The Palestinians were not looking to clash with the US over their plans to obtain a UN Security Council resolution setting a deadline for Israeli pullout of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the PLO's ambassador to the US told The Media Line.
Maen Rashid Areikat has served as the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) ambassador to the United States for the past six years. He was director general of the Negotiation Affairs Department under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ while serving as the president’s personal aide.
TML: Are the Palestinians finding resistance from the US regarding its plans to obtain a UN Security Council Resolution setting a timetable for the withdrawal of Israeli forces?
Areikat: When President Abbas met with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Kerry did not tell Abbas not to go through with it. He asked for clarifications and stressed that the US prefers to advance the political process through direct negotiations: the same US position we’re all familiar with.
TML: If the Palestinians know that the US will veto any Security Council resolution for an independent state, why are they going ahead with it?
Areikat: First of all, we hope that the US will not veto such a resolution. That is why we are talking to them and talking to other parties: the United Nations, Europe, Russia and others to make sure that the resolution is submitted to the Security Council. We hope that the US will understand that trying to get such a resolution passed is not contradictory to the American position. We still have hope that the United States will not veto it.
TML: Will the PA join the International Criminal Court if the resolution fails to pass?
Areikat: This is an issue for the Palestinian leadership to decide. He (Abbas) did indicate before that unless there is a real process that is limited to reaching an agreement on the borders between Palestine and Israel in a very short period of time, that he would go to the UN to obtain that resolution. It’s not a secret that we did say that if our efforts do not produce results, we will seriously consider joining international organizations, treaties and conventions.
TML: Do you believe the US can be an honest broker in the conflict? What specifically would you like to see the US do?
Areikat: Everybody knows the importance of the United States. Everybody knows that they have always been engaged in efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the larger Middle East conflict since this conflict started. We also know the special relationship between the United States and Israel – which the United States provides to Israel militarily, economically and politically. Having said that, some people argue that it is difficult for the United States to be an honest broker when they are giving so much unlimited support for Israel. I still believe that there is a role for the United States to play. They need to understand that the approach that they have taken over the last 20 years did not produce any results. Therefore, there has to be something wrong with the approach and the process. And a new approach must be considered that could involve the United Nations, the international community, in order to arrive at a formula that would be supported by the entire world. We hope the United States will view the Palestinian efforts at the United Nations as part of a larger effort to get the international community involved in order to expedite the resolution.
TML: You have included timetable (in the Palestinian proposal), although the Americans have not (agreed to one). Are you worried that there will be a clash?
Areikat: No. We said we want to reach out to people to specify a timeframe for the end of the occupation. We would like to do all this in coordination with the Americans. We haven’t reached the point of discussing the number of years, but in principle, we’re specifying a time frame for the end of the occupation. We would like to do all of this in coordination with Americans. There have in the past been media reports that 3-years are needed to phase-out the Israeli occupation. Nothing has been agreed to yet. However, it is important to see a specific time to put an end to this occupation.
TML: Was President Abbas saying that he expects an Israeli withdrawal within 3 years?
Areikat: The number of years will be specified when we submit that resolution. As we explained to the US administration, we have no desire of clashing with the American administration or having any confrontation with the United States. We have said that clearly to them. We, as a leadership, have to provide for our people that this occupation has to come to an end. Endless and open-ended negotiations with Israel are being used to consolidate the occupation.
TML: If the United States agrees to your position and says “we have agreed to these things and we are not going to use our veto," then what are the Palestinians willing to agree to?
Areikat: That would be the best case scenario, if we manage to get international support including the United States. What the United States and the entire world should understand is that this is a genuine effort on the part of the Palestinian leadership to once again highlight the importance - the urgency - to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people especially given all the changes and developments taking place in the region. I don’t think we have the luxury of wasting any more time. It will be something that we welcome very much if the United States will be on board to support our effort because the end objective is a peaceful resolution to this long conflict with Israel.
