Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinian weapons in Lebanon are “illegitimate and we want them neither inside nor outside the camps. We are under the Lebanese law and under Lebanese state and army protection.”
In an interview with Al-Nahar, he said that the message exchange between him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has reached a dead-end,” that he is expecting renewed US efforts, and that he will keep trying to get a Palestinian seat at the United Nations.
He said that reconciliation with Hamas is being delayed by a lack of progress on a new Gaza census that would update the electoral rolls, paving the way for new Palestinian elections. He said that Hamas’ fear that it may suffer a setback in the elections has caused this delay.
Read the full interview.
Can you brief us on the content of the message you sent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his response?
It was neither this nor that (laughter). These exchanges are confidential but I will give you the overall picture.
I will tell you how things have evolved since I spoke at the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2011. On that day the Quartet came up with an initiative based on two points: Security and borders within three months, with a follow-up in the following year. The Quartet began its work on October 26, 2011 and ended on January 26, 2012.
At the beginning of January 2012 it became apparent that their efforts were unsuccessful and that there was no real progress. Jordan graciously volunteered to launch a fact-finding negotiating session and made intensive efforts in that regard. From our side, Dr. Saeb Erekat (the Palestinian chief negotiator) held several meetings, almost on a daily basis. These negotiations showed no progress, so we stopped negotiating on January 26, 2012. After that we sent a message to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and waited for a response.
At first, the Americans objected to this message, but later they called it “brilliant.” The gist of the message was: “We are ready to negotiate with you if you accept two states based on the 1967 borders. I am ready to meet with you (Netanyahu).” Netanyahu sent a reply saying: “Let us meet face-to-face to solve our problems. I say that the two-state vision is correct but only on the condition that Israel is a state for the Jewish people, and that the other is a viable state for the Palestinian people.” Right now, we agree with the Americans that “after the letters, if the situation does not budge, Washington may get involved.”
Which Americans? They are in a transitional phase pending their presidential election in the fall.
The Palestinian Authority will deal with the US administration and President Obama until the last day of his term...
But the decisive American Jewish vote is right now...
Let me continue. Now, after the second message arrived from the other side, we are waiting for the Americans to give their ideas, and if these ideas help restart negotiations based on what we requested — stopping settlement activity and formally recognizing the 1967 borders, with some land swaps, of course — that would be a good thing. Otherwise, frankly, we will go to the United Nations to get a seat for Palestine in the General Assembly as a non-member state.
Did Netanyahu’s answer come after the national unity government was formed with Kadima?
Yes, after receiving 94 out of 120 Knesset seats.
And if they agree to your two conditions, will you agree on the principle of a Jewish state?
I have been asked this question more than once, and we have said it a hundred times everywhere, specifically to the Jewish AIPAC organization in America and to Jewish leaders in Israel and elsewhere: the question of a Jewish state is not our concern; it is yours. We will not recognize a so-called Jewish state because we have recognized Israel since the Oslo Agreement, back in the days of President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In return, the PLO was recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Throughout this period, the Jewishness of Israel was not discussed. Why was that issue not raised with Egypt or Jordan during the peace negotiations with them, or even with the Syrians during their indirect negotiations through Turkey?
Why are you asking this of us? We refuse this in letter and in spirit.
This is what they asked of us, and we refused. If they continue settlement activity, then we will go to the United Nations. Things are at a dead-end right now. But what is the solution? The solution is for us to at least obtain the country that is under occupation.
Let’s go back to the new Netanyahu government. What is your impression about this national unity government? Is it a war government or a peace government?
This government is the strongest one in Israel’s history, as it controls three-quarters of the Knesset seats. Therefore, it is a strong government and should be able to solve the problem with us, especially since it is no longer subject to blackmail by smaller parties.
So the issue is not about ability, but will. That is the core point. And in my opinion, so far, it doesn’t have the will.
On the other hand, everyone knows that the formation of an Israeli national unity government means that Israel is about to do something big. But what is this big “thing”?
In light of this situation, where are you in the process of forming a new Palestinian government?
First, the previous government resigned five months ago. A number of ministers have left their ministries while others stayed on to perform administrative duties. But I was stalling the formation of a new government because I was awaiting national reconciliation. We agreed on a national reconciliation in Doha last January on the basis of a path that Hamas must follow. We agreed to form a government under my leadership, and its first mission was to rebuild Gaza and supervise new elections. But before forming the government, certain matters need to be resolved: namely, that the Central Election Commission go to Gaza and update the voter registration rolls, since they have not been updated since 2007.
