. Hamas will not accept any coordinated mission with the Israeli forces, because we are under occupation. But we are obliged to cooperate with the Israelis. It does not mean we recognize the occupation, but to avoid any conflict, we have to coordinate. And this is the only problem which has not been solved until now, the control of the security forces.

AMO: There was a proposal that Israel will recognize the Palestinian state under the condition that the Palestinians will not have their own army, but just some kind of internal police forces. Would the Palestinians accept this condition?

S: Yes, we accept this condition. But at the same time we accept protection from Israel. We are ready toaccept UN forces, NATO forces between us and Israel. Because Israel would attack the Palestinians, kill hundreds of them and at the same time accuse the Palestinians of terrorism. Israel has been portraying itself in the media as a victim. You see, this is a question of the credibility of the media and how honest they are, because it is mainly the media that shapes public opinion. They report about Israel as a democratic state under the threat of a neighboring country, because until more recently, with the explosion of the internet as a way to reach audiences, there was no media, no television, no satellite to fully report on the conditions in the territories. Hundreds of cases where Palestinians are being killed are not reported. But people have a right to know. Who is really in danger? The Palestinians or the Israelis, with the latter being protected by the most sophisticated of American technology? S: Yes, we accept this condition. But at the same time we accept protection from Israel. We are ready toaccept UN forces, NATO forces between us and Israel. Because Israel would attack the Palestinians, kill hundreds of them and at the same time accuse the Palestinians of terrorism. Israel has been portraying itself in the media as a victim. You see, this is a question of the credibility of the media and how honest they are, because it is mainly the media that shapes public opinion. They report about Israel as a democratic state under the threat of a neighboring country, because until more recently, with the explosion of the internet as a way to reach audiences, there was no media, no television, no satellite to fully report on the conditions in the territories. Hundreds of cases where Palestinians are being killed are not reported. But people have a right to know. Who is really in danger? The Palestinians or the Israelis, with the latter being protected by the most sophisticated of American technology?

AMO: In November 2010 Israel lifted its virtually absolute export ban on Gaza and allowed export of some goods like flowers and strawberries. Do you consider lifting of the export ban on Gaza as result of –perhaps indirect- negotiations between Israel and Hamas? Or do you see any other reason behind?

S: We know only a little for sure. There are many contradictions in international relations. And it is possible that Israel may ignore the government of President Abbas and may negotiate with Hamas. Because, you know, with radicals it can easy to find an agreement. There are several examples in history, for example the Camp David Accords when Egypt negotiated with Begin, Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza. Netanyahu may, as a radical, negotiate with Hamas, because nobody will criticize him in Israel. Yes, it is very possible that Mossad is going to negotiate with Hamas. It is not unusual to negotiate through a mediator as it is happening in Geneva.

AMO: Let us talk about the Palestinian domestic situation. The presidential mandate of Mahmud Abbas expired in January, so did the mandate of Gaza and West Bank governments. Has a date already been scheduled for the next presidential and legislative elections?

S: We would like to have elections in June, but first we need to have a be reconciliation with Hamas. Without reconciliation there will be no election. Of course we want Hamas to participate in the elections and all people of Gaza to participate; not only supporters of Hamas. In the end Hamas holds the people hostage in Gaza. They control security, control everything in Gaza, so first we prefer to solve this issue before negotiation [about reconciliation]. By the way, Hamas asked President Abbas to prolong the mandate of Legislative Council because they have majority, so if they want to prolong the mandate of Legislative Council, the presidential mandate must be prolonged too. You can not have a political vacuum in the West Bank and Gaza.

AMO: How do you evaluate the political performance of the European Union in the Palestine-Israeli conflict?

S: We want the EU to be a player not just a payer. The EU gives out its money without performing enough political influence. The EU makes significant contributions to the building of Palestinian institutions, but this does not work because of the settlements. The negotiations are an American issue. We have asked the UN, we asked the EU presidency and the Russian Federation to increase their activity. We have confidence in the Quartet, because the UN is a member of the Quartet, but the main decision makers within the Quartet remain the Americans.

AMO: Would you prefer any other actor to engage as a mediator between the Israelis and the Palestinians? According to the latest Palestinian survey research poll the Palestinians would welcome increased performance of Turkey as a mediator.

S: We welcome any country to be involved in the negotiation without preconditions but we have to look at the consequences of the negotiations. It is not just about increasing the number of the actors involved, because we have hundreds of UN Security Council resolutions which have not been implemented. As long as Israel considers itself above international law, settlements will not be prohibited.

AMO: Would you prefer the EU’s involvement in negotiations as a single actor or do you consider more profitable to intensify the roles of any particular EU members, as for example UK, France or Germany?

S: The EU statements under the Swedish presidency last year were very positive for our support and we thank the EU for the statements. We encourage the EU’s consistant approach to the issue as a whole. We welcome the participation of the EU as a whole body, with all 27 countries.

AMO: How do you imagine the concrete EU’s involvement in the peace process? What should the EU do?

S: The EU should protect its values.

AMO: What does it mean in practice? Which steps should the EU take?

S: The EU should recognize the Palestinian state. Now the EU starts to upgrade the status of Palestinian missions in the EU, in France, in Spain, and I think in Norway. The EU should not only call to recognize the Palestinian state but it should factually do so.

AMO: And you as an ambassador to the Czech Republic, how do you evaluate the Czech relations with the Palestinians?

S: Czech Republic has very good and very smart diplomacy. The CR has very good relations with the Palestinian Authority. The Czech relations with the Arab countries have a history. To be a good mediator you need to be balanced. I think the Czech Republic has a very good image within the Arab countries. It could play a very good role, both inside the EU and inside the Arab countries. We welcome any active approach on the part of the Czech Republic.

AMO: Do the Palestinians have the support from the Arab League to seek the recognition by the United Nations, if the current peace talks fail?

S: We will go to the Security Council because of the settlements. The United Nations will not recognize the settlements. They will not recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. The Arab countries would support our initiative to stop the settlement issue. Maybe the US would veto it, but that is not a problem. The US vote against our project that the settlements are illegal would be not a surprise from the American diplomacy. After that we will go to the United Nations to recognize the Palestinian state. We will go through the UN institutions before the situation deteriorates further. We are calling for negotiations since 1993 but we have not achieved anything with this policy on the ground. Israel is still occupying the territory which it withdrew from us, so the situation is very distressing. But we are still commited to negotiationss because we are optimistic for the good future of the Palestinians and the Isrealis to live in peace side by side and in good relations.

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