TML: Do you think the United Nations and Europe have advanced the Palestinian cause?
Areikat: It was UN General Assembly Resolution 181 that in 1947 partitioned Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. The United Nations has been involved since the beginning of this conflict. You cannot envision a solution that does not involve the United Nations. I think the UN went through different stages. For example, in the 1970s and the 1980s they were stronger in terms of supporting the Palestinians. From the 1990s to the present, when they came under the influence of US policies, the UN focus and support somehow changed but remained the same on the fundamental issue. They have not been as strong in that regard. There are certain issues and certain areas and aspects that the United Nations cannot change its position toward because those positions are supported by the majority of United Nations member states.
We consider the role of the United Nations to be important and that is why we want them to play a more active role in presenting their vision to the world and to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As for Europe: Europe has been helpful in terms of providing financial support. We would like to see a more active European role to stress the importance of the relationship between Europe and the Middle East, Palestinian and Arab countries. We would like to see that role more active and to contribute to creating the conditions conducive for the international community to be involved with the United Nations and the international community to find a quick solution to this conflict.
TML: Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon recently told The Media Line that: “As long as Hamas is associated with the Palestinian Authority, there is no way for us to conduct a serious dialogue with them and Mr. Abbas.” Do you think the unity government between Hamas and Fatah has helped or hurt the Palestinian cause?
Areikat: It’s not a “unity” government; it’s a “national consensus” government. A unity government follows elections when different factions join in forming the unity government. This would be hopefully the ultimate objective after we have elections. If we have elections, we can decide on a unity government. We have a national reconciliation agreement; we have a national consensus government.
The Israeli prime minister always said, “How can we talk to a divided Palestinian leadership - one in Gaza, the other in the West Bank?” Now, we are united and the Israelis say we have to choose between peace and Hamas.
The Israeli people don’t want to see the Palestinian people united. Israel wants to see the Gaza Strip separated from the West Bank. They want to keep the status quo in the West Bank. And they don’t want at all to provide any political vision for a solution. It’s very obvious; very obvious that they want the Palestinians to be divided.
TML: Are you concerned that world attention is shifting away from the Palestinian issue because of ISIS?
Areikat: There are so many different concerns for every country, not only the US or Europe, but also at the regional level. Of course, people are being slanted by what’s going on in the region. The Palestinian issue has the ability to impose itself on the agenda. No matter how distracted we are, there will always be focus and attention to the Palestinian issue because solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is key to solving other issues in the region. I’m not saying that it will magically solve all the problems, but it will diffuse one area of tension and help the United States and the international community reach stability and end this chaos in the region - if the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is resolved. I am realistic. People have different agendas. People have different issues to deal with. But I am not worried at all that the Palestinian issue will be forgotten, or ignored or completely neglected.
TML: Following his United Nations speech , do the Palestinians believe that Mr. Netanyahu is a partner for peace?
Areikat: Many in Israel and around the world including the United States have already lost faith in Prime Minister Netanyahu to be the Israeli leader who would be courageous enough to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian people and to put an end once and for all to this conflict. The actions of Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks louder than his rhetoric and what he is doing on the ground in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, vis-à-vis settlements, land confiscations, and what he has done in Gaza over the summer undoubtedly presents a man who is seeking continued conflict and not peace. Everyone who listened to his speech at the UN concluded that he does not have any meaningful political agenda with which to engage the Palestinians. Instead, he embarked on propaganda, repeating old clichés that are no longer appealing to the international community.
TML: US President Barack Obama warned that the "status quo" between Israel and the Palestinians must change to avoid a repeat the war with Hamas in Gaza. Your thoughts.
Areikat: President Obama is addressing an important and fundamental issue which deals with the continued Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people. We would prefer to hear US officials use the term ‘ending the occupation’ rather than the ‘status quo.’ However, we believe that President Obama is fully aware that the Israeli military occupation is the source of instability and the absence of peace.
Article written by Abdullah H. Erakat
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line.