Interview

Israel systematically killing Palestinians: Mahmoud Abbas

Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas has said the recent eruption of violence in Jerusalem and West Bank is a “reaction to the violence and atrocities committed by Israeli security forces and settlers” against Palestinians.

“This spontaneous movement was launched by Palestinians, Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem, as a result of the Israeli sanctions against them, including confiscation of their land, disallowing them to build their homes, and imposing huge taxes,” Mr. Abbas told The Hindu in an e-mail interview. However, these protesters, who in his view are on their own, are being targeted by the Israeli Army through systematic killings. The attacks that began in mid-September are showing no signs of relenting.

The Israeli military said >four Palestinians wounded several Israeli soldiers in separate attacks on Friday before they were shot and killed by Israeli forces. Violence erupted over tensions at a sensitive holy site in Jerusalem, sacred to both Jews and Muslims, and quickly spread to the occupied territories and Israel. The Israelis call the Palestinian attackers “terrorists”.

However, Mr. Abbas said the root causes for violence “are the continuous Israeli occupation and Israel’s rejection of all international decisions”. Since October 1, 112 Palestinians have been killed along with 21 Israelis, an American, and an Eritrean.

Despite the violence, Mr. Abbas said his administration was committed to the peace process. “I fully understand those who say the two-state solution is dead. However, I will continue with my efforts to keep it alive as all the alternatives will be more difficult and some are even impossible to implement.”

The international community has failed to implement the two-state solution and resolve the Palestinian cause because “they deal with Israel as a state above the international law.”

He appreciated India’s support for the Palestinian cause. Recalling President Pranab Mukherjee’s recent visit to Ramallah when he reiterated New Delhi’s support for the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, Mr. Abbas said India’s position “will be a strong support to us. This position is also reiterated by the statements and decisions adopted by BRICS countries.”

He said Israel did not abide by its commitments under the bilateral agreements such as the Oslo Agreement. “When one party disrespects its commitments stipulated by any agreement, this means that this party is not willing to keep the agreement, or that it is keeping what suits his interests and violates the rights of the other party.”

At the U.N. General Assembly in September, Mr. Abbas said Palestinians would “no longer continue to be bound” by the Oslo accords unless they received “international protection” from Israel. Elaborating on his comment, Mr. Abbas told The Hindu that the transitional period for the self-determination rule, under the Oslo accords, was five years, “which were supposed to end in 1999”.

U.N. recognition

Asked about the failed attempt to get U.N. recognition for statehood, the President said the Palestinians “will continue our efforts” in this regard. “We will also continue to join more U.N. organisations and other organisations such as the International Criminal Court. We are also studying the possibility of going to the General Assembly in order to bypass the hurdle created by the American veto at the Security Council.”

As regards the division between Hamas and West Bank, Mr. Abbas said the Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip, believed that “their immediate interests are superior to the national interest of the Palestinian people”.

“Our position is clear. Despite our differences with Hamas, they remain part of the Palestinian people. The only way forward is to go back to the people and hold democratic presidential and parliamentary elections, preceded by the establishment of a national unity government to organise these elections. Hamas has not accepted this path yet.”

Edited excerpts:

How do you look at the recent upsurge in violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem? Is a third intifada under way?

What the world is witnessing in Jerusalem and the West Bank is a reaction to the violence and atrocities committed by the Israeli security forces and the settlers. This spontaneous movement was launched by the Palestinians in Jerusalem, Muslims and Christians, as a result of the Israeli sanctions against them, including confiscation of their land, disallowing them to build their homes, and imposing huge taxes. It is also the result of the construction of the apartheid Wall by Israel which has separated Jerusalem from the rest of the West bank. Israel has also prevented worshipers form reaching the holy sites, whether it is the Church of Resurrection or Al-Aqsa Mosque, while the extreme Jews are allowed to enter the Mosque on a daily basis under the protection of the Israeli security forces. This is threatening to transform the conflict from a national and political conflict into a religious one, which only serves the interest of extremism and threatens the whole world with religious wars and conflicts.

For our part, we call for peaceful popular resistance, and not a new Intifada. However, the individual actions on the Palestinian side are being faces by systematic killings by the Israeli army which do not even spare women and children under the pretext that this individual was allegedly carrying a knife or was intending to run someone by his or her car. Let me reiterate that the root causes for violence are the continuous Israeli occupation and Israel’s rejection of all international decisions

The Israelis say that they have no plan to change the status of al-Aqsa, and that PLO leaders are inciting violence. Your comment?