Accordingly, there are 300 Palestinians who have not yet been registered, and these are voters. The Commission’s lifespan was six weeks, then they were given three months to conduct the elections. At the beginning of this period, a government under my leadership was supposed to be formed. But what we agreed upon did not happen. So I re-formed the government with some modifications. Whenever the agreement is implemented, however, this government’s role and existence will end.
What is delaying the implementation of this agreement with regard to the Central Election Commission updating the voting records?
Perhaps Hamas is afraid of the elections. Perhaps there have been social transformations on the ground. Or maybe there are differences among Hamas leaders on the subject.
Lately, professional syndicate elections were held in the West Bank. Hamas received no more than a quarter of the seats, and it did not object to the outcome of the elections. Truthfully, elections have never been rigged in Palestine. The situation has simply changed, and the people are beginning to see the truth here and there.
We are in favor of democratic elections, but these are being hindered because some fear the results. Today (last Sunday), I discussed this with the Emir of Qatar.
We understand from your own words that you are trying to tap into the “Arab Spring” theme from Palestine’s perspective. What is your opinion of the Arab revolutions?
Our experience and problems in the Arab world go back to 1965. We have decided not to interfere in the internal affairs of Arab countries. We interfered three times and paid a heavy price in Jordan, Lebanon, and Kuwait. I say that publicly. We paid a price and we are still paying today. Therefore, I say: What is happening in the Arab world is an internal issue for each country. Whatever the people decide, we are with them. This is our position on Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria. We will not say a word, first because we have pledged not to interfere in the affairs of others, and second because there are hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in Arab countries, and I want to protect them.
The Palestinians were put into play at the beginning of the Syrian revolution via Ahmed Jibril.
Write this down: Ahmed Jibril represents no one. He represents the Syrian intelligence services. We have no relations with him, and he cannot “play” with the Palestinians. He tried and failed. As for playing in Lebanon or Syria, he is free. The Palestinians have absolutely nothing to do with him. We have an envoy in Lebanon who carries out our instructions, maintains contacts with the Lebanese government and coordinates with it, and meets with various Lebanese political forces. We also have an ambassador. We have decided that the Palestinians must completely distance themselves from any problem or political action, and this decision is firm.
We are neither with nor against anyone in the Arab world. We say this after having lived through three bad experiences. Do not bet on getting the Palestinians involved. We will not repeat these experiences.
Is there a way to prevent certain parties in Lebanon from using the camps for political purposes?
When I first came to Lebanon in 2004, and during my visit last Ramadan, I said: Our weapons in Lebanon are legitimate, and we want them neither inside nor outside the camps. We are under the protection of the state and the Lebanese army. We are within the confines of the law. It is unfortunate that over 30 or 40 years, various things happened in the camps. But we are seriously working on distancing the Palestinians [from these events]. We are under the rule of law and the state. We will not allow anyone to tamper with that. There is permanent cooperation with the Lebanese government to maintain security in the camps to the best of our abilities. We know that we cannot do everything.
What is your assessment of the partnership with the Lebanese government?
Excellent. We wish to make life easier for the Palestinians who are prevented from working in 73 professions in Lebanon under the pretext that this may lead to their permanent settlement. Brother, we do not wish to be permanently settled and we will not be permanently settled in Lebanon nor anywhere else. We hope that the lives of our citizens be made easier. The fact is that there is a bogeyman being used from time to time for internal Lebanese political reasons that says that if the life of the Palestinians is made easier, it may lead to their permanent settlement. But this is not true. The proof is that Najib Mikati’s first government reduced the number of occupations prohibited for the Palestinians from 73 to 53 and now there is a law being proposed in the Lebanese parliament for another reduction. We want to be good guests in Lebanon.
How would you honestly describe the Palestinian bases outside the camps?
They are illegal, period. In Lebanon, we believe there should be one law, one state and one army.
Are you saying that your special envoy to Lebanon is ready to lift the protection from any Palestinian group that violates Lebanese laws?
He is Mr. Azzam al-Ahmad. He works and meets with everyone under that vision and that spirit.