The status of Al-Aqsa mosque is governed by a static law which stipulates that it is a place for Muslims to worship, and that non-Muslims can visit the courtyards of the Mosque with the approval of the Islamic Awqaf and under their supervision. This has the status quo since the Ottoman-rule, and during the British mandate for Palestine and continued after the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967. This status quo started to change with the provocative visit of the former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon in 2000 under the protection of the Israel army and police. This visit ignited the second Intifada which caused the death of thousands and injuries to many more.

Sharon’s visit opened the door for intrusions by the extreme Jews of Al-Aqsa Mosque. They are accompanied by Israeli officials and Parliamentarians under the protection of the Israeli security forces and with complete disregard to the Islamic Awqaf and its role.

Preserving the legal status of Al-Aqsa Mosque means to return to the prevailing status in 2000. The Israeli government has not committed to this position in any explicit way and we have not witnessed any real change on the ground as many Jews are still continuing with their provocative intrusions.

What are the prospects of the peace process now? There is an increasing number of people on both sides now who say the two-state solution is dead. Are two states based on the 1967 border still achievable?

The two-state solution is still the valid option for the Palestinians, despite the ongoing hurdles created by the Israeli settlement expansion. I fully understand those who say that the two-state solution is dead, however I will continue with my efforts to keep it alive as all the alternatives will be more difficult and some are even impossible to implement. Those alternatives include the proposal of the extreme Jews to transfer five million Palestinians from their home, or the establishment of one nation with dual nationalities, or establishing one state in the West bank with two separate sets of rules managed by the Israeli government; one for the Jews and the other for the Palestinians.

What is put on the negotiating table, and what we demand and what the world accepts is the two-state solution. The failure of the international community in implementing its decisions and resolving the Palestinian cause is because they deal with Israel as a state above the International Law.

You recently said Palestine is no longer bound by the Oslo accords. By which do you mean that the PA would break ties with Israel?

What I said is that there are bilateral agreements between us and Israel that started by the Declaration of Principles, or the Oslo Agreement which was signed in Washington in 1993, and other international agreements which both we and Israel have accepted such as the Road Map.

Israel did not abide by its commitments in most of these agreements, including Jerusalem where we agreed that no party can introduce changes that would pre-determine the result of the negotiations, and that the status of the Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem will be respected. We also agreed that the transitional period for the self determination rule will be five years which were supposed to end in 1999.

When one party disrespects its commitments stipulated by any agreement, this means that this party is not willing to keep the agreement, or that it is keeping what suits his interests and violates the rights of the other party. Such action requires decisions from the legislative institutions and the political forces which have established a committee within the PLO to study all those options and alternatives.

Palestine's bid to get UNSC recognition for statehood failed recently. What's your government's next plan of action in this regard?

We will continue our efforts with countries around the world to raise the issue once again at the Security Council. We will also continue to join more United Nations Organizations and other organizations such as the International Criminal Court. We are also studying the possibility of going to the General Assembly in order to bypass the hurdle created by the American veto at the Security Council.

How do you address the political division of the Gaza strip and the West Bank? Is there any attempt to bring the Hamas and the PLO together? If so, would there be opposition from the West, who calls Hamas a terror group?

The West, or part of the West to be precise, applies double standards. They are under the influence of the Israeli position that wants the division within the Palestinian side to continue. When we seek the establishment of a national unity government, Israel immediately adopts the position that we are uniting with what they call the terrorism of Hamas. On the other hand they use the division in the Palestinian side to claim that they do not know whether to talk to gaza or to the West bank.

This Israeli position, and that of its supporters in the West, is facilitated by the position of the leadership of Hamas, which is part of the international movement of the Muslim Brotherhood. They believe that their immediate interests are superior to the national interest of the Palestinian people. Hamas continues to control the people of Gaza who are under siege from Israel despite the agony and pain that this causes.

Our position is clear. Despite our differences with Hamas, they remain part of the Palestinian people. The only way forward is to go back to the people and hold democratic presidential and parliamentary elections, preceded by the establishment of a national unity government to organize these elections. Hamas has not accepted this path yet.

Lastly, how was Indian President Pranab Mukherjee's visit to Ramallah? Do you see any change in India's position towards the Palestinians, and what role you expect India, being an emerging country from Asia, to play in the peace process?

President Mukherjee’s visit was an important one. It reflected the deep historic relations between the Indian and Palestinian people which extends decades ago. The President has clearly expressed to the Palestinians and to the Israelis India’s support to a solution which ends the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. This much appreciated position from a large and important country like India, which is rising as an economic power and its political influence is expanding beyond its geographic borders, will be a strong support to us. This position is also reiterated by the statements and decisions adopted by the BRICS countries.